Imagine living completely alone for up to 9 months a year – now try to imagine spending these months living alone, in the arctic facing extreme life-threatening challenges, daily! Freezing deep cold weather, limited light, miles away from civilization and shops, all whilst having bears and wolves trying to hunt you! This is reality for Sue Aikens, the main character from the epic Netflix and Nat Geo series who talks to us exclusively about her ‘Life Below Zero’.
Hi Sue, thanks for giving us your valuable time. How are you and where are you answering these questions from?
I am at Kavik at the moment, waiting for spring to finally arrive. 24 hr daylight is here so the thaw can’t be far behind.
Can you tell us about how you ended up living on your own, in such a remote part of the world?
The former owner has been a friend of mine for decades and asked me to manage the Camp for him, as he knew I preferred and was at that time living a very remote lifestyle.
How long do you go without interacting with humans, and what is that like?
Around the time we started filming Life Below Zero, it was common for me to wave goodbye to the last person around the end of August or early September. Then, see the next person late May or early June of the following year. I love this solitary time and enjoy filling it with crafts, or projects like fixing broken motors or creative things like painting, carving…. camping, playing with my fox friends…. or simply exploring my big back yard.
Do you find yourself more disconnected from human society, after all that time and how long does it take to adapt to society?
By nature of my lifestyle and choices, I am admittedly somewhat disconnected from what most would call standard human societal interactions. You are also assuming I care to re-adapt. I am very good at social skills when needed, but I fail to see where I need to acclimatize to a social world that I do not live in and standards that long ago I felt were substandard to ethical behavior.
What would be a typical day living in the middle of the arctic from the point of waking up to going to sleep?
There really is no “standard” day from waking to sleeping here. I don’t set an alarm and have to chase schedules and please people like in other places. I take each day and moment as it comes. Weather and situations arise and dictate what kind of day I will have. Tragedy and comedy turn on a dime, and I react and act accordingly. So… there is absolutely no typical day here.
How do the summer months and winter months compare at Kavik River Camp?
Summer months are very short as I do not thaw until June typically, and freeze up again late August to September. It is a mad rush in the State to get ready for the Winter season for us all. Winter is a time of deep cold, but also of continued work and play with a separate set of dangers and thrills. We all look forward to the Northern lights and the unique challenges the cold weather brings. Summertime at Kavik is also when I am challenged to make my revenue stream. It’s 24 hours of work, fixing things and with planes and helicopters coming in and out. I remain solvent and keep my lease so I can stay and explore the region. Winter is my quieter time where I can explore and ignite my personal fires for being a 5-year-old child in my frozen sandbox.
What’s the best thing about living in the wild?
Perhaps that I don’t have a lot of peer pressure tying my hands back from exploring, playing and being myself. I never had a Fox tell me that my Carhartt’s made my ass look fat. I get to be myself…. chunky… skinny… old or young… and it works.
How did your involvement in the National Geographic series Life Below Zero come about?
I had been in a few episodes of another production that highlighted the airplanes I used in my logistics, and the same Executive Producers came up with the premise for this show, Life Below Zero. They asked me if I would be interested in appearing and the rest is history.
How has appearing in Life Below Zero affected your life?
There are times that my coveted absolute solitude is now interrupted, but it does not follow that the interruption has not been interesting. I have had a bunch of new experiences and learned many things that I would not have otherwise, and met new people. Life puts us exactly where we are supposed to be, but seldom where we would have foreseen.
Have you seen all of the Life Below Zero episodes yourself and when you look upon yourself how does it make you feel? You must be extremely proud?
No, I have not seen all the episodes myself. I do not get the Nat Geo channel where I am at nor do I always run the generator. I have seen some and find the lives of the other talent from Life Below Zero very interesting. While we may all do very similar things, we all go about the tasks in such vastly different ways and from our unique perspectives and guidelines.
You luckily survived an attack by a grizzly bear and said you had to sew your own head together. That really is bone-chilling! Do you remember the incident, and if so can you talk us through what happened?
I think that even by your own description, being through such an event would in and of itself make it a rather unforgettable one. Yes, I remember it very well, and I tend not to go into grand detail on it. This area is most definitely inhabited by animal residents thus the law of Beast, not man rules. This bear was a juvenile male that wanted to climb the social ladder and gain some alpha status and chose the camp and myself to do that. Had it been an older bear or a sow, I would not be here today. What do I remember… every sound… every moment… but I keep it deep inside. I CAN talk about it almost in a third person or a formatted response. To bring it all forward means a long while of nightmares… replays… smells sweats and sounds I don’t need to see. I can’t live in the past. I am here… I made it, I laid 10 days before the pilot found me and then I was flown to the lower world for surgery (hips spine, etc…), and I am back. People ask me all the time about it, no it isn’t my favorite topic, but I do concede it is fascinating to everyone else. Do I hurt now… every day. Do I look over my shoulders… not in a paranoid way… but my eyes are on the horizon and I am highly situationally aware.
How often are you up against serious threats like this?
There are threats in one form or fashion all the time here. I suspect there are in any location although they will differ. I had two bears circling camp the past few days and trying to break into the tents. One attacked the other… now one is gone, the other is full… threat is less than it was. Life has unexpected endings no?
Do these risks ever make you question why you are out in the Arctic, alone?
Never… I am here because I love the challenge. I am comfortable with my own death. I don’t seek it, but it comes for us all. I accept mine might be at the hands of an animal…. cold… or chocking on a pancake… I want to know I lived the hell out of the life I had, not shied away from the challenge.
You are an extremely strong-willed and dedicated person. Where do you find such determination and will-power to live in such harsh conditions?
It just is who I am. I didn’t know that I could do the extraordinary… But I didn’t know that I couldn’t either.
Living in the Arctic for all this time, have you noticed the effects global warming is having on our planet and what message would you send to our readers to help make a change?
First… we live on a molten ball covered by a thin breakable crust spinning around in a vast explosive universe… (a bit volatile no?) We have heated and frozen many, many times before. Let’s stop with the polluting indiscriminately… the all you can eat buffets… the cruelty to each other… and clean this big Blue Ball up… support each other… grow and shop according to need not want… stop basing our economies on the dollar and go on covering our booties first… profiteering second. Wind and sun is free…. make power and share it. Don’t pee in the pool… you may have to drink it. (keep it clean).
Be kind, be the solution, not the problem. Sounds trite… but it is the truth. We cannot continue to be so offended by everything that we forget to be the guardians of this planet. We only get one. Let’s treat it right.
What is the most beautiful thing about life, in your opinion?
Good question… I haven’t seen the MOST beautiful thing but… maybe it is not a thing but a feeling of calm… of … Yeah… Hell yeah…. it is clicking… you see that baby seal and it smiles before it swims off… you CHOOSE not to take the good shot and kill the caribou…. let it go… eat more potatoes… you help the Grandma into her car with her groceries… that perfect moment when you don’t make fun of the person who chooses to go to a meeting than a drink… there are a million CHOICES that are true beauty…. the choice to SEE……. to BE…. whether it is in the High Arctic… or a city. Be a solution, not a savage. Now THAT is beautiful and I can get behind that.
What’s next for you?
I have no idea… but its coming… it always does …. wheee!!
We would like to thanks Nat Geo and of course Sue Aikens for kindly taking the time to answer our questions. You can keep up-to-date with Sue Aikens and her Life Below Zero here:
Interview by Ben Farrin