INTERVIEW: On the edge of the world, Sue Aikens lives ‘Life Below Zero’

Susan Aikesn in Kavik, Alaska — Photo courtesy of 2012 BBC Worldwide Ltd. "All Rights Reserved"
Susan Aikens, star of Nat Geo’s Life Below Zero, lives in Kavik, Alaska. Photo courtesy of 2012 BBC Worldwide Ltd. “All Rights Reserved”

Susan Aikens, subject of the new National Geographic reality series Life Below Zero, is living a life most people either dream of or completely fear. Amid the rugged Alaskan wilderness, she holds court over Kavik River Camp, with no neighbors except the wild animals in the area. She’s far, far from humanity, in a place where she recognizes her spot in the food chain.

Recently Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with the new reality star about her unusual life at sub-zero temperatures. The show premieres Sunday, May 19 at 10 p.m.

Living that far north of the Arctic Circle, in relative isolation, do you have more or less time to think about life’s big questions?

Well, firstly, there is no “relative isolation.” It is isolated, period. Life … it doesn’t have questions, it has answers. I have as much or as little time to seek and look at life’s offerings as I choose. That’s the beauty of it isn’t it? I get to choose. If I feel like digging for fossils for an entire day, just to see what things were like millions of years ago, I get to do that. My sandbox, my rules. Do I ponder the meaning of life? Not really. Not my bag. I accept that life is what it is, and will throw as many challenges my way as it can. My job and my passion is to recognize those challenges and overcome them, or succumb to them. (Okay, succumbing is for weenies, again … also, not my bag.)

What is the biggest misconception about your life at the Kavik River Camp?

The biggest misconception is that I am lonely. I don’t get lonely, I do, however, register that I live alone. There is a huge difference in that. I find myself highly entertaining and amuse myself endlessly, so, no, I do not often feel the emotion of loneliness. I have grown comfortable and secure in who I am and what part of the food chain I represent (nowhere near the top).

The other misconception would be that I am running away from something. Sometimes we separate from the herd not to run away, but to run toward. I have managed to run toward a life where I get to call the shots … I accept that I am a food group and that every little comfort I possess or achieve is done on my own terms, not some corporation’s and government’s charity. I run toward the challenges in my life, not away from them.

Sue Aikens in the northern reaches of Alaska — Photo courtesy of 2012 BBC Worldwide Ltd. "All Rights Reserved"
Sue Aikens in the northern reaches of Alaska — Photo courtesy of 2012 BBC Worldwide Ltd. “All Rights Reserved”

Logistically, what are some of the toughest challenges for you on a daily basis?

Overall, the weather would be one of the greatest challenges. It is something you have no control over, and like the saying goes. “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes or fly five miles … it’ll change.” From storms that suddenly appear with winds close to 100 mph and temperatures near -100°F to fog that makes visibility nil and hampers planes and workload performance … weather is king out here. Logistically, I have to get all the supplies by the end of September that will last me until the following June. I typically will not see another person in that timeframe, so planning well is a must.

But on a daily basis? I don’t think like that. I guess it would be a challenge for most that there is no task you perform on a daily basis that you do without the pistol on your hip, or without peeling your eyes away from the horizon. I am not the top of the food chain here, and I must never forget that. I don’t see that as a challenge, though; it is just a fact. Long ago I accepted that I may be bear poop any day. Once you accept that fact, you obtain a good measure of freedom.

Are there ever times when you consider leaving Kavik River Camp?

If my family ever needed me more than I needed my freedom and wilderness, then yes. When you become a parent and grandparent, that is for life. Not 18 years. Do I ever dream about leaving Kavik? Nope. I will always wonder what is over the next hill. What would seeing the Great Barrier Reef feel like? Would they take a fat 50-year-old up to the moon? Pretty shiny things interest me, and one day I will mentally go “SQUIRREL!” and wander into my next exploration. True explorers tend to get consumed by that which they are currently exploring, but there is oh so much more out there. I feel that it is my job to explore. It is the job of the next place to intrigue me enough to do so.

What’s the most alluring aspect of your life—are you living up North because of the wildlife, Kavik, a chance to be independent? Has this changed over time?

Like the saying says, “I’m out here … ‘cause I’m not all there.” I have always felt an affinity with the wildlife. I understand it. You always know exactly what the relationship is with an animal, or the tundra. No mystery. A bear wants to eat you, you don’t want it to … pretty simple. People, however — not so clear there. A person can smile, befriend you, all the while whispering and condemning you behind the scenes. Political turmoil abounds. You would never see two grizzlies appearing on your television screen slurring each other’s pasts in an effort to be the alpha grizz. Can you say that about a presidential campaign? Yikes! Humans waste a huge portion of their lives pointing fingers and enveloping themselves in drama, all the while the little grains of the sands of time are dropping, and less time is left for playing and giggling. The allure of the area is that I never have to grow up unless I want to. I can sing silly songs off-key and pick wildflowers for my table, and no one docks my pay packet. I can hunt for my own meat and never ask if it has growth hormones or a price hike making it unaffordable. If I fail at hunting and getting my heating oil, it is no one’s fault but my own. No finger pointing at a bloated government or recession. If I fail, there is a permanent consequence. I kick my own ass, and then try a little harder. Failure is NOT an option — and I like that. Throw the worst you can at me: THAT makes me smile, set my eyes and grin while I come at the challenge. MY sandbox. MY rules. And if I don’t win? Well, none of us get out of this alive, do we? I’ll go down with fire in my eyes and one helluva legacy for the kids.

By John Soltes / Publisher / [email protected]

  • Life Below Zero premieres on Nat Geo Sunday, May 19 at 10 p.m.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at [email protected]

28 thoughts on “INTERVIEW: On the edge of the world, Sue Aikens lives ‘Life Below Zero’

  • July 1, 2013 at 9:23 pm
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    We both love Sue, enjoy her clear cut way of getting to the point about life and how she lives it.
    I agree that she isn’t running away from anything but towards what to her is more real that living side by side with petty people.
    She is a genuine article and we hope to see more of her in the future.
    I love her kindness mixed with reality of the foxes plight, and the one who befriended her.
    Carry on Sue.. Jill & Richard in Santa Barbara

    Reply
  • July 1, 2013 at 9:24 pm
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    We both love Sue, enjoy her clear cut way of getting to the point about life and how she lives it.
    I agree that she isn’t running away from anything but towards what to her is more real that living side by side with petty people.
    She is a genuine article and we hope to see more of her in the future.
    We love her kindness mixed with reality of the foxes plight, and the one who befriended her.
    Carry on Sue.. Jill & Richard in Santa Barbara

    Reply
  • July 2, 2013 at 11:49 am
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    I’ve discovered the wonderful programming ‘Life Below Zero’ and can say I truly admire the dedicated Pioneer Spirit of each and every person. Keep on ‘Keepin On’!

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  • July 7, 2013 at 8:34 pm
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    Love this show, particularly Sue. I admire what she is doing – I am a strong woman but I have never met anyone like this. You talk about pioneer female stock! Am very interested in following her challenges.

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  • July 13, 2013 at 4:54 am
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    Sue, I admire what you are doing. My son and I are planning to get “off the grid” within 5 years. Would like to have to have your advice and maybe email. We aren’t sure where we want to “bug” out to but think you might have some advice. At any rate thank you in advanced for your reply.

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  • July 31, 2013 at 9:28 pm
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    I must have missed the show where it tells what function the camp has, and have tried to look it up on the internet. 🙁 I think you rock Sue and would love to have and be where u are, but could someone tell me why this camp is wayyyyyyyy out in the middle of ice burg hell lol is it a weather camp? staging point? or just a great place to live.

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    • May 6, 2014 at 4:31 pm
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      kavikrivercamp.was and could be a refueling station
      for all of our armed forces.mostly the coast guard
      it could be reactivated in a national emergency
      if need be.its allso a look out point for wildlife
      i beleive susan keeps it active for these reasons
      although susan now owns it im not sure how it works
      hope this shed somelight on things for u

      Reply
  • August 11, 2013 at 11:43 am
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    Sue, my husband and I have fallen in love with you, the way you think things out and staying in that cold weather for so long and doing the thing around camp. Our super woman you are. I lived in Anchorage for three years and was there when Alaska became a state but was to cold for this Texas lady. Hats off to you for being yourself and doing what you love.

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  • August 19, 2013 at 1:12 pm
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    sue really enjoyed the show , I think we all should go and experience life like that we could learn from, seems like we are all part of a heard any more.I think if we were put in your situation we would learn to watch each others backs more instead of some of us stabbing each other in the back,you no a wolf I think will always wait until one strays from the heard to pounce on its pray It would be so nice to find a new way of living

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  • August 27, 2013 at 7:39 pm
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    Sue, you are one hell of a woman. I wish there were more strong, sensible women on this planet like you. A true hero. Not the Hollywood shits comparing the size of their diamonds or trying to figure out ‘who their baby daddy is’. You are an INSPIRATION!! Just stay the way you are, never change your attitude or outlook on life. I don’t have the ‘friggin’ balls’ you do!!! Keep on rocking Sue!!

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  • September 9, 2013 at 10:43 pm
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    I do so admire your courage. I am fascinated with your life and lifestyle. That you are alone and not lonely is true of so many of us. I want you to know that I feel that in many ways we are alike and in so many other ways we are quite different. God bless you and keep you safe. I will continue keeping up with your exploits. I really appreciate your attitude towards animals as your food and your honor of them.

    Reply
  • September 24, 2013 at 8:55 pm
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    Sue you are a inspiration to all women….you are a warrior women….yes strenght endurance spiritual n you can hunt n fix things. And learned things…I am a Sioux Indian and there was a time long ago when we (women) had that strenght n endurance n those same qualities you hahave… you go girl! !

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  • November 5, 2013 at 4:12 pm
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    Sue, will you marry me ?

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  • November 19, 2013 at 8:11 pm
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    Sue… we love watching you and admire your strength and courage. Only wish I had it in me to live such a life. You Rock girl…

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  • January 7, 2014 at 4:28 pm
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    From southern France.
    Hello Sue. We are very impressed with what we can see (you) on french TV.
    I admire you and your will. You are absolutly right with your choice. Here I go on the Pyrenees mountains on week days to avoid Noisy city people.
    I went through Alaska (Anchorage often on my way to Tokyo.
    Bravo and merci.
    Robert

    Reply
  • March 12, 2014 at 4:01 am
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    Sue, I just starting watching the show. I love it. I jusst retired after working since I was 14. So I have a little more time to watch some tv. First time I watch the show I was in awe. I would have loved coming to alaska but never had the change.And now I feel I’ve waited a little to long. But so admire your strength and courage. To go after your dream not letting anything stand in your way. Boy what a great feeling that must be.I wish you luck with the wolf problem,I don’t think he knows who he’s dealing with.

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  • April 17, 2014 at 6:39 pm
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    Sue, tributes to you and all that you stand for! Am a pilot and so want to come to Kavik. Not easy, I know, but better get my sectionals. Would love to become a visitor of yours!

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  • April 19, 2014 at 10:30 am
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    Thank you for giving so much of yourself to help
    me understand what an adventure your life is. I am 73 and love sharing your perspective. You are a wonderful example of an honest pioneer woman.

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  • April 24, 2014 at 9:42 am
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    Sue, I met you on another internet site and have always admired you. The more I watch the show, the prouder I am to know you. You are a very wise woman. It would be wonderful to hear from you.

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  • June 1, 2014 at 6:04 pm
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    Sue, I love watching “Life Below Zero”, especially you. You crack me up, although I could not do what you are doing. I love your spirit and your smarts, and have great admiration for you. I will keep watching.

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  • June 15, 2014 at 8:26 pm
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    Great show. Keep up the good work. I’d like to see who uses the camp besides Sue. How does the camp make money? Who are her customers? How does she make a living, etc…

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  • July 31, 2014 at 8:13 pm
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    Sue, I have to say you are my idol·I HAVE WATCHED SINCE THE FIRST TIM WE I saw you on TV~I have always wanted the life you have, I envy you your freedom. Although I am the mother of five military children and stepmother of two, I am tired of being in all the drama and want to live the simple life. Have you ever thought of bringing someone out there and teaching them how to survive as you do? I WOULD WECOME THE CHALLENGE. I am widowed and living with one of my five military children, but long for the simple life. They all know this.I receive a small pension from my late husband, I am 59 years old and would like to spend some time doing something I want to do instead of whst my children think I should do. I just want you to know you are the strongest, most impressionable person and keep on doing what you do. If you ever decide to bring people there to teach them how to live as you do I would like to be first on your list. Just to make you laugh I have been telling my kids for years since they grew up to give me a rifle and and an axe for Christmas but no one takes me serious. If they only knew. Stay safe and keep doing what you do. Sincerely, Ann Versteeg

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    • December 12, 2014 at 12:41 am
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      Sue I truly enjoy your show my other half admires you. I have lived in North Michigan for years.
      Scott comes for the hills of West Virginia He was raised milking goats and growing tobacco and hunting various animal for food. We raised black angus beef and rabbits. Had crops of corn potatoes soy beans hay etc. I have hunted deer turkey partridge etc. These lifes are nothing as challenging as yours. But there also gave us a FREEDOM in our life as it does others of Farming Lumbering Fishing and other who carve out a living by choice and ENJOY the solitude of life. NATURE WEATHER and other LIFE SPECIES (Bear Wolf Coyte etc) gives YOU (the person) a respect of your place in the food chain. WE would like to find out how to visit your Home as a paying visitor during the summer month. Do not know how this is done nor have I ever tried written to any person of celebrity status before hope this reaches you so some day we can visit

      Reply
  • June 19, 2015 at 4:59 pm
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    Hi Sue ! Last night’s episode scared the bJesus out of me so much that I even had a dream I came up there to encourage you to stay at your Kavik River Camp, & help you recover from that horrific accident you had on your snowmobile. This appears to be the next to last episode (The Crash 6/18/15), which leaves you hanging on not knowing if you even survived. This is my favorite TV show because of you especially & I have been watching since the beginning. I know there will come a time when you don’t want the cameras & photographers around anymore, so I wanted to thank you for sharing yourself & your life in that beautiful, yet unforgiving, place you call home. You are an awesome, quick witted, loving person I wish I were more like. Praying you will be OK & heal completely from any injuries. If you can’t physically continue I hope & pray someone can come to do what you can’t, like the handyman you had help build your greenhouse or even your Nephew, (BTW we both looked awesome in my dream… 20 years younger – which would have made me 45 : ). It doesn’t appear you answer your comments here, but hope you read them someday. Hope you will consider writing a book. Know it would be a best seller ! Thank you, & take care my friend… you are that to me. <3

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  • January 7, 2016 at 12:02 pm
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    I LOVE SUE!!! I had the DREAM she is Living. In the 70’s I remember Alaska was offering land to American’s to homestead in Alaska. That was my Chance then but now age and health issues I could not do it but if I jumped at the opportunity in the 70’s I just wonder what my life would have been like. Peace Sue

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    • May 22, 2016 at 6:01 am
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      Hi Sue,
      I live in Africa in a climate opposite to yours in most ways. Your experiences fascinates me, and . . . I love your stories and the way you handle your mishaps.
      Now I wonder if you ever got your greenhouse produce the stuff that you intended to grow. I have never been very successful in those type of undertakings.
      Regards
      Cor

      R

      Reply

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