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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).

"We didn't catch any food because you wouldn't let me build a death pit," he says, then pauses. "Sahib."

"I hate the thought of killing anything," I say. "It's the last thing I'd advise." (Les said that in Costa Rica.) "Besides, where'd you learn about death pits? Bear and Les never built death pits."

Eddie pulls a book from his pack called How to Survive in the Woods. It's where he read about death pits. Eddie's mother bought the book and gave it to him when she heard he was going camping with Uncle Steve. I have tried to explain to her and other relatives that when I got lost in the Missouri parking lot, it was because I was weak from heatstroke, and that the time I thought a pack of marmots was stalking me deep in Colorado's Weminuche Wilderness, they really were stalking me. But she didn't want to take any chances.

"It's not the snakes or scorpions that scare me, but running into a pack of wild peccaries," I tell my nephew. "They'll attack you in groups." (Les said the same thing in the desert.)

"What's a peccary?" Eddie asks.

"Excuse me?"

"I mean, what's a peccary, sahib?"

"They look like little wild boars, but they are vicious and nasty and dangerous."

"That's cool."

"If you think that's cool," I say, "check this out. According to Les, they can't look up. So you just stand on some rocks, and they can't see you. And you can pick 'em off, one by one."

"Can we build a death pit tomorrow, sahib?" Eddie asks. "You can make them with or without the sharp killing spikes on the bottom. But we have to put it on a game trail."

I tell Eddie I'll think about it.

Day two, virtually alone, I wake chilly, hungry, and tired. I can feel my body feeding on itself, cannibalizing its own nutrients. I need to orient myself. I must construct a wilderness compass.

"What about looking where the sun's rising, sahib?" Eddie says. "That's east."

"Number one, as support staff, you're supposed to follow my directives, not make strategic suggestions," I say. "And number two, what if the sun were directly overhead, and what if we were in the Scottish Highlands, like Bear was in that episode when he got sucked into the bog pit, or in the Arctic, where the sun hardly ever moves, surrounded by polar bears, like Les was that time he had to get by on just a few bites of raw seal meat a day? What if you were being hunted by a corrupt, hopelessly doomed cop who couldn't understand your psychic pain and all you'd been through in 'Nam, and you spent most of your time killing dogs and eating moose and hanging out in caves, like Johnny Rambo did? Then what would you do? Huh? Then what would you do?"

"I dunno," Eddie says.

"I dunno, what?"

"I dunno, sahib."

"It may look beautiful," I mutter darkly, "but this is a place where even the most experienced mountain-goer can get into trouble." (Bear, in the Sierra.)

I jab a stick into the ground, and mark the end of its shadow with a rock. In 20 minutes, I will take another reading, mark the end of the stick shadow again with another rock. Then I will trace a line between the two rocks, which should give me an east-west reading. In the meantime, because I have temporarily ruled against the death pit, and because I don't want stomach cramps to interfere with my day's planned survival activities, which involve hunting for food, building a shelter, and starting a fire without matches, I tell Eddie that now might be an opportune time to break out a little bit of granola. Also, that he should hunt for some pine needles while I assess our situation.



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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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