Meet Sam Larson
Hey guys! I’m Sam
I’m a bushcraft instructor, author, and speaker, with years of experience in a variety of wilderness environments. More importantly, I’m a husband, and a father.
I could also be described as a slow reader, athletically challenged, and morbidly afraid of being indoors.
At 18, I chose to go to the wilderness, rather than inevitably flunking out of college. At 24 I became the youngest winner of the world’s most difficult and dangerous survival reality tv challenge, ALONE, on HISTORY.
I’m the founder and lead instructor for Woodsong Wilderness Education, a company that specializes in wilderness skills courses, and consulting.
All of my writing takes place on my blog, here at samexplores.com, and I’m honored that you’ve taken the chance to stop by my website!
If you want to hear more about my story, I’ve jotted down the highlights for you below!
A Slow Start
I’ll be straight and to the point here, I really sucked at school.
My grades and test scores were well below “average,” and I got anxiety any time I was forced to sit in a chair and read a textbook, which is most of school…
Although I took refuge in some classes like writing and fine arts, I was essentially miserable during those years.
Eventually the time came for me to decide what I was going to do with my life. I was told that I should choose a college, but if I was already so bad at high school did it really make sense for me to do that?
Everyone was talking about what career they wanted to do, what they wanted to “major” in, and how much scholarship money they were going to get. I was just in my own little world, trying to figure out where I would fit in. After a while I stopped thinking about where I wanted to go to “college” and started thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. Looking back, I had been told by my schools that I had to get good grades so that I could get into a good college, and I had failed at both of those things. So, what does one do when they’ve failed at the only thing they’ve been told to do for the majority of their life?
In short, I stopped listening to what other people thought I should do, and started asking myself, “if I could do any job in the world, what would it be?”
I had taken a week long canoe trip with the Boy Scouts when I was 14, and it was the most fun and exciting experience that I could recall. Our guide was a woman in her early 20s, who was also named Sam, ironically. To this day, I remember how Sam’s courage and resilience outshined any negative feelings or challenges that our group went through during our time in the woods. She was strong, positive, and significantly tougher than any of the scouts or their fathers.
I wanted to do what Sam did for us during that trip. I wanted to be an outdoor educator… a guide. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, or what kind of “real job” I may end up doing, but I was eager to find out.
So, right then and there, I made the decision to go to the wilderness, instead of going to college.
A Wilderness Education
My first plan was to travel up to Alaska to work for a dog musher. I romanticized the experience, dreaming of getting pulled by a team of sled dogs as we glided through untouched wilderness. After coming to my senses, I figured out that the “job” was about 90% scooping dog poop, so I looked elsewhere.
After googling “bushcraft college” I learned of a guide training school called Jack Mountain, in Masardis, Maine. I used the money that I had saved up sacking groceries to pay for my “immersion” course, and flight to Maine.
For the first time, I felt like I was actually learning something. Moreover, I felt as though my brain was finally working correctly. I suppose it was always in there, but it was nice to learn that it was fully functioning after sitting in a chair for 12 years of my life. We paddled canoes, worked with wood, lit fires using only sticks, and learned to cook really good food with a dutch oven. Tim Smith (Jack Mountain founder) has been a friend and mentor of mine ever since.
This first experience set me off on a quest to learn what it takes to live in the wilderness. Over the next couple of years I traveled around the continent, learning for excellent instructors, and even returning to Jack Mountain to serve as a teacher’s assistant under Tim.
I got my first taste of real, healthy solitude when I set out to cross the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico with little more than a knife and a ramen noodle packet. In hindsight, I was being pretty stupid, but I got some good stories out of the experience. My goal was to traverse what many call the largest and most rugged wilderness in the southwestern United States. After 2 days of hiking the trail disappeared due to a wildfire that had swept through the area the year before, forcing me to take on a marathon hike back to the trailhead. To make matters worse, my water source turned out to be dry. As it turns out, “river” is more of a suggestion in New Mexico. To this day, the Gila was my closest brush with death. After trekking for 36 hours, melting handfuls of snow in a salvaged coffee can, I managed to reach the trailhead. During the journey I experienced severe hallucinations, forcing me to the brink of insanity. As I hiked through the night, the only thing keeping me comfortable was the howling of several wolves. Hearing their voices meant that I was still alive, and I was making progress. Upon reaching safety, I traveled to the opposite side of the wilderness, and finished the traverse via a less-charred route.
When I got back to Nebraska I had the opportunity to work as a product information specialist for a large outdoor retailer. It wasn’t fun, but I learned a lot about people, and I got to speak with incredible outdoor enthusiasts from around the world. I worked 10+ hour days in a cubicle, giving product recommendations to people, and teaching wilderness survival courses on the weekends. My life got pretty boring there for a while, which is why I’m so thankful for what happened next…
A “Once In A Lifetime” Opportunity
One day as I was carving a canoe paddle in my apartment garage I received a call from a casting assistant. She told me that she had read one of my blog articles, and wondered if I would be interested in auditioning for a new tv show. The idea for the show was simple. Ten participants would be dropped into separate regions of a remote wilderness area and given ten survival items. Their challenge was to stay in the wilderness for as long as they could. There was no camera crew, so the participants would film their entire experience. The last person standing after the others had “tapped out” via satellite phone, would receive $500,000. After being selected from a group of several thousand, I managed to last over 7 weeks in British Columbia during the brutal winter before tapping out. That experience was quite the “gut check” but it showed me that I had become comfortable with living in the wilderness.
In the end, I decided to leave to be with my wife, who was pregnant with our first child. To my surprise, I ended up finishing in 2nd place (participants are not told about their position during the filming process.) Not bad, considering I was only 22 years old at the time.
For season 5 of ALONE, ten participants were brought back, including yours truly. It wasn’t the most convenient time, considering I had to leave for the show just 7 days after my second child was born, but it was a second “once in a lifetime” opportunity, and I was determined to make the most out of it.
A Second “Once In A Lifetime” Opportunity
We filmed season 5 in the Khentii Mountains of Mongolia. This area presented many unique challenges. Although there were many resources that resembled those found in North America, we also found that the mountains were home to an enormous population of venomous Siberian pit vipers (something most wouldn’t expect in a northern woodland.) Other challenges included the weather, which could change at a moment’s notice, and the impending winter.
For me, one of the biggest challenges was a lack of firewood. The area where I was dropped had limited hardwoods, so I was limited to primarily willow, which burns extremely fast. After 5 weeks I found myself needing to trek up to a quarter mile from my shelter, just to get enough firewood to warm up at the end of the day.
In the end, I was in the woods for over 8 weeks, eating ants, grasshoppers, minnows, snails, leeches, mice, voles, and small birds. It was a special, and enjoyable experience, but most of all, it was enormously challenging. I never had more than 200 calories per day, and we were under at least a foot of snow for the final month. Temperatures ranged from the high eighties to below zero Fahrenheit. Motivated by my love for family, and adventure, I took the challenge day by day, until day 60.
On day 60, to my surprise, my wife showed up in camp to tell me that I was the last person standing, and the winner of the $500k prize.
A Never Ending Journey
Being part of ALONE was an epic adventure in itself, but it was also a stepping stone to more adventures.
As a writer, bushcraft instructor, and dad, my life is a constant adventure, even if that adventure is just playing with my kids in the woods. My passion to teach the world about living in the wilderness has only grown stronger over the years, which is a big reason why I started my business Woodsong Wilderness Education. I feel so grateful for the experiences that I’ve had, and all the lessons that I’ve learned from the natural world.
I’ll end with a message to those who are new to the “wilderness world.”
Going into the woods is the best thing that I’ve ever done. My experiences in nature have taught me how to be self reliant in the forest, but they’ve also taught me how to love deeper, think clearer, and slow down to enjoy the small things. Don’t be intimidated by the wilderness, or the vast world of wilderness living skills. Author and conservationist Bill McKibben once said, “One could spend a lifetime learning a small range of mountains, and once upon a time people did.” This is exactly the attitude that we need to have when it comes to learning these skills. We don’t need fancy equipment or exotic locations. Simply being in nature (being alone in particular) is all it takes. Everyone starts somewhere, and I hope that you’ll let the teachings of this website be a small part of what drove you to learn about and love the wilderness. It would be an honor.
Let’s share a fire sometime,
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To contact Sam, shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org