Most paddlers don’t have much patience because they are behind schedule, are too macho, or have a false sense of security. But here are some examples of how patience pays:

BEHIND SCHEDULE: The wind was blowing bloody murder when we arrived at Otter Lake (Fond du Lac River, Saskatchewan), so we put ashore to wait it out. The waves continued through supper, so I suggested we camp and try again tomorrow. We were snuggled under a tarp when we saw two canoes–wind in their faces–plugging toward us. I waved them in and suggested they share our camp. They said they were behind schedule and had to keep going. The wind quit around noon the next day, and we paddled off with a smile, determined to make up lost time. Sometime that day we passed “their camp.” Everyone was asleep, so we chose not to linger. We logged 31 miles that day and 29 the next, which put us ahead of schedule. We never saw the other canoe party again.

Moral? Nature rules! Stop when you must; run when you can.

THE CANYON: The MacFarlane River (Saskatchewan) rushes through a three-mile canyon just before it breaks out into Lake Athabasca. There’s serious water here–you have to be nuts not to portage. But where? There was no sign of a portage on river left, so we crossed to the right and took out at a narrow trail that ran up a steep bank. There was a tree with an ancient ax blaze on top. Aha. The portage!

Hardly. The trail ran a quarter mile along the canyon rim and then petered out. Perhaps it continued in the woods? Four hours of searching revealed nothing. We were shot, so I suggested we “sleep on it” and have another look tomorrow. We did, and drew another blank. Bickering began. Pressure grew to canoe the canyon, dangers be damned.

I suggested that we pair off and keep looking. Soon, someone found an old animal trail that went in the right direction. But it was overgrown with young trees–a canoe could not be carried through. Sure enough, it was a portage, albeit one that hadn’t been used in years. It took us more than a day to clear the route and complete the carry. Our patience paid off.

BIG BEAR: We had just finished breakfast when I heard someone scream, “Bear! Big bear!” Sure enough, a huge cinnamon-colored black bear was circling our camp.

I hollered and blew a whistle. He didn’t even look up. So I grabbed my rifle and amassed everyone into a tight group. He circled closer. When he was 50 feet away I fired a warning shot over his head. He just sniffed the air then ambled down the bank and came in from another direction. He paused behind a large rock and stood up to see us better. He was just 20 feet away!

I was plenty scared, even with a powerful rifle in hand. But I did not want to kill this gray-whiskered old boy. So we talked. I looked unthreateningly into his eyes and told him I didn’t want to hurt him, that we’d be gone soon, and he could have his way. I said I respected him and wanted him to go on living. But I emphasized that I would have to shoot him if he came over that rock.

We stared at one another for some time. I could sense the wheels turning in his head. There was no fear or animosity. Only the question of what to do next. Then, after what seemed like an eternity (I learned it was just two minutes) he turned and walked away with dignity. As soon as he was gone, some crew members said they would have shot him long before he got so close. But as the fear wore off, all agreed that my patient plan was the right one.

Patience is like a secure eddy in the middle of a raging rapid. It gives you time to formulate a plan before you dash dumbly downstream.