Pat’s Point Thanksgiving….2018
At the put-in there was no question that we should wear rain gear, the forecast had been for “overcast with some rain” and I guess it was right, for a fine mist was looking more and more like real rain. Looking east down the expanse of Bowron Lake, there was a clear line on the mountains, marking the elevation where precipitation was falling as snow.
We were the last to put in for the annual Thanksgiving rendezvous at Pat’s Point, it was 9:30 a.m. If all went well, we knew that the trip out to Spectacle Lakes would take just under 4 hours. We had earlier made the journey in mid-June along with two other couples and were familiar with the route and just what to expect. We were anticipating meeting up with about 11 other folks, who during the week had been making their way to Pat’s Point via various routes and at various times. Most had left yesterday (Saturday), one person had left on Thursday and was going to paddle the whole Bowron Lake Circuit. The plans were to sit down together for turkey dinner tonight at 5:00 p.m. precisely.
Almost alone, smoke was rising from the chimneys of two or three of the cabins that line the first part of Bowron Lake’s southern shore, we were staying close just to be safe. Three canoes came into focus heading for the take-out and hugging the northern shore, we learned later that they had spent the night in the old Pavich cabin on the Bowron River.
On entering the Upper Bowron River we were surprised by the number of waterfowl. When I had paddled this way in May as part of the annual Bro’s on Bowron trip I was alarmed by the complete lack of most ducks and geese, but they were there today. The geese were rafting up in the Bowron Slough, probably in family groupings and getting ready to migrate south. We saw quite a few mallards which we hadn’t seen at all in May. The highlight was three Trumpeter Swans, but no doubt they were planning on spending the winter, possibly at nearby Swan Lake. As we paddled the meandering Upper Bowron River, I was thinking that just three weeks earlier Sockeye Salmon were making their way up to the headwaters of this very stream, to lay their eggs and to die, completing both their life cycle and the longest Sockeye migratory journey in North America.
When I had paddled the Chain in May, the water level was the highest that I had ever seen. I felt then that this was the reason that the ducks and geese were avoiding this place, that they weren’t ready to build their nests, only to have them flooded and destroyed. Now the water level was quite low, quite a contrast. Still, we were able to find the deeper channels and made good progress without getting grounded.
I love paddling, it’s something about the resistance as I pull the paddle through the water. I am always amazed that a slight twist of the wrist, a sweeping stroke or a pry can completely and almost instantly alter the direction in which we are paddling. I love the hypnotic, relaxing quality of the cadence, starting with arms and then back and shoulders and soon the whole body. The start of each stroke is an opportunity for yet another unique experience, sometimes dictated by the wind or a bend in the river, but most often simply an attempt to make the perfect splash-free silent entry followed by the powerful pull to the hip with the slight correction if needed and then the feathered aerodynamic return for yet another knife sharp entry. The bow paddler sets the cadence, in our case about 40 strokes a minute. My wife and I have paddled thousands of kilometres together and when all goes well, it is very special.
I guess you could call it typical fall weather, it certainly looked like late fall. We were past the bright orange and yellow backdrop of changing leaves, they were now almost all on the ground. The sun was not able to make it through the clouds so it was ‘grey’, but still relatively warm. The light rain came and went, I was glad to be wearing rain gear, especially my warm rubber boots with the felt liners. Let it rain if it wants to, I’m ready for it.
A group of three boats approached us, we recognized the smiling faces and stopped for a 5 minute chat. We got caught up on the ‘who’s where and when did they arrive’ chat. Our friends were like us, they had just wanted to experience this place in all of its moods and seasons. Also like us, this past summer their paddling had been curtailed by the forest fires and heavy smoke, and they were anxious to simply get out on the water. They had camped out for a couple of nights further down Spectacle Lakes and now were heading home to enjoy a family Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow.
There’s a big sandspit reaching well out into the middle of the lake, located right at the ‘bridge’ of Spectacle Lakes, and seeming to get larger and longer with each passing year. This year the children in our group had placed a ‘decorated’ tree branch right at the end of the spit, telling us to keep well into the centre of the lake before making the turn to the sheltered and very hospitable port of Pat’s Point. It did take us about four hours to make the trip and when we arrived, there were smiling faces, seven other adults and four children, our group totalled 13 as the 14thpaddler, the one who was paddling the whole Circuit had arrived a day earlier than planned and had decided to head on home, rather than spending a whole day just waiting for others to arrive. When I heard this, I remembered that just before entering the Bowron Slough I had seen what I thought was a kayak making for the take-out, paddling far to my left.
Everyone was settled in and they had been busy. There was a good supply of firewood, it had been gathered from near and far, I added our meagre contribution, about 8 pieces of premium birch brought from home. Everyone else had already spent at least one night at the campsite, we quickly set up our tent, anxious to outsmart any pending rainfall. It was thrilling to hear the sound of the children’s voices as they happily played Hide & Seek and other games together. The adults welcomed the opportunity to visit. Almost always in these situations the talk turns to paddling, of previous trips or experiences at this place and other important canoeing topics like the relative merits of kevlar vs. carbon fibre. Today we spoke of this year’s summer travels, adventures and misadventures.
Around three o’clock the talk turned to turkey roasting and other meal preparation matters. Once again we had the Big Easy turkey roaster with us. Propane fired, infra-red heat (not oil bath), five minutes per pound (and we had a 16 pounder). Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, so too did our turkey dinner start taking shape. The children had made up some colourful table centrepieces, there was even a table cloth and at 5:00 p.m. precisely, (while there was still daylight) and standing together, we took a moment to acknowledge that we truly did have lots to be thankful for, then we all sat down in the Pat’s Point shelter to a Thanksgiving feast.
There was a delicious bean and back bacon soup entrée, made from scratch. Once the turkey was done, juices and fat were used to complete the delicious gravy. There was stuffing, carrots, mashed potatoes, yams, green salad, dinner buns. Dessert offered a choice of pumpkin pie with whipped cream or pumpkin cheesecake….or both.
The socializing continued into the post meal cleanup and the darkness. It’s amazing just how good the conversation gets while you are doing the dishes by headlamp. It was getting cooler and a favoured spot became the campfire at the front of the shelter. The children quite spontaneously shared a play that they had been rehearsing throughout the day for an appreciative audience, and then they disappeared. They had been running and hiding continually since our arrival, they seemed to fall asleep without a hint of protest.
I had been looking forward to going to bed. I love my sleeping bag, it has always kept me warm, it is extra long and roomy and the combination of this bag and my thermarest sleeping pad always make for a great night’s sleep. It was literally ‘lights out’ as soon as my head hit the pillow, and I think that my wife wasn’t too far behind me in falling asleep. I slept soundly for almost 9 hours and felt refreshed when it seemed like time to get up.
The hardest part of my morning routine in a tent is putting on boots or shoes without getting my socks wet. I think we should practice at home putting on and doing up our boots while sitting flat on the floor. Once that task is accomplished and I am able to move around outside the tent in a more-or-less upright position, everything gets easier. It was time for coffee and porridge, along with some fruit and yogurt and of course some leftover cheesecake from last night’s feast. One by one the gas stoves started hissing, coffee was ready, adults and children with sleepy eyes made their appearance, soon there was lots of chatter and the day was under way. But there was no rush and in a relaxed manner and over the next couple of hours camp was broken, everything and everyone found its place in a canoe in preparation for the trip to the take out.
We put as much of the firewood as possible under cover, swept out the cooking shelter, returned the heavy picnic table that someone had moved from the shelter back under the shelter roof, checked and double checked for any forgotten items, and by about 10:00 o’clock we were under way.
The paddle back along the Spectacle Lake shoreline always seems relaxing. Today we visited back and forth, there was lots to talk about. We paddled past the spot that Bowron pioneers referred to as the Rock Bluff, a beautiful limestone rock face on our right. We questioned yet again whether the island in the middle of the lake was called Maternity Island, or was it Deadman’s Island….and why? At what point does Spectacle Lakes become Swan Lake? For that matter, why is it Spectacle Lakes when there is really only one lake? Why do the Park maps have Pavich Island labelled incorrectly? Is the Joe Wendle cabin located high on the shore of the Upper Bowron River worth saving, and if so who is going to keep it from sliding into the river?
As soon as we left the sheltered calm of the Upper Bowron River and entered Bowron Lake, the wind from the southwest hit us along with large swells. The sensible thing to do was to head for the relative calm of the shadow of the northern shore. It was a task to keep from being hit broadside by the waves and I relied on my favourite,beautiful, cherry wood, ottertail, feels like a natural extension of my body, Lolk paddle, to accomplish the task. This is the paddle that hangs in the place of honour in the living room, it was the first precious item that I placed in my vehicle after being placed on Evacuation Alert during this year’s forest fires. This is the paddle, that after one last powerful stroke snapped in half and fell out of my hands. I let out a short mournful cry, I was stunned, yet instinctively reached for the spare paddle, a lumbering, heavy, broad-bladed, synthetic club that was strategically located by my feet. The journey, like life itself must go on.
Everyone handled the wind on the lake with no problem. The big voyageur canoe, which carried 8 people along with the Big Easy moved along beautifully, the paddlers clearly had a system. The children in the canoe were laughing and playing and were having a wonderful time, and I hope a great adventure that they will take with them through life. When we reached the point where we had to cross over to the southern shore and our take-out, it was like we had an on-off switch. The wind almost disappeared and the canoes paddled the last 15 minutes smoothly and safely.
I enjoy the take-out as the place where everyone struggles to ‘reset’ their brain from holiday/camping/paddling mode to getting back to the real world mode. Before long all of the gear was packed into vehicles, canoes were on roof racks or trailers, good-byes and hugs were shared and it was homeward journey time, just as it really started to rain. We would be home for supper, for at least two of our group it would be another turkey dinner.