“Some crazy man put all sorts of signs up. Ignore them. Just keep going. The hike to San Antonio Springs is five miles,” explained the owner of the lakeside house I was renting.
I recalled her words as I packed snacks, water and a few other essentials. I would leave early in the morning. Not knowing how long it would take me to go to and from the springs (and also uncertain of how long I would soak), I figured it was best to leave at the break of day.
The trail started on the other side of Hwy 4 just beyond the San Antonio Campgrounds. Something about the mountain terrain and higher elevation made my legs feel rubbery-stiff from the start. It was a little like I was just off a boat having traveled across choppy waters. My sea-legs so far from the ocean hardly made sense and I would adjust to the trail hike as I progressed.
When I blogged as The Wimpy Traveler (the website is gone now, but it is something I hope to revive), I mentioned how two thoughts came to mind whenever I went out to pee at night; aliens and Bigfoot. Maybe it was just my way of energizing myself. Just a little fear. In any case, as I forged ahead alone on an old forest service road, I kept scanning the Ponderosa Pines in hopes of seeing a Bigfoot tromping along. I didn’t.
Part of my mind was still mourning the loss of my sister Doreen. Hiking acted as a kind of cleanse for me. I have heard the term Forest Bathing as a Japanese understanding of how nature assist us. So, I guess I was taking a forest bath as I made way to a healing hot spring. Not a bad approach to considering balance after a loved one’s death.
Hardly a half hour along the trail, I approached the setting of the crazy right-wing whack-a-doodle mentioned by my landlord. Old trucks and a flag along with giant pick-up trucks and a couple of mobile homes were arranged along the trail and a fenced compound area. Two dogs, I imagined rottweilers, barked and growled beyond a high fenced area. A sign alongside of the trail shared- trespassers will be shot. Survivors will be shot again. A door to one of the mobile homes opened and I stopped in my tracks. A kind lady exited smiling at me with a “Good morning!” I returned her greeting, then she hurried across the trail to bang on the door of another mobile home, “Time to get up, Billy!” I continued on the trail. People are people. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all could get along?
Where the sun hit the trail and in fields alongside of the two-track, I noticed the variety of wildflowers. I’ll collect some flowers for Doreen’s memorial on the hike back, I decided.
The path became a single-track soon. I noticed it paralleled a stream running far down a side-slope. Through another forest I traveled and this opened into an alpine meadow. Really pretty, I spotted some old buildings up ahead.
Worn and graffitied, the buildings looked more frightening than welcoming. Old mattresses were thrown in a stack alongside of one and dark doorways where sprinkled with floormats of mouse droppings. I noted one corner of the building contained a YCC logo.
Ah, the memories! The Youth Conservation Corp was my first youthful escape from my family of origin. I was 17 and terrified. It was the summer of 1981. It was the summer of Lady Di and Prince Charles’s wedding. I spent the summer at Star Lake Campus and the Adirondack wilderness helping to clear and create trails. I also fell madly in love with a girl from the other trail group. Her name was Laura and she came from Oyster Bay out on Long Island. She was stunningly beautiful and took my breath away (I know that is a cliché’ but she really did make it hard for me to breath or even speak). I remember camping and assisting in laying stringers through various swamp settings (didn’t mind the mud). My heart was broken and I was incredibly pissed when I found out one of the jocks was going around bragging, he had made it to second base with Laura. I hated that jerk!
Anyhow, lots of emotions came back. I also considered the brilliance of the YCC. 17- and 16-year-olds with raging hormones getting together in the wilderness under the leadership of 21-year-olds; who thinks these things up? This location near the beautiful hot springs must have been the climax of some young lives! I looked at the old buildings and thought, if only these walls could talk! Ah, the 80s!
I can smell the sulfur and see the steam rising from hot springs up the hill from the buildings. It will be a climb. I decide to switch into my bathing suit before I scale the goat trail ahead. My suit on and supplies in my backpack, I climbed towards the springs.
As I considered how swift I’d been on my five-mile hike, imagine my surprise to hear, “Joe!” I scaled along out to the springs. Bobby, a fellow teacher and two other teachers from my new school laughed at my arrival. My first comment, “Sure glad I didn’t decide to soak naked!”
There was a total of six former and present-day teachers from my new district. One shared, “I think this is our new setting for professional development.” We all enjoyed the waters and some laughs.
The hike back went fast in part because of a thunder storm. I did get some flowers and found myself back only slightly charred by the lightening. And I suspected the rain was why Bigfoot kept to himself.
Take the perks when you can. San Antonio Hot Springs are a big one!