GRAND FORKS -- “Once again, we cheat death,” a jovial bush pilot said several years ago as he steered his de Havilland Beaver floatplane up to the dock on a remote fly-in lake north of Red Lake, Ontario, after a 120-mile flight above the Canadian wilderness.

That particular flight, which marked the start of a weeklong fly-in fishing trip for two friends and me, was uneventful, which is the way I like my floatplane rides to be. Looking back on my outdoors adventures and misadventures over the years, though, there indeed have been some dicey situations.

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I was reminded of that again recently, when a news release hit my inbox highlighting the latest issue of Field and Stream, the venerable outdoors magazine founded in 1895. The news release included a preview of “Close Calls,” a feature story in which four people looked back on surviving “some wild encounters on what was supposed to be a regular day in the field.”

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I can’t say I’ve ever had a life-threatening outdoor encounter of the intensity highlighted in the Field and Stream story, but I’ve definitely had a few “Man, I’m glad that’s over” moments.

Here are three that stand out. No coincidence, perhaps, I was much younger when each of them occurred.

Fish and lightning

We saw the storm coming that day in June 1994 while fishing the far end of a long, narrow wilderness lake near Pickle Lake, Ontario, but the torrid pace at which the walleyes and pike were biting made it tough to convince my fishing partner that it was time to head for the cabin.

“One more cast” turned into dozens, and every cast, it seemed, resulted in a fish at the end of the line.

We never felt pulses of electricity shoot down our fishing rods, and our lines didn’t hang in the air from static electricity – both of which are known to occur during thunderstorms – but the bolt of lightning that hit the water maybe half a mile away convinced me it was time to leave.

This time, I got my way.

We had to pass through the storm to reach the cabin, and another flash of lightning sent us scurrying to shore. We pulled the boat up onto the rocks and scrambled into the brush to wait for the storm to pass.

Every mosquito in the province, it seemed, was there to greet us.

The storm quickly moved past, and we resumed our 8-mile trek back to the cabin without incident. It was 11 p.m. and pretty much dark by the time we got there.

Rough ride to shore

We’d rented a 16-foot boat from Springsteel Resort for my 15-horse Evinrude and were somewhere up by Elm Point on Lake of the Woods when the south wind kicked up that sunny June Saturday in the late ’80s or early ’90s.

We had no choice but to head into the wind for the long, bumpy ride back to shore. Anglers in boats considerably larger than ours had the same idea.

The walleyes would keep.

Crawling along like a turtle in a greased punch bowl, we inched our way back to the resort that was maybe 3 miles away, if I was to make a rough guess. At times, all I could see was the bow of the boat pointed toward the heavens as we climbed wave after angry wave.

Slow and steady wins the race, as the old saying goes, and the entrance to the harbor at Springsteel never looked better as I steered the boat into protected water. I have no idea how long that bumpy boat ride took, but it seemed like forever.

I can honestly say I was scared that time.

Lost in the swamp

It was October 2001, and three of us were hunting ruffed grouse in the aptly-named Lost River State Forest north of Roseau, Minn., when I decided to leave the trail and skirt the edge of a cedar swamp on a route I’d taken several times.

This time, something went awry, and I knew it within minutes of leaving the trail.

We were lost; no compass, no GPS, not even matches. Cloudy skies didn’t help the situation.

Not good.

As host of this rendezvous with two friends from the Twin Cities, I tried not to show the worry I was beginning to feel.

I was supposed to know where I was going, after all.

I have no idea where we were or how we got there, even to this day, but we’d been wandering maybe half an hour when we stumbled onto an obvious cut through the tamarack trees. Swamp grass growing 3 feet high covered the trail, but it was obviously an old logging road that had to lead somewhere.

Better that, I figured, than wandering aimlessly through the trees.

Before long, we came out on a trail that was several hundred yards north of where we had parked and more than a mile north of the cedar swamp edge where I’d gotten us lost.

How we got there, I knew not, but I was darn glad to be there.

I’ve carried a compass – and a GPS – ever since.

Brad Dokken
Brad Dokken