On his long-running TV show, Survivorman, Les Stroud travelled the globe battling the elements everywhere from Baffin Island to Belize. When not eating or being eaten by bugs in some remote location, though, Stroud is a serious and successful musician who has just released his fifth album, Bittern Lake, a collection of cover songs relating to his love of nature and environmentalism. I recently caught up with Stroud between flights to find out about his travel tips, what keeps him moving and what albums he’d bring with him if stranded on a desert island.
On countries visited and favourite destinations
“We tried to do a count one time of all the countries I visited as Survivorman and we lost track at about 85. Of all the places, though, I really fell in love with the high Canadian Arctic. Hiking in the Arctic is always my go-to and even if I think I won’t go back, as soon as I get up there, I remember, ‘Oh, yeah, this is the place.’ It’s really quite jaw-dropping. That said, the Utah canyon lands are really stunning, too, and the high Andes of Peru also took my breath away.”
Desert island discs
“I’d definitely want to have Steve Goodman’s greatest hits, which is called Jessie’s Jig and Other Favorites. He performed with John Prine for many years and he’s a brilliant artist. The next two are cliché but I don’t apologize for them: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Pink Floyd’s Animals. I’m a sucker for classic rock.”
City versus nature
“I love both the wilderness and cities. I love the paradox, the juxtaposition of being in the Amazon jungle in one week and watching Cirque du Soleil in Vegas the next and I’m equally at home in both places. I’m not one of these, ‘The city is making me itchy I need to go back to my lean-to’ people. Certainly, I couldn’t live in a city any more, but I have no qualms about visiting them and eating great food and going out to shows. That said, I spent the past five days backpacking in the Marble Mountains in Northern California and I was really happy to be surrounded by nature.”
Surviving long-haul flights
“I made it a rule that whenever a flight attendant offers me water I always say yes even if I’m not thirsty and I found that was a healthy plan to take. After that I made a second rule that if I am going to eat the airplane meal, I always say no to the bread. I’m also addicted to getting business done on the plane. In fact, there have been times when I’ve been like, ‘Oh no, we’re landing already? I’m not finished this article! Can you go around for another hour so I can finish this thing off?’ I always bring my laptop, I always work on the plane and, in fact, in many ways it was better before when you couldn’t get WiFi on the planes because I would always get so much done, but now that you can, I’m back to answering e-mails.”
What keeps Survivorman moving
“I love cultural mystique attached to landscape. My next trip is to Ireland and I really made sure we put ancient culture in our plans. I love ancient, unexplained places like Cusco, Peru, for Machu Picchu and Sacsayhuaman. I love the kind of architectural works that nobody can explain because they’re so old. I know for the stones in Peru, the general answer is based on surmising, because they don’t know. They know the parts the Incans made, but the other parts nobody knows. Human hands couldn’t even do this. That stuff blows my mind.”
Most important survival tool
“If you want the Survivorman answer, it’s the ability to get a fire going anywhere at any time. If you can get a fire going wherever you are, that kind of locks you down for everything else. The domestic answer for me though is having plenty of local currency. I think that whole concept of having a lot of local currency is huge. You can buy your way out of a lot of problems, but if you don’t have the money it’s difficult and having travelled around to many, many different countries that’s the one thing I hate being without. If you’ve got bills you know, worst-case scenario I’m getting in a rickshaw, I’m jumping in a cab, I’m grabbing a songthaew or whatever because I’ve got that local cash and I can get myself the heck out of there if I run into some kind of issue.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.