Story last updated at 11/25/2009 - 12:04 pm
Here on Prince of Wales Island, we noticeably lack big, flashy, four-story shopping malls in which to walk laps for exercise. A problem, no doubt, but I'm pretty sure we are better off getting our exercise the old fashioned way-walking around outside! Not only can we trudge around in a larger variety of climatic scenarios, but we can get away from man-made sights and sounds completely.
When I'm in Thorne Bay, a favorite hike is the two-and-a-half mile or so bypass loop which commences right from town and can be walked at a moderate speed in about an hour. A quick trek around the loop for a little fresh air makes an excellent contribution to overall good health and can be the perfect solution for finding the time to share an hour or two with friends-exercising and catching up simultaneously!
The bypass road is accessed from either the main road leading to and from Thorne Bay or the Sandy Beach Road on the other side of the mountain. I like to start my walks on the main road side which offers a more strenuous uphill hike for a better workout than I would get by walking in the other direction.
From Shoreline Drive I head out of town and soon encounter a landmark locally referred to as "the claw,"a relic from past logging operations that was converted into the local information center for visitors. This incredible part of a log grabbing machine is so huge that it serves as a little building the way it sits with jaws open. Complete with picnic tables, benches and a waterfront view, local residents also enjoy relaxing here to watch the antics of sea ducks, kingfishers and eagles along with seals and whales.
My appearance has startled a blue heron and it flies off in a huff.
On down the road, about one half-mile from town, I hang a right up a fairly steep dirt road and start up the bypass. A few years ago the upper side of the mountain was logged and developed into a new subdivision of parcels and roads that will someday have houses boasting fantastic views of the bay and surrounding mountains.
An eagle floats by and lands on a tall tree, singing a tune. I continue up the hill, enjoying the relative quiet, and challenge my will to overcome the 330 foot summit.
Deer are often seen on a bypass hike and if the time is right, salmonberries and blueberries are available to quench your thirst. Several different edible mushrooms can be found here and there off in the woods. In spring and summer beautiful wild flowers grow along the side of the road-fireweed, marsh marigold, bog orchid and monkey flower. Huge, spiny branches of devil's club crowd around the creeks and lurk among the spruce, cedar and hemlock trees.
Winter brings a whole new dimension of adventure, day or night but can be especially awesome in the moonlight. In a good winter of heavy snowfall, the bypass is a great place to cross-country ski as well as hike. I manage the steep part by keeping one ski in the deeper snow and the other in a tire track while shifting my weight back and forth and hoping for the best.
Before I know it I've descended the hill to Sandy Beach Road and pause to check out Deer Creek, which parallels the road in a low meadow of tall grass. Rather than turning left toward Coffman Cove, I turn right on Sandy Beach Road and head back toward Thorne Bay, past an old gravel pit and some closed-up shop buildings until I come to the school on the right. Soon I'm back on paved road and concrete sidewalks.
I wave at the group of kids rollerblading on the outdoor basketball court, wait for traffic and continue down the hill. It's nice to know that wildlife and quiet places aren't so far from the comforts of home.