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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

I Will Survive

Flesh-eating bears. Dive-bombing eagles. Can a regular guy escape certain death armed with only the clothes on his back and the skills he learned on TV from Les Stroud, Bear Grylls, and John Rambo?

by: Steve Friedman

Illustration by Nicola Ackland-Snow
Illustration by Nicola Ackland-Snow
Bear Grylls (courtesy).
Bear Grylls (courtesy).
Les Stroud (courtesy).
Les Stroud (courtesy).
Bear Grylls (courtesy).
Bear Grylls (courtesy).
Les Stroud (courtesy).
Les Stroud (courtesy).
John Rambo (courtesy).
John Rambo (courtesy).
Bear Grylls (courtesy).
Bear Grylls (courtesy).

Mangy beasts with an insatiable taste for man-flesh lumber toward me, and while I have tried to prepare for everything, I am not ready for this: grunting, huffing rogue bears crashing through thick woods, 200 feet due east, picking up speed, closing fast. I can't see them, because it's late in the day, and cloudy. And I can't hear them, because their ravenous rumbling is drowned out by the rushing of a raging river, along whose eastern banks I collapsed, sweating and gasping, just 15 minutes ago. To the south stretches a nearly impenetrable maze of canyons and thick forest; to the west, the angry river, frigid and deadly. Eight long, steep miles to the north, the trailhead; and 60 miles miles beyond that, Portland, Oregon. Actually, I'm not certain that the impenetrable forest and canyons don't lie to the north, and that I didn't hike in from the south, which would mean the bears would be lumbering from my west, and the river would be roaring due east. I have never possessed a very good sense of direction.

"This is bad," I mutter, as I hunker next to a pine tree (or spruce; I can't tell the difference), squinting into the darkening woods, wondering if it would be more painful to be eaten alive, or to freeze to death in the icy water to my west. Or east. "This is very bad," I say. I'm virtually alone, with virtually nothing other than my clothes and a knife and a piece of flint fastened to a piece of elk horn my older brother gave me before the trip. "I bought it at a hippie survival shop 20 years ago," he said. "They told me it worked."

"I'm doomed," I whimper into the dark. I hope the bears don't hear me. "I'm hopelessly doomed."

A few months earlier, I was sitting around watching a guy bite the head off a wriggling trout while I shoveled mu shu chicken into my mouth and debated whether later that night I would surf the internet for new information on old girlfriends or work over a pint of Chunky Monkey (or both!) when I had one of the more stupid ideas of my stupid-idea-infested life. I decided it would be fun to watch a year's worth of Man vs. Wild (the television show starring the fishhead-biter) and Survivorman (starring a shorter, chunkier, balder, more dolorous guy who is Canadian) in the course of a couple of weeks. Also, First Blood, starring Sylvester Stallone as Johnny Rambo, who lives mostly in caves. Then, armed with whatever knowledge about fish-eating and shelter-building and general survival I had gleaned, I would enter the wilderness myself, armed with only a knife and a piece of duct tape, or whatever those guys took when they entered the wilderness.

Then I actually watched another episode of Man vs. Wild and one of Survivorman. "I'm hopelessly doomed," I thought. "I'm so hopelessly doomed."

Dusk has turned to darkness, the bears are moving, and the temperature has dropped. Somehow, I have managed to build a fire. Emergency matches helped.

Peering into the flames, I say, "It looks beautiful here, but looks can be deceiving," which is what Bear Grylls, the star of Man vs. Wild, said in the Sierra once. Then I say, "There's a fine line between a land of paradise and a land of nightmares," which Les Stroud, the star of Survivorman, said another time, in Costa Rica. Talking like Les and Bear makes me feel better. Actually, talking in general makes me feel better. This is why, when I first became aware of the rogue bears, instead of taking evasive action, or making loud noises to scare them away, I said, "Those are creatures that have developed an insatiable appetite for man-flesh." Saying words like "insatiable" and "man-flesh" has always cheered me. "Infested," too. I don't know why. Saying "rogue" makes me happy, whether "rogue bear" or "rogue wave" or "rogue elephant." When I was young and terrified–which for me covers ages zero to 18–while other boys were learning knots and perfecting the art of rubbing sticks together to make fire, I was memorizing words like "arch-fiend" and "juggernaut," thrilling myself with the delicious feel of "puny earthlings" and "hopelessly doomed." Now, in the peril-infested, unforgiving wild, I see the terrible error of my ways. I should have memorized less, taken shop class more. No matter how much I say, "I'm hopelessly doomed," nothing changes. I haven't eaten in six hours. (That's a long time for me; I tend to snack.) I have no drinkable water. And no place to sleep. I'm virtually alone, in a deep, forested river gorge. Night falls. The man-flesh-eating creatures circle. I'm hopelessly doomed. But really.



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READERS COMMENTS

TAMIL
Jul 30, 2011

BEAR GRYLLS PROGRAME VERY INTRESTING ONE,THAT GIVES COURAGE TO EVERY ONE ABOUT FOREST.BY HIS PROGRAME CAN GAIN BASIC RULES TO LIVE IN NATURE.IN THIS PROGRAME HE RECEIVED LOT OF PAIN BUT HE DIDN'T EXPRESSED THAT.HANDSOFF TO HIM.

TAMIL
Jul 30, 2011

BEAR GRYLLS PROGRAME VERY INTRESTING ONE,THAT GIVES COURAGE TO EVERY ONE ABOUT FOREST.BY HIS PROGRAME CAN GAIN BASIC RULES TO LIVE IN NATURE.IN THIS PROGRAME HE RECEIVED LOT OF PAIN BUT HE DIDN'T EXPRESSED THAT.HANDSOFF TO HIM.

Robert
Nov 29, 2010

I do enjoy his show. It beats a lot of the other crap on TV. And, who knows, it might actually get a few more people outdoors.

Nordic
Jul 11, 2010

I am amazed the Discovery Channel continues to air the obviously fraudulent and dangerous Bear Grylls (who has exaggerated more than just his military record). It would appear the producers are as easily duped as the sycophantic fans of his show. He is a self promoting dangerous man. It is interesting to note no one who has actually been through military training or any survival instruction is remotely fooled by this (or him). It is only a matter of time before someone sues the Discovery Channel because they were injured using some of his horrid advice in a survival situation. They should stop promoting it as a survival show and promote it for what it is: the Bear Grylls ego stroke and fantasy hour.

Nordic
Jul 11, 2010

I am amazed the Discovery Channel continues to air the obviously fraudulent and dangerous Bear Grylls (who has exaggerated more than just his military record). It would appear the producers are as easily duped as the sycophantic fans of his show. He is a self promoting dangerous man. It is interesting to note no one who has actually been through military training or any survival instruction is remotely fooled by this (or him). It is only a matter of time before someone sues the Discovery Channel because they were injured using some of his horrid advice in a survival situation. They should stop promoting it as a survival show and promote it for what it is: the Bear Grylls ego stroke and fantasy hour.

Leon
Jan 16, 2010

Bear does stupid things that should not even be considered survival skills. These include: diving into a river wiothout checking the depth (check out the stats on spinal cord injuries from that!), free-climbing rock faces when the way around them is clear, even on camera; and eating all that weird stuff. The show should have a disclaimer about using ANY of his techniques!

cody
Jun 06, 2009

id love to try it becuase i love the wild and love the show and think id be able to survive

Brad from the frontcountry
Nov 26, 2008

For example...?
Back up your editorial comments with examples and you'll sound credible. I for one enjoy the show and advice. Not that i'll remember any of it if found in a survival situation, but it's damn entertaining.
As for the authenticity of the premise, i understand that Bear has a safety crew miles away, and is otherwise alone in the wild.
Finally, i too would never take legal advice from James Spader. But, Captain Kirk? Hmmm...

Dave from the backcountry
Nov 10, 2008

The article was a good read and a humorous story but on a serious note- It should be pointed out that Bear Grylls is no “survival expert”. This is nothing more than another false claim he makes in order to sell books (and $700 knives) to those people who are easily impressionable. Taking survival advice from Bear Grylls is the equivalent of accepting legal advice from James Spader (Boston Legal). Nothing said by Bear Grylls should ever be trusted because most of the things he says are wrong and most of the advice he gives would be near, if not, suicidal in an actual survival situation. One of his common tricks is to make false (sometimes ridiculously so) claims in order to con the viewers into believing he is in a life and death situation at all times (he once claimed 2,000 people die in the Rocky Mountains every year- yes, he actually said that); in reality he is parked along the side of a road with a support team that can include 8 or 9 people. He is nothing more than a glorified actor who does his own stunts. You’d think by now he would have actually picked up a little something after doing this show for so long but every new episode makes it painfully obvious that he is still largely clueless when it comes to actual survival advice.

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