He had hiked miles to get here the long way. His muscles ached and he was cold but there was less snow here than below. He had never brought anyone else here, not even his ex-wife. He hadn’t been here in years but it still looked the same. Maybe a bit more evidence of visitors than there used to be, but that was to be expected. You can’t keep secrets forever.
There were some empty cans by the lower pools. He made a mental note to collect them and crush them. He had three days to bathe in the hot springs and didn’t want to deal with old beer cans while he was here. He could pack them out when he left. The five pools were easily identifiable by the plumes of steam that rose into the cool winter air. It was quiet, peaceful, and still.
He tossed his pack on a flat patch that looked soft and unrolled his bivvy, making this spot his own. A couple of quick forays yielded plenty of firewood that he stacked at his campsite. He didn’t anticipate much need for a fire as he had an alcohol burner to heat coffee water in the mornings and he knew, from experience that water in the upper pools could be used to warm the camp foods he had brought.
With everything ready he was looking forward to a soak. His ritual had always been to start at the lowest, and coolest, pool; he would then work his way slowly from pool to pool until he reached the top. Water in the top pool could be over 140O F. He would soak in the warmest pool as long as he could then work his way back down again. After letting his waterlogged, wrinkled skin return back to normal and having something to eat and drink: he would do it all over. In the past he would make this round trip two or three times a day; maybe once more after dark. It was a completely different experience when the stars winked at him in reflection from the warm waters of the pools.
He rolled a couple of joints, took off his clothes, folded them and set them on the large rock at the edge of his campsite. Naked and barefoot he picked his way across the frozen ground, avoiding the few remaining patches of crusty snow, to the first pool and lowered himself in. Each of the pools was a bit more than two feet deep. The fourth pool was the biggest and deeper than the others too. It was his favorite.
Leaning back against the side he sparked up and took a couple of tokes, just enough to take the edge off. He wasn’t here to get trashed just to relax. He closed his eyes and listened to the silence. He had some old Roberta Flack song stuck in his head and he just let it roll there, burning across his brain from one ear to the other; and back. It was a good song. He didn’t mind.
He woke with a start and had no idea how long he had dozed. There was some wrinkling on the pads of his fingers but he wasn’t waterlogged. Next pool, he decided. The water was about fifteen degrees warmer here. There was that song again, but at first he was only hearing snippets. It got clearer though and louder.
Then he saw them. There were five of them, two guys and three girls. Two of the girls were empty-handed. The third had an old fashioned boom box, his ear-worm emanated smoothly from the speakers and the guys each carried one end of a large cooler. They spotted his campsite first and set their things on the other side of the lower pool, not crowding him. That was good.
They saw him next and bypassed the first pool coming to join him. The guys struggled with the cooler and the girls were dropping their clothes as they came closer. He watched them and thought about how cold temperatures affect things, like genitals and nipples. The girls paused at the edge of the pool, “Can we join you?” the tallest one asked. “We have beer.”
“And, we’ll share.” The darker skinned girl added. She had a raspy quality to her voice that he liked.
“Sure, get in, there’s plenty of room.” He said and smiled. It was the first time he had spoken all day.