VICTORIA — Bear Henry says they survived more than 70 days stuck in a camper van on a remote Vancouver Island mountain forest road with only a few days’ worth of canned beans, raw rice, cat food and melted snow.
Henry said Friday they are about 30 kilograms lighter than when they left Victoria Nov. 27 to find a camp in the Fairy Creek area northwest of Victoria where people had been protesting old-growth logging.
Henry, 37, who is a two-spirit Indigenous person and uses gender-neutral pronouns, said they spent their days napping, daydreaming and trying to stay sane in their van, while hearing search helicopters on the other side of the mountain.
“I was just trying to go camping in Fairy Creek and visit the camps that were up there,” they said.
“It was just raining so hard; I literally blew past the Caycuse (camp).
Henry said the gravel road kept getting steeper and more treacherous, but they decided to keep driving.
“I just kept going to try and find a place to turn around and eventually I just got to a part where it got even worse. At one point they hit a bump and the whole van just shut off.”
Henry said the food started to run out in mid-December, but they remembered the advice of an uncle who said to survive in the wild stay calm, conserve energy and stay put as long as possible.
Henry said it was difficult to remain composed when fighting for survival.
“It was so scary,” they said. “‘My God, am I going to die?’”
“Is this it? This is really real.”
Henry was assaulted and injured with a knife while in his 20s and has had serious back trouble since then.
Aside from not knowing where they were, Henry said they weren’t sure they could make the hike out.
When Henry finally did decide to leave, they walked for 15 hours before a pair of forestry workers drove down the logging road.
The two men recognized Henry as the person reported missing by police and each handed over $20 when they dropped Henry at a coffee shop in Lake Cowichan.
Henry said they was astounded when the workers said they had been in the forest for more than two months.
“It felt like just days,” they said. “How does it become 74 days? That’s not humanly possible. I lost 61 pounds.”
Henry said it was terrifying being lost in the forest and not knowing if they would survive, but there were also moments of macabre humour, especially when a bear was prowling the area.
“Every day, I was so scared to get out of my van. Every day I wondered if someone would come and attack me. No one could hear me scream. No one knew where I was. Every day it was just terrifying,” Henry told reporters.
“I saw bear scat and I was like, ‘Bear gets killed by bear in the woods.’ It made me laugh.”
The report by The Canadian Press was first published on Feb. 11, 2022.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press