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Survivorman had a big fan in Richard Code.
The 41-year-old Scarborough, Ont., man devotedly tuned in to Les Stroud's reality TV show, friends say, a program that pits man against nature.
Armed with knowledge from the show and books on survival, Mr. Code set out for the woods near Huntsville, Ont., with little for food and warmth. After an aerial and ground search this week, Mr. Code's body was found. He died of hypothermia, Ontario Provincial Police said yesterday.
Mr. Stroud, a Toronto native, was on location yesterday in Madagascar shooting footage for his new Outdoor Life Network show Vanishing Worlds. In a telephone interview, he talked about how prepared one needs to be to actually survive in the wild - and the inherent danger of overestimating personal abilities.
Les Stroud Productions is based around Huntsville, Ont., the same area where Mr. Code died. Have you done survival missions up there?
Oh sure, yeah. I've spent a lot of time surviving and canoe-tripping and adventuring all up in Ontario. Up there, it can be anything from serene hills to extremely rugged rocky to very thick bush to long open expanses of swamps. It's beautiful, but it can be rugged and rough at the same time.
Your show has disclaimers telling viewers that what happens on the show is executed by experts, and yet people are going out on missions without much training.
When it comes to my show, all you have to do is pay attention. All I've ever done is de-romanticize wilderness and to show the misery ... If you're going on a solo survival trip, I'm going to assume that you've been taking a course and that you've got yourself in a state of preparation so that you can go out on your own. I took maybe six, maybe 10 courses before I went off on my own.
What did you learn on the courses?
You go out on mock trips with groups. You build shelters, you build fires together, you catch food together. And maybe the next trip there's groups of two and two and two. Even solo trips out, you've got groups around. My first solo had another 15 people with me. We all had our own little patch of woods and I couldn't see the next person, but I knew that a couple hundred yards away there was somebody else doing the same thing I was doing.
Are winter survival trips the riskiest?
The irony is that the closer it gets to zero, the more likely you are to get hypothermia. You get lulled into a sense of relief with the warmth of the day and then it drops really cold at night and it catches you off guard. The spring has the added tension of fooling you with its temperatures. And then you get this melting, freezing, melting, freezing thing which is perfect for making maple syrup, but not so good for survival.
What kind of mental and emotional preparations do you have to make?
If you don't have the mental preparation and the will to live and that strength of mind, then you're going to have a very rough time. And you'd better have an awful lot of luck. If you look at my Survivorman series, by day three or day four of every series, I wanted to go home. Why? Because it sucks being alone.
Is that part of the challenge, conquering loneliness?
Maybe for some, but not for me. I'm not a loner. It's never been about me conquering aloneness or anything like that. If you gave me the option of surviving with people or camping or being in a great sushi restaurant in Toronto with people, I'll take it over top of being alone and struggling through the mud.
What's your reaction to the news of Richard Code's death - a man inspired by you to take on the wilderness?
It's a terrible tragedy and I feel absolutely terrible for the families involved. I don't know entirely how he'd set himself up or any of those things, so I am in no position to judge or pass comment on how he did or what he did.
What is the biggest misconception about survival missions?
Any kind of survival ordeal is miserable and difficult and ugly and hard and you don't want to do it for fun. The wilderness adventure world really exploded and there's a great population of people doing adventures, so accidents are going to start happening. Wilderness survival is meant to be complementary to wilderness adventure not an end in itself.
Would you discourage people from doing survivor missions?
I would encourage people to continue taking many, many courses and within those courses they can experience the wilderness survival stuff. But would I discourage people taking on wilderness survival as an activity itself? ... It's a high-end, hard-core sport like adventure racing or hockey at a pro level or downhill skiing. You need to have a lot of training.
Thanks for this post, Revslow. So very sorry to hear of that unfortunate death.