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logging

The east side of Vancouver Island was something of a disappointment to me. It seemed over-populated and over-logged, after months out in the wilderness, and the highway was not pleasant riding.

Too much of Vancouver Island is decimated by logging.

Too much of Vancouver Island is decimated by logging.

British Columbia's trees end up here.

British Columbia's trees end up here, it seems.

And here.

And here.

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space junk

You’d be amazed at how many shooting stars there are, if you slept outside – or is it just that the sky is full of space junk now?

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sleeping

I am lying on my back looking up at the stars and watching shredded muslin clouds unfurl across the sky. I wonder, a little, at the wisdom of my plan to sleep on a beach without a tent on Vancouver Island – sleeping on the beach in Croatia is one thing and in British Columbia quite another.

I am barely outside Campbell River, a sizeable town, and the possibility of having my little nest discovered are quite high. Not putting up my tent will reduce them. I wanted to get further down the coast today but what with one thing and another I didn’t get out of Cambell River until 6pm.

Sun setting.

Sun setting.

Still, the sandy point, covered in wild grasses, where I am lying exposed to the elements is a beautiful place. Lying on my back I can see tussocks of grass curving above my head and a lone tree silhouetted against the night sky. I can hear the crickets chirruping, the waves lapping at the shore and the wind in the grass and the trees. The constant background swoosh of cars on the road, a hundred metres away, reminds me of my proximity to human settlement.

Dawn.

Dawn.

As I lie listening to the wind, waves, crickets, cars I am quite calm, the gathering clouds and the possibility of being woken by an early morning dog-walker not unduly disturbing. I wonder if I might be crazy – should I feel so safe and at home lying alone in an unknown beach park in an unknown town on the other side of the world from what is, nominally, my country? It seems I simply don’t care where I sleep; or maybe, more accurately, that my criteria for a good place to sleep is radically different to that of most people’s. The fact that this place is beautiful comforts me and outweighs all its other shortcomings.

I wake at dawn, undiscovered and un-rained on, although my sleeping bag is wet with dew, and watch the sky fill with light. The mountains across the water are cardboard cut-outs, perfectly flat in various shades of pale grey – a subtle arrangement against a backdrop of clouds in even paler shades of grey. Light – apricot, peach and amber – glows through rents in the cloud banks. Gulls fly overhead with their wild ocean cries and the water laps endlessly on the shore. A string of geese fly low above the water, honking, their heads bobbing up and down gently to the rhythm of their wing-beats looking exactly like those wooden toy birds with a string that sets them flapping.

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islands

The fourteen hour ferry ride from Prince Rupert to Port Hardy passes uneventfully enough. There are occasional whale sightings pointed out by the ship’s watch; humpbacks puff water vapour, a distant pod of orca put on an acrobatic display, a pair of porpoises swim alongside the boat – but I spend most of the time transcribing notes to my computer and a few hours catching up on sleep.

The ferry arrives late and I set up the tent in the dark in a grassy area near the ferry terminal – a noisy, exposed place. Cars rumble by off the ferry for almost an hour and at five in the morning they start queuing up again for the journey back to Prince Rupert.

In the morning, I spent some time in Port Hardy on the internet and then head for Port McNeil, a small town not far down the highway, where the ferry goes to Sointula – the main settlement on a sleepy island of shingled houses. On my way to camp on the far side of the island I stop at a marina to collect some water and a woman doing her laundry at the laundromat sends me to where her boat is moored to collect a huge piece of salmon from her husband. Dinner is sorted!

I decide to camp at Bere Point and as I am riding the gravel road towards the point a police car passes me and pulls up fifty metres ahead. One of the policemen walks purposefully towards me and I wonder if they are looking for a deranged cyclist and have mistaken me for their suspect. However, he merely asks me, as he approaches, if I would like a lift to the point. I refuse as politely as I can and after some jokes about handcuffs and arrest they continue on their way.

Policemen trying to be helpful.

Policemen trying to be helpful.

The pebbly beach at Bere Point is covered with logs, scattered like discarded match-sticks up along the tide line. I cook the salmon and then set up my tent. I go for a walk on the beach when it is almost dark. Two men sit on the beach in the fading light next to a small fire drinking beer – their Saturday night entertainment. We sit and talk awhile.

Eating doesn't get any better than this.

Eating doesn't get any better than this.

Sunset on the beach.

Sunset on the beach.

Logging driftwood.

Logging driftwood.

In the morning I set off for Alert Bay – the major town on a neighbouring island. The island has a large First Nation community and a cultural centre has pride of place at the left-hand end of the harbour, the tribal crest painted on the wall facing the sea, a totem watching over the building. To the right and slightly behind the cultural centre sits a red brick Edwardian building – the abandoned residential school.

Totems and the residential school.

Totems and the residential school.

The history of this community is full of pain. In the late 19th centaury the Canadian government outlawed potlatches – a central ceremonial rite of the native people, occasions of celebration and redistribution of wealth and resources within the community. The colonial administration was hostile to this expression of different cultural values and tried to forcibly stamp it out. The tribes of the area continued to hold potlatches in secret but when their activities where discovered they were charged and tried as criminals for various ‘crimes’ including giving speeches, dancing, carrying and receiving gifts and sentenced to imprisonment. In order to avoid incarceration they were given the option to surrender all their sacred object and ceremonial regalia. The confiscated objects were sold to collectors or sent to various museums.

The community was devastated by their loss and not all of them managed to avoid imprisonment despite giving up their sacred objects. However, showing remarkable resilience, members of the community never gave up petitioning to have the ceremonial objects returned to them and finally in 1970s they were successful in having the majority of them repatriated. The returned masks and other regalia were welcomed back into the community like dearly loved and long missed family members. They form the core of the cultural centre museum collection.

I spend a few hours in the museum watching a film that tells this story and examining the masks which are displayed in a large open room. The curators decided that these masks had spent too much time already locked away in glass cabinets.

Burial ground at Alert Bay.

Burial ground at Alert Bay.

Burial ground at Alert Bay.

Burial ground at Alert Bay.

Eventually I leave the dim museum and return to the afternoon sunshine. The island is small and covered in berries – I can scarcely make any headway at all, my fingers blue from blackberry juice. I head to the back of the island to an abandoned campground to set up camp, my tent facing the sea with the fly open to view the water.

Beach camp.

Beach camp.

I cook on the beach and light a driftwood fire, sitting in the dark staring alternately at the flames and the starry night sky. Satellites flare briefly as their rotation brings reflective surfaces into the sun’s rays. I try to remember what I know of the constellations of the northern sky. A whale signs and splashes offshore in the dark water.

In the morning, I explore more of the island, stopping off at the Ecological Park to walk the boardwalk across a large bog.

Boardwalk over the bog.

Boardwalk over the bog.

Skeletal spruce.

Skeletal spruce.

Bog.

Bog.

I arrive back on Vancouver Island at around 1pm and feel the need to get some miles under my wheels. I set off fast into the warm sunny afternoon. I find myself climbing through hills, the forest largely decimated by logging. The occasional log truck thunders by. The traffic on a Sunday afternoon is quite heavy and seems largely unsympathetic to a laden bike tourist climbing hills on a highway without a shoulder. A truck passes by close enough to practically graze my arm.

I pull into a picnic area late in the evening and cook a hurried meal of noodles and then set up my tent in the dark at the end of a trail leading to a river.

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prince rupert

I arrive at Prince Rupert, where I am invited to stay at Penny and Ian’s house, late on Monday morning. Penny and Ian are friends of Danusia, who I met in Whitehorse. It is three weeks now since I have set foot inside a house or, more importantly, had a hot shower. Penny welcomes me and we immediately get a load of washing on and I finally manage to wash my hair. It feels good.

Penny goes off to do some tasks while I unpack and sort out all my stuff. She returns and we go into town for a shopping trip to replenish my food stock and get some supplies for dinner, which is more superb red salmon. I need to repair one of my panniers which has holes in it – the work of a crow at Meziadin Lake. Ian assists with advice and materials for the job and finally I go to sleep in a big, warm, soft bed. Wonderful.

I was planning on leaving the following morning but the ferry to Port Hardy leaves at 7 o’clock and I would have to be at the dock by 6 o’clock. I can’t drag myself away from these kind people so fast and so I decide to stay until the next ferry on Thursday.

On a walk in the forest, Penny teaches me the names of some trees: the vegetation has changed significantly over the last section of my trip and is now almost totally unfamiliar to me. Further north it was quite similar to the Czech forest – at least I recognised spruce, larch and birch.

Penny proves knowledgeable and I am introduced now to hemlock, lodge-pole pine, Douglas fir, red cedar, yellow cedar. The berries, too, have further diversified and I learn to recognise red huckleberries, salalberries and bog cranberries. We discuss various other plants but the rest of the information doesn’t stick.

Tangled roots.

Tangled roots of a cedar (I think).

Blue huckleberries.

Blue huckleberries.

Red huckleberries.

Red huckleberries.

Salalberries.

Salalberries.

On Wednesday, Penny and I go on a short sea-kayak expedition. I have been in a kayak before, I know, but I can’t remember when – it was so long ago that all the details of the experience are gone completely. Still, it seems to come relatively naturally to me and soon we are paddling out a channel from Port Edward towards a small island near the mouth of the Skeena River.

Circling the island, we see a family of river otters catching large crabs and small fish.  An otter swims underwater close to my kayak. On the far side of the island, we land on a beach to have something to eat and enjoy the sunshine after a week of wet weather. Prince Rupert is the rainiest town in Canada, apparently, and people here really appreciate the sun when it shines.

Penny preparing the boats.

Penny preparing the boats.

Kayaks are a good way to travel because you get off the road. Food for thought.

Kayaks are a good way to travel because you get off the road. Food for thought.

Me on the water.

Me on the water.

In the morning, I narrowly avert missing the ferry.  Penny wakes me at 5.12, the alarm clock having failed somehow in its duty to wake me at 5.00. I had prepared and packed my things the night before so I manage to get onto my bike and cycle, in the pitch dark, across town to the ferry terminal in time to embark.

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shoe tree

Another inexplicable roadside attraction.

The shoe tree.

The shoe tree.

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getting a move on

Eventually, I drag myself away from the revitalising waters of the springs and go back to my bike which I have left hidden in the bushes on the roadway.

I have been tarrying the last few days, in Stewart and here in the Nisga’a valley, and I feel the need, now, to cover some miles. I cycle back through the Lava Bed Valley to the road towards Terrace watching a storm running up the valley before me. A rainbow arches over the road.

Rainbow over the road.

Rainbow over the road.

I notice now that almost all the road signs in the valley have been altered, the English text carefully edited out. I am impressed by the skill, dedication and thoroughness with which this task has been completed and I wonder if the original signs had stated the local names first, with the English names subaltern and parenthesised, the same person or persons would have bothered with it. I suddenly recall Fred mentioning that road signage was a contentious issue in local politics.

After the turn off to Terrace, the road runs along another pretty valley with numerous pools and streams of  milky aqua water to both sides. The quantity of water means the valley doesn’t offer a wide choice of camp sites and I ride until I arrive at Lava Lake where I decide to stop at the picnic ground despite prominent signs prohibiting camping. It is dusk and still quite wet so I figure no-one will come to bother me.

Water on both sides of the road make camping a bit tricky.

Water on both sides of the road makes camping a bit tricky.

I am unpacking my food pannier, deciding which of my three staple options – pasta, cous-cous or lentils – I will cook tonight, when a car pulls up and a group of youths tumble out, shouting and laughing. The picnic tables are amongst trees and screened by bushes and as one guy starts up the path towards me he is clearly startled by my presence which wasn’t betrayed by a car in the parking area.

“Bikers?” he says. It is a query, I think. I am grateful for the assumed plural even though there is no evidence of my phantom companions. “Yes,” I reply, firmly and calmly. He backs away and returns to his friends. “Bikers,” he repeats and manages to make the word carry the same impact as if he had said “Vipers!” his voice laden with a wary distaste.

The kids laugh and shout raucously for while around their car but nobody approaches me again. I set about cooking my dinner mentally preparing a story about my friends who will appear now any second having finally repaired their flat tire. My bear spray is to hand. However, the kids soon jump back in their car and leave.

The traffic along the road is quite heavy and cars continue to pass regularly. The local communities seem very well resourced with cars – favouring sporty numbers in red or white. The vehicle’s sinuous interlocking curves and sleek angles are strangely reminiscent, it seems to me, of the various creatures represented in the carved totem poles.

Totem poles on a bridge.

Totem poles on a bridge.

I eat dinner and put up my tent and then light a fire as an alternative to an early night. I’m still slightly anxious about my exposed campsite but there is not much to be done about it at this stage. It starts to drizzle again and I go to bed. Sporadically cars pull into the car park – to use the outhouse, I presume – and each time I wake, wary and tense. It is Friday night, I realise.

The following morning I set off and it starts to rain again. I arrive in Terrace early in the afternoon soggy and cold and stop at a bike shop to replace my break pads. The ones I put in at Bell II, on the front, have not lasted well and back ones also need attention. Bike tended to, I then retire to the internet café to see if I can organise some accommodation, hopefully in Terrace, but also in Prince Rupert, tomorrow’s destination, and on Vancouver Island.

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the hot springs

In the morning, it is not raining but everything is sodden and water is still dripping from the trees. The sounds of droplets falling on my tent discourages me from rising and it is later than usual when I get up to make breakfast and pack everything onto the bike, sopping wet and dirty. I am feeling somewhat disheartened as I head out towards the Visitor Centre and unsure of my immediate plans.

Fred is standing next to the Visitor Centre, which is constructed to resemble a traditional longhouse, talking to the man who runs it. They both greet me. “It rained a bit last night, didn’t it?,” Fred says,  “I was just coming to check on you and see how you were.” I agree that it did, indeed, rain a bit last night and we discuss the water resistant capabilities of my tent.

“Would you like some coffee?” he asks, “I have a thermos in my truck.” The warmth of the gesture rather than the coffee attracts me. I am surprisingly deeply touched. Fred goes to his truck. I pay Verne the campsite fee and then join Fred inside the pick-up. He hands me a cup of sweetened coffee and apologises for the lack of milk.

Over coffee, Fred tells me news from his village – sadly, a respected chief has died of a massive heart attack yesterday. He elaborates on the impact of this death on the village and then the health issues – obesity, heart problems, diabetes – that affect the community as a whole. These issues recur, world-wide, across communities living in poverty and, particularly, in indigenous communities. We discuss the similarities between the First Nations communities in Canada and what I know of Aboriginal communities in Australia.

He tells me his father also died of a heart-attack some time ago and that education is needed to improve people’s diet and health awareness. I suggest that the disruption of the traditional diet is a major factor in poor health and, perhaps gently chiding me for my assumptions, he lets me know that his father was particularly fond of bottled sea-lion flipper.

I tell him a little of yesterday’s misadventures in the car and he asks me about my plans for the day. Today’s mission is finding the hot springs. As we part, Fred extends heart-felt good wishes. “I hope it doesn’t rain for the rest of your trip!” he says. I laugh and feel compelled to point out that it really has to rain sometime.

I set off through the lava valley marvelling again at the surreal landscape of chaotic rock forms covered by a dense layers of moss and lichen. Diminutive versions of various tree species have found gaps and crevices in which to send down their roots. The mountains around the valley are still swathed with strips of cloud but the rain has ceased. Exiting the valley, I am suddenly surrounded by a lush green rainforest of massive trees.

Diminutive tree clinging to the volcanic rock amidst moss and lichen.

Diminutive tree clinging to the volcanic rock amidst moss and lichen.

Finding a place to send down roots.

Finding a place to send down roots.

Mist over the mountains.

Mist over the mountains.

Mist over the mountains.

Mist over the mountains.

Approaching a bridge, I am surprised by a small black bear which suddenly appears on top of the concrete barrier to the side of the road. She looks equally startled and starts to cross the bridge, heading away from me, as two little cubs also jump up onto the block of concrete on the side of the road and hover there uncertainly. A car approaches from the opposite direction and I wonder if I now have a bear crisis on my hands – a mother bear, with two cubs, trapped on a bridge between me and a car. However, the situation resolves without itself any drama with mama bear changing her mind about which direction she will go. All three bears jump neatly over the concrete barrier on the other side of the road and disappear.

I reach the road sign that Fred mentioned. Looking at it closely, I can see that the sign originally stated the place name in English with the local name underneath in brackets. Someone has painted out the English text and the brackets, carefully matching the colour of the sign, leaving only the indigenous place name visible.

After bumbling around for a while, uncertainly, I find a trail leading up a hill through old forest. Massive trees rise above me, draped in emerald green moss. The path is muddy, wet and slippery and where the trail descends into a gully I have to walk ankle deep in murky water. Wooden boards floating in the puddles clearly exist to avert wet feet but the recent weather has overcome their efficacy.

Rainforest.

Rainforest.

Giant rainforest trees.

Giant rainforest trees.

Amazing lichen!

Amazing lichen!

I walk for only ten minutes before descending again to a small clearing in another gully. Pipes lead to a tiny gravel-bottomed pool emit steaming water. A stream runs to one side. Sulphur hangs in the air. I have arrived.

The place is clearly dearly loved. Rickety wooden structures provide places to sit, change and store belongings. Wind chimes hang in the trees and small statues adorn rocks in the pool and the sides of the gully. Pipes guide the water from three springs of varying temperature to the central pool and two other pipes provide drainage so the water constantly changes. The water coming from the main pipe is hot, another pipe provides luke-warm water and a trickle emerging straight from the ground is scalding. The stream running alongside is cold.

I try to work out how the system works. I pour hot water over myself but I would dearly love to sit and soak. Eventually I settle on a plan. There are plastic containers on the wooden platform which fit neatly into the drainage pipes forming an efficient plug. I place them in the pipes and sit in the pool as the water level rises. From time to time I go to the cold stream and refresh myself with cold water.

Steaming water bubbling up from the ground.

Steaming water bubbling up from the ground.

The pool.

The pool.

A very happy afternoon passes in this magical place.

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rainy day

So far I have been extremely lucky with the weather; in ten weeks I haven’t had a really wet day, only the occasional shower. Today, rain pours down without pause. I ride into the Nisga’a Lava Bed Valley around lunch time only dimly aware of the tumbled chaotic rock forms created by the solidified lava flow and which produce an eerie surreal landscape.

Riding in to the Nisga'a Lava Bed Valley.

Riding into the Nisga'a Lava Bed Memorial Park.

At the Nisga’a Campground I circle the campsites which are set in a thicket of tall rainforest trees. As usual, the sites are designed with the needs of RVs, rather than tents, in mind and the hard gravel patches are swimming in water. Setting up my tent or trying to cook something to supplement the slice of pizza I consumed at New Aiyansh in this environment is an unattractive prospect.

I return to the entrance and take shelter underneath the information board outside the Visitor Centre and start to cook some ramen noodles. People wander past  from the car park opposite and  give the information above my head a cursory perusal.

A woman approaches to ask if I would like to accompany her and her daughter for a drive in their car. The only real alternative, in the current conditions, is to continue sitting under the information board and so I agree on the proviso that she doesn’t mind waiting until I finish cooking and eating my noodles.

Those tasks completed I lock my bike and go to the woman’s car – a large white four-door pickup truck. Laura, her daughter, is about 14, a pretty blonde girl, sitting in the front of the vehicle. She gets out to let me into the rear of the cabin and I peel off my dripping wet-weather gear before climbing in. Sharon and Laura are from Alberta and spend their holidays each year exploring different parts of Canada and Alaska.

We set off on the road that goes to the coast sixty kilometres away, passing through a number of First Nation communities on the way. As we drive around the villages, Sharon comments disparagingly about the state of the houses and I find myself wishing that I was still alone on my bike in the rain. She has an anecdote to share on everything that we see which she uses to illustrates her poor opinion of First Nations people, none of which I can match with my own experiences and conversations with the local people.

I return to my bike somewhat dispirited by my afternoon with Sharon and Laura. Sharon’s ignorant bigotry left a very sour taste in my mouth. I try hard to reconcile her blatant racism with her obvious kindness to me but I fail to find the connection. The rain holds off for long enough for me to put up my tent and cook in relative comfort and I crawl into my tent. The rain pours down again relentlessly all night.

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dragonfly lake

I continue on my way down the valley crossing a deep fast flowing bright green river.

As the shadows lengthen, a sign indicating the Dragonfly Provincial Campground opportunely appears and I find myself on the shore of a narrow lake. Low mountains lie opposite, higher snow-covered mountains to one end of the lake and open sky to the other.

The surface of the water is undisturbed and the setting sun illuminates the tree-covered hills. I leave the bike at the site closest to the water and walk towards the open end of the lake. A melancholy cry echoes over the water – a rising and falling wail interspersed by maniacal cackles. Loons – a woman, walking with a russet coloured retriever to fetch her canoe, informs me. I am amazed and stand for a long time at the water’s edge listening to the birds call to each other across the lake, a beautiful and crazed chorus.

Dragonfly Lake.

Dragonfly Lake.

Dragonfly Lake.

Dragonfly Lake.

When I return to set up camp, the woman’s husband appears and gives me a piece of red Chinook salmon – Chinook are the most prized salmon. This couple are the only other people here.

I light a fire to cook this unexpected bounty and then after dinner with the sun already well behind the hills I go for a swim. While I am standing on the shore, about to enter the water, an otter surfaces nearby and glances as me quizzically, an intelligent and curious face, before slipping away, liquid form into liquid. The water is dark, the snowy mountaintop to the east still just illuminated, the sky to the west red, the low hills on the opposite shore already black. I swim out into deep water and float amidst beauty.

Salmon for dinner - a gift from a fellow camper.

Salmon for dinner - a gift from a fellow camper.

A tent with a view.

A tent with a view.

In the morning the sky, unexpectedly after yesterday’s sunshine, is a sullen grey, hanging heavy over the lake. I rise quite late, cook porridge, do the dishes, filter water, take down the tent, pack the bike and then sit by the water writing.  A noisy pick-up truck pulls up and a man gets out – the park operator. I get up to greet him and he asks me how I like the park. We discuss the animals, the otter, the loons, wolves and bears. He tells me about spirit bears, white ‘black’ bears, that are common in the area.

Fred is from one of the local First Nation communities. He asks me where I have travelled from and I tell him, getting out my map to show how far I have come. He largely ignores the map but listens carefully to what I have to say about the route and the country I have seen, nodding when I talk about the Dalton Highway and the oil pipeline. He tells me that the only reason there is a road here, in the Nass Valley, is because of the logging. He asks if I met many people from native communities in Alaska and I explain that I didn’t because most of the native Alaskan communities lie off the road system.

Fred tells me about some changes that have been taking place for some First Nations communities in Canada. A treaty signed in 2000 gives his people, the Nisga’a, greater control of their land but he is sad about how much has been taken from them already. He says that in the year before the treaty was signed the local logging industry reached a frenzied pitch with trucks leaving with loads of timber twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. He sees some hope for the economic future of the local communities in tourism and he wants the communities to invest in improving the roads and signage but this, he tells me, is a contentious issue.

I ask him about the hot springs that I have heard rumour of and he informs me they are on the road out to Greenville, the village where he lives. I get out my map but he is not very specific, mentioning a signpost on the road – a name in the local language – but he is vague about the spelling. He leaves wishing me well and I return to my writing by the lake until the grey skies break open and it starts to pour.

Rain.

Rain.

I ride in the rain, water gradually seeping into nooks and crannies, my shoes and socks sodden. After a short distance, I reach paved road and I splash on through the puddles until I reach a sign indicating New Aiyansh, one of the local First Nation communities. The village is set off the highway and I pause surveying the scene. I would like to see a local community but I feel a little intrusive, my motive simple curiosity.

Apparently a significant number of young women from local communities have disappeared without trace. The road is known in the area as the "Highway of Tears".

Apparently a significant number of young women from local communities have disappeared without trace. The road is known in the area as the Highway of Tears.

On one side of the access road a large billboard warns of the perils of hitchhiking. “Is it worth the risk?” the sign queries. The image depicts a lone girl attended by two spirit entities – whether protective or threatening I am unsure – as an anonymous car approaches ominously. On the other side of the road, a large handsomely carved wooden sign welcomes me to New Aiyansh but I am uncertain of the sincerity of this greeting from the invisible community. I am, however, somewhat encouraged by warm waves from car drivers entering and leaving the road. I still hesitate and ride a short way down the highway in the continuing rain before, impulsively, retracing my steps and taking the turn off.

All I need is a reason to be there, I decide, and make finding a local map my mission. I cycle down a short steep hill and up a longer incline and come into the village just over the crest. There is a garage workshop on the left, as I enter the village, and the mechanic in khaki overalls returns my nodded greeting as I cycle past towards a community building watched over by large carved totem poles. The only other public building is the general store behind me and I hook back towards it, pulling into the expansive car park at the same time as the mechanic who waves at me with such enthusiasm I mistake him at first for Fred, of this morning’s conversation, the only person I can conceivably consider myself to know in this place.

Signs instruct me not to leave my bike parked near the entrance of the store but the mechanic tells me to ignore them. I enter the store self-consciously, aware that everyone else in the place is greeting one another by name. I realise I have to modify my mission as everyone else knows exactly where they are and has no need of a map. A lonely slice of pizza rotating in a food warmer is the most attractive of the fast food on offer and I purchase it.

I find myself outside again and the mechanic initiates a conversation which follows the standard trajectory – where I am from, where am I going, what do I do… Eventually, I ask him about the hot springs, still uncertain if the information I already have is sufficient to find them. Without telling me anything about how to get there, the man describes the pullout on the road where the access track starts. It is possible that all these snippets will fit together well enough to get me there in the end.

Fred walks by with a smile and a wave as I finish my pizza and cycle off into the rain to the Nisga’a Lava Bed Memorial Park.

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