History Channel has continued its string of successful manly reality series with the 8-episode Mountain Men, which focuses on the lives of three men living “off the grid” in the mountainous regions of northern Alaska, Montana, and the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina. The show premiered to a whopping 3.9 million viewers, who I’m sure all watched from the climate controlled comfort of their living rooms and bedrooms. (I watched it a few days later thanks to the beautiful magic of DVR technology.)
51-year-old Eustace Conway, who currently resides on a 1,000-acre plot of land he calls Turtle Island in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina, got his first taste of living at-one with nature when he spent a week in the woods at the age of 12, completely empty-handed, making his own shelter and living entirely off the land. That stint in the wilderness sparked a fire in little Eustace that led to many more adventures. From GQ:
When he was 18 years old, he traveled down the Mississippi River in a handmade cedar canoe. When he was 19, he walked the 2,000 miled of the Appalachian Trail, surviving on only what he could hunt or gather along the way. Over the next few years, he hiked the Alps (in sneakers), kayaked across Alaska, scaled cliffs in New Zealand and lived with Navajo in Mexico.
When Eustace was in his midtwenties, he decided that he wanted to study a primitive culture more closely, so he flew to Guatemala. He got off the plane and pretty much started asking, “Where are the primitive people at?” He was pointed toward the jungle, where he hiked until he found a remote village of Mayan Indians. He lived with the Indians for months. They liked him a lot.
It was some time during this period that the two inset photos above were taken, which feature a youthful and beardless Eustace Conway wearing what appears to be a homemade shirt. Here are the two photos on their own – just click to enlarge:
Ol’ Eustace Conway was clean-cut and and a bit on the cute side as a young man!
As I’m sure you probably guessed, Eustace’s adventuring didn’t stop after hanging out with the Mayan Indians in Guatemala. In 1995 he and his brother Judson rode horses across America, from South Carolina to San Diego, in 103 days! They reportedly set out after eating a hefty Christmas dinner and arrived in And Diego just before Easter, surviving “off the land” the entire journey, which included roadkill deer and squirrel soup. They slept in the barns of folks they met along the way, or else snoozed beneath the stars when weather permitted. And perhaps most shockingly of all, there were no sponsors for the trip or reality show cameras along for the ride.
But don’t think cameras are an issue for Eustace Conway, who is no stranger to the attention being on Mountain Men is sure to bring. In addition to doing numerous speaking engagements and presentations all over the world, Eustace was also the subject of the National Book Award finalist biography The Last American Man by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert.
Nowadays Eustace spends most of his time living off the land on Turtle Island Preserve in northwest North Carolina where he helps spread the gospel of self-sufficient living and oneness with nature. Here’s his personal message from the Turtle Island Preserve website that pretty much sums up what he and the Preserve are all about. (I’ll toss in a few great videos as well, including Eustace Conway’s presentation at the TEDx Conference in Asheville in 2010 and an NBC News piece about him from a few years back.)
When I first walked on this land, Turtle Island, I knew I had found the sacred ground I had been searching for. It matched the vision I had carried since youth — a remote pristine valley — to be kept forever wild. I bought the first 107-acre tract that week. We have added many more tracts since then and built a farm from the forest and a program based on experiential education. “SIMPLY REAL” became our motto and hard work, focused and determined our daily mantra.
We created a place where people can get in touch with the roots of humanity and connected with the resources and abilities that sustain our existence. We simplfy our day to food, shelter, water, and clothing which enables us to see more clearly the picture of how we fit into the bigger circles of life; our food chain, water cycle, Eco system, and environmental economics.
We break rocks to make stone tools, bend bark to fashion baskets, and spin sticks to create fire. We drive horse and buggy, plow gardens, dry wild persimmons, cook stinging nettle, watch the morning light first hit the tree tops and lift a rock in a stream to see what mysteries reside there. We watch a spider weave a web or 42 butterflies stir at our quiet passing.
We enchant the overstimulated apathetic bored spirit within us as we wash the dust off by standing in the rain watching the deer come closer, listening to the wren’s call — not just hearing but listening to the wild things as if they matter and then realizing that they do.
At Turtle Island you can meet people who really live in the forest and take immediate responsibility for their actions. We work with groups of all types from business professionals to elementary classes. We are eclectic, diverse, spontaneous and creative we offer a door to a renewed vision of an ancient natural reality that governs all. With a few sticks and bones we can wake up your world!