Monday, August 25, 2014

A Soak in the Woods

We had just finished a 500 mile ride out of Haines Junction that included a quick stop in Whitehorse for breakfast and for Sledge to buy a new pair of boots. Back on the AlCan we blew by the turn to the Stewart-Cassier highway and carried out on along highway 97. As soon as we crossed into British Columbia it felt like we were on a long downhill run. The densely forested landscape widened and opened up ahead of us. The highway’s broad verge was a drive-by zoo of the local fauna. We saw several buffalo, one of whom sat at the side of road watching us go by. He had leaned his huge head on his front leg like a barfly waiting for his next round of beer. Lots of  black bears, mostly juveniles, poked their noses out of the woods in search of berries, plus for the first time we saw a couple of elk. It had been a long, but satisfying day of riding. The scenery had changed constantly and we had a much better appreciation for the vast, mostly uninhabited area that is northern British Columbia. 

In the late afternoon’s light we stopped by a bend in the Liard River and were presented with a wonderful view of what life was like on the other side of the trees that had lined the road all day. By then we were more than ready to pitch camp and make our way to the world famous Liard Hot Springs for a good soak. It was now late enough in the season that even after a leisurely dinner we were still able to snag an official BC campsite - albeit one of the very last available. 

“Have you seen a bear? We’re looking for one,” inquired the young ranger in the driver’s seat of a Clubman golf cart. “No,” we replied. “Well, we think we know which one he is. He’s been hanging out for a while now, looking for food. If you see him, just make a bunch of noise and he’ll most likely back off. Just let us know.” At that moment I finally understood how Bill Bryson felt about meeting bears in the woods: “My particular dread--the vivid possibility that left me staring at tree shadows on the bedroom ceiling night after night--was having to lie in a small tent, alone in an inky wilderness, listening to a foraging bear outside and wondering what its intentions were… What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die, of course. Literally shit myself lifeless. I would blow my sphincter out my backside like one of those unrolling paper streamers you get at children's parties...and bleed to a messy death in my sleeping bag.” ― Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail 

Liard Hot Springs is one of those monuments to all things positive about governments and society. Here is a well cared for public good that in a private setting would cost hundreds of dollars to enjoy. Located as it is in a remote part of the backwoods, it was neither overcrowded nor dirty. There is a long boardwalk over a swamp that leads out to a small amphitheater built up on one side of the springs. The slightly sulfurous waters ranged from really very hot at the point it enters the long wading pool, to pleasantly cool once it passes over the weir and joins a natural stream. Relaxing in the mineral rich waters I felt like one of those Japanese monkeys and life was really pretty good at that moment. As I floated on my back looking up at the dwindling light, I imagined that this kind of bathing was a worthy form of exercise. Which it is. 

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