My grandmother and I both share similar tastes in reading – classics and biographies/autobiographies. This Christmas, she gave me a copy of Bear Gryll’s autobiography, Mud, Sweat and Tears. I don’t have a TV, but I’ve seen Man Vs. Wild and some of the similar survival shows. I like traveling and camping, but I’ve never gone to the extremes. I try to be prepared enough that I don’t have to eat a frog, but I’ve been known to do so.
I didn’t know much about Grylls, other than he was British and he drinks his own wee. Ha. I liked watching Man Vs. Wild because of the incredible places they filmed and it’s good to know some basic survival skills if you plan to spend any time in the outdoors. He has written a few books, but this one was more focused on how he grew up and the time before he was a star. He talked mostly about his family, the boarding schools, SAS training (Elite British forces ‘Special Air Service’), and his journey to climb Mt. Everest.
His great-great-great grandfather, Samuel Smiles, had written one of the first ‘self help’ books during the Victorian age, titled, Self Help. When it came out in 1859, it was so popular, it even outsold Darwin’s Origin of Species. The book talked about building character and how important being a gentleman is to a man. He was one of the first to profess that a poor gentleman has more than a snobby wealthy man could ever have.
Bear’s grandfather, Walter Smiles, was a war hero and a Member of Parliament. He tragically lost his life at sea, a few miles from his home at Portavo Point. Just as Walter’s grandfather had written about character and strong qualities of a gentleman, Walter found himself doing everything possible on the fateful ship to save as many lives as he could. He was remembered as a hero. Walter’s daughter, Patsie, took his seat in parliament and soon left her husband for another MP. The other MP didn’t feel as strongly and he didn’t leave his own wife so Patsie was left a single mother. Years of regret bottled inside led her to write a very poignant letter to Bear’s sister at birth. The letter was filled with jewels of advice to try to pass down her knowledge to ensure happiness for her future family. In Bear’s book he shared part of the letter, which advised his sister to “Try always to think ahead and not backward, but don’t ever try to block out the past, because that is part of you and has made you what you are. But try, oh try, to learn a little from it.”
Bear’s father also had a strong influence on him. He took him on climbs and camping, and built a love of the outdoors in him. Although his father was busy being a member of parliament, he tried to find time when he could to have quality time with the family. Bear recalled one time that stood out to him. Bear was on the school rugby team, but was really just the linesman. While nobody else consistently came to watch, Bears dad would be there watching his son doing his linesman duties. It meant the world to Bear.
Bear was a rugged pup from the beginning. He loved climbing both trees and mountains throughout his youth. At Eton College he started a mountaineering club and started a hobby of climbing building and towers around the college. The pinnacle was his late night climb of Eton’s Library. It included a dome, which Bear had to use the cord to the lightening rod to shimmy up. The only other one to climb it was the legendary explorer, Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Both have scratched their initials onto the dome.
Upon completion of college, Bear didn’t have a desire to pursue the university, so he signed up for the SAS selection while he attended a small uni in Bristol. After signing on, he was picked to go through the year-long course to train for the selection process. Although the SAS is very private and confidential, Bear did a good job of telling what he could of the process. After a few weeks of strenuous drills, a group of the men were put through the weekend marches. Often they would run over 15-20 miles at a time through mountains with loaded fifty pound packs and had to complete the courses in a certain amount of time. Bear failed to meet the time about 1/4 of the way in and was taken home. This upset him greatly, but when the SAS invited him back for the second time, he vowed that he wouldn’t let himself fail. He completed the second selection and served a few years in the SAS on various missions as a reserve soldier. He enjoyed that time a lot.
An interesting fact, Bear liked to play guitar around Bristol. He met a friend and they would play together sometimes, he called his friend ‘Blunty’, but his real name was James Blunt, the singer known for the song ‘You’re Beautiful’.
One day, Bear and his friends went skydiving and his chute ripped and didn’t open all the way. Instead of cutting the cord to release the reserve, he panicked and tried to land it. He fell on his back with a thud and fractured three vertebrae. During his months of rehabilitation, he decided he would climb the world’s tallest mountain, Everest (if he could after breaking his back). His rehabilitation went well and Bear was ready to start training. He spent three months on Everest and successfully reached the summit. Out of the forty people that started the trek, only a handful made it to the top. Exhaustion, lack of oxygen, injuries, and weather kept the others from making it all the way. Bear went into great detail of his expedition on Everest and it was a story of a lifetime. He was only the 31st Brit to ever make the climb. At one point, a sheet of ice broke and he fell, nearly to his death, but was saved by a rope he was harnessed to, which should not have been able to withstand the fall. He was lucky and he knew it.
Grylls spoke briefly of his experience with fame after Discovery picked up his show, Man Vs. Wild. He is far too modest to accept his fame, and he’s grateful that the show is a little less popular in Britain so he can live peacefully with his wife, Shara and three boys. The income from the show also gives him the opportunity to give a lot of money to charities, which is one of the most important things that he believes in.
Being so close to death so many times, Bear knows he is lucky. He finished the book by saying “Every day is the most wonderful of blessings, and a gift that I never, ever take for granted. Oh, and as for the scars, broken bones, aching limbs, and sore back? I consider them just gentle reminders that life is precious — and that maybe, just maybe, I am more fragile that I dare to admit.”
He is a true class-act and a man that all can look up to.