Like The Pretenders’ lead singer Chrissie Hynde, she left her “pretty countryside” of Ohio to spend her teenage years mastering survival skills in faraway summer camps.
While other teenage girls were burning up cell phones and social media with banalities, Carleigh was perfecting skills like building fires and shelters from scratch, field-dressing animals and making useful things.
At the age of 18, Carleigh enrolled in the Earthwalk Northwest Wilderness School to continue her studies in primitive living skills and ethno-botany.
Her experience served her well, as her amazing journey on Season 3 of Alone shows. Carleigh now lives as part of a remote community of just 50 people in Alaska.
We spoke to her as she reflected on her Patagonia journey…
Monsters and Critics: You were amazing on Alone. Tells us how you mentally prepared, and how you rode through the feelings of missing your loved ones to get on with the tasks at hand.
Carleigh Fairchild: Mentally I prepared by trusting the years of practice I had and going into this, an wanting to live out my dream of living with the earth using my skills for as long as I could.
Knowing that [my boyfriend] Tyler, all my family, and close friends were supporting me and wanted the same for me gave me strength.
When I had a flare-up of missing loved ones…I would feel it, sometimes cry and just sit with the emotion, and sometimes I would energetically reach out to a loved one to feel their support.
I was very aware that each day was a choice, and if I was struggling I would ask myself if I still wanted to be here.
And always I said yes, I want to keep on living here and hope I can win the $500,000 so I can help my mom buy her own land again, build a cabin with Tyler, and help some friends out.
M&C: How many fish did you catch and what were your favorite foraged berries, greens or roots? What was the combination you came upon that was really satisfying for a simple Alone meal?
CF: I caught six fish while I was out there. I really struggled with fishing. It’s hard to pick just one favorite foraged item, [as] I enjoyed and was thankful for all of them! I was most excited and surprised to find stinging nettles (Urtica), I had no idea that they grew in Patagonia.
Every meal was really satisfying! When I had a fish I really enjoyed making a soup out of it with the wild greens I foraged, especially a lot of sheep sorrel (Rumex) as it added a lemon flavor to the fish.
M&C: A lot of viewers feared for you when the puma was around while you slept outdoors. What was the closest call with any mammals in the area you can talk about, and were you ever afraid?
CF: My closest encounter was my first night there, while on the beach boiling water over my fire I heard something and looked up to my left to see a glowing pair of eyes about 15 feet from me.
I was nervous but then saw the cat more clearly and it had spots and was about the size of a bobcat but with a long tail.
It seemed curious, and sat on a log looking at me. I felt like it was welcoming me to this place, and I thanked it for its presence, feeling that it was a good omen. It kept me company for a little while then meandered away along the lake.
The first couple of nights there, I was concerned about the animal noises at night because I didn’t know what was making them and didn’t recognize them.
But they never seemed to come very close, so I got used to them as part of the night symphony.
M&C: Your drum was great and we loved how you methodically showed us how to make it. The scavenged hide was a fortunate find. The drum also elicited some big emotions from you, can you talk about that day and why you got weepy when you played it?
CF: Thank you, I loved making it! When I found the hide, I was in disbelief at what I was seeing. I am very thankful for finding it!
I initially made a bag out of it for carrying debris for insulating the walls of my house.
Playing the drum connected me to so many experiences with family and friends and I really felt how long I had been out there and away from them…even though I cried often towards the end, I loved being there, I was so connected to everything around me, and really hoped I would make it to be the last person.
M&C: We have asked this question of all the contestants…as viewers we were struck at the resiliency (emotional and physical) of the women in this run of Alone. What is your opinion about surviving bare bones Alone and why do women seem to do better — at least in this run?
CF: I don’t think it’s a man vs woman difference, I feel like it’s an educational difference. Growing up girls tend to be allowed to feel their feelings and are taught that they are acceptable, while boys often are told that crying is weak and not acceptable.
I look at feelings and emotions as communication, something I can look at to understand my situation and what is important to me in that moment, rather than something to explode about or shut down.
I believe this helped me when in such a raw experience as surviving alone.
The women have done great this season and so have the men! Look how long we were all out there!
M&C: What was the best thing you made while there?
CF: The best? Hmmm…I made the drum, multiple baskets, a calendar spoon, a backrest, a sleeping pad out of rushes, a stacked stone fireplace. All great things that helped me live well, but I’m going to say the best thing I made was my house.
I wove it out of saplings, it had an insulated debris wall, part debris and bark roof, part tarp roof, a short doorway to conserve heat, I could stand up inside and stretch, there was room to work on projects, cook, and sleep.
It was the best because it gave me a home base to live and create all the other items in.
M&C: What day was the hardest and how did you get through it, what was your coping mechanism?
CF: I can’t remember a specific day that was the hardest. Challenging times came and went. The 4th of July was pretty hard because I knew my community and family at home would be celebrating together and eating delicious food.
To cope I celebrated 4th of July with a cook-out on the beach with green soup and enjoyed watching a meteor shower that night.
M&C: What do you want to tell your fans and those who watch Alone? What is the best observation you can share?
CF: I hope that my splash will inspire you to live your life, to look for the areas you can enjoy even in a difficult situation, to be happy each day, to seek out your dreams and be the positive change you want to see in the world.
When you get to know yourself and what you love, you can do anything you set your mind to.
Can we look for positive connection and relationship wherever we are? Can we be stewards of the earth and leave it a better place for the future generations?
M&C: Of all the bios for this series, I am fascinated by your actual real life. Talk about how you decided to go from Ohio to a remote Alaskan community of 50 people. Have you built there yet? Are you really a city council member and can you talk about that?
CF: From Ohio, I first moved to Washington State to attend Earthwalk Northwest. I was passionate to learn more about survival living skills and self sufficiency.
After several wonderful years taking classes and helping out at Earthwalk Northwest I wanted to travel and explore more of the world.
On a trip to Alaska I met Tyler and feeling a spark invited him to join my travels. We fell in love adventuring together and after a few trips I moved to Edna Bay.
We haven’t built a cabin yet, we are in the brainstorming cabin plans phase while working to buy a piece of land.
Yes, I am a City Council member — I am one of seven. We meet once a month, and as needed, to act on the best interests of the community.
M&C: Talk about your life now, what are you doing?
CF: I am living! While homesteading with Tyler, I am processing and integrating my experience in Patagonia into my life.
I’ve been doing a lot of journaling, healthy eating, and exercise to bring my body back to where it was before I left. I’ve also visited a lot of family and close friends to reconnect after my experience in Patagonia.
Looking into this next year, I am planning on teaching wilderness survival classes, and hope to facilitate rite of passage programs, traveling and teaching groups of people in their own communities.
After being alone in Patagonia I feel very passionate about bringing people together in connection with where they live.