Life Below Zero cast member Susan [Sue] Aikens isn’t here for your sad 2020 lockdown story.
A pragmatic fighter to the core, Sue is currently battling blizzards, bears, and viability in one of the harshest climates of all of North America, sharing her journey with National Geographic Channel viewers in a milestone moment coming New Year’s Day, January 1 on the network.
Life Below Zero is celebrating its 150th episode, and with that comes a special episode that shows how resilient and clever she is, living alone in a place where no mistakes can be made.
Monsters & Critics has interviewed Sue prior to this and learned of her close calls with death, and her methodology for keeping her life, her badass matter-of-fact attitude, and her business in Kavik from floundering.
Sue is a true pioneer in every sense of the work, and we were fortunate to speak with her again (during a classic Kavik blizzard, no less) prior to this don’t-miss episode.
Since its debut, Life Below Zero has filmed 150 episodes plus and has earned four Emmy awards for cinematography and one for picture editing.
About the landmark 150th episode of Life Below Zero
The 150th episode is titled Second Nature. Under winter’s coming veil of darkness and shadow, we are with the tough Alaskan core cast as they secure scarce food and opportunity during the short-lived (and flies and mosquito-filled) warm days of summer.
Sue Aikens will be seen in a most unusual circumstance of luck and timing. She is able to show off her survival skills after her plans change when encountering an unexpected bounty on the tundra.
Other cast members include Andy Bassich who deals with the sudden loss of a crucial resource, as Jessie Holmes heads to an unexplored country with his working teams of dogs. And, father Ricko DeWilde is passing valuable life lessons and skills to his children building the value of hard work as they build a treehouse together.
Life Below Zero’s premise is immersive nonfiction television, as it gives viewers educational and insightful glimpses of the extreme lifestyles of tough residents living off the grid in Alaska.
With temperatures colder than minus 50 degrees, this hearty cast also faces whiteout snowstorms, dangerous frozen terrain, and man-eaters in one of the most isolated regions in the world.
As Mother Nature becomes more erratic, survival in Alaska is increasingly uncertain as residents continue to fight to keep their traditions alive.
The special 150th episode “Second Nature,” will air on New Year’s Day, and the franchise is produced by the BBC Studios’ Los Angeles production unit for National Geographic.
Exclusive interview with Sue Aikens
Monsters & Critics: When we talked on the big Nat Geo Zoom call, I asked you—partially kidding—about Amazon deliveries and how you get provisions you need that you cannot MacGyver yourself to Kavik? I am genuinely curious about the logistics and timing of how you get staples and needed items from the lower 48 to you during the weather permitting months.
Sue Aikens: Staples are something I think I have ordered once in two decades [laughs]. I try to think ahead on some items. I always try to keep a rolling inventory in my head of items in camp and keep tabs on lead times on weather turns and flying, pilot and plane availability, and potential seasonal hurdles to overcome and adjust for them.
It can seem like a game of dodgeball, really. I have developed a second sense if you will about upcoming winter conditions and so, for example, this winter I believe I will see a lot of wind storms so I pre-ordered a lot of guy wires and clamps to tie down and secure camp differently.
More body warmers and alternate heat methods. I suspect that the world will go through a few more panic sessions with ‘Rona [COVID 19] and that will trickle down to difficulties obtaining supplies and flying for me, so I am planning what I can do without flights and supplies.
M&C: No spoilers for fans, but you have an amazing hunting scene in the coming 150th episode that left my jaw hanging open! Your shooting skills – talk about how you have become so proficient at using different firearms- do you practice, have you been trained?
Sue Aikens: Thank you!! Yes I do practice and I have had a few good whacks to the body which left me with some less than perfect body strength for a while, so I practiced with my weaker side, giving my right side time to heal.
And then bolstered the right side when it was time. It is an advantage to develop ambidextrous abilities, and that is a matter of mind over matter. As long as it matters… make more time to learn it.
I like to be self-sufficient and so I have an array of items to choose from depending on what counterbalance I need. Some are geared towards shooting further or closer. I do practice quite a bit, but some injuries take a while to fully heal so I may take longer to get back to Ace [sharpshooter], but they [prey] seldom get away.
M&C: Do you require any visitors to wear masks when coming to the camp or is that on hold because of COVID?
Sue Aikens: I do adhere to the COVID restrictions. Those do shift so, two weeks isolation and [they must have ] a negative test. Sanitizer and wipes are all over. Use them.
The North Slope saw much devastation with the Spanish Influenza so we were and are very strict.
I think it is better to be careful than to attend even one funeral.
M&C: Again no spoilers for fans, but there is a coming scene where you use velvet from antlers and take it medicinally. Explain the recipe and the way you use it for your health please [our exclusive preview clip posted below walks you through Sue’s methodology for creating this medicine].
Sue Aikens: Many indigenous peoples and old school medical journals list the “young velvet strips” as an excellent binding for bone and joint healing when severe damage has been sustained.
The velvet itself is negotiable but the gelatinous and bulbous materials contain incredible benefits for bone and cartilage growth and repair – especially for growth plate damage, osteoporosis, spinal work… tendonitis, and more.
The material at a young to mid-stage is chock full of antibodies and bone, nerve, and cartilage stimulants. Extraction is like any extraction would be… shallow cutting to allow natural weeping and drainage then suspend in a solution which allows and encourages a more full extraction of all-natural substance while preserving the properties and stopping the decaying processes.
Depending on your desired end usage or application.. is your suspension and extraction methodology. This is rudimentary at best in my tent on the tundra. This is an old school application of taking what nature already offers, utilizing it for an ointment or additive to aid in bone and joint health.
M&C: Have the interest and inquiries steadily increased about experiencing and coming to Kavik for a holiday or trip from outsiders? How do you feel about that given the virus exploding in the lower 48?
Sue Aikens: There is interest in coming to Kavik, yes. Bush flying remains a costly adventure so that is one hurdle, and I do offer to work with people and band them together on flights.
I would rather people wait until we see what the virus does so we all can enjoy each other’s company without angst.
Kavik is a place you want to be fully present for the wonder of nature… not microbiology.
M&C: One of your castmates Jessie Holmes, takes his dogs on a training run – tell me what animals you rely upon-do you have dogs? Are they solely for company or do they serve a specific function?
Sue Aikens: I do have a small poochie and he has a small poochie – Lil Bawb and Larry.
Lil Bawb is a Toy Poodle and is close to 6 years old now. Larry is a puppy that Lil Bawb rescued when he was in town. Some kids were trying to exterminate him due to a deformity he has because he has lobster-like paws on 2 legs…and Lil Bawb lit them up like a Christmas tree and dragged the puppy to safety.
SO…. I named him Larry the Lobster and gave him to Lil Bawb. I used to have 32 giant Alaskan Mals and a trapline ages ago… and these two scamps provide company.
They do require leashes and don’t want to be in front of the [National Geographic] camera… but they have small matching hats to mine and love to hunt and fish, with long walks in the Tundra and chewing things.
M&C: I noticed that in Alaska when you have “summer” there is a thick layer of flies and gnats-how bad does it get and is it less of a problem based on how high up you are? Ricko’s scenes in the 150th episode were insane with the number of flying insects he was working around as he built a playhouse with his kids.
Sue Aikens: Mosquitoes are a force to be reckoned with. The warble flies are also quite volatile. I have learned to ignore them for the most part. I can have hundreds or more on me and keep going.
If you don’t scratch them, they won’t bump up and itch. Mind over matter, again.
Elevation may help, and some animals will gain elevation to get away thanks to the changes in temperature and oxygen levels… or go to the coast, and putting their beaks in the wind. If you get more than three MPH winds they fall behind.
Then the first few freezes, they dive into the tundra to escape and come out again when it warms up. But eventually, their eggs are laid in the water or tundra.. and [then] frost wins.
M&C: What is your failsafe and plan of action in the event you might get injured or feel something is not right, and you know you need medical help?
Sue Aikens: I do have a safety phrase that I use both in a call or in a text and or email that sent alone with no other wording will send aid immediately.
M&C: Guilty pleasure- if you have time for one, would be?
Sue Aikens: I used to like to take a bath out in my screen tent in the spring with a single malt, reflecting on the winter, watching the baby caribou frolicking, and thinking about life.
M&C: Last book read and last TV show or film watched was?
Sue Aikens: Last book was Le Petit Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery, and for TV, Downton Abbey.
Exclusive preview of the 150th Episode
The 150th episode of National Geographic’s Emmy award-winning series Life Below Zero will air on New Year’s Day at 9/8c on National Geographic Channel.
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