Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Wild Fire and Hot Springs

Location: Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park, Muncho Lake, BC V0C 1Z0, Canada
Leaving Watson Lake was hard, not because it's a nice town with amenities we'd miss, but because we said goodbye to Justin and Melissa. I couldn't really say much as I was trying not to get tear-y as we said our farewells and as we pedalled away I welled up and Tom laughed at me. We'd spent the last 11 days together as Team Baby Bunnies, we'd jumped into cold lakes together, cursed the bugs together, got through tough days together, celebrated our most western and northern points together, laughed together, felt the collective disappointment of arriving into Stewart and then Watson Lake and them not being the shiny metropolises we'd hoped for together. It really felt like a big loss and we really miss riding with those guys. But our path headed south and east and their's north and west so we turned left at the signpost forest and down the Alaska Highway.

It wasn't long before we spotted our first buffalo. Wowsers! They are HUGE! And such iconic incredible looking creatures. We weren't entirely sure of our destination that night, far enough for a short ride the next day to Liard Hotsprings. We passed a second buffalo and then a herd with babies laying in the verge on our side of the road. We crossed over to the left side to pass them as we'd heard that they can be very protective of their young and trust me you don't want a fight with a buffalo. We passed an ambulance parked on a forest service road and a helicopter coming in to land, our initial thoughts were that a forestry worker must have got injured, but as we rode on the sky got hazy and we could soon smell smoke so put down the chopper and ambulance down to forest fire. We pulled into a rest area we'd spotted on the map as a potential camp spot just after lunch and due to the fires and the early hour decided to check the view and use the loo then keep riding. Another loaded cyclist pulled in and we did the usual story exchange.  Julie had ridden from Connecticut and was headed to Alaska to find somewhere to live. She was hardcore. She'd ridden all that way in 2 months! She was averaging 75 miles days and had taken a total of 1 rest day in Glacier National Park to go kayaking. Incredible. We said our goodbyes and cycled our separate ways. 

We were low on water and unlike on the Stewart-Cassiar we hadn't passed any accessible creeks or rivers in hours. We decided to camp at Fireside so we weren't wild camping while there was forest fires about and to refill our waters. We were pleased as we'd covered about 90 miles and it had felt easy. It seemed like the last week of pushing it, followed by a rest day had improved our stamina and fitness even more. And it meant we only had about 45 miles to get to the hot springs. We asked the campground owner about the smoke and she informed us there were fires on both sides of us, but seemed blasé about it so we weren't worried.  It was still smoky in the morning as we made breakfast and coffee. We'd been doing without coffee on the road before we rode with Melissa and Justin, but lucky for us Melissa was a coffee drinker and kindly made us fresh coffee each morning. She even more kindly gifted us her coffee filter and coffee as a parting gift, which is just awesome and has made mornings much better for us!

The first hour of riding was hindered by a mobile herd of buffalo, 8 adults I think and 4 calves who were thundering along the side of the road. We stopped to let them get away and not feel threatened by us. We'd lose sight of them and ride on, but they stayed along the roadside and as we'd approach again, they'd start up their stampede again, we'd stop, wait until they were out of sight, continue and cause them to run again. There were 2 males at the back who kept stopping and eyeing us. This worried me. I did not want them to decide we were a threat and charge us, so we kept our distance and wondered when we'd get past them. The verge eventually rose up away from the road, whilst the road curved away down a decent sized hill and we seized the opportunity to pedal like mad to try to outrun them whilst we were separated by a small cliff. We did just make it past them with the help of the descent, but as the verge rejoined the road we were now in a situation where they were behind us, running towards us. Bearing in mind we'd only just outrun them with the help of a hill, having them thundering at us was nerve racking. Luckily we had a bridge to cross, which the buffalo were not keen to go over and we finally felt like we'd got away from them. 

The rest of the ride to Liard Hot Springs was easy enough and after setting up the tent and eating lunch we headed for a soak. This place is fantastic. It's so so hot when it comes out the ground, unbearably so for us, but as it flows down it cools down to a wonderful hot bath temperature which was heavenly on tired legs. We walked back to camp, mooched about, made dinner and then went back for more soaking which set us up perfectly for a good nights sleep.

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