It is one thing to clock in to work every day, earning a paycheck and steadily working towards financial independence, but it is crucial to remember to enjoy life in the process. One way to avoid burn out is to make sure to intentionally take time off and unplug from the daily demands of work.
We had one rare week free in late September and decided to take the opportunity to venture beyond the border to Canada and out of the range of cell service completely. We settled on the Powell Forest Route, a canoeing and backpacking adventure just north of Vancouver, BC. The circuit includes 8 lakes, 5 portage trails, and 63km (39 miles) of stunning views.
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Prep Before The Trip
Conveniently, the campsites do not need to be booked in advance, nor do you need a permit to camp on the Powell Forest circuit. We reserved our canoes a few days before, but reservations may need to be called in earlier during busy season (July/August).
Packing enough food weighed on my mind (and on our backs!). We decided to pack food by day so it was easily accessible, with breakfast and dinner in one bag and a separate bag for the snacks/lunch of the day. This was in addition to the 2 lb bag of carrots Mr. Mechanic snuck in (and a bag of apples… and 2 large chocolate bars…) for extra fuel.
For breakfast we would cook up some Quaker’s instant oatmeal and have a hot drink. For dinner we rotated between dehydrated meals (which we avoided after the first round as it was not great on our digestive systems), instant noodles, hummus and carrots, and Idahoan dehydrated potatoes (the Four Cheese brand was a mouth-watering treat).
To avoid pulling the stove out over lunch (as we would most likely be on the move), we packed a lot of snacks to munch on as we went. We learned to stuff these in our pockets in the morning since our bags would be packed away under a tarp during the paddle.
We slept overnight in our car and woke up to the insistent patter of rain. We had planned on an early start, but we thought we might want to wait out the rain, so we drove to a nearby Tim Horton’s for a cup of morning coffee. There, we got wifi to check the forecast– alas, rain all day. We made it to the rental place to pick up our canoe (a bill of $285 CAN for 5 days of renting) and continued to the launch. Here we made our first mistake, loading our gear into the canoe first, thinking we could carry the load down to the water. We could barely lift it off of the ground, so we learned to put the boat in the water prior to loading our bags.
We paddled north through a bunch of dead heads, the ominous trees looming out of the water. We had to walk the boat against the current for quite a ways before we found the trail. Mr. Mechanic carried the canoe the 1267m journey to the campsite as the rain trickled down to a drizzle, and we set camp for the night.
Had we known what was ahead, we would have packed up the campsite earlier. In our blissful ignorance, we didn’t start paddling until 10:30am. We stopped to take in the breathtaking views in the morning light. Eventually we made it to the first portage of the day.
Backpackers must make two trips, one with the gear, then another with the canoe. We hefted the canoe together, navigating rocks, trees, roots, and a steep staircase. This section was undoubtedly the hardest, mostly because we were quite unprepared for how strenuous carrying would be. The kevlar canoe was listed at 60lbs but it felt much heavier. Partway through I was wondering how anyone could recommend the Powell Circuit for novice canoeists (as we were) and wishing I had sprung for the Ultralight canoe (54lbs).
When we finally made it across the first portage, we still had to paddle across two more little lakes and portage between them. We ended up pushing through, barely setting up our camp before nightfall.
We would have loved to have more time to enjoy these little lakes as the scenery was absolutely beautiful. You can get freshwater fishing licenses if you like, and spend some time fully enjoying the nature around you. On Day 2 we ran into the only other people we saw during the entire trip, and it turned out to be the original founder of the canoe rental business. He told us about how, many years ago, he and his partner did the entire circuit in 8.5 hours. They won a race and $500. He kindly gave us some freshly chopped firewood, and advised us to be safe. “You have cardiac hill tomorrow, so you will want to be well rested for that.”
Cardiac hill? We looked it up on the map. It was longer than the earlier portage, and on a steep decline! We started seriously wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. However, the vistas kept reminding us of why it was worth it.
We learned from Day 2 and implemented a no-watch rule for the morning, because every time we saw 6am we would grumble and roll over to sleep longer. We got up when the sun came up. There was a short paddle, a portage, a longer paddle across Windsor lake, which we were told was one of the most scenic of the trip, followed by cardiac hill, a 200m descent, to the campsite.
The trail was very well maintained with metal grates preventing slipping on the wet wood. We learned that dual portaging was simply too clumsy, so we went traditional with Mr. Mechanic carrying it on his shoulders. Luckily, there are rests built along the trail for portagers to put down the canoe every so often.
After lots of stressful navigation around corners and hulking trees, we touched down at our camp with relief.
We had been advised that Powell lake would be a long paddle day (thank goodness!) and to avoid strong midday winds, you should get a head start in the morning, take a break about halfway when the winds pick up at midday, and continue on in the evening once they die down. We had a beautiful morning, and we counted every day with no rain as a stroke of great luck.
The only hitch: we ignored the advice to take a break halfway. This was a bad idea.
Optimistic about the day, we were dazzled by the sun and distracted by the beautiful blue skies. When we got to the halfway point it was only mid-morning, the water was calm, and we weren’t that tired. We were tempted by the idea of getting into our campsite early, giving us loads of time to savour the evening and drink a nice cup of cocoa (and I was really looking forward to reading my book: Crazy Rich Asians). So we decided to press on.
As noon approached the water began to churn, rocking the boat. The wind chilled our ears as it screamed by, and clouds rolled in to obscure the sun. Speed boats passing by trailed wakes that threatened to topple us, and we fought against the roiling waters. We tried to reassure each other, keeping panic out of our voices (what if the canoe tips? All my gear is in there, including my passport!) and trying to tell stories over the rush of the wind. After several hours battling the waves, we spotted the telltale sign of our campsite and fought our way to shore. We carried the boat up, legs shaking with adrenaline.
This campsite felt a little more lived-in than the others, and the wind coming off the water made it difficult to keep a fire going. We paddled in around 3pm so we had the entire afternoon to set up camp and relax. I hunkered down to read in the tent, fighting off mosquitos that buzzed their way in.
Not wanting to get caught in the unweildy winds, we left early on our last day. It took just a few hours to paddle the final portion to the marina.
Unfortunately, the Powell River Circuit is not a complete loop, it is more of a horseshoe shape, so you end up a 30 minute drive away from the starting point. Therefore getting back to your car can be a bit tricky. The easiest option was also the most expensive. For 150 CAN, the canoe rental company will drop you off and pick you up at the end. However, we would prefer to put in a little extra work and use the money towards our trail-end dinner: large juicy cheeseburger with fries and a brew.
We originally planned on one of us staying with the gear while the other took a bus into town, and then the rural bus to the head of the road, then hiking in to get the car. All well and good until we read that the buses don’t run on Thursdays, which was our last day. Darn.
That left getting a ride into town and then a taxi back to the car. Doable. We decided to wing it. Two cars passed Mr. Mechanic before one pulled over and drove him into town. He walked to the edge of town and stuck out his thumb again for the longer portion of the drive, and the very first car pulled over. A nice retired couple chatted with him and offered to take him all the way to his car. Thanks to very friendly Canadians, he wasted no time in getting the car and driving back to me.
We took our trip in mid-to-late September. It was a bit of a gamble with the weather, but that is not something you often have control over during planned time off. Besides the canoe rental owner, we didn’t run into anyone else on the trail, nor did we share any campsite, although each had spots for at least 5 tents. We didn’t encounter vicious flies, and we only had issues with mosquitos at the campsite on Day 4.
- Waterproofing: we were extremely glad to have two tarps for wrapping up our bags in the canoe, general shelter at the campsite, and for adding a barrier between the tent and the wet ground. Also, I dithered about bringing a waterproof suit and it was completely, 150% worth it.
- We borrowed some gear from a family member who recently went on a three week backpacking adventure, including the amazing Jet Boil MiniMo stove. It was lightweight and fired up in seconds, holding enough water for meals for the two of us. Next time we go camping we will definitely purchase one for ourselves.
- When I last went trekking I had a pump filtration system for filtering water, but it didn’t come with me in the move and was pretty annoying and clunky to use. This time we tried out our relative’s Platypus GravityWorks 2.0 Liter Complete Water Filter Kit for Camping and Backpacking and we were very happy with it, you just scoop up the water, leave it to trickle through the filter, and you have clean water in ~15 minutes.
- I don’t know how I ever survived without a headlamp prior to this. Seriously increased my enjoyment being able to walk around when it started to get dark.
- Tent: lightweight and easy to set up, we used REI Half Dome 2 Tent
Since this is a finance blog, let’s look at the numbers! This is the cost of 7 days, including the transport there and back.
|Groceries||$70||$91||Most of the food for the 5 days, though we had some in our cupboards already.|
|3 tank gas||$135||$174||We drove from Portland to Powell River and back.|
|2 Ferry rides to Powell River||$56||$75||One ticket took us across both ferries.|
|Coffee||$3||$4||Our stop to warm up and get wifi for checking the forecast before starting.|
|Canoe Rental||$207||$285||Included: canoe, 1 kayak paddle, throw bag, and a map (for $5… we should have printed something beforehand but it was definitely worth it to have)|
|2 Ferry rides to Vancouver||$55||$75|
|Vancouver meal||$22.70||$24||This was our burger and brew. Singular because we split when we go out to eat.|
|Diner Breakfast||$7||$8||We found a place that served hot breakfast for cheap after sleeping in our car the very last night in Vancouver.|
|Tourist chowder||$10||$13||Stopped at Granville Island and got some salmon pot pie.|
|Syrup||$12.30||$16||Two jars of syrup. We bought from the grocery store and saw it at all the touristy places marked up double.|
|Whiskey||$12.30||$16||We like making Moscow mules at home, so now we will have Canadian mules. Also let us skip most of the line at customs because we bought it at the duty-free store on the border, score!|
|Dinner out in Seattle||$60||$77.80||We stopped in Seattle and met up with a friend. We covered the meal, delicious ramen.|
|The total is just under $100 USD per day, which isn’t terrible for a vacation for two! A lot of the cost went towards transport, so the trip would be significantly cheaper for someone who lives nearby. Without gas and ferries, the cost drops to ~$400 USD, less if you skip touristy purchases like syrup.|
We finished the trip feeling confident and refreshed. Every day we were awed by the lush forest, leaves alight in autumn hues. We listened to wolves howling at night, startled countless frogs into the water, and exercised nearly every muscle group. There is a certain satisfaction to carrying everything you need, and humbleness from being immersed in the great outdoors. We returned recharged, recalibrated, and ready to hit the ground running.