–by Mary Helen Darah
A friend was recently complaining about the cold and the impending winter before us. Of course she did so while walking across Main Street for a warm donut on a brisk morning in downtown Sylvania. Please, the woman is clueless as to what a REAL winter, an up north winter, feels like. Mind you, when I’m here I feel like a trooper in my continually chilly house, with its archaic heating system that sounds like a bush plane, but having a home up north takes winter to a whole new level.
A trip to our seasonal home in Canada means that I have to bring in my own water supply and my main source of heat, besides a Golden Retriever lap dweller, is a wood burning stove. However, recently, my delusions about my winter survival skills were diminished after meeting my “neighbor” on an uninhabited lake four kilometers away from our Canadian home.
Kielyn Marrone competed in season seven of the reality show “Alone.” My adventure to visit with this incredible young woman and her husband’s off-the-grid wilderness home included bribing a fisherman with a gourmet meal to navigate through hidden shoals and critter-infested terrain. My experience paled to what Marrone endured as she survived completely alone for 80 days of wintery conditions in the Northwest Territories to finish third on the survival show.
“I was totally alone,” stated Marrone. “I filmed myself. There is no camera crew. I had a tracking device with an emergency button, which is good in theory, but not if you get charged by a moose.”
Marrone’s husband, Dave, initially wanted to do the show. “We had a friend who was on season four who actually won. Dave applied and they saw that we were a couple and asked me to apply. We both made it to the top 30 and they flew us to New York for psych exams and additional interviews. I ended up getting on the show and Dave was incredibly supportive.”
Marrone prepared for her time alone in harsh arctic conditions by gaining 20 pounds. “Starvation is different from hunger,” she stated. “Your body kicks into mitosis. To prepare I beefed up. I drank a great deal of olive oil. Fat is good for survival.”
She was permitted to take 10 items with her. “An ax, knife and sleeping bag are ‘no brainers’,” she said. “Also among the items I took were a longbow and arrow with nine arrows and 25 fishing barbless hooks for ice fishing.” Her main food staples were 50 rabbits, 11 squirrels, two tarragons (game birds) and four lake trout. Unfortunately for Marrone, she was unable to get a good shot of the moose that she encountered. In 80 days she lost 47 pounds.
Marrone felt, in addition to the physical demands, staying in a good place mentally was also a challenge. “There are always a million different reasons to cry,” she said, “You are in a state of starvation. Your hormones change and you become a different person. Toward the end, I was only getting four hours of daylight. I kept track of the days on my ax handle. There were some moments that were frightening as well, such as the night when a wolverine was screaming near my shelter as I stayed tucked in my sleeping bag hoping it wouldn’t become confrontational.”
The survival reality star decided to tap out when she felt she could no longer take care of herself. “I listened to my body,” she said. “I wasn’t going to risk getting frostbite. I had to think of my life beyond winning to prevent permanent damage. We were weighed every eight-to-10 days. I never got a weight warning but I knew it was time. I accomplished what I needed and didn’t have to prove anything by suffering. The money wasn’t a motivator. Just being on the show helped our business.”
Marrone had 10 days of recovery at a lodge before she was able to go home. “I was eating out in the wild more than I did there. They put me on a feeding program to build up towards resuming a regular diet. I started gaining a half pound a day. The things I craved most were chocolate and fresh veggies.”
Currently, Marrone and her husband, Dave, are gearing up for their next big adventure. Unlike my friend and I who will bundle up to face the elements at the upcoming Miracle on Main, the Marrones will be traveling on a 90-day snowshoe expedition from the shores of Lake Superior to James Bay. People actually pay the couple for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Me? I think I’ll stick with my buddy as we face the elements firmly armed with our lattes and baked goods.