BCIT forestry alumna Megan Hanacek is about to show the world she can survive in some of the world’s harshest conditions. As a contestant on the survivalist documentary series ‘Alone‘, Megan agreed to spend up to a year in the wilderness of Patagonia, Argentina, equipped with only her wits, limited gear, and cameras to self-document her experience.
History Channel promises this series will “push viewers to their limits on Thursday nights” in a show that plunges contestants “into a state of isolation unimaginable in today’s hyper-connected, always-on world. These participants must battle everything from territorial predators such as puma and wild boar, to sub-zero temperatures.”
Megan jumped at the challenge. The 42-year-old forester was the only Canadian woman chosen for the show, and one of only three women overall. (The other two are in their 20s, and don’t have kids.) In choosing to go on the show, Megan left behind her career, her husband, and her two children—a nine-year-old girl and six-year-old boy.
We asked Megan why she went for the opportunity, and how her time at BCIT prepared her for the challenge.
Why did you apply?
The first 2 seasons of ALONE were filmed in my backyard of Northern Vancouver Island, so I was actually encouraged to apply by several colleagues and close girlfriends who wanted to see women on the show. (Season 1 had no women.) In a world driven by technology, I have a strong passion to demonstrate the value in sustainably managing our natural world. I also have a strong drive to show that women can succeed in natural resource careers.
You’re married and a mother-of-two with a full-time profession. How did these responsibilities inform your desire to do this?
Part of doing this challenge was to prove that women (and mothers) can do it as well as the men. Obviously the money is an incentive, but actually having the chance to self-reflect and challenge myself (with limited tools) for a substantive amount of time, mid- life, is a unique opportunity.
I am extremely grateful to have a very supportive husband who believes that women (given the same tools and environment) can do as well as men, in any profession. He 100% supported me on this journey.
I’d also like to add a huge shout out to my employer, the Association of BC Forest Professionals who allowed me to take time without pay.
What was it like to live apart from your family?
My family is my biggest priority in life. You can’t just walk away from loved ones (especially children who are dependents) and not miss them.
Because of the confidentiality agreement I signed, my husband and I decided to not tell our children where I was, so they had no idea where I was or when I was returning home. This really forced me to compartmentalize my “real” life back at home and my “Patagonia temporary” life.
Milestone days such as my son’s 6th birthday and my wedding anniversary were definitely harder days. I pushed myself through by keeping myself busy. I established a daily routine with my various food traps to 1) ensure adequate calories and 2) keeping my mind busy. I missed my son losing his first 2 teeth, these are days that I will never get back but I knew my very hands-on husband was keeping the household going.
What was your reunion like?
The best day ever. I had taken 4 planes back to back in 24 hours (from Patagonia back to Vancouver Island) so it was a LONG day but so memorable—it was like time stood still. My husband met me separately at the airport. I just hugged him for a solid minute before talking. I had a reunion with my children back at home—my children ran towards me and my son was sobbing/hugging me, he couldn’t talk.
What surprised you about that challenge?
I started working in forestry when I was 17 and have spent 25 years working in the forestry and biological sciences field. I have done thousands of field days from the Arctic to Antarctica and many places in between. I was actually surprised at how much I enjoyed the challenge. When things went wrong, it only further fuelled me to make a positive out of the situation. I’m hoping they show all the challenges and successes I had out there!
What did you study at BCIT? How did your time here prepare you for this?
I studied forestry in the natural resources program (1997-1999). I came to BCIT with a Biology Degree and felt that the BCIT program added immensely to my skill set. The program really honed my field orientation and technical experience working in the woods; I always tell people, “Go to BCIT, you won’t regret it!” I was also on Student Council and I found that helped develop my self confidence in approaching challenging situations and enabled me to become a solid decision maker.
Were there any instructors who gave you advice or guidance that helped?
Steve Finn was a great influence to me during my time in the forestry department. Also Danny Catt helped instil my beliefs in learning about and fighting for the sustainability of ecosystems (e.g mitigating and adapting to man caused impacts such as climate change).
What was the experience like (or, at least, the parts you can tell us about)?
The experience was unlike anything else out there. I applied in March 2016, was flown to New York a few weeks later and then was told I was selected. I had 3 weeks to get ready for the trip—that’s preparing for the trip itself, arranging backup childcare, organizing my finances, organizing my house, and tying up my deliverables at work.
As for the show itself, Patagonia has it all if you are looking for a challenge (predators, biting insects/spiders, challenging terrain, all sorts of weather, isolation, limited food)
[After that] very challenging event, I’m back and now it will be shown (edited) on a major network for millions to see. It’s a bit of a trip to say the least!
What have you learned from being on the show?
I have a tremendous amount of gratitude in my heart and a new appreciation for the limited amount of time we have on earth to accomplish great things. We all have 24 hours in a day—I challenge the viewers to be the impetus to create positive change in each of their lives.
Follow along with Megan’s adventure on #Aloneshow on History, starting December 8th at 9PM. Here’s how the show introduces Megan to viewers: