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Kate Rorke of Life Below Zero

Habits for Life Below Zero: an Interview with Kate Rorke Bassich

Kate Rorke Bassich is accustomed to having her habits scrutinized by strangers: she’s one of the stars of National Geographic’s Life Below Zero, a documentary series that chronicles the lives of Alaskans living and working in remote wilderness areas. She and her husband, Andy, operate a wilderness survival and dog mushing school while living off the land (and off the grid) near the Yukon River.

Living in the wilderness takes more than determination: it requires a kind of mindfulness and initiative that your very life may depend upon. Watching Life Below Zero is one of my guilty pleasures, and I noticed Bassich’s composure under stressful situations. So I was delighted when she agreed to an interview about her habits.

Though the way you spend your days depends a great deal upon the season, what habits seem to be a consistent part of your day? What habits do you cultivate and what benefits do you find in them?

Every morning starts with a hot cup of tea, sitting next to Andy in bed looking out the windows at our amazing view, sometimes in silence but mostly planning for the day. A hearty breakfast is a must—calories and fat are the key to staying warm and working in temperatures of 50 below zero. Feeding our twenty sled dogs also gets me going first thing every morning—nice way to begin, with happy wagging tails. No matter what the season, survival planning and prioritizing is the start of my day. There is no one to hire or come help to do a job and work needs to be done, so you just get on your big girl pants and get it done.

I’m sure you hear from a lot of fans who are interested in imitating your lifestyle. What habits do you think a person should cultivate if they’re interested in living off-the-grid?

For those who want to live this lifestyle…it is not the fairy tale of sitting in a log cabin with a dog at your side and knitting or reading a book. You need to be self-motivated and have the work ethic of a madman; this no life for the lazy.

I would like to say you should have no fear, but I can’t because without fear we are not alive. What I fear is failure, not the bears or wolves I have walked with. I live with them on their land, not the other way around, and it seems like I have earned their respect. Call it bravery, maybe, but I have the habit of believing they sense that I mean them no harm. I love the absolute total silence: the only noise I hear most of the time is the roar in my head of my own blood pumping. I love living in the final frontier.

My best advice to anyone wanting to live in the wild is ask yourself these questions: are you afraid of hard physical work? Can you live without people? Can you think quick on your feet? Most of all are you comfortable with being absolutely alone? Because most of the time you are the only person you see for a very long time and the only one you can depend on is yourself.

How you determine your lifestyle is nothing more than following your inner self. Private journaling is one way to find out the real you. You can’t lie to yourself, this much I know is true. I have burned a few journals because I did not like the person looking back at me and she needed to move on.

Are there any habits you’re trying to develop now? What motivated you to work on them?

I am trying to get back into my artwork; I love to sculpt with needle felting wool. I am getting older and nothing motivates you more than getting to the end of your alive time on earth. The habit I am working on is not feeling guilty about not working every hour of the day…that’s a hard one for me.

Who or what inspires you? Whose habits would you like to know more about and why?

I can’t say that anyone inspires me; I march to my own drummer. I never look to anyone for to find myself. I am here, buried deep beneath my skin. Baby, I was born this way! I came out of the womb knowing my life was my own to do with what I wanted. Some decisions were good, some bad, but that is the road to life. I am still a Diva at heart; I love makeup, clothes and shoes, but the ditch digger in my soul is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get down and dirty.

You’ll benefit from these habits at any temperature—add them to your dashboard and feel ready for anything!