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Q&A With Sue Aikens

Sue Aikens patrols her home in Kavik, Alaska.

Sue Aikens (View larger version)

Photograph by 2012 BBC Worldwide Ltd.

Published

How long have you been living and working at Kavik River Camp? How did you get started there?
This is my 11th year here. I was asked by the owner to come and be a caretaker for the place, since he has known me for a long time and knew I did remote-lifestyle work.

Describe your life before Alaska.
I was born in Chicago and moved here at a young age. I don’t generally go into details on my past. Some business is my own and not the world’s.

Have you always been an outdoor person? Was there a particular experience you had that spurred you into this lifestyle?
I have always enjoyed the outdoors and have had an affinity for animals. Being self-sufficient was and is incredibly important to me, and I tend to view the world with childlike glee. From preschool on, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was and has always been “lighthouse keeper.” I have always craved extreme isolation.

What’s a typical day like for you during the winter?
There is no such thing as a typical day. Each and every day is driven by the challenge of the extreme conditions and weather. I have worked hard over the past decade to make my life simpler and keep solutions to potential problems quick at hand. It is a dark landscape with only the heartiest of predators encompassing my world in deep winter. I can never forget that I am a food group and not the top of the food chain here. But the biggest predator of all are my extreme living conditions and Mother Nature, which are just as daunting and dangerous as that wolf breathing at the tent wall ready to scoop me up.

What would you say your biggest daily/weekly challenge is during that time?
That would have to be battling temps as low as –100°F and winds that can be over 100 miles an hour. My chores don’t wait and don’t care whether I can breathe or see. The wind wicks away much of my heat and I only have a thin fabric wall between me and the elements, so when those winds get bad it can be a huge challenge to keep my tent above freezing temperatures.

What is the scariest moment you’ve had alone in the winter? What is your proudest?
I don’t allow myself to feel fear. I can register after the fact that a situation was potentially lethal or scary, but in the moment, it is just another situation that must be calculated and handled RIGHT then. I do not allow myself the luxury of emotions, as I feel it is the quickest way to go “bushy.” For example... this winter, I was dropped off at the end of a runway with 900 pounds of gear, in city clothes, at –50°, a mile from my door. There were as many as six wolves circling me at 300 to 400 yards, and I had no rifle and less than a half mile of visibility with darkness approaching. I tried to carry 80 pounds at a time back to camp, but “flat light” conditions, which causes lack of visual depth perception and contrast recognition, and snow drifts as high as 20 feet, caused me to hit my wall, where you crumple up and have to admit that it is just too much, too hard, and you can’t possibly do it. That fear of failure is possibly the scariest moment, when you have to admit that you CANNOT achieve a goal. To be done in by a heavy sack of potatoes when a bear didn’t accomplish it — that YOU and your inability to succeed would be your demise — that was scary. I have only hit my personal wall a few times in my life.

But then my proudest moment was when I made it to camp with the first load, got better gear and a gun strapped on, and it dawned on me that while I could admit I could not move 900 pounds all the way back to camp over a mile in those conditions, I could move that whole pile 10 feet. So, I assessed a bad deal and created a possibility for success. And that is what I did: I went back out and moved everything 10 feet at a time until I had it all to camp. It was dark when I was done eight hours later, and I was so exhausted I was throwing up along the way … BUT I DID IT.

What do you think would most surprise people about your lifestyle?
It seems to me that most people cannot get over the fact that I don’t get lonely. We are, as human beings, hard-wired to relate to things on an emotional level and I have worked hard to remove that equation from my life. For example, I do not allow myself the luxury of feeling lonely; however, I do register that I live alone. I am never sad, but I register that I may not be particularly happy at the time. It is how you look at life and register your own response that allows you to live well. (And I love opera... that gets them every time.)

What is one tool that you could not live without, and why?
My curiosity. The best tool in anyone’s arsenal is their own mindset. A wrench or a generator are certainly tools that enable us to repair and enhance our lives, but without that visceral and innate sense of awe, wonder and curiosity about what is around the bend or over the next ridge — and beyond my perceived limits — my life would not be what it is today.

What do you hope viewers will take away from watching you on this show?
For the peek into my life, I suppose that I hope viewers sense a value to their own ability to stay a curious, wide-eyed child of 5 years old, and that they recognize that there is beauty in the challenge of living a life less traveled. I can shoot an animal for the meat that I need, but also appreciate the beauty and failure when the animal gets away. There is not one aspect of life that you have to say “they” won’t let me do what I want. If they try, spit in their eye, grab your sack and show “them” that you can.

Smokey the Bear had it right: “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” So, if your life is going up in smoke, stop dwelling on it, grab a pail of water, put that shit out and start truckin.’ Wonders await you if you take a few steps out the door.

If you could choose any other place in the world to live, where would it be and why?
I will be other places in my life. There is so much to see and do. An island in the South Seas? A remote station in Australia? A small town in the Midwest? Who knows. But when the shiny object catches my eye, this chick has to check it out.

320 comments
Kurt Iversen
Kurt Iversen

Hi Sue! I have seen all "Life below zero". But pardon me, I quit don't understand what do you do for living?

Best regards Kurt 

(From Denmark)

Caroline Dykes
Caroline Dykes

I so admire you Sue for the way you chose to live in the remote part of Alaska. Ever since they started filming your day to day life there I suppose you could say I've become a fan of Sue Aikans..  I wish that the series here would be continued. I would never miss an episode.....High Five to you......

LaurieAnne Placente
LaurieAnne Placente

Is it total darkness there now? Are you able to get mail sent in? You are a inspiration to me and others. I too am a hard headed strong willed woman, surviving 3 brain surgeries, 2 strokes, doc said I would not survive 1st surgery, and woke up in ICU 32 hours after my surgery, only gave me 72 hours to live in a coma, fighting like a bull, and giving the nurses hell, I WANTED THAT DAMN THING OUT OF MY THROAT AND OUT OF THAT DAMN BED! I really admire you and the show never miss a episode. And that was 14 years ago, I'm a tough bird in THIS South Texas lifestyle.

Elaine Candeias-Braga
Elaine Candeias-Braga

Sue, you are absolutely great.  I thought I was tough, not compared to you.  Love the show!  You are a role model for women everywhere.  Hope all is well.

Ray Lisa Garnett
Ray Lisa Garnett

I too M  loner. Sometimes I just want to experience something different.

Danny Worley
Danny Worley

Hi Sue, just wondering about the show when you killed your first bear after the attack. You were hunting with an AR, what caliber is that rifle and what kind of scope did you use. I believe it was at about 400 yards and you shot him twice and it was over. Boo-Ya! Have a warm day.

Danny Worley
Danny Worley

Hi Sue, just wondering about the show when you killed your first bear after the attack. You were hunting with an AR, what caliber is that rifle and what kind of scope did you use. I believe it was at about 400 yards and you shot him twice and it was over. Boo-Ya! Have a warm day.

Chris Rizzieri
Chris Rizzieri

If I were younger and discovered Alaska then, I think that I may surely have wanted to experience more of it.

Felicite Parr-Lester
Felicite Parr-Lester

Dear Sue,

I just saw the episode where you threw your back out. I too have bulging discs and grade 1 slip with a sacrum complete fracture from my L 5. My chiropractor keeps me going with traction and a tens session. I am not sure if your able to get ahold of a tempur pedic mattress but I sleep on with 8 inches of memory foam it has saved me from a great deal of pain. It most likely would help you save your back which will allow you to continue in your home that much longer.

PS I also stretch a lot it keeps my legs from walking me up.

Hope it helps

Have a groovy day!

Sincerely

Felicite

Helen Ortega
Helen Ortega

Hey there.  I noticed on one of your episodes you used a spray insulation.  FYI, take your finger and smooth it out like caulk.  this way you can see where you need to add more except in large spaces.  That's what I did to my home and it seem to work out pretty well.  i give you a lot of credit.  not every woman can do what you're doing.  forget about location, just on everyday stuff you do.  my dad was a mechanic and taught me everything i need to know to survive on my own and not be taken advantage by men when it comes to some things.  i was greatful he taught me how to do carpentry.  honestly, if he didn't teach me these thing i would have to rely on others and i don't like doing that.  

Donna Bridges
Donna Bridges

What is the material used for your 'home' or tent and freezer building?  Why use this covering instead of the metal used in other buildings at your camp?  Thanks.   

margaret summers
margaret summers

I love your enter activity with your foxes they don't show you enough and also we all have to eat but you show respect for what you have to take a life you say a prayer for your food

Gary Smith
Gary Smith

who pays for all your convenes its not you how can you compare your self to the real hardcore people poor poor sue LMAO 


Gary Smith
Gary Smith

i don't see any point of you the rest of the cast really work to survive an eat an get wood for heat you just call a plain you are a joke an so much drama give up all your modern convents an see how you do i love the show except you get of the show


Dan Burns
Dan Burns

You have a lot of stuff such as the snow cat recently purchase, most don't have the revenue to live this well equipped?  You also said to have a prescription delivered cost $1K so if I may ask?

patricia Caricchio
patricia Caricchio

Hey how ya doing. Can't help but chuckle when watching you, like a child expecting something new each day..Don't know if I could do what you do but looks like an existence that gives self gratification & beauty.

Hear so much about being alone, I live in a city go to work every day, I love people but when work is over it's my time. How can you explain to people that you like your own company & feel comfortable enough in your own skin to be alone. People don't get it for many reasons, mostly I think because some people need reassurance for their existence from others. Anyways, have a great day & night.


L. K.
L. K.

Sue is amazing.  Love watching her plus she really does have a great sense of humor!

georgia katz
georgia katz

I admire your strength and courage. I would love to be your room-mate! :)

Hildegard Schone
Hildegard Schone

Sue, love you on the show.  Couple of things - why do you live in what appears to be a soft-sided and roofed

dwelling instead of a hard shelled dwelling ? - that would seem safer and bear proof.  If it is for warmth,. etc, why don't you build a cage/fence around your dwelling?  If a cage/fence keeps bears and wolverines enclosed in a zoo, it would also keep them out of your home, and keep your dog safe as well.  And please do bring the poor old dog inside!.  If you built a fence, you could have several gates if you get claustrophobic, and at least you could sleep at night knowing you are safe while in your abode.

Wanda Davis
Wanda Davis

Sue.I love your show and your no non-sense attitude towards life. You're a source of inspiration for me!

Becky Blees
Becky Blees

Sue,

I noticed on one episode you wore a sweatshirt with Kenmare ND on it. Have you had hunters from ND?

kenneth lewis
kenneth lewis

hi sue you have my dream life ill come spend the rest of my days with ya if youd have me?

Karen Picciolo
Karen Picciolo

I am a loney lady living in a big city in Miami. I watch your show and wonder how you handle the lonliness. Your show is the highlight of my life.I can't wait to see your next show

Donna Doucette
Donna Doucette

Sue,I am constantly amazed by you,you are such a strong,independent woman who is not afraid to admit her fears yet fearlessly lives her life every day ! You go girl !

eric Cunningham
eric Cunningham

Hello sue. My name is Eric and I'm a 35 yr old avid outdoorsman that lives in New Hampshire and been married for 2 yrs..I would really love to come and stay with you for a few weeks to just witness what the real outdoors are..so if u ever want company. .I'm always ready..I will not be an inconvenience to u..I think we could work well together..I admire what u do everyday. .thanks Eric. Knxeric@gmail.com. "anytime"

eric Cunningham
eric Cunningham

Hello sue. My name is Eric and I'm a 35 yr old avid outdoorsman that lives in New Hampshire and been married for 2 yrs..I would really love to come and stay with you for a few weeks to just witness what the real outdoors are..so if u ever want company. .I'm always ready..I will not be an inconvenience to u..I think we could work well together..I admire what u do everyday. .thanks Eric. Knxeric@gmail.com. "anytime"

Craig D.
Craig D.

Sue,

That Colt AR type rifle is awesome. I've seen a few models in 5.6mm and 7.62mm. I think I've seen a couple from DPMS  in 6.5mm. Great job on the way you walk the walk where others just talk the talk.

Ellen Desrosiers
Ellen Desrosiers

Hi Sue, love the show admire  your guts. live near nyc if you ever need anything from the big apple give me a shout.. stay safe..the foxes are adorable..

Paul Baldauf
Paul Baldauf

What model and caliber rifle were you using for the caribou hunt on the last episode?

MikeDiana W.
MikeDiana W.

LOVE the show and I totally admire you and what you do and believe in Sue! I have one question I have always wondered...why is it that you don't live in one of the buildings instead of the tent? Is more of a challenge? Or just because? Just curious...keep up the good work and I hope the show goes on for many years to come :)

Craig Daugherty
Craig Daugherty

Hi Sue,

That new semi-auto rifle you took that bear with looks to be a Stoner SR-25 7.62 x 51mm

Not just anyone could live the lifestyle you live. It take determination and dedication which you

have in abundance.   Watch your back and best of luck to you.

Raul Morales
Raul Morales

what caliber of rifle did you use for the brown bear? It is a AR platform  it did a good job.

kathy Bertschi
kathy Bertschi

Sue has e-mailed me as well. When she can she will get back to you. Be patient.

kathy Bertschi
kathy Bertschi

Loved the new episode last night. Enjoy watching you Sue. Such a brave women..

Donna Cox
Donna Cox

I was getting familiar with this web site at the same time you were setting up to kill the Bear-I looked up and you had killed him-I am so proud of you-I know it took alot for you to be the predator of a Bear after your attack-You are such an inspiration to me-I get to enjoy nature and the outdoors of Alaska through watching you on tv-I have always loved nature and the out of doors but I find myself homebound with MS- We are about the same age and I have always considered myself a loner but I do not think I could do it for 9 months-I feel very isolated and alone due to my condition-I do relate to you but how I do  would probably sound silly-My challenges are staying in my very limited budget, making my food and money last a month-The monthly trip to Walmart takes me a week to recuperate from-my other challenges are just doing the basics of caring for myself-I am trying so hard to stay independent as possible-I have made this about me but I really just wanted you to maybe understand how I related to you-I want to thank you for the inspiration and for the entertainment of getting to see into a small part of your life-You are an amazing women and you make me proud of our gender-There is so much more I would like to say but the main thing is that I wanted to Thank You 


Valorie Hobson
Valorie Hobson

So glad "Life Below Zero' is back!  Sure enjoy this show & all that each of you do to exist in AK!  Be safe & healthy!  Know that your show is awesome - thanks for sharing with us!!  Hang in there, Sue!  Greetings from McHenry, IL!!!

Amylulu Devine
Amylulu Devine

Hi Sue. Your life is amazing. Thank you for sharing your world with us. Godspeed.

Jen Here
Jen Here

I have wondered why Sue Aikens doesn't have a couple of big dogs up there with her, like a German Shepard breed?

Larry Knetzger
Larry Knetzger

Well I reviewed the emails and postings done at Facebook and I see that Sue does not answer anything. Well maybe she can read them but now way to answer. Who Knows. She is an interesting person to say the least. Good Luck Sue

Larry Knetzger
Larry Knetzger

Hi Sue, you mentioned above that you like Opera. Have you had a chance to listen to one of the finest singers of the 21st century and she is only 13 years old. In a few days she will be fourteen and growing up quickly. Jackie Evancho. If you have internet access go to her fan club and listen to her music. One of the most pleasant voices you will ever listen to. Her physical presentation is mesmerizing and she really gets into each of her songs. Really unbelievable. I hope you have access to her music. She already has four albums out and also loves to do fund raiser presentations for worth while causes. She will bring peace into your life to really enjoy some good music.  

Bryan Clark
Bryan Clark

Hi Sue  again   from Honolulu.....tasteless joke of the day   The President is at the white house...its been a horrific winter...yet he got a break in the action...so he took the pres dog and walked around the white house.....and lo and behold....someone wrote in pee....Obama Sucks.....so he calls the FBI to come and find who did this...priority    they come back the next day and say...MR Pres.  good news and bad news  ..we found from DNA that the culprit was your VP...Joe B....bad news is ...it was in Michelle s  handwriting....

ah   not bad.

Sam Bradley
Sam Bradley

Did you ever find out who took your fuel and what did you do about it?

Heather Sidwell Logan
Heather Sidwell Logan

When does the new season start? you will be continuing right? you are doing what most of wish we could do but are unable. Thank You for sharing with us.


Leah almeleh
Leah almeleh

Please bring this show back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  It was the only thing worth watching on TV and I truly miss it!!

Leah almeleh
Leah almeleh

Please bring tis show back on.  It was the only thing worth watching on TV and I truly miss it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Silver W
Silver W

Gee and I wondered why you didn't answer posts lol......... I wont slam your vocabulary, don't worry. I won't 'propose' either...... Just a not to say 'hey' and we miss seeing the little bit of your life that airs weekly. I am the third 'Sue' here I guess born n raised until a young age in Chicago. It seems it makes us the kind of women we are to live there even for a short time I guess. I am the mother of three who have gone off to college seeking their own adventure so now I am seeking my own 'adventure'. I have lived several lives, until a new place, a new life, a new adventure  calls to me. This past 21 years has been the longest I have ever been in one place, done one thing with my life. I am chomping on the bit and looking forward to my own new incarnation! Thanks for helping me believe that a life out of the box is possible again, and showing others that tho I am at the 'tender' age of 52 I can still pick up and become a 'new' me. I have 20 some odd acres in a small Midwestern town just outside my rural home where you can come crash and talk to my Dryads, my foxes, coyotes, birds galore, deer, hawks and falcons, coons, possums and even a very mysterious cougar or two that was thought to have gone 'extinct' in this area until a few years ago when several others saw and photographed my 'kitties' that have come once in a rare while to grab a bit of raw steak when I am cooking out under a full moon!  

Take Care Sue! 

Namaste,

 'Silver'

Paula Shalkowitz
Paula Shalkowitz

@Gary Smith  I wouldn't give too much thought to this poster--he's so quick to point out what he thinks he knows, however cannot spell to save his life..... The way I see it, kudos to you that you your lucky enough not to live among illiterates such as this poster....   Best of luck to you Susan, hopefully one day I hope to grow a set and pay you a visit ! God Bless...

Valorie Hobson
Valorie Hobson

FYI - I heard back from Sue last year when I posted!  Sure she is busy!  Amazing woman!!!

Lottie Coleman
Lottie Coleman

@Larry Knetzger I agree wholeheartedly with you Larry.  She is a tremendous talent.  I just hope her voice doesn't change on her as she gets older.