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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).

From First Blood I learned that if you are a special forces military guy like Johnny Rambo, you know how to make booby traps with sharpened spikes to kill hunting dogs that are on your tail, and that even though you revere all creatures and mourn their passing into the great spirit world, sometimes you must accept killing as the cost of life. Johnny Rambo carries a foot-long knife, and lugs around a giant shank of what appears to be moose meat. It looks tasty. He is, according to his former commanding officer, "a man trained to ignore pain, to ignore weather, to eat things that would make a billy goat puke." Johnny Rambo doesn't talk much and when he does, he says only unbelievably manly things, like, "Don't push it or I'll give you a warning you won't believe." I, on the other hand, tend to say things like "On the other hand..." and "I can empathize, but..."

After watching First Blood, I spend a lot of time telling people about the trip. "Just me and a knife," I say, "and whatever food I can kill." I love saying that. I love it like I used to love saying, "But what about the gaping jaws of the mighty crocodile?" whenever my camp counselor in northern Wisconsin suggested I stop reading the Man Thing comic book and get in the lake for swimming lessons. I love saying "me and my knife" so much and say it so often that I have no time to watch the television shows from which I'm supposed to learn survival skills.

Finally, eight hours before departure, I sit down to watch 12 hours of television. (I fast-forward through the boring-looking spots). I learn that Bear Grylls, in addition to having trained as a British special forces soldier, brings with him a team of camera operators that films each "death-defying" encounter he has with the wilderness, which means they really aren't so death-defying at all. Also, that he receives the advice of various local experts regarding tasks like constructing rafts from jungle plants and making tents from deer hides. Still, he is the youngest Englishman ever to scale Everest, and he does jump out of small airplanes. I also learn that Les Stroud lugs his own camera equipment through the unforgiving wilderness and does everything himself, with no camera crew or local experts to help.

Basically, I learn that I'm hopelessly doomed.

"Up here, there's a saying," I murmur to the creeping darkness, and to the lurking bears that are due east. Or west. "Stop thinking and you'll stop trying. Stop trying and you'll die." It's what Les said once in the mountains.

I have been quoting from the shows for the past few hours. I haven't quite mastered Bear's or Les's means of extracting nourishment and protective cover from the wild, but I hope that by speaking like them, I might start thinking like them, which will lead to me actually acting like them. "Most fear is born of ignorance," I say (Les, Sonoran Desert), as the bears lumber closer. Then, "Raw grasshoppers can carry tapeworms." (Les again, same desert.)

I have grown from a boy who squeaked, "Puny earthlings!" in times of stress to a man who quotes television shows while bears with an appetite for man-flesh circle. Why can't I be more like the quiet, strong men I know who spend weekends installing drywall and ripping up floorboards? They aren't Rambo, but at least they do things with their hands and keep their mouths, for the most part, manfully shut. I first successfully operated a French press coffee machine a few months ago. I'm 52 years old. Why haven't I ever installed drywall? Why am I so gabby? Why hadn't I talked less about me and my knife in the past couple of weeks and spent more time studying the TV shows?

I'm so tired, and cold, and–I must admit, because I have learned the consequences of dishonesty from witnessing the sad and ugly fate of the corrupt cop who tried to corner Johnny Rambo–frightened.

"It's really hard to get motivated with nothing in your system," I whisper. Les whispered it in the Arctic. "A little bit of meat in my belly tonight would go a long way to making me warmer." He said that in Canada's boreal forest.

"We just had dinner, and you can stay in the tent if you're scared," says an eerie, disembodied voice from the blackness. It belongs to my 16-year-old nephew, Eddie, who I hired at the last minute to accompany me on my trip, as support staff and emergency help in case anything went drastically wrong. Eddie is the "virtually" in my "virtually alone."

Eddie has climbed Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and Mexico's 17,158-foot Iztaccihuatl. A week after our trip, he will be heading into Canada's Purcell Range, where, the permission slip from his school warns, he might encounter grizzly bears, lightning storms and deep, deadly ice crevasses. Eddie is an excellent student, a kung fu enthusiast, and a javelin-throwing champion. He is strapping, kind, preternaturally cheerful, and strong. Inviting Eddie had seemed, survival-wise, like a no-brainer.

"I only had dinner because I felt weak from hunger and because we failed to catch any food," I tell my young aide-de-camp. "And on a related note, how did I ask you to address me while you're on the clock?"



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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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