July 18, 2006

Thoughts on the trip to Nahanni Butte

You know that feeling when you repeatedly walk a trail or drive a road, and you get more familiar with it, and the journey seems to go by more quickly every time you do it? Is there a name for that feeling? Because that's how I felt this time driving the Alaska Highway and then the Liard Highway to the NWT.

When I moved to Fort Liard, the 436 km drive to and from Fort Nelson seemed to take forever. Of course, the highway wasn't in the great condition that it is now, but I've travelled that highway so much that I feel like I know every bend of the road. It passes quickly beneath me and in no time, my journey is complete. The Alaska Highway between Whitehorse and the Liard Highway junction is beginning to feel the same, with the miles flying beneath me and the journey feeling shorter than it ever did before.

I spent the night at the Liard Hotsprings, which was a mistake. I should have stoped for a refreshing dip and moved on, finding a nice spot along the highway, but I paid ten bucks and set up my tent on the grassy edge of the overflow parking lot.

I was surprised, at first, to have the hotsprings to myself, until I realised that I had just caught the lull between the RV seniors and the youthful partygoers.

In the winter I can soak in the springs for hours, but the hot air and hot water left me feeling more uncomfortable than relaxed. Even the coolest end of the hotsprings felt too hot, so I decided to get out and call it an early night. On the boardwalk, I passed several groups of young people with clinking bags. I got out just in the nick of time.

At goodness knows what hour, one of those groups woke me, and I'm sure the rest of the campground, too. The very loud conversation on the boardwalk went something like, "You threw it in! Go get my sweater!"

The was rebutted by the obviously drunk sweater-tosser with, "But you threw my sweater into the water!"

"What sweater?" cried the other drunk young man amongst gales of laughter by the onlookers.

"I had two sweaters and you through one of them in!"

"I didn't throw in your sweater! Why would you have two sweaters? One of them must have been an imaginary sweater!"

"Yeah! You threw my imaginary sweater into the water! I want it back!"

It was obvious that the owner of the imaginary sweater owner was quite serious. I will spare you from the details of this very long and loud discussion because it was mostly a repeat of what was already stated, just at a louder volume. The conversation finally did end with a very large splash.

I believe the young man got his sweater back. I did not hear what became of the imaginary sweater.

In spite of my rude awakening, I was refreshed and ready to continue on before 6:00 am. I had breakfast at Toad River and was in Fort Liard before noon.

I never really noticed before, but Fort Liard has a very distinctive smell. As I was driving down the big hill into town, I turned off the air conditioning and rolled down my windows. It hit me and brought back a million memories. I could smell a slight hint of moose meat cooked over a spruce and poplar fire mixed in with the thick aromas from the rich, dark soil and raspberries and clover. It smelled good.

I had a great time visiting with old friends and one new one. Even though Fort Liard has lost some good people this summer, at least one new one was born. It was strange and wonderful to once again hold a baby that was only a few days old. I forgot how small and fragile they are fresh out of the womb. And mine isn't even six month's old. Now I understand why Derek held Jade for more than three hours after she was born. It's an amazing feeling.

Before leaving Fort Liard for Nahanni Butte, I had one last thing to do: place my first ever geocache. I asked Arthur to give me a hand and he happily obliged. I will include a link to the cache as soon as the website is working again (because it isn't was I type this entry).

The gravel highway was in great shape and the drive to Blackstone Territorial Park went by quickly. And even though the wait for the river taxi at Blackstone took several hours, that went by quickly also.

The boat ride up the Liard into Nahanni Butte, like it always is, was as pleasant as... well, it hasn't always been pleasant (stories for another day), but it was extra-pleasant this time. The mountans stood-out in jagged blue rows in the evening light, framed by supercell thunder clouds in the distance. Forked lightning made for a magnificent display and during the whole show we were safe under a sunny sky. The bison basked in the light on the river's edge, rolling in sand to keep the mosquitoes at bay. And that will be the subject of the next entry:

"A kajillion and one mosquitoes and what can be done with them."

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