In the heat of the night & other half-baked stories

by Raymond Parker on February 16, 2012

in Health

I prefer basting to baking. This is why, after a workout at the gym, you’ll find me in the steam room, rather than the sauna.

A post-workout poaching always brings to mind my heat bath baptism.

Should you find yourself peering at me through the mist at some athletic club, you’ll be lucky to get away without hearing my steamy tales.

You could always claim incipient heatstroke. But please forgive me if I babble; those experiences are seared in my memory.

Caravan Cooker

I was initiated into Scandinavian bathing rituals high in the Purcell Mountains of southeastern British Columbia.

The Meadow, as we called our little alpine hideout circled by log cabins, lay on the edge of Lavington Creek, a foaming glacial torrent.

The prospectors who had established the settlement, besides building the cabins from local larch, had abandoned a tin trailer constructed from a truck’s rear wheel assembly, its wooden framework clad in purloined soft-drink signs.

We lined this little caravan with thick larch boards—rescued from off-cut piles, where portable mills once operated—and installed an airtight heater.

Even in winter months, at twenty-below, the little heater, sprayed with water, soon raised the temperature enough to send us diving out of the blanket-draped doorway, right into the scalding-cold waters of Lavington Creek … after a hole had been chopped through the ice.

Fluctuating water levels often left a space between the underside of the ice and water surface. Needless to say, care was needed to avoid being washed downstream.

During one winter sortie (or sauté), one of our number, Charles Scott, had us worried by a lengthy stay in the frigid creek. Our concern was heightened by the fact that, on this occasion, our communal ablutions took place after sunset.

The slippery steps we had cut into the ice presented a bit more of a challenge to Scottie, who had left half his left leg in the jungles of Vietnam.

Just as we were mumbling about a rescue team, Scottie’s prodigious beard parted the blankets. Shivering, as he sidled up to the red glow of the airtight, he reported through chattering teeth that he had become separated from his wire-rimmed glasses, under the ice.

Without them, he was as good as blind. Not only was he profoundly myopic, shrapnel from the same explosion that took his leg had robbed him of the sight in one eye.

The first search party took axes to cut shelves below the frozen creek surface, followed by kerosene lamp-bearers, whose mission it was to illuminate the ice-cave. Naked and steaming, they tip-toed to the creek edge and, lit by flickering yellow light, descended into the cave. It was quite a spectacle.

As they retreated to the sauna, a freshly-toasted crew took their place, ducking into water cold enough to produce instant frontal lobe paralysis.

The creek bed was a mixture of ochre sand and iron pyrites—fool’s gold. What was the chance of finding a pair of gold-rimmed glasses there? Besides, surely they had been swept away. Holding onto submerged branches, the bifocal brigade pawed through the sand, lifting sparkling clouds. We were captives in a Christmas “snowdome.”

Eventually, a pink-skinned figure rose triumphantly from the glowing cavern, glasses in hand.

During the confab, the fire had gone untended. We headed uphill to the Big Cabin, where a forty-five gallon drum served duty as an efficient heater. Hopefully, there was also a bottle of dandelion wine kicking around. It was time for a different kind of toast.

Portable poacher

A more mobile “sweat lodge” can be erected anywhere. A sheet of plastic or a tarp, draped over branches will suffice.

Willow boughs, which grow handily along waterways, “planted” in a circle and tied into a dome, make a perfect framework. Saplings about 3 metres long are perfect.

Heat stones (caution: river rock may explode) in a fire for a few hours and carry them carefully by shovel or clasped between branches to a pit dug in the centre of the circle.

Take in a container of water and batten down the hatches. Pour water over the rocks.

My most memorable sweat was erected on a sandy shore of the Klondike River, north of Dawson City, Yukon. A dive into the subarctic water encouraged whoops and hollers as the swift-running current swept us a hundred metres downstream to a sand bar.

Why not try a refreshing steam-cleaning on your next bicycle tour or camping trip?

{ 5 comments… read them below or add your spin! }

Lynn Hirshman February 16, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Wow — does THAT bring back memories. (I don’t think I was there the night of Scotty’s Lost Glasses, though.)

Memories of our sauna enabled me to get past my fear of Cree sweat lodges in Saskatchewan and Alberta many years later.

Thank you, Ray!


Raymond Parker February 16, 2012 at 8:50 pm

One of many indelible memories. No day was ordinary, was it?

I remember visiting a native stone circle in Saskatchewan with you, on the precipice of a rift valley … can’t recall its name.


Lynn Hirshman February 17, 2012 at 6:57 am

Probably Moose Mountain. But I don’t really remember the name, either.


lee kenney February 17, 2012 at 9:45 am

Senior cyclist moments and Moose mountain memories, I was born in Moosemin, lived in Wawota, I fished at Kenosee, Carlyle. There is a grand memory of a cold northern lit sky and the twice weekly steam train whistle miles away, back in the day. I’m off in 1 wk in search of new memories, crowded in admidst the past. I’m armed and sort of dangerous with a gift camera Canon G7, its even got proton torpedoes with dog barks. That Kodak moment just got mind blogging, time to talk like pirate in Spanish. Argh senorita, que paso?


Raymond Parker February 17, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Lee, I was also a steam train fan (Wow! did I ever just date myself) to the point that I hung around stations with a trainspotter’s book, ticking off trains as I saw them.

The trainspotter’s prize was to “cab” an engine–that is, to convince an engineer to allow a visit into the bowels of the machine. On one occasion, I got to shovel coal into the glowing interior of the furnace.

To return to the subject, the inside of the cab was indeed like a sauna.

Damn the torpedos, and bring back some good photos from your bicycle odyssey.


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