Dave Layzell lost 21 pounds in 21 days.
His diet was simple.
The 67-year-old Whitehorse man ate nothing for 15 days — not by choice, but because he had already exhausted his food supplies after being stranded in the wilderness for six days, and it would be a lot longer until help finally arrived.
“It’s not a diet I recommend. You have to have a lot of discipline,” he says.
Layzell and his dog were found on August 25 by two pilots, Kit Brink and Brent Van Sickle, with Fireweed Helicopters.
They had decided to divert their flight from Dawson City to Mayo for a quick look over Clear Creek, where Layzell was believed to have ventured, when they caught a glint off his stranded pickup truck.
Layzell, 67, is a history buff, and known for making long excursions into this bush.
This time he was after pictures of an abandoned gold dredge — a machine the size of a house that was once used to sift gold from massive quantities of gravel and muck.
Layzell envisions the dredge sitting prominently beside the Alaska Highway as part of the Copperbelt Railway and Mining Museum.
So, on a sunny morning August 9, he set off to find the dredge in his GMC pickup, joined by Brandy, the family’s golden Labrador retriever.
By 4:30 p.m. he was almost 50 kilometres off the highway, driving along an old dirt path that wends along a creek, when he hit deep mud. He was stuck.
“I knew almost immediately I couldn’t get out by myself,” he says.
Then it began to rain, and it didn’t let up for the next two nights. He slept in his truck.
When the rain did stop, he found his truck surrounded by water.
“This was when I knew I was going to be there for a little while.”
He thought back to the advice he dispensed to high school students, “a lifetime and a half ago,” when he taught wilderness survival.
“I knew there’d be a search. I also knew the starting point of the search would be finding my vehicle.”
So he stayed put.
He cut down some willows to make a clearing for a tent. He set the brush aside, in hope of setting a fire, but it remained too wet.
“And I waited.”
He had packed enough food for three days: some peanut butter and jam sandwiches, cans of Chunky soup, tins of fruit cocktail, and a big bag of beef jerky, among other snacks. He made it last for six days.
Then he had nothing but a big container of water. Eventually that also ran out, and he began to drink from the creek.
It was cold. Two nights he found ice in his water bucket.
And it rained a lot. During one stretch, he spent 32 hours inside his tent waiting for it to abate.
He had a lot of time to think. He tried to stay positive, because “if there’s nothing you can do about it, no amount of worrying is going to change it.”
“That’s how you keep your sanity.”
He took pains to wash, because “you start to feel grubby and your mind feels grubby.”
And he prayed.
“I spent an awful lot of time talking to the man upstairs and my dog. That’s all the company I got.”
Some, if left without food for 15 days, would be upset about not being found sooner. Not Layzell.
Of the RCMP, he says: “They’ve got a job to do, they know how to do their job, and I’m not going to question them on it.”
He lists factors that contributed to him being saved so late.
During the first 16 days of his absence, his wife, Judy, was out of town. It wasn’t until she returned to Whitehorse on August 25 that she realized something was wrong and alerted the RCMP.
Bad weather hindered aerial searches.
And conflicting reports as to his whereabouts created confusion. One sighting put him at Moose Creek. He was nowhere near there. Another put him in Carmacks.
RCMP did send a patrol up the road Layzell was stuck on. They encountered a miner who saw Layzell during his first day. The man said Layzell had returned for home.
When Layzell met the miner, on his first day out, he said he didn’t expect to get much farther. The man assumed that Layzell turned around. He didn’t.
Once discovered, Layzell was transported to the Mayo health centre, where he ate his first meal in 15 days.
It was a bowl of vegetable soup with a slice of toast, which, Layzell says, “was pretty damn good.”
Has the experience changed Layzell?
He says he hopes so.
“I’m pretty pig-headed and set in my ways,” he says. “You get to evaluate these things.”
“I hope I have a better understanding of another person’s point of view,” he adds.
He’s still a big and hearty man, able to laugh at the harrowing experience.
What makes his experience all the more incredible is that he is not in the fittest of shape — weighing in, after the ordeal, around 220 pounds. He’s had open-heart surgery twice, and has a defibrillator implanted in his chest.
He didn’t take his medication, which is a good thing. It lowers his blood pressure — and, in his weakened state, it may well have killed him.
He says he’ll try to follow the advice his doctor gave him after he was found: “Tell yourself constantly, you are not 40 any more.”
Will he swear off any future wilderness adventures? Not quite. But, he says, “I’ll probably make sure I’ll take company.”