Marriage For Men

Articles by: Henry Sawatzky

MA; RCC and Director


I was on vacation for the first week of July. OK, so not everyone would consider it a vacation.

When I tell people what I did and where I did it, I routinely see a look of bewilderment cross their face as if to say “and why would you do that?”

So what was I up to? I spent 9 days in a canoe on the Berens River in Eastern Manitoba. It’s not nearly as far north as Gillam, but I can’t imagine the environment is not much more hospitable. If you were paying attention to the News at all through the summer, you’ll know that Gillam, Manitoba was the site of a national manhunt where the RCMP were tracking down 2 teenage killers.

The terrain is described a “brutal”, “bug infested”, “swampy”, “heavy brush” and “impossible to survive without preparation and skill”.

So indeed, why did I do that? And did I regret it? I’ve done it now for 5 successive years, so clearly, no regrets. Everything you’ve heard and read about this terrain in recent weeks is true. The bugs are brutal. The mosquitos take the night shift. They come in clouds at the first sign of dusk, and they keep you securely trapped in your tent until the morning sun sends them fleeing. If you happen to need to get out and then back into your tent in the in between time, you’re up for 20 minutes of mosquito killing before it’s safe to get back in your sleeping bag. During day-light hours you actually don’t see mosquitos. But that doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. No, no, no. Horse flies, deer flies and black flies have the day shift covered. If you’ve ever been bitten by a horse fly, you know it.

And then there are the portages. No matter what your paddling skills, some rapids require that all your gear, including the canoes, be carried on your back, through the bush. Where the horse flies live in multi family condominiums.

So what is it? What keeps drawing me back there?

There’s no question that some of it is the raw beauty of the place. It’s nothing short of breathtaking. To get a glimpse of it check out this Google Album. Then there’s the excitement of shooting rapids. If you’ve done any whitewater paddling you’ll know what I’m talking about. There’s a lot that goes into scouting a rapid, reading the water and planning a route. And you’re never quite sure if things are going to go according to plan, so the adrenaline can get pretty intense.

But that’s not all of it. The truth is, there’s a lot about these trips that’s hard, and I find that they challenge me on many levels.

Not only does every rapid test my paddling skills, I am confronted with long stretches of still water in the heat, and sometimes facing intense wind. Then there’s reading maps, and navigating on a river that splits into multiple directions, (I’ll admit, a GPS device came in handy here). There’s setting up camp and cooking on an open fire, and being prepared to do it in any kind of weather. Have you ever tried starting a campfire in the back country after it’s poured rain all night? That takes team work! And let’s not forget the portages. Some rapids simply cannot be paddled and so it requires carrying gear and canoes around them through the bush. It all demands calling on a level of physical and mental strength that my day-to-day life doesn’t require, and it connects me to a part of myself I rarely experience.

It reminds me that I am strong, resourceful and that I can safely rely on my team members.

That’s important because I face hard things in my at-home life as well. They show up in my office, in my home and within my own self. It’s easy to forget that I am strong, to lose faith, and to slink away into my foxhole. But I find that something almost mystical happens to me when I remember my strength. As if the experiences of the Berens and Bloodvein Rivers have been baked into my bones. I hear them say “Yes, this is hard. I don’t know how it will turn out, but you are strong. You can press forward.” It effects my self confidence in a very overall way. It allows me to believe in myself and to take risks. I can trust that I may succeed, and that failing is not catastrophic, merely something I can learn from.

It allows me to escape the doldrums of being stuck in a rut, and to try new things. I can be engaged in my life and with the people in it.

What do you do that reminds you that you are strong? It needn’t be a bug infested river of northern Manitoba (I may have just heard a collective sigh of relief here), but it will most certainly press you out of your comfort zone. You will feel an exhilarating mixture of fear and excitement, you’ll almost certainly need some support and mentorship. Boredom will become a very foreign idea. You will fail and feel discouraged. You may even succeed. In the end, you will know that you are alive. And that you are strong.


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