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Teachings from Wilderness Canoe Tripping for everyday life

On my journey, I had the incredible opportunity over a ten year period to lead people of all ages on wilderness canoe journeys.  Living in Southern Ontario afforded me the close proximity to some of the best canoe tripping likely in the world ~ Algonquin Provincial Park, Killarney Provincial Park and the stunning area known as Temagami.  We would often drink straight out of the lake (although more recently they recommend boiling it).  I began this work leading inner city youth (kids from foster homes, on probation, etc.) on ten day journeys.

There were many lessons that I learned that can be applied to life.  Below are some of those lessons that I hope will help you on your journey wherever you are.

If someone is headed towards the waterfall, let them know.  

In life, warn people who may be doing things that could potentially lead to more problems in life

Raising children is like building a fire ~ initially they need constant attention until mature enough.  Then, keep checking in on them and 'feeding them' more fuel from time to time ~ support, encouragement, comraderie.  Building a fire and raising children, at first needs constant attention. Once mature, keep stoking the fire and enjoy the warmth of the coals ~ the love that returns when we've really invested in someone else.


Always have a plan for the next day.  On canoe trips, we'd end our days around the campfire going over highlights of the day and discuss any issues during the day and we'd talk about our plan for the next day. Have tomorrow's day planned the night before.

Catch issues before they become much bigger problems. 

Do not stay in a dangerous environment. 'Avoid danger'.

Always be extra careful in the kitchen.

Stick together. 

Get a good nights sleep and take rest breaks during the day.


Work out any issues as soon as they arise.

Have a mission.

Take extra care of those who are having a hard time.  

Make sure the leadership team is solid before guiding anyone else.

Eat well. Drink lots of clean water.

Spend time sharing stories around a fire.

Make sure the fire is dead out before you go to sleep and when you leave camp.

Stay where you are in stormy weather.

Get up with the sunrise.

Have extra food.

Get to camp well before dusk.

Let others know where you are going.

Always collaborate on major decisions.

If you encounter someone who lost their group and is all alone, shivering in the cold, take them along with you.

Leave the camp site (the planet) better than you found it.

Love/help your neighbors who may need some support/guidance

Paddle hard when going against the wind. In challenging times, give it all you've got.

Put up a sail when the wind is behind you and enjoy the ride. Take time to enjoy your accomplishments.

Become the kind of leader that when you get to the end of the trip everyone says they did it themselves.

Do your dishes and put them away after a meal.

Avoid leaving out accessible food.

Empower others as much as possible.


For those having a challenge on the canoe trip/in life, have a place to take them where they can heal.

Feel as expansive as the night sky.

Especially for the novice, do not embark on a wilderness canoe trip without ideally at least two competent guides.  Ideally in life, our parents are those guides.  If one or both of them have not been able to guide you, find mentors to help you on your way.  Life without a good guide could be as dangerous as someone who is not prepared/skilled embarking on a canoe trip without a guide.

Make sure there is enough places for people to sleep.  Never on a canoe trip did we have a 'tentless' person.  I look forward to the day when we really take this teaching to heart and make sure there is no one on this journey of life who doesn't have a warm, safe place to rest and sleep.

'Warn people about dangers so as to avoid them in order to have a safe, joyous journey.

In a way, life is like a canoe trip and I recently heard this warning by the U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, MD who has described loneliness as an epidemic on par with tobacco use. And, like a good guide, he provides the antidote. He said, "The antidote is human connection."


Perhaps if you know a lonely person, you can reach out to help them along their way.

On stormy days, stay at your campsite. 

Be prepared to start a fire on a rainy day.

First thing to do when you arrive at a campsite ~ put up a tarp.

Avoid 'solo' trips ~ avoid going through life 'solo'.

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