Nothing is ever easy.
Today my father, his wife, and my sister and I took a trip up to Mt. Saint Helens. We got a later start than I wanted (although that was my fault - *ahem*) because I really really needed to call the Peace Corps and resolve this issue with my missing Staging Packet and Ticket. I tried calling from my sister's house, but even in the heavily-populated area of Beaverton, Oregon (a bedroom community just west of Portland) our crappy Sprint phones pick up no signal. Even on the back porch there was nothing; I'd get three "bars" for a few seconds, try to hurriedly make the call, then have the call drop just as the PC operator was picking up.
So I tried again once we got on the road. Several tall hills and tunnels foiled me yet again, and to my utter frustration I was unable to receive a clear and uninterrupted signal until we reached freaking downtown Portland! By then, the battery in my buster-ass phone was threateningly low. (Needless to say, I have an older phone, something I choose because I don't care much about cell phones -- but that bites me in the ass sometimes). So I called the Peace Corps, but now the answering service was claiming the Peace Corps was closed... at 3:30 pm Eastern!
By then I was officially wigging out. The universe was out to get me, to conspire to keep me from going to Guyana. After telling me they were closed for the day, the answering machine message at the PC HQ gave an alternate number for current PCVs who have had a sudden death in the family or some other major crisis, directing them to the Duty Officer who would be available 24 hours a day. Just yesterday I had heard the same message when I really did call after hours, and I figured it didn't apply to me. But today some sort of desperation born of mounting fear led me to toss their restrictions and call the duty officer. Turns out the PC wasn't closed, and that everyone was still there, diligently working away. The duty officer gave me the number for the Guyana desk and a Staging specialist, and just as she was going to transfer my call, Sprint dropped my connection again. By this time we had gone through Portland and were crossing the river into Vancouver. I called back using the numbers she gave and reached the Guyana desk but... nobody was there.
So I called the Staging specialist. This time, things finally worked out. He very kindly took down my info, e-mailed me the paperwork I'll need to bring, snail-mailed a copy to my mom's place, then gave me the SATO number (this is the department in charge of travel for volunteers). I arranged my plane ticket right then and there. They sent me the itinerary via e-mail and hard copy. And I hung up the phone, relieved.
Guess I will be going to Guyana, thank heavens!
Oh yeah: It was a nice trip to St. Helens. We went up deep into the mountains to a spot where the Park Service has a tourist station on a high cliff overlooking the volcano. They have typical tourist things there, like themed toys and books and many interactive displays. Out across a moonscape plain far below the overlook was the mountain itself, rising up out of a blasted valley. It was massive; it was so huge, and the vegetation in the valley and adjoining hills so sparse, that it defied attempts to judge distance. Scattered hillocks and water-carved gorges broke the otherwise smooth plain formed by the initial avalanche that triggered the explosion. Almost half the mountain broke off and cascaded down into a valley, and the explosions and pyroclastic flows that followed dumped even more detritus down until it was a nearly smooth bald slope up to the crater. From the vantage point at the station you could see into the U-shaped crater and clearly see the towering walls forming a bowl at the top. Deep inside was a crumbly dome of lava rock. Clouds the size of a city obscured parts of the mountain flank. The whole scene was simply staggering in its magnitude and power. It was made even more so by the wonderful clear weather. I've never seen anything like it. (Except, of course, Kilauea and Halemaumau in Hawai`i, but that's another story.)