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Bowron Lakes Canoe Trip

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Rachel·Scott

Bowron Lakes Canoe Trip

August 28th, 2008  · stk

Day Six - (Pulling out)
Monday, August 18, 2008
17.4 km (paddling & "sailing")

The last night on our Bowron Lake Adventure was not a good one for Rachel. After the thunder and lightning storm, when the rain stopped, we settled in for a good night sleep. Near eleven, the rain started up again and we both woke up to close the vestibules, so our gear wouldn't get wet. We fell back to sleep, but an hour later, Rachel woke around midnight, with a runny nose. Wind was howling outside now and Rachel's nose was running like a sieve and wouldn't stop. A minute or two later, she realized that she didn't have a "runny nose" but rather, a gushing nosebleed. With one hand clamped tight on her right nostril and fumbling in the dark with her other hand, she sought either a flashlight or the roll of toilet paper. The toilet paper came first, but getting the Ziploc bag open and tearing toilet paper with one hand was a challenge, especially in the dark. At last, she was done, but now Scott was wake, from all the commotion. Finally, with a wad of toilet paper stuffed in her nostril, we both settled back down to sleep.

Our night wasn't over. We slept restfully till 3 AM, when Rachel felt something brush against her shoulder. She then woke with a jolt, realizing that something had run across her shoulder! Sitting bolt upright, she scrambled for the flashlight. Turning it on, she shone it at the "scurrying" noise, now coming from the foot of the tent. A fuzzy gray mouse was in the spotlight - INSIDE THE TENT! Rachel slapped Scott awake in a panic. "Eek!," she said, "Get this thing out of here, now!" (She really said, "Eek!") Being less mouse-phobic, Scott calmly took the flashlight, identified that yes, there was actually a mouse in the tent, and then unzipped a door so that it could get out. By this time, the panicked mouse was hanging upside down on the ceiling of the tent, right above Rachel's head. Rachel squealed, "Get it out!" and Scott batted at it. The mouse fell from the ceiling, catching itself on the mesh door. One more swat and the mouse was sent flying through the air, thudding on the ground, somewhere outside the tent.

Immediate panic over, we zipped the door close and began searching for the place the mouse had entered - we figured it had eaten a hole somewhere. Thankfully, we didn't spy any holes. It likely gained entrance through a slightly unzipped section of door.

With all access points now tightly zipped, we - once again - tried to settle down and get back to sleep. Within minutes, Rachel heard Scott's slow, easy breathing. He was asleep. Rachel found rest coming much more slowly. She lay awake for a half hour or more, at the ready with the flashlight in one hand, to hunt down any more offending rodents - outside or INSIDE the tent!

The next time we woke, it was morning and it was just starting to drizzle. It was late, nearly 7 AM and we decided to get moving: we had about 18 kilometers to paddle, plus a four-hour drive to Watch Lake (where Alex and Rachel's parents were camping).

As per our normal routine, Rachel packed up the inside of the tent, while Scott went to get the food and stove from the bear cache and heat up some water. Under the light sprinkle, Scott brought Rachel all of the food bags to pack, inside the tent. Dave and Gord were up and slowly making breakfast. They were camped within 20 feet of us and Gord mentioned that he found the 3 AM uproar really rather amusing! (Somehow, Dave managed to sleep through it all).

We were packed and ready to go by 8:30 AM, long before anyone else had their tents down. We said goodbye to Dave and Gord and the three kayakers (Julie, Charis, and Andrea) and paddled around the sand spit that divides Spectacle Lake from Swan Lake, which had been our camp for the night.

The rain has stopped, but the sky remained overcast and it couldn't make up its mind what it was going to do. The sun was trying hard to poke through, but every time it succeeded, clouds rushed in to cover it up. Paddling came slow and steady, as we made our way across the lightly-rippled waters of Swan Lake. As our shoulders groaned to be paddling again, we reassured ourselves that this was the last day and we would soon be reunited with our daughter - "the Oop".

The shores of Swan lake had lots of marshy reeds and grassy areas, so we paddled as quietly as possible, hoping to see some wildlife. As quiet as we were, there was nothing to be seen. "Darn," we said, "this looks like prime moose country, too."

After an hour of paddling we stopped for a break at a woodlot site near Campsite #50. It was a short, purposeful break, as we knew that we were only delaying our finish.

Back in the canoe, we made our way into the west finger at the northern tip of Swan Lake, where we passed by another couple of campsites. One still had tents up and several canoes lined the beach. As we neared the mouth of the Bowron River, we heard the sound of a motor boat, buzzing in the distance. We commented that there shouldn't be powerboats on the circuit, unless used by park staff. Sure enough, as we neared the throat of Bowen River, a jet boat came rushing out of the narrow opening in the reeds and zipped by us at full throttle, with two park staff riding in it. We weren't very happy with the encounter. First, that a powerboat had just roared through an area in which we had hoped to enter quietly, to avoid disturbing any wildlife. Second, the boat hadn't slowed, which left a huge wake in his path for paddlers to contend with. We weren't impressed and thought that park staff should be more considerate.

Perturbed, we entered the narrow, winding Bowron River. The river current was greater than we had anticipated, which helped to move us along at a decent pace. The river snakes through a shallow wetland, with tall sedge grasses on either side. At every turn, we were hopeful of spying moose; Scott even stood up in the canoe a number of times, to look out over the grasses for a sign of them, but there were none to be seen. Aside from and abundance of fish (more than we have seen in any other waterway so far on this trip), the only other wildlife that we saw was a bald eagle sitting at the edge of an abandoned arm of the river. As we tried to get closer to him, he took flight. Not getting a good photo was disappointing, but listening to his huge wings beat the air was, in itself, impressive.

After winding along the snaking river for nearly three quarters of an hour, we were finally deposited into Bowron Lake. Knowing that we were now on the last 7.2-kilometer stretch of the circuit helped to speed us along. In the distance, we could see the cabins on the west side of the lake and the resort area at the far end.

Bowron Lake is quite wide and we chose a diagonal path across the lake, toward the eastern bank where the Provincial Park dock is located. We were padding away in the center of the lake, making slow progress - then the wind picked up. At first it was just a few puffs, but it was enough to get us thinking about Dave and his inventive sail. The wind continued to build and then Scott suggested rigging up a sail, using two paddles. Rachel suggested using the poncho and asked for the spare paddle. With the red poncho snapped together, Rachel stuck the two paddles up inside it and spread them wide into the corners - Voila! We had a Vee-shaped sail!

The wind was pretty gentle and not very consistent, so we were unsure if we were going any faster than we would have with Rachel paddling. Every now and then, however, a gust would come along and Scott would comment that he could really feel the canoe moving. He had to paddle much faster, to keep up. Encouraged, we kept the sail up; if nothing else, it was a fun diversion and a bit of a novelty, especially after five long days of shoulder-aching paddling!

The wind became stronger and more consistent! White caps formed and the sail was full more often than it wasn't. We rounded a point in the lake, spying six canoes heading down the lake, padding into the wind. They were hugging the shore and working hard to make headway. We felt sorry for those canoeists, having to battle such a psychologically debilitating opponent. On the other hand, we were now having an uproariously grand time! We whooped and hollered, laughing every time a gust of wind lifted the canoe. We were actually SURFING down the backside of the tall, choppy waves, every time a strong gust of wind came along! WAHOO!!

The 7.2 kilometers up Bowron Lake was great fun! Yesterday's wind had been fun, but now that we were harnessing that force, it was a sheer joy! We can now appreciate why Dave gets a twinkle in his eye when he talks about putting his sail up. Dave and Gord had warned us, however, that trying to harness the wind is not always an easy - or safe. At one point, we figured out why.

During the excitement of sailing, the jacket that Rachel was sitting on, started to go overboard. Each gust would lift her up and out of her seat a bit and slowly, but steadily, her jacket was headed for the drink. When she noticed this, Scott tried to "rescue" the jacket. While he was doing this, the canoe breeched to the wind (turned sideways to the wind and waves). Within a split second we were close to capsizing, as the waves - taller than the canoe - rocked the canoe precariously. Rachel quickly pulling the sail out of the wind and Scott managed to bring us about so that we were no longer sideways. Our hearts beat quickly! That was close!

Back on track, Rachel hoisted the red "sail" again and we were off, whizzing down the lake.

As we sailed down the length of the lake we kept checking over our shoulders, expecting to see Dave and Gord with their sailing-filled canoe. They weren't to be seen. We don't know how much longer it took them to get out of camp, but it was probably about an hour or so. The only thing that could have made our sail down Bowron Lake any better would have been to have Dave and Gord sailing along with us. It sure would have been great fun to see their canoe really flying down the lake with Dave grinning at the helm!

We approached the Provincial Park pull out dock to see a number of kids playing on it. They didn't seem to notice that we had come in under sail, or at least, they didn't think it the least bit strange. We lost the strength of the wind behind Devil's Club Mountain, so Rachel put down the sail down and extracted her paddle, to finish off the last couple hundred meters. The kids cleared the dock as we were pulled up. That was all the fanfare we had, in finishing our 6-day trip. It was noon and a new batch of excited adventurers would be starting their orientation session, at the registration booth.

After pulling out a bit of gear, we were able to pull the canoe onto the end off the dock. For the last time, we put the wheels underneath the canoe and cinched the straps tight.

When we had walked down to the dock the night before we started the canoe circuit, it hadn't occurred to Rachel that it would be dock upon which, we would be finishing. In hindsight, it seems appropriate the we had taken the time to walk down to the lake and stand there, contemplating the upcoming adventure - and seven days later, we would be finishing the adventure at that very spot.

Both of us had to pull and push, to get the canoe up off the dock and up the steep trail back up to the Provincial campground. There, we saw the group of 18 American guys, loading up their canoes and gear onto a big trailer. We nodded to them, as we walked by, pushing our canoe toward the registration office and parking lot, where our car was waiting. We arrived at the car and loaded our gear into the hatchback, then Scott set about lashing the canoe down for the drive back to Vancouver, while Rachel went to inform the ladies at the registration booth that we'd finished.

After dropping the rented canoe wheels off at Bear Creek Mercantile, we stopped to gaze off down Bowron Lake, looking for signs of Dave and Gord's gray sail. The lake was empty and we wondered if they were still on the circuit or if they had already pulled out. Wherever they were, with the whitecaps getting larger and larger, we are sure that they had a good finish to their trip and that Dave would be grinning at finishing with a blustery flourish.

Back on the paved road, heading toward Quesnel, we spotted our last moose, standing serenely at the side of the road, still as a statue. We turned the car around to take a photo, but as we pulled up she meandered into the bush, disappearing from view within seconds. As we continued on down the highway we saw many cars that were topped with canoes. With dark clouds threatening above and the wind blowing hard, we were very thankful that our adventure was blessed with favorable weather.

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