Blast from the Past

June 14, 2010

His memory jogged by last month’s media coverage focusing on the 30th anniversary of the most catastrophic volcanic event in American history, an Adventure Cycling member in Minneapolis named Bob sent me a note saying this: “With the anniversary of Mount St. Helens, will there be a magazine article or Bike Bits piece about how Bikecentennial was ‘ashed in’? I remember how our trip out of Williamsburg, Virginia [on the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail], was delayed because headquarters could not send anything to us.”

Though Bob couldn’t remember exactly how long the trip was delayed, he thought it was several days. “Of course, if you are going to be stuck anywhere, Williamsburg is a nice place to be stuck in,” he said, “though the floor of the basement of Wesley Methodist Church was not the most comfortable accommodations. Our group leader, Tom Powers, was waiting for a check and possibly some other paperwork. But of course the post office was shut down in Missoula. That was before faxes, texting, websites, and credit cards.

"When we were almost finished in Oregon, I remember scooping up some ash into a plastic bag near the nuclear power plant along the Columbia River. I still have my brochure from the Portland Post Office: What to Do in Case of Volcanic Ash Fallout."

My own memories of the ash that fell on Missoula hinge on the training I was doing for the Coeur d’Alene Marathon, slated for the very next weekend. I wasn’t permitted — nor would I have wanted — to run outside with all that fine particulate in the air and covering everything in sight. So, in an effort to minimize loss of conditioning, I jumped rope … and jumped rope and jumped rope … in our cramped quarters in University of Montana married student housing.

Oh, and then they cancelled the marathon. But the organizers did send me a commemorative T-shirt like the one you can see accompanying this story, which highlights some Spokane, Washington, residents’ recollections of the ash fall.

Does anyone else out there have stories to share about the eruption, either bicycle- or non-bike-related?

Incidentally, the newish Sierra Cascades Bicycle Route skirts Mount St. Helens to the east.

Photo by Mac McCoy. Though this particular picture was shot in the Utah desert, plenty of "ghost bikes" like these were seen around the Pacific Northwest in the wake of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption.


BIKING WITHOUT BORDERS was posted by Michael McCoy, Adventure Cycling’s field editor, highlighting a little bit of this or a little bit of that — just about anything, as long as it related to traveling by bicycle. Mac also compiles the organization's twice-monthly e-newsletter Bike Bits, which goes free-of-charge to more than 50,000 readers worldwide.


Mac June 24, 2010, 9:44 PM

Dear Anonymous: Adventure Cycling Association was known as Bikecentennial until around 1990. Bob rode the TransAm Trail as part of a Bikecentennial group in 1980, the year of the eruption. Does that answer your question? --MM

Anonymous June 23, 2010, 7:23 PM

Bikecentenial in 1976?, Mt St Helens eruption in 1980. So when was the ash out?

Log in to post a comment

Forgot Password?

Enter your email address and we'll send you an email that will allow you to reset it. If you no longer have access to the email address call our memberships department at (800) 755-2453 or email us at

Not Registered? Create Account Now.