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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).

"A cup of pine-needle tea offers five times the amount of vitamin C as a lemon," I say. Bear said it, too, in the Sierra. Half an hour later, we are sipping delightful, tangy pine-needle tea. Or maybe it's spruce. (Which, I know from Bear, contains eight times the vitamin C as a glass of orange juice.) Whatever the specific needle, it's good.

The wilderness compass is another matter. After breakfast, I discover that I have placed my entire stick and stones setup in the shadow of a giant tree. This error might prove fatal; it's imperative we find a water source today. To find a water source, I know we need to orient ourselves.

"How about the river next to our campsite?" Eddie asks.

I explain that Bear and Les are always on the move, always exploring terrain, and besides, a spring would be a much better water source than a river, less likely to contain giardia and other parasites. "The last thing I need is any diarrhea," I say. (Bear, Sierra.)

We walk for two hours, climbing high above the river, past waterfalls, along a trail that plunges hundreds of feet to a watery chasm below. We turn a bend and hear a loud screeching. Three eagles, 30 feet in front of us, take flight. At least I think they're eagles. They're big, in any case. They fly. And they seem to be circling.

I grab a stick.

"If they dive-bomb, I'll take the first one out with this," I say to Eddie, who stares at me. Maybe he's paralyzed with fear. "They might be stalking us!" I tell him. "Grab a stick. We need to be prepared."

"I don't think eagles stalk people," Eddie says. "Especially eagles in groups of three."

"Yeah, ordinary eagles don't. But what if these are rogue eagles? Have you thought of that?"

Eddie says nothing. Is this part of the silent assassin philosophy his kung fu masters have doubtlessly taught him? I appreciate Eddie's laconic nature, and I don't want to turn him into a chatty coward, but I wish he'd be more alert to the dangers that surround us. I feel responsible.

I'm about to tell him about the utter unpredictability of rogue animals when he pulls the book from his pack. He reads aloud.

"The challenge of survival will therefore in all likelihood be easier to meet if you have a firearm and ammunition."

I tell Eddie that's a good point, but I don't think guns are permitted here. Then we walk in silence for 20 minutes or so. We lose the eagles. We fall into a rhythm, and before long there are no sounds but the crunch of our boots. Eddie seems content. There's a nice breeze. But things are quiet. Too quiet. A silent paradise can turn into a leafy nightmare in a single, terrifying instant. I know this. But does Eddie? He is so young. So naïve.

"One palm viper," I intone. "One bush monster lunges out and, oh, man, I'd be in a mess of trouble then." Les said the same thing in the jungles of Costa Rica.

"What's a bush monster?"

I cough loudly.

"I mean, what's a bush monster, sahib?"

"That's a good question, Eddie," I say, "and I hope you never have to learn the answer."



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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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