An interview with the author of The Twenty-Ninth Day, Alex Messenger
Frost River Brand Ambassador and author of The Twenty-Ninth Day, Alex Messenger, answers a few of our questions detailing his new book! Keep reading for a sneak peek into his novel that begins with exciting exploration of the Canadian Tundra, but quickly turns into a fight to stay alive after a grizzly bear attack.
You just published your book, The Twenty-Ninth Day, tell us about it:
The Twenty-Ninth Day is my debut memoir. It chronicles an epic canoe trip I went on when I was 17. It was my dream adventure, but 29 days into that trip, I walked up one side of a ridge and stumbled upon and surprised a 600 pound barren-ground grizzly bear. The bear attacked and mauled me, leaving me for dead and that trip very suddenly became a struggle to survive.
Give us a background on what your trip to the Canadian Tundra entailed:
This trip was really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was 42 days of whitewater canoeing in northern Canada with five other paddlers. Each of us had been going on trips like this for the past few years, but this one would be the longest and most intense for each of us. To get there, we drove to the end of the road in Manitoba, hopped on a Twin Otter turboprop and flew into the Northwest Territories. From there, we’d be paddling 600 miles of whitewater, rivers and lakes, into Nunavut, Canada, to the tiny town of Baker Lake at the end of our route.
What gear would you recommend to people making an expedition similar to this?
There’s so much gear that you need for a trip like this, it’s kind of hard to start! I’d say it’s important to bring gear to handle every scenario that you’re going to encounter, or might encounter. For us, that meant sturdy canoes, high-quality paddles (and extra paddles), rugged tents, big and sturdy canoe packs that can hold up and haul all the gear we’d need for that long of a trip, emergency equipment and everything else. The most important part of all that gear though was having the skills, experience and training to use it, and the ability to maintain or repair it in the field; you have to be self-sufficient.
Which piece of survival equipment would you say was the most important?
I’ll answer this by breaking it into three parts: First, you need equipment for the worst case scenarios - for us that meant a few things: A satellite phone for true emergencies where we’d need to call upon resources we didn’t have with us—this would become crucial later in the trip; A well-stocked med kit for handling a wide array of illnesses and injuries; multiple sets of maps.
The second part of my answer is that the most important survival equipment that we brought with us on the trip wasn’t gear, it was what each member of the group brought to the trip in the form of their experience and skills.
Third, like we did, you need to have a support system in place back home for if you do hit that panic button. They become an invaluable resource if things go south. They need to understand the various scenarios in which they might be called, and you need to be able to trust them to make good decisions and get things rolling if the need arises.
In hindsight, what advice can you give people that are heading into bear country?
Ha, here’s another list of three, three critical things that contributed to my encounter with the bear going how it went. First, I didn’t make my presence known when I was approaching a blind spot at the top of a ridge. If I’d ‘warned’ the bear that I was there, there’s a good chance it would have worked to avoid the encounter altogether. Secondly, I was alone, and there really is safety in numbers. The last key takeaway is to ALWAYS carry your bear deterrent when you’re in grizzly country. I carry bear spray. I do all 3 things now, but unfortunately I didn’t have the bear mace with me when I walked up that ridge and came face to face with the bear. It would probably be a very different story if I’d had the mace, and I know that I could have deployed it.
What was your favorite part of writing the book?
My favorite part of writing the book was reimagining the country we were paddling in. It’s a magical place, and it was a beautiful experience to paint it in words. It’s a challenging space to communicate, even in photos, the scale difficult to comprehend. So, I feel like words were more effective in this case than photos.
How do you use Frost River gear today?
I use several Frost River packs and bags when I’m out in the backcountry, especially in the Boundary Waters, including the Isle Royale Jr., Nessmuk, and Grand Portage Pack. I use some of the professional gear daily, as well, and for my work with the book. For that I carry the Correspondent, Pocket Folio, Padfolio and several Accessory Bags. Those are pretty much daily carry items for me!
Where can people purchase your book?
The Twenty-Ninth Day: Surviving a Grizzly Attack in the Canadian Tundra is available pretty much everywhere books are sold, including online and at many independent and chain book stores. If your local shop doesn’t carry it, they should be able to special order it for you, as well.