In last week’s, episode of “Alone in the Wild,” we saw glimpses of what total isolation — plus the hardships of living in the wilderness — can do to someone. This week, those pressures seemed magnified.
A few disclaimers: I know that the editing process is done to help tell an entertaining story. But there are some very real lessons to be learned from the second episode of the series. And from a drama standpoint, you can certainly see how quickly things were unraveling for Ed Wardle as he attempted his three-month stay in Canada’s Yukon.
Just like last week, the angle I’ll take is what can be learned from the show, not a critique. So here goes.
My take (SPOILER ALERT):
Assumptions are almost uniformly bad in the wilderness. Food took center stage in the episode, even more so than last week. We learned that he packed in a limited supply or rice and oats to supplement his diet. His thinking: He’d use those foods to pad his diet until he got better at fishing, hunting, trapping and gathering. After a few weeks, he figured he’d learn enough about the skills and the availability of food to sustain himself, thus he’d be able to either wean himself off the rations or conserve them to the point where he could have enough to last his entire stay.
Televised drama aside, we saw plenty of proof that showed this assumption to be flawed. He clearly lost a lot of weight. The snares weren’t working. Aside from one nice-sized fish, all he caught were fingerlings, even when he moved to a new lake. Edible vegetation was getting more sparse. My guess is any hunting efforts weren’t working that well, either.
As time progressed, food supplies dwindled. Caloric intake slowed his metabolism (high 20s BPM heart rate? Whoa!), which in turn leads to lethargy, apathy and susceptibility to cold. In time, all you would want to do is sleep and stay warm, which only further degrades your ability to get food.
You can see where this leads. Stay idle long enough, and you’ll be too weak to do anything about it. A slow death, for sure.
Little things add up. Blisters on your feet. Loss of strength due to malnutrition. Various wounds and cuts. A bad decision which leaves you vulnerable to getting wet. By themselves, these things are nuisances. But an open sore or cut can become infected, and you don’t have a lot of ways to heal those infections in the wilderness. Getting wet and staying wet makes you cold, which saps your strength. Not getting enough food will make you colder, weaker and less able to fight infections and heal. Add all these together and you’ve got a hot mess on your hands. Time becomes your enemy.
Morale is critical to survival. You saw how something like a beautiful vista or catching a fish really lifted Wardle’s spirits. You also saw how being hungry, empty traps, tiny fish and an endless bushwhacking slog from one lake to the next nearly broke him. One minute, he’s loving the experience. The next, he’s ready to pack it in. One thing he does right: He gives himself opportunities for success. He does this by making decisions. Go to a new campsite. Set snares. Go fishing. Build your shelter and make it a home. Had he sat idle and been left to stew over the hardships of hunger and loneliness, he’d have given up much more quickly. If you’re out in the wilderness, you MUST keep making decisions.
Some closing thoughts:
- You can tell how hard it is to travel off trail. Five miles in one day doesn’t seem like much. But it’s different when it’s all bushwhacking.
- The show reminds me how easy all of us really have it. Are you hungry? Go to the fridge. Heat something up in the microwave. Head to a fast-food joint. We barely give it a thought. In a wilderness setting, it’s hard work, and it never ends. This quote from Wardle sums it up: “There’s no breaks, no help. I just desperately want some help.”
- Seems like things are coming to a head. After 33 days, Wardle is headed downhill fast in every critical area — morale, nutrition, health.
What are your thoughts? Do you like the show? Any insights? Would love to hear from you.