As a few readers may know, I’ve been working diligently for years on a non-fiction book about the Sasquatch phenomenon. The travel memoir entitled, In the Valleys of the Noble Beyond: In Search of the Sasquatch, chronicles my wanderings through the British Columbia coastal communities of the Great Bear Rainforest, to hear about eyewitness encounters with the reputed half-man, half-ape creatures said to inhabit the area.
The journey was driven by an unrelenting fascination with the Bigfoot mystery that goes back to childhood. My goal was to better understand what people are seeing — if not the physical creatures themselves; and why, if these animals do exist, they are as elusive as they are.
Over the course of the project I came to realize that whatever the reality of these beings, the Sasquatch phenomenon had a lot to teach us about ourselves: about perception, belief, the nature of reality – and a great deal more.
During a subsequent visit to the Great Bear, I had the pleasure of meeting outdoorsman and TV personality “Survivorman” Les Stroud. He was travelling to the village of Klemtu, in Kitasoo-Xai’xais First Nation Territory, to shoot an episode for his Survivorman Bigfoot series, when he made an appearance at my cabin. Interested in all matters Sasquatch, Stroud decided to come by for a chat after hearing that I was in the area working on a book about the subject.
Since then his Survivorman Bigfoot has met with a lot of popularity and success. I reached out to Stroud recently to ask him about his experience with the series and what it was like to delve into the esoteric world of Sasquatch research.
You’re known for your Survivorman TV series and brand. How did you find yourself embroiled in this topic of Sasquatch?
Slowly and organically. I had a Sasquatch experience a while ago that I mentally shelved. In fact, I ignored it because I was in the middle of shooting a Survivorman episode. I remember thinking to myself at the time, “That was a fucking Bigfoot!” And then I thought, “I can’t mention it because the episode will become about that – and not survival, which is what I’m teaching.” I was enough of a purist that I buried the experience in favour of what I was there to do. I didn’t want to muddy the water.
A couple of years later I was doing a live radio interview. One of the interviewers said to me, “Hey man, have you ever seen a Bigfoot?” I had never talked about it publicly. But I rarely, if ever, lie in an interview. I always tell the truth, even if it’s tough. And he just asked me about Bigfoot on the air. I wondered: how do I answer? I could say no. But then I thought, “naw, what the hell.” So I told him my story in graphic detail. I didn’t realize that admission was going to start a mini fire storm on social media.
Later, I started thinking this was a great combination of brands: Survivorman and Bigfoot. I pitched it to the networks and that set me on the path of doing Survivorman Bigfoot. There was a business decision there, but also a genuine curiosity because I wanted to understand what happened to me that day. What did I hear? What did I go through? Those questions sent me down a rabbit-hole that led to a whole new world I wasn’t expecting.
You haven’t taken a hard position about the existence of Sasquatches. Which arguments, for and against, have impacted you the most?
Obviously, I must have some consideration of the possibility that there’s something real going on here – or else I wouldn’t be interested. I’m not trying to be coy by saying that. At the same time I try to keep my personal perspective about it at arm’s length. In fact, I find myself sometimes being a little bit skeptical. But I also don’t embrace the hard-core skepticism and say it’s all bullshit.
I think a lot of times we see the anecdotal accounts as undeserving of respect. But we forget how much, as a culture, we live in an empirical way, scientifically. If you look at all the anecdotal references to this phenomenon, along with the empirical findings – for instance, certain Sasquatch tracks and audio recordings of vocalizations that are not in the human range – you’ve got a problem. If you put all that data in one room and examine it, and then say that there’s nothing to this, I believe you would look incredibly ridiculous.
In my opinion the science behind the idea that it’s bullshit is less than the science behind it saying there’s something going on here. That’s my biggest take home.
So how did you decide on your treatment of the subject for the TV series?
Part of the way through Survivorman Bigfoot I started seeing that this is less about the phenomenon itself. It is about the people who are into the phenomenon. I pointed out the factions and I drew a line between the positions of “this is a big ape and we can scientifically prove it” and “they’re guided by aliens and travel through portals.” It’s this battleground – between all the different attributes of the phenomenon.
I touched on this in the series because it became clear to me that even though the show was about my own experiences, the phenomenon and how it played out in the characters became a whole story in itself. It’s easy for people to think, “Oh, they’re a bunch of whack jobs who believe in Bigfoot.” But that’s not what’s going on at all. It’s not about whack jobs. They’re so much more varied in their personalities and perspectives from intelligent, articulate and highly respected scientists to obtuse redneck types – and everything in between.
Has your wilderness experience given you some insight into what is behind this phenomenon?
Once you spend enough time outdoors it’s easier to accept the idea that Bigfoot is possible, biologically. In fact, when you think enough about it, the idea becomes almost boring, or commonplace.
What you focus on in your book is the more interesting angle. What is the Sasquatch? Why do people see it – or not? Why don’t we have one yet? It goes so deep, so quickly, that you start getting into a lot of other areas. In some cases you have to have a very open mind just to wrap your head around it.
Is it possible that a physical, biological ape exists in the wilderness? Sure it is. But I think it’s just so much deeper, and cooler, and bigger than just that. The conversations at parties and around water coolers can become boring pretty quickly on this subject.
As a TV insider, what do you think about the media’s approach to covering this topic?
One of my perspectives is that the TV series Finding Bigfoot did a lot to hurt this phenomenon. I met Cliff Barackman at the 2016 Sasquatch Summit in Washington and he’s a super, standup guy. But the show was hokey. The series turned the phenomenon into a cultural punch-line. They made it into a joke. And once it’s a joke the general public is less inclined to care. And that is really unfortunate.
The hosts of the show are into this subject in a very real way, and yet the producers basically undermined it. I would have argued with the bosses and made sure things were said and done more correctly. I dunno. Maybe I’m being a bit of a purist.
Couldn’t you also say that the show has helped bring the topic out of the fringe and into the mainstream?
Yes, that’s probably also the case – but in what context? A running gag or a punchline? Something to mock, or a phenomenon worthy of delving into with scientific skepticism? Sadly it’s the former when it comes to how the producers of Finding Bigfoot handled the subject matter. They wanted ratings, not answers.
Some people have posted still frames from your Survivorman Bigfoot series on social media showing shadowy images in the trees behind you, claiming them to be Sasquatches. What do you make of that?
The motivation to do that comes down to people’s obsession.
I knew one particular Bigfoot researcher, a scientist and biologist, who was obsessed with Sasquatch being proven biologically so that his peers would finally respect him. He was obsessed with that angle. I told him not to care about what other people are saying. But he couldn’t get that out of his mind. The minute you suggested something about the phenomenon that seemed slightly metaphysical, he freaked out. He closed his mind to that because he knows other people won’t respect that. But I digress.
People who are seeing the shadows behind me on screen, really want to prove Sasquatch to the world. Some of them had incredible experiences and think that they’re called upon to show everybody that these creatures exist. They just want it so badly. And they trust me because they trust Survivorman. They’re trying to help me. They’re like: “Dude, did you see what was behind you? Dude, it was right there! They were following you! Bigfoot is following Survivorman! Bigfoot must believe in Survivorman!”
It’s kind of hilarious. My editor and I were curious, so we went back and looked at those episodes. We have the hi-definition of that footage and those frames. They’re just shadows in the trees that are blowing in the background. I checked into every one. People are seeing images on their TV and computer screens that have been compressed 16 different times by quality control.
What observations have you gleaned about why we pursue these creatures?
There’s some evidence for their existence and it makes people curious – as it should. So let’s just put that aside for the moment.
I think it’s also tied to nature. Bigfoots seem to be showing us how to exist and live properly in the natural world. Like a big brother who could guide us back. It ties in with some First Nations perspectives on that issue which reflect aspects of their culture. Some enthusiasts go on and on about how Sasquatches are trying to show us the way back to nature and are helping to reconnect us with the natural world. I think that’s where a lot of the fascination and obsession comes from – we’re missing something and feeling guilty about it.
Do the longstanding indigenous traditions and experiences on this topic influence your own understanding of the phenomenon?
They definitely contain the hallmarks of what brings it home to me. When you have a consistency, for the most part, of experience and stories, it causes you to think. It can’t be a coincidence that some First Nation communities have the same experiences going very, very far back. It’s one of the points of reference that stands up to scrutiny.
What the Sasquatch is – that’s another question. And that’s one of the things I brought up at that Sasquatch Summit in Washington in front of several hundred people. There was a ‘drop the mic’ moment where I said, “I can tell you one thing for certain: nobody on this panel and no one in this room knows exactly what the creature is.” The room went silent.
But that’s the truth. And it bugs me a lot when metaphysical people say, “No, we consider them real people who are trying to guide us back to the spiritual ways of Mother Earth.” I get that there’s something to that. But it’s more than that. And then others say that they’re just Gigantopithecus, or upright walking apes. None of us really know. My thinking is in the middle. I think it might be some, or all, of those things.
We know from quantum physics that how the universe behaves – at the quantum level anyway – is influenced by an observer. Physics must therefore be connected to psychology: to our thoughts, motives and actions. You can’t really separate the two fields. So maybe what’s going on here, what people are seeing, or not seeing, is related to that correlation. The Sasquatch may be a reflection of where reality and our minds overlap.
To be somewhat open to the metaphysical side of this is easy for me. People use the term ‘paranormal’ sometimes to describe their take on things, and that causes people huge discomfort. People snicker at that. But what is paranormal, really? Isn’t paranormal simply normal, but we just don’t get it yet? We don’t understand it yet? What if these animals are much more in tune with nature, compared to us? What if they have access to certain perceptions and attributes that we don’t have access to?
For instance, if we had a non-Bigfoot discussion on telepathy with scientists, or people who’ve research these things, we’d have a fairly open and frank conversation about the very real possibility that such abilities exist in us. Most people have had those sorts of experiences at one time or another. When that gets grafted over Sasquatch it becomes unacceptable.
What did you learn about yourself while producing Survivorman Bigfoot?
It gave me extra personal confidence. I realized that I’m more open-minded than I thought I was. I’m able to take all this in and remain poised. Philosophically, it enabled me to widen my understanding. That manifests now as a day-to-day pragmatism.
It’s not a journey to discover whether or not there’s an ape out there. It might be for some people. It’s more than that. It gave me a greater understanding of what’s possible in the realm of the mysterious. It landed me somewhere in terms of philosophy and my understanding of life.
Is that because you think aspects of this subject overlap with the larger questions?
Yes, I would say that. And that’s why I tell people: it’s not about an ape.
What’s next for you on the subject of Bigfoot?
As you’re doing with your book, I’d like to bring it back to philosophy and metaphor. I’d like to produce the most current, up-to-date and definitive feature documentary film on the phenomenon and make it hugely powerful. In addition, I’m launching a new podcast that will definitely tackle the Sasquatch subject every so often.
The really great questions which you landed on is the “why” of it all – and “what does it mean?” And that’s what I like. A lot of people aren’t getting philosophical about it. And I think they really should.
Les Stroud is an outdoorsman, survival expert, documentary producer and musician. You can find his ‘Survivorman Bigfoot’ series online. Les is starting his own podcast entitled ‘Surviving Life with Les Stroud’ (on YouTube) which will include the topic of Bigfoot.
John Zada’s book ‘In The Valleys of the Noble Beyond: In Search of the Sasquatch’ is being published this summer by Grove Atlantic in the U.S., and Greystone Books in Canada. The book is available for pre-order on Amazon (US, Canada and UK) and other online booksellers.