Survivorman Fan Challenge 2015

Today I’ll be writing about my experience appearing in the Fan Episode of Survivorman with Les Stroud. Where to begin?…..I guess a little background on my outdoors experience is in order. For the past 10 years I’ve backpacked extensively around Europe but at the end of the night I’d always end up at a hostel, cabin or campground, so my survival camping skills were quite low. I didn’t have a fear of sleeping under the stars going into the Survivorman show and I knew that most likely….I’D ACTUALLY BE SLEEPING UNDER THE STARS because I didn’t have the necessary skills to create a functional shelter. I’d watched the show for years, so some of the survival concepts were in my base of knowledge, but I’d never had the practical experience. And apart from my irrational fear of bear attacks, which has now subsided, I was comfortable with a trial by fire situation. Though….I wasn’t remotely aware of how uncomfortable I’d actually get.

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First off, for those of you Survivorman fans and/or haters who have been wondering all these years…Yes, Les Stroud is the real deal. The show is NOT faked. Working in the film/tv business I’m always a bit skeptical of reality shows because sometimes shows are bogus (though I was never skeptical of Survivorman for obvious reasons). There were times when I would’ve loved if the show was a farce and some production assistant would’ve come out from behind a tree and given me a piece of fried chicken…but no. Not a chance. It was real. And being on Survivorman was one of the most amazing and most awful experiences I’ve ever gone through. Hanging out with Les Stroud in the woods was amazing….but still, it’s survival and come dawn on the last day….I was so exhausted, defeated, cold and starving that I just wanted to get out of there, eat a hot meal and sleep in a warm bed. Entering into it I knew there’d be some hardships, but I never knew that hunger would’ve had such a detrimental effect on me (as I’m sure you’ll see on the show). I’d gone without food before for about 36 hours, while sedentary, so being deprived of food while physically exerting myself and depleting calories was no easy feat. I got to the point where my brain just said, ‘Hey. You’re starving and tired. But you’re on this tv show. Do a good job. Use what skills you have. Put your eye in the viewfinder and just keep filming’. Hunger was by far… the worst part. Being alone, having anxiety from lack of sleep, being freezing cold at night, struggling to make fire, hurting my knee while hiking, getting soaking wet in the cold, getting sick….those were bad…yeah. But the lack of food just made those other problems even worse because I couldn’t think straight.

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There were good times and opportunities for growth, for sure. And I’m going to focus on those good moments as opposed to giving a linear rundown of the journey. Because that’s why you’re going to watch the show, right? To see the journey. One of my favorite off-camera moments which still makes me crack up, is on the last morning, probably around 4-5am, I woke up to see Les staring at me. He said, ‘Did you get some sleep?’ to which I replied, ‘Yeah. Maybe about 15 minutes’ and he goes, ‘Come on! You slept for like an hour. And you weren’t kidding. Your snoring is world class. Do me a favor. If you ever get married, please get that surgery’. My backpacking buddies have told me for years that I sound like a dying caribou when I snore…and having Les Stroud agree with that sentiment is pretty funny to me. This is part of the reason I feel so bad staying in dorm room hostels (see snoring blog here). At least I don’t have to worry about wild animals sneaking up on me at night because….they’ll think I’m one of them.

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Another great off-camera moment was after one of our long hikes. Les and I got into really thick bush and it seemed we were on an endless trek. I felt like we were Frodo and Sam in Lord of the Rings traversing unholy terrain. The trees were thick and spaced inches apart. The footing was horrible. There were huge swamps blocking our path, followed by boulders and small cliffs. We just kept hitting obstacle after obstacle and we were getting turned around and lost in the woods. This is when I started complaining and Les looked at me and said, ‘Hey, you signed up for this’ and I said, ‘I know. It’s ok. I’m just bitching’. After getting soaked crossing this huge beaver dam, Les and I climbed up on this rock and sat down. We didn’t say anything to each other. Just sat there looking at the beauty of that lake that the beavers helped create. It was a beautiful, crisp sunny day. I had the thought to take out my camera and snap a photo but no….it was too perfect to photograph. A remote spot in the Canadian wilderness that only a handful of avid hunters might see. It was unbelievable. And then after 15 minutes of admiring the scenery, Les and I stood up and continued the unending journey in the thick bush. Moments. That’s what we live for. Moments like that.

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Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat. I made mistakes. I faltered in areas where I didn’t think I would. I was overwhelmed at times and let fear make decisions for me rather than strength. I felt ashamed for letting such little things get to me…but that’s what it’s all about. Survival. Testing yourself. I don’t regret any of it because I learned so much on that journey that I can add into my already large wealth of backpacking knowledge and I had a remarkable experience. And now….I’ve got so many more skills to bring with me in any hiking/backpacking situation. Why did I apply to the contest and accept the invitation? Well, it’s Survivorman….duh! But also, what’s the point of life if you’re not willing to take chances and greet opportunities with open arms, however crazy they may seem? Maybe I did this to prove to myself that I was stronger than I thought. Maybe I did it because I missed my dad and just wanted him to magically come down from the skies and give me a handshake and say, ‘Good job. I’m proud of you’. Maybe I was just bored and wanted to do something wild. Maybe I was thrilled to hang out with Les Stroud and go on an adventure with him! Or all of the above! Either way, I’m just a regular dude who made a good video and was lucky enough to get chosen by Team Survivorman to be on the show. And that’s AWESOME! And I am and will be eternally grateful to Les, Laura, Ian, John, Max, Wendy, Lauren, Web Girl & the rest of the crew for inviting me into their world and giving me an experience of a lifetime.

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We shot a lot of footage so I’m just as excited as you are to see the final product. I honestly have no idea what the episode looks like….and I’m pretty stoked for it. I think this season of Survivorman is going to be one of the best. And maybe after the episode I’ll put up another blog of more of my experiences and anecdotes. As always, be good to yourself. Be good to others. People, animals & plants alike. Do your best. And follow The Golden Rule. Thanks for reading. Have a great day!

And don’t forget to tune in. Saturday November 7th 2015 @ 10pm/eastern on the Science Channel.

 

 

Backpacking: What’s the best gear to take?

Backpackers, whether you’re a veteran or a newbie, the question always is…..what’s the best gear to take? After the first few times, you find out quickly what you need to bring…..and that’s usually based on you taking along too much stuff and realizing what you DON’T need. As with everything, it depends on where you’re traveling to, what the climate will be and how long you’ll be there.

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Now… I have some experience with backpacking, but I am certainly no SurvivorMan. But….for you inexperienced backpackers, here are some tips.

1. You don’t NEED it. Most of the time when you’re packing for your first backpacking trip, you take too much. It’s good to lay out all the things that you THINK you’ll need, give it an hour…then come back and ask yourself (with each item) do I really need this? Obviously you’ll need clothing (a 5 day rotation of socks, underwear and undershirts is usually good. Along with 1-2 pairs of pants and sweaters/long sleeve shirts. Maybe less for a shorter journey). Most hotels/pensions and hostels have washing machines. And if you’re really trekking it…..you’re bound to find a water source within 5 days to hand wash your clothing. I’ve never needed it but a first aid kit is necessary. Don’t pack all the normal sized toiletries. It’ll just add on to weighing you down. Bring smaller versions of things such as toothpaste, aspirin, mouthwash, hand sanitizer etc. It’s all about cutting out unnecessary weight, your shoulders will thank you for it!!! (Every journey is unique, plan accordingly)

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2. Get a good backpack. You’d think this would be rule #1, but no. It is important….but not THAT important. You have a hand me down backpack? Fine. You buy a brand new one? Great! There are many backpacks out there. I have a Mountainsmith backpack. It’s held up for 8 years on several trips and hopefully will last for many more. The key here is, with whatever brand you choose, make sure that it fits your needs, distributes the weight properly and FEELS GOOD ON YOUR SHOULDERS. You could buy the top of the line backpack but maybe it’s not right for you and not right on your back. So take your time and test them out.  You’d be surprised at how quickly your shoulders will get sore and start going numb.

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3. Get some good shoes. A cross between walking shoes/boots is the best. I’ve learned from experience and paid the price. On my latest journey I bought a new pair of expensive boots, thinking they’d be perfect and much better than my old, trusty (and SMELLY) boots. But….those old, trusty, smelly boots were comfortable and a great fit for me. The new ones? Well…..they were good for a few hours each day. And then it was blister town!! Walking long distances with a backpack is hard enough, you don’t want to add in blisters all over your feet. So do your research and get some good shoes. I’d recommend Wolverine, but there are many good brands out there. It all depends on you & your feet. And waterproof is always good. Even if you’re backpacking across Italy in the middle of the summer. It’ll rain eventually, you’ll get tired and step in some puddles. Take the waterproof boots!

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4. Don’t worry. You’re going to have an amazing time. You’ll probably pack too much or forget to pack a few things. Oh well, don’t worry. You can improvise. They do have grocery/retail stores all over the world. You’ll find something. And if you’re taking a couple days off back-packing to see a film festival or go out to some bars/restaurants for the evening….don’t sweat it. Bring one nice shirt that fits nicely in your pack. Most all of the locals will know you’re a tourist. So don’t worry.

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5. Get a good water bottle. Now depending on where you’re going…maybe you won’t need this. But it’s good to have. I prefer the Platypus brand of fold up bottles because they’ve been very reliable for me. Also, if you’re in an area without fresh running water and need to purchase some at the store….you can just fold up your plastic bottle and it’ll fit in your pocket. It’s always good to purchase some water from a store when in a new country to see their offerings and sample the local water brands….but if you’re walking a lot, you’ll be drinking a lot. So if the tap water is clean or you’re in the mountains with fresh water…..it’s good to get some for free.

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6. Take some food. That’s right. Go to the local grocery store. Buy some cheese or fruit or meat sticks or granola bars etc. etc. Just something to keep you going and put fuel in your body. You never know when your planned 4 hour hike will turn into an 8 hour hike. Or when you’ll get separated from your group and stranded. Take me for example. I recently did a hike that I’d done before in the past. Going against my better judgement and thinking the hike would be easy, I didn’t take any food. Well, it turned out that I wasn’t in as good of shape physically as I was the previous time I did this hike. So the 5 hour journey turned into a 7 hour journey…..and I didn’t have any food. What if I had gotten stranded? Yes, I had water….but I would have been miserable and starving & probably also would’ve started to think desperate thoughts and make stupid mistakes.

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And lastly for this blog……

7. Do something stupid. (Within reason of course) …because after all. What’s a good backpacking trip without a few funny or dangerous stories?? Now I’m not saying to go on the super intense trail when you’re a beginner or to jump off the cliff when it’s clearly too high and without a good landing area. But there’s nothing wrong with getting lost once in a while and doing something a little outside of your comfort zone. I’ve gone off the marked trail plenty of times…..occasionally it was a terrible decision (but I lived)…and occasionally it really wasn’t that bad….and I saw some things that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. Maybe doing something stupid to you is just getting naked in the woods and going skinny dipping in a really cold lake. Or climbing a tree and sleeping in it. Great!! Do it!! What a great experience!!

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There are many ways to backpack. Simple journeys and extreme journeys. Whichever way you choose, it’s good to prepare yourself because there’s nothing worse than taking time off for a vacation and spending some money…..and then it all blows up in your face and you have a miserable experience. I hope you’ve enjoyed this M.A.V.B.L.O.G. and as always. Be good to yourself. Be good to all those you encounter. And do your best.

If you’d like to learn more about backpacking I’d highly recommend taking a look at SurvivorMan and Rick Steves. There are plenty of other great guides out there so do a quick google search as well.