Â By Sean
Â Â Â Â Â Itâ€™s been an exhausting past few weeks; whole days spent bearing the asphyxiating sauna steam in the recreational center at Watson lake, or just managing to not roast alive in the boiling mineral waters of Liard Hot Springs, or held immobile by the captivating page turners found stuffed in the damp recesses of neglected book exchanges, some bearing the approval of Oprah’s authoritative club stamp.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â The first sunny afternoon of our B.C. experience was spent searching for fresh water. We found our fill, entranced by the beauty ofÂ â€˜Cranberry Rapidsâ€™ and â€˜Whirlpool Canyonâ€™ at the junction of Coal and Liard Rivers. Instead of responding to our hydration needs at such scenic points we contemplated how to procure rafts capable of voyage through these tumultuous streams, assuring ourselves that a convenient tap would appear at a roadside diner ten miles up the road. We conceived that it would be possible to fill our dry bags with compressed air allowing the xtracycle the buoyancy to float while the front tire would steer along the rocky bottom, however, initial test runs proved disastrous. Two German explorers of the R.V. world bore witness to the bike-rafting stunts and attempted to talk us out of our idiotic endeavors. The majesty of these waters cannot be overstated, the name may invoke images of excessive quantities of refined pork fat flowing out tunnels of tin â€“many RVers pronounce them ‘lard’, which would also entail our ideal caloric efficient diet- and yet the sight surpasses even these elevated presuppositions.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Leaving the Whirlpool behind, we sipped some coffee, bought some fireworks, and set out for the famous Liard hot springs. As the sun dissolved behind us I managed to make out the giant torso of a Black Bear spread itself in an intimidating stance, and then moments later the white tail of a Caribou making extravagantly high leaps off the soggy marshland. We arrived at the springs well after the front gates had closed, then ridding without lights over the half mile of wooden walkway that extends over the delicate riparian environment we frantically dove into the 126-degree pool, disturbing the peace of just a few folk left soaking among the roots of tall trees and rain-forest shrubs. It was difficult to fathom the extent of the beauty of Liard springs the first dark night, though we would spend the duration of the next day revitalizing our spirits and depleted energy reserves here in this small paradise. Having realized that the pools were to be used upon payment of a small fee, we were obliged to sneak in again â€“which entailed riding past the front guard booth at a snails pace. On a good day there were two choices to be had for the discretionary soaker; the near boiling Alpha pool that eventually narrowed into a lukewarm stream beneath outcropping jungle terrain, and a deeper pool that contained milder waters. A small gate barred the way to the second pool and bore a sign explaining that bears were in control of the area. How the bear population could be contained to a spot a few hundred feet away was never explained, perhaps the temperature of the alpha pool was a bit on the extreme side for their tastes. Nevertheless, later in the evening we heard the loud belligerent voices of daring young souls â€“girl scouts judging from the enthusiastic tone of the singing- making their triumphant return from bear territory. They turned out to be two Australian women towing behind an ecstatic young man from Anchorage, who like a choirmaster was directing the flow of every single national anthem held in the memory bank of his slightly inebriated company. The off key tunes were uttered at the maximum volume to scare off the wild beasts so advertised by the signs. Predictably prepared with a cooler full of beer, the Australian travelers preceded to take over the Alpha pool, initiating conversation with everyone, issuing the prescribed stereotypes to everyone. The bike trio was converted to surfers and â€˜the history teachersâ€™, and the Canadians were continuously extolled for their virtues of kindness and generosity. Towards the end of the night a man discovered to his dismay that a large quantity of cash had been stolen from his wallet, a stiff warning to us who allow our bikes to be left unattended in the distant periphery.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Traveling south the next day we encountered a small herd of wild bison. At the point when all three cyclists stopped to stare in wonder, the largest of the beasts emerged from his sedate crouch, it emitted a thick cloud of dust after shaking his fur and slowly it advanced into the seclusion of the woods. Later in the day we found ourselves facing Lake Mucho â€“or big lake- from the vantage point of a hill that had been groomed to offer a more vivid view of the upcoming gas-station/cafÃ© than of the peculiar jade-green waters. The sky was densely overcast and next to our resting spot the deep rumbling of an R.V. generator assured us that our fellow B.C. travelers were more warm and illuminated than the breathtaking scenery outside. We cycled down hill a few kilometers to have coffee at the gas station just before it closed for the night. The proprietor locked the cafÃ© doors, jumped on a souped-up ATV and made a mad dash for home. We figured that a small table just on the threshold of â€˜Private Propertyâ€™ would serve as a good kitchen. No sooner had we began boiling water for pasta than the rain began falling. It became cold, windy, and soon the rain fell heavy enough to transform the large parking area into a small lake. Our little stove sounded as demoralized and defeated as our hearts were in response to the worsening conditions. The water took an eternity to boil, and soon I was ready to toss my worn and worthless Gortex rain gear into a large fire just beyond the â€˜no trespassingâ€™ sign that was blazing along unattended despite the rain. We huddled underneath a short projection of the roof, turning the soggy pages of our novels until lunch was ready. Wolfing down the food in minutes, we packed up our wet belongings and peddled slowly down the coastline of the lack â€“a thriving head wind pounding at us. Finally we settled down in what was basically the back yard of the next cafÃ© up the road. It turned out to be the only official post-office between Watson Lake and Ft. Nelson, it also turned out the best homemade bread on the Alaskan Highway â€“although according to Jack, the lone man who ran all operations, the German tourists couldnâ€™t buy his bread because â€œit wasnâ€™t heavy with a thick crustâ€�. Jack had his hands full that day. To every guest seeking accomidation he would spread the word; “I’ve been going at it since six a.m., it’s well past noon now, I’ve got to get this bread made, it just keeps crawling away from me”. One lady seeking a gruel breakfast offered to clean the man’s dishes for him, two other ladies -whom presumably jack had encountered before- beseeched Jack for the privelage of his showers, to ‘rid the grime of traveling’. a female truck driver trying to choke back tears entered the cafe solemly reflecting on a terrible sight forty miles up the road. On Summit Lake -our destination for the day- a truck carrying aviation fuel exploded after its driver had suffered a heart attack. The regulars at Jack’s industrious cafe/gas station/ postal station all threw in their emotional weight to console the observer of such tangible horror. Driving trucks along the ALCANs proves risky business indeed. The striking scenic beauty offers a deceptive comfort to the driver confronted with endless steep grades and passes marked with signs of caution ‘very dangerous curve’ and such.