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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).

Back in camp, I am weak from hunger, because I haven't eaten since I had some avocado, cheese, dried apricots, and chocolate, which Eddie offered me and which I accepted only because I did not want to grow faint, and possibly stumble, and fall to my death, leaving my aide-de-camp at the mercy of dive-bombing rogue eagles. I'm feeling kind of faint again, so while Eddie searches for shelter makings, I think that for survival purposes it might be wise if I tried to catch a few winks in the late afternoon sunlight. Les did it in the polar-bear-infested Arctic, and I think Bear did it in the Scottish Highlands. I never saw Johnny Rambo rack out, but he must have.

When I awaken, Eddie has built a bed out of pine (or spruce) boughs. It is spongy and soft and fragrant. It looks just about as cool as anything Les or Bear ever curled up on. If not for the fear of bugs crawling all over me, and the gaping jaws of the man-flesh-eating bears, and my concern for family members and some friends who would be devastated if I were eaten just because I wanted to prove something about survival and manhood, I would have slept on it.

At sundown, I try again to make a fire using only my hard-earned television wisdom and my hippie survival tool, which, the elk handle notwithstanding, is a piece of flint and a piece of steel. Eddie has gathered a pile of kindling and some logs. I have constructed a tinder bundle of wood shavings and bunches of old man's beard, which I have pulled off branches and which I know from Bear and Les is highly flammable.

I strike the hippie survival tool, and sparks fly into the tinder bundle. I strike again, more sparks fly. Lots of sparks, but no flame. Bear and Les always struggled with the sparks. Once they had the sparks, though, the flame naturally followed. I curse for two minutes, at which point Eddie suggests we use a match. I agree, but only because I don't want to be responsible for a 16-year-old freezing in the backwoods. Also, I quietly nod and murmur, yes, I will in fact accept a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and a few squares of chocolate, but only because I think it might emotionally scar my aide-de-camp if he witnessed his survival expert uncle go into spasms from protein deficiency. I think I read about that happening once. Why take the chance?

Next to the now-roaring fire, we sip water filtered from the river–with so many dangers lurking, we failed in our attempt to find a spring. Eddie leafs through the survival book and announces that we should have watched the eagles, tracked them to their prey, then stolen it. That way, we might have had fresh meat. Not a bad idea, I tell my pupil. Not bad at all. I need to get a copy of that book. The firearms chapter especially intrigues me.

Stars twinkle. Flames flicker. The mangy beasts in the trees doubtlessly watch us. I muse aloud about how–local, state, and federal legislation notwithstanding, and the ethics of killing such majestic creatures aside–I bet a nice roast eagle kabob would taste mighty fine right about now. Simply saying "mighty fine right about now" by firelight makes me feel woodsy. Later, even though I technically sleep in the tent, emotionally and spiritually I am under the stars. It's a subtle distinction, I tell Eddie when he asks why I'm not in the shelter he built.

My third morning, virtually alone, I realize that I need to find my way back to civilization, and that my best bet is to consult the wilderness compass.

"Or we could follow the trail we walked in on," Eddie says.

He is so literal, so serious of purpose. Where is his sense of adventure? Is it too late for me to try getting him hooked on comic books? Maybe I can dig up my Man Thing collection and give it to him. His parents needn't know. We strike camp, pack, and hike out along the trail we hiked in on. I peer into the woods, at the crouching bears. Then I say, as Bear said when he left the Sierra, "I leave this area with a whole new respect for Native Americans and their survival skills." Eddie grunts.



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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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