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Up the creek with a paddle (part one)

Quiet before the storm 
When Gavin,  Christine’s brother, invited us almost two years ago to join him and their sister Paula  on the Bowron Lake Circuit for a 10 day canoeing adventure, we happily agreed to join without giving it too much thought; now, sitting outside the Bowron Lake Visitors Centre after an hour long presentation of what to expect the next week and a half , I am not so sure......

Any bears behind the trees?

Stories of Brown Bears and Grizzlies on the loose, stranded canooers in freezing rapids (don’t lose your paddle!) and tipped boats are plentiful during the introductory talk, maybe to scare us a little or to prevent ‘yahoo’ behaviour, but still.... If you are well prepared, nothing will happen, the kind Canadian Park Ranger tells us. Well prepared ? Dunno; let’s see. 

Paula; very well prepared
At the time of the invitation, we were in the middle of our year in Tajikistan and battling outdated Russian business practices in a post-Soviet world (not to mention minus 30 Celsius temperatures and resident rats) so we confidently assumed that canoeing around some lakes would be a nice, easy relaxation after a year in Central Asia. Conveniently forgetting that neither of us had ever canoed in our lives we light-heartedly thought this would be an over-all very pleasurable experience and a nice get-together with Christine’s family, most of whom live in Canada.

Be VERY prepared !!

Of course, the last 10 months have not been kind on Christine (we are talking June 2012). She has   been recuperating remarkably well yet so far and we have decided to go ahead with the trip but, leaning against our fully loaded canoe,  I now wonder, whether this is not a little bit too much to chew on for us. Suddenly, I feel mightily responsible.

Gavin, always ready to go; Christine, less so it seems
Our GP and friend Roelof, who is a firm believer in the powers of positive thinking, said there would be no problem what so ever but what does he know  about canoe circuits in wild Canadian forests and 500 pound grizzlies?  He is Dutch and let me tell you, Dutch people live in a country devoid of any wilderness. The only wild beasts the Dutch encounter are rabbits and ducks and they have never learnt to appreciate the challenges of real, raw nature.  Invariably, when you read that somebody has been shredded by a shark in Australia or attacked by a bear in Alaska, you can assume that that must have been a Dutchman (or woman)  who took warnings about wildlife not very seriously at all (what shark?, bears are nice and furry, do snakes bite??).   In addition to this, most of my friends will tell you that I have never been very good in realistically assessing the consequences of simple adventures and that I am overly optimistic when it comes to upcoming athletic endeavours.

After forty kilometers on Dutch ice; From left to right: me, Roelof, also our GP (does he look like an expert on Canadian wildlife, don't think so), Ivan and Michiel

Case in point, when I went skating last year I thought  that I could easily cover sixty or seventy kilometers in a couple of hours. Not having skated for over twenty five years, it was a miracle that I did forty kilometres, and that was with a lot of assistance from patient fellow skaters who kept me out of a fiercely blowing Northern wind for over thirty. So, you probably get my slowly developing unease at this stage.
Beginning of a great adventure
But, here we are at the beginning of the Bowron Lake Circuit and we have to start paddling, it seems. The Bowron Lake Park is a large wilderness area  - roughly the size of the Netherlands -  in British Columbia, situated on the western slopes of the Cariboo Mountain Range (bordering the Canadian Rockies). The Circuit encompasses a 116 km chain of lakes, waterways and connecting portages through the wilderness. The wilderness canoe trip takes from 6 to 10 days to complete, depending on time-frame and skill level......
Stunningly beautiful.....
Our group consists of four canoes,eight people, six adults in various stages of ‘decrepitude’ and two teenagers. To give you a little bit of history. Canoeing the Bowron Circuit is the brainchild of Paula, who decided roughly four years ago that she needed a serious physical challenge. Her husband, Dip, is a very smart guy so he instantly declined to join under the pretext of being busy with very important business.... So, needing an able bodied-guy, Paula then decided to call on her brother, Gavin, who is super handy ( great when you need to fix a leaking canoe or set up camp), the nicest guy around and also, never says no. He also happens to be a Captain with BC Ferries, which is a definite bonus when you are out on any form of water; so who better to call.  Gavin is also very thoughtful, so when Paula called, he agreed to join her under condition that they would both prepare extremely well and take official canoe lessons. Paula concurred of course, and now, Paula and Gavin are well trained paddlers, who know what to do when a canoe tips or a storm is heading your way.
Paula, our spiritual leader and Gavin, captain
 (always wondered how you kept that shirt so clean).
Along the way, Nihabi and Ahawi (Paula’s and Dip’s daughters) decided to join the fun (they took lessons as well) and out they went, in the summer of 2010. The four of them managed to canoe for three full days and everything seemed to go well, until they were turned back by the Park Rangers because of huge wild-fires in the Park. Mission not accomplished.
Ahawi (left) and Niabi, still having fun
Paula, understandably, wants to finish what she started so here we are again, in the summer of 2012 for our first and their second try. From an initial group of four, we have now grown into a team of eight.
From left to right: Paula, Niabi, Christine, Jelte, Terry, Ahawi, and Dip ; the captain is on duty
Ok, ok,  here's one of the captain as well
So, Gavin, Paula, Nihabi and Ahawi are the experienced ones. Add to the mix Dip, Paula’s husband who couldn’t say no the second time around, Terry a good friend of Gavin's and also super handy (these Canadians know how to set a camp in 5 minutes and light a fire without matches) and Christine and myself and our group is complete.   Since our arrival in Canada from Holland, we have been busy trying to collect all items necessary for the trip. Especially, Paula has been meticulously preparing and the number of items needed to secure safe passage through the wilderness is mind-boggling. Wet-bags, power-bars, special bag packs (water resistant), all-weather clothing, mosquito jackets and caps, bug spray, you name it and that’s just the personal stuff. Camping and cooking gear are part of the equipment as well; so are meals. There are no snack bars, nice fish restaurants or cafes on the circuit, only very basic camp sites, so we have to prepare for every meal along the way. Breakfast, lunch, dinner every day times 10. What you take in, you take out, you can’t leave garbage behind.  Thirty meals for eight, not on wheels but on water. 
A lot of thought and preparation (also pre-tasting) into every meal...
Busy preparing last minute to secure all the necessary supplies, Christine and I almost forget we have never canoed. To the rescue comes Terry, who teaches us the basics of carrying a canoe through squelchy mud (deceptively called portaging) and paddling through a lake the size of a bath-tub days before we leave on the 120 km trip. Terry sits in the middle of the canoe (playing dead-weight and teacher), while Christine and I paddle. We don’t tip so we pass the first test with flying colours, still don’t know what we are in for though.  The bliss of ignorance......
Terry, super teacher
When we drive to the Lakes with Gavin and Terry and stop along the way for refreshments, there is sudden talk about bear bells. Bear bells ? Gotta have bear bells. ...WHAT is a bear bell ? This is the first time I get a little bit alarmed. I thought all the talk about bears was a little bit over the top but these Canadians take it pretty seriously. So, Christine buys a bear bell and clips it on to her back-pack. From now on she is at least easy to find (within or outside a bear’s stomach) and I am happy that she is in the same canoe as I am....
Picture perfect......


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