“You doing anything special to get ready to paddle the Bowron?” questioned one of the members of our group.
"Yeah, waxing my canoe," I replied. There was a puzzled silence at the other end of the line.
I'd done the math. The Bowron Lakes canoe circuit is, in round numbers, 116-kilometres long. Portages, ranging from a pleasant walk to stumblebum grind, only account for 11 kilometres. That leaves 105km of paddling.
On a calm lake, I paddle about once every three metres. Punching those figures into a calculator, the number of strokes comes out somewhere north of 35,000. Just seeing it made my shoulders ache. I figured a couple of coats of wax would knock a few thousand of those strokes off the total. Good tradeoff in my books.
The sickening CRASH in the parking lot a few days later turned everyone's head. I felt my face redden. My canoe was so slick I'd dropped it lifting it off the top of the truck.
"Oops," I said, not wanting to look. Whew, no damage other then an oozing ego wound.
It was the first time I cursed my sloth. The second through 78th time was along the first two portages. Now, there are three things you should know about portaging at Bowron. First, almost half of the total portage distance happens in the first two portages. Second, you're a complete fool if you don't rent wheels and push/pull your boat along the portage trails, which were about as challenging as the Valley Trail the previous time I did the Bowron. Third, cuts to BC Parks have led to reduced trail maintenance and some of the portage trails are now absolutely f*#@%in' murderous, wheels or not.
And if your canoe is slippery as snot, it doesn't help portaging at all.
None of that mattered when we finally launched ourselves into the calm waters of Kibbee Lake, the first of a dozen lakes arranged in a strangely geometric parallelogram about 120km east of Quesnel, folded into Quesnel Highlands and the Cariboo Mountains. The sun was shining and the water was glass.
Our group of six, in three canoes, had five Bowron circuits under our belts, never together. There was only one thing common to all our trips: Weather, as in WEATHER! Mean-spirited, stormy, wet, cold, incessant, and occasionally even miserable weather with just enough sunny days to keep us coming back. And while much of last summer had hewn true to that description, we hit the jackpot this time. For six days after Labour Day, a stubborn high-pressure ridge brought clear skies, warm temperatures and, most uncharacteristically, placid, mirror-like waters.
Bowron is termed a wilderness area by BC Parks, which administers it. It is beautiful, rugged and wild but it isn't wilderness, at least as that term is generally understood. There are 54 designated campsites sprinkled along the lakes, 10 of which are group sites subject to reservation. Every site has from one to six tent pads, with a giant site on tiny Unna Lake having 13, spread out peacefully along the shore. They all have fire rings, the usage of which is mandatory, pit toilets and bear caches for food. There is bucked, if hopelessly wet, firewood at specified locations along the route.