Adventure: Any experience with an uncertain outcome…
Chris and Casey Keefer are passionate about two things; professional sports teams from Pittsburgh and hunting. It is of course hunting that has made the two brothers of Backcountry Quest TV most widely recognized in the outdoor industry. Having known these two for quite a while now (we are from the same hometown) I can attest that they are the same in person as they are on TV. Both are incredibly driven, passionate about what they do, committed to helping others, they love their families, and they love to have fun. When hunting, these guys will do whatever it takes to get in range of a big buck or a shy longbeard. They are not afraid of a challenge and yet seek perfection in all they set their mind to. As brothers, they are incredibly close.
It came as no big surprise to me that Chris and Casey chose to do Dropped: Project Alaska. If I were to pick a pair to undertake an adventure like this it would certainly be them. Chris, Casey, and cameramen Jason Brown and Trent Skiba would be dropped by plane into the Alaskan bush with no provisions, just their packs, hunting licenses, a raft, their bows, fishing poles and a single rifle. No food, no water. To survive they would have to catch, kill, and forage for food for 28 days while at the same time navigating down more than 100 miles of river that had not been previously navigated.
What intrigued me about their journey was not so much the excellent hunting and fishing they would experience so far out in the bush but rather what personal change they would undergo as a result of this experience. In addition to being an outdoor communicator and avid hunter and fisherman myself, I am also a college professor at Liberty University where I teach on the concepts and philosophies of adventure and risk, as well as the personal, mental, emotional, and spiritual growth that can occur in outdoor contexts. This would be a great research opportunity for me. I contacted Chris before they left and we agreed to an interview upon their return; not about what they killed but what they learned about themselves on this amazing adventure.
Me: Where in Alaska did you get “Dropped”?
C&C: We were up in the Brooks Range area of northern Alaska. We are keeping the exact location secret for now (at least until the show airs) but we floated down a very remote tributary or drainage off the Chandalar River.
Me: Tell me why you chose to do Dropped: Project Alaska.
C&C: The bottom line is, we’re crazy and we love the outdoors. For quite some time we felt challenged to do something outside our comfort zone and something quite different than anything that had ever been done on outdoor TV. Sure, there are survival shows on TV but the hosts go out for a short period of time and are rarely without immediate aid if needed. Outdoor shows are often filmed in relatively static environments, without much risk. When is the last time you watched a deer hunting show on TV where it was a matter of life or death? We wanted to change that. We wanted to show our audience something different; that we are different. And we wanted to show what reality in Alaska is all about.
Me: How did you prepare?
C&C: Obviously there was a lot of preparation that went into this trip; everything from making sure we had the right equipment to making sure we were in shape physically for the challenge. In the end though, no matter how much preparation we did, nothing could have prepared us for what we experienced.
Me: What did you feel when the plane took off leaving you standing there in the remote Alaskan bush?
C&C: The first thing that hit us as we finally had time to look around was the fact that we were standing in the middle of God’s country, literally God’s country; capital “G” God’s county. As we stood there and looked around we couldn’t help but realize just how incredible beautiful and amazing Alaska is. You can’t help but think this is no accident or random act of nature. The second thing was just how big the land is and just how small and insignificant we really are in the grand scheme of things. It is a truly humbling experience. Third was the silence. Once that plane left and was out of ear shot we realized just how quiet it was; dead silent. There was no ambient noise, no hum of passing cars in the distance, no man made noise. It was totally silent.
Me: So reality set in?
C&C: Definitely! We realized that we had 28 days and more than 100 miles to cover. We had two caribou tags and two moose tags and that was it. We knew we were in for an adventure.
Me: Speaking of adventure, the definition of adventure is any experience involving risk and of which the outcomes are undetermined and uncertain. How does this definition match up with what you experienced?
C&C: Perfectly! We never knew from one moment to the next what was going to happen. We had no idea whether or not we could actually make it the entire 28 days. The adventure is really what kept us going though. There was always something pulling at us, something that kept us going. We just had to see what was around the next bend. We had no clue what was in store for us, we just knew had to get there to see.
Me: Did you ever get frustrated or question why you were out there?
C&C: Most definitely! We shot a caribou early in the trip and that was our primary source of food. However, by day 16 we were out of meat which meant we were out of food. We knew, however, we were about to enter an area that was supposed to be prime moose hunting territory and held our best chance for shooting big moose but most importantly for getting food. Suddenly, however, we ran into some very aggressive rapids. There was no way out for us. We basically had to just hold on and go with it. With each second though, we realized that we were passing through the area that held our best chance at food. It was very frustrating! By the time we got out of the rapids, we had traveled 14 miles downriver in a very short period of time.
Me: What did you do?
C&C: What could we do? We couldn’t paddle back upstream so we just had to think of how to make the most of this and develop a new strategy.
Me: What happened next?
C&C: The most amazing thing happened! As we continued to float further downriver, frustrated and totally unsure of what to do next, we spotted a point of land up ahead. It was flat and looked like it offered what could be a decent place to set up camp. We had no idea what the area held in terms of wildlife and food potential but we didn’t have much choice. We had to do something.
We made our way to the point and when we got there the only thing we could think to do was pray. We were out of options and there was no way we were going to figure this one out on our own. We just prayed and asked God, the one who created Alaskain the first place, to help us through this situation. We then dedicated that little point of land to God and decided to call it “Prayer Point”.
Me: And what happened?
C&C: God definitely answered our prayer! We had gone 14 days without seeing an animal we could kill and suddenly we were covered up with wildlife. In our final days we shot two moose and called in many, many more. It was incredible. Even though we didn’t understand it at first, God certainly knew what He was doing and took care of us.
Me: How did you deal with the fact you were basically out of communication with anyone except yourselves the entire time.
C&C: It was really strange at first. At home you become so used to answering your cell phone, updating your Facebook status, and checking your email all throughout the day. It is so much a part of you that when your phone doesn’t ring you still check it to see what messages you might have somehow missed. Eventually your body shifts and moves instead to figuring out how you are going to survive. Not having the cell phones, email, and all the other electronic distractions really helped us to focus on our mission. It also made us much more relaxed. Despite the stress of not knowing where our next meal was going to come from and the danger we were still very relaxed; it was strange. Coming back to civilization was a huge adjustment.
We have a new respect for members of our military after this too. We take so much for granted. We are used to kissing our wives and kids each morning and each night and talking to them throughout the day. We were only gone for a month and it was hard. These men and women are going much further away and for much longer periods of time and dealing with stress far worse than we experienced. It really puts things in perspective.
Me: How did “Dropped” change you? What did you take away?
C&C: This was truly a life altering experience. First, we were physically and mentally tested unlike anything we have ever experienced before. Second, you quickly understand how important it is to work as a team. You have to depend on each other wholeheartedly and you learn to feed off each other. As brothers we have always been close and depended on each other but after this that bond is even stronger. When your lives depend on your ability to work
together and you make it through the experience together, it makes those relationships so much stronger.
In the end we got great footage, shot some tremendous animals, and had the adventure of a lifetime. People will enjoy watching it on the Sportsman’s Channel this December. Beyond the show though, we are stronger mentally, physically, and spiritually because of “Dropped”. The experience made us better men, better husbands and fathers. It’s almost hard to put into words just what this experience ultimately meant for us. It changed our lives.
Dropped: Project Alaska premiers in a one hour special episode, Tuesday, December 27th at 9PM. Don’t miss it!