Climbing up through the park, and later the forest, improved things immeasurably. The road started hugging the mountainsides, with occasional glimpses of the mighty volcano in the distance, while snow accumulated more and more on the roadsides, until the road was flanked by twin walls of the white stuff on either side. Cross-country skiers poled alongside of our group, as well as many other groups of riders out to experience the odd feeling of riding in a snow tunnel. We stopped several times at some fantastic vistas to take in the view. Temperatures were pretty warm considering the snowpack; probably in the high 50s up near the top.
Once through the pass and on the east side, it actually just got better, as the road followed the north side of a long canyon out of the snow. Little waterfalls from the snowmelt covered the canyon walls, passing under the road on their way to the valley below. Eventually the road (still the 410) reaches the level of the American River and runs alongside for miles. The Little Naches and American rivers came together spectacularly right near the road, which is right where our camp for the night was. Little Naches Campground sits right on the Little Naches, which (like all the other rivers around here) was full and churning with freshly melted snow. Thankfully, temperatures were a bit higher than they were at the peak, but still brisk. Though solidly in the middle of the wilderness, we found the comforts of civilization right nearby with Whistl'n Jack's Saloon just a few miles east on 410, complete with gas station and mini mart.
Jeff had been up there a couple days prior to stake out a campsite and found a pleasant retired gentleman who helped hold our spot, and even let us throw tents on his patch of riverside heaven. Little Naches Road follows the river and leads to a number of other campsites. Since it was paved, we decided to see how far we could follow it. It turned out it went for a good 20 miles before going gravel on us, twisting alongside the river, with lots of spots to either take a chilly swim or climb on the rocks. It was a good ride with great views, and unlike 410, there was no traffic either.
After a pair of meals at Jack's, many beers around a blazing campfire, and a chilly night in a compact sleeping bag designed for warmer weather, I bid farewell to the great bunch of guys I'd spent the last day with, and Jeff, who'd inspired my trip. Luckily, I wasn't quite done yet.
Since I was knee-deep in the Cascades and on my way home, I did what I could to prolong my time off of the Interstate. The next day I broke east on the 410 to where it meets up with US-12 just outside of the town of Naches. The 12 then took me south and west, with some of the best views of Rainier anywhere, which was bliss to a volcano chaser like me.
I tried to keep up my volcano-chasing ways, stalking the dangerous prey of Mt. St. Helens next, but it was not to be. WA-131 cuts south off of the 12 and heads very close to the active peak. Signs said from the start that it was closed 13 miles south of the junction, but thinking I might be able to scoot past the closure on two wheels, I took the bait and cut south. The area around St. Helens is very different than the area around Rainier-much more lush and wet. After those 13 miles, I learned that Washington State does not screw around with road closures, as a gate and barricade thoroughly closed the pass to one and all.
Once I'd blown a bunch of extra time on that detour, I had to haul ass. Motorcycle Cruiser editor Andrew Cherney was having a barbecue at his house in Portland that night that I had to boogie to get to. This was the end of the back roads portion of my trip, and it didn't disappoint, as the 12 wound past a series of gorgeous lakes before depositing me on I-5.