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“Jim Jax’ Interview with Discovery Channel’s “MacGuyver” Yukon Men’s Stan Zuray”

stan zuray
Stan Zuray

Yukon Men is back!

After little to no communication from the network, the hit show on the Discovery Channel is back.  It will be shown on Fridays at 9 pm (8 pm Central) with the third episode of the season premiering this Friday.

Charlie, Stan, Courtney, Pat and all the rest will be back in the small town of Tanana, fighting the elements, outsiders, and the changing times in the small Alaskan town.

BELOW IS STAN’S NEW BOOK!

My Love for Alaska:

My uncle spent time in Alaska as a young man and the land was interesting to me.  I also remember watching the amazing special with Dick Proenneke on PBS called, “Alone in the Wilderness”.  While moving to a remote area in Alaska, Dick built a cabin, cache & other structures by hand without electric tools or chainsaws.  He lived alone at Twin Lakes from 1968 to 1999, with only a few trips outside of the area and only occasional visitors.  Dick also was a talented videographer and he filmed and made records and journals of his daily routines which are still used today by experts.  His craftsmanship was amazing on his structures.  Dick’s Documentary is one of the highest rated in the history of television.

https://www.nps.gov/lacl/learn/historyculture/proennekes-cabin.htm

Another love of mine was the show Survivorman featuring Les Stroud.  Les filmed himself in a grueling series that is still the standard for survival shows.  While the others admit some scenes are staged, other than film editing, Les showed the reality of survival and taught amazing skills in a truthful and straight forward manner.

Dick Proenneke filming
Dick Proenneke Filming in Alaska

http://www.lesstroud.ca/

les stroud
Les Stroud “The Survivorman”

Why is Yukon Men Popular?:

I have to be honest; tv is brutal these days.  I’m sorry but shows like the Bachelor and Naked & Afraid are so sophomoric and dumb and fake that I can’t stand it.  And yes, they are highly controlled by the network.  A while back I went out with a girl in LA that did the make up for a season of Survivor.  After a few drinks she admitted the show was staged at times and that they did retakes.  American television networks are mostly pretty controlling.

What I like about Yukon men though is that it’s as honest as a show can be.  Are some of the situations enhanced for tv?  Of course; I’m not naïve; but the everyday struggles, pressures, and situations they battle are very, very real.

I think people also enjoy that these are everyday people that they can relate to.  Every woman isn’t 5’ 9” with blond hair and blue eyes and every man doesn’t look like Brad Pitt.  These are good people looking to feed their families and create a life teaching the skills and cultures that they have been taught.  We see ourselves in some of them and we appreciate their honesty and their work ethic and humbleness towards their everyday life.

joey kate stan
“Joey, Kate, Stan Zuray”

Looking Ahead to This Season:

I fear that with the opening of the new road allowing easy access to the area, it will probably have a very negative impact on the Tanana residents.  People usually bring greed, garbage, and a lack of respect for hunting borders, animals, and the environment when they get into new areas.  The hope is that things like that won’t happen but I’m not really as hopeful as others.

stan and kathleen opening bell stock exchange with discovery
“Kathleen and Stan Zuray at the Opening Bell for Discovery”

Stan Zuray:

I admit I was not a big Stan fan at the beginning.  I think it was because of my relationship with my own dad.  Like most young men, Joey was headstrong and opinionated without much experience.  I related to him and felt his frustration when dealing with Stan.  Just like with Joey, when you start walking in your dad’s footsteps, you begin to appreciate and respect them more and see how wise they are.  Joey has now a great appreciation and trust towards his dad and it has allowed their relationship to grow.  It’s made me like Stan a lot.

I really appreciate Stan’s passion towards his family and the land around him.  I also love his skillset.  He is known as the “MacGuyver” of Yukon Men.  His Frankentruck is still talked about and his ingenuity and great talent is often seen.  Stan was gracious enough to allow me to interview him.  I felt bad because I know he’s so busy but I wanted to share the interview.  I was going to release this next month, but the show was renewed and I’m so glad for it.  Stan was forthcoming and open and I greatly enjoyed his responses.  (I also found out Stan has been an ordained minister for over 3 decades).

Jim Jax:  Before coming to Alaska, where were you raised and what kind of life was it compared to the life you live now?

Stan Zuray:  I was raised in a part of Boston, Mass. called Dorchester. It was a very urban environment with very tight neighborhoods with many parts ethnically divided. Much has changed there since my childhood.  While I was young, my parents would take us to beaches and drives in the country and a couple of times to my dad’s rural home area of Pennsylvania. That was the extent of my “wilderness experience” however.

I worked in a tire and mechanic shop all my summers and times off from school to make money.  I was into hot rod cars and all the things boys get into including, when older, all the bad things.  It was the hippie generation then and much was happening socially in the country.

Many of my friends came back from Vietnam a mess. Many friends were into hard drugs with some casualties, and Boston was becoming a very lonely place to be for me. I had a good home and good parents, but outside the home it was not good.

I went on the road to New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and the West Coast.  I’ve been all over, including into Northern British Columbia where I experienced for the first time real crude, free, back to the earth native people living off the land so to speak.  I loved it. It wasn’t real until I came to Alaska the next year and found myself without a lot of food and supplies that I fell into a similar way of being.

There are few similarities between Boston and Tanana, Alaska.  People however are much the same everywhere it’s just that in Boston they don’t have the luxury of helping people and being as friendly because many are on the verge of losing their homes if they can’t pay the bills.  One way I always think of comparing the two is I used to travel to Hampton Beach 50 miles north of Boston sometimes and I think of all the people and cars and buildings I would pass in that 50 miles.  Then I think of all the trips to my fish camp I’m at now 40 miles up the Yukon River where I see just a few plywood fish camp shacks and often no people and no boats passing.  And then you consider the Yukon is the main (and only) route of travel available.

Jim Jax:  Do you think you were born to live the lifestyle you do now or was there something that inspired you to do it? 

Stan Zuray:  I think I am one of the lucky ones.  I survived the crazy and dangerous things we did and did not die or ruin my brain or get lost in drugs and alcohol.  I had enough drive to want out and get myself out and I was lucky enough to have certain people and events help me on my way.  I don’t think I was born for it but I did find something of better value to me.  I always say “perseverance furthers”.

Jim Jax:  Where did you meet your wife and how hard was it to date with so few people to socialize with?  

Stan Zuray:  I met my wife in the village of Tanana. She liked to dance at the village get-togethers and we started hanging out and traveling by dog sled to my trap line and fish camp in the summer.  She is a proud, strong, full Athabascan woman.  When the kids started coming along we got serious and raised our family. There aren’t many places to date in Tanana in the city type of ways and there are not that many people, but lots of things to do I say.

Jim Jax:  You are very respectful of the people around you.  How accepting were the natives to you when you decided to make this your home? 

Stan Zuray:  Some were very good to me right away and some were very opposite. The Traditional Chief of Tanana, Lester Erhart, gave me my first lead dog and much welcome while some didn’t like outsiders.  Like I say I think people are very much the same everywhere (they are all different) it’s just the environment people are in often dictates their time for compassion and friendliness.

Jim Jax:  What kind of amenities are in your home?  Do you have the internet; wifi; etc….  Do you have television/cable/dish.  

Stan Zuray:  We have TV, internet, power from a local generator and a telephone line. Some areas of the main town have running water and cell service, but those things we don’t have.  Our main heat source in Tanana is 9 cords of wood I cut each year but I have a backup oil stove for when it gets 40 below or colder.  My trap line and fish camp is much cruder with none of that but we do have a satellite dish at the fish camp for communications.

Jim Jax:  I think Fairbanks is probably the largest city in your area; Do you get a chance to go there much?  Do you ever go to major stores or enjoy a dinner out some time?

Stan Zuray:  Tanana is about 150 air miles northwest of Fairbanks which has about 100,000 people and is the second largest city in Alaska. I go there about 2 times each winter and also go every other year outside Alaska to Boston or somewhere else.  When we do, we fit right in and we have brought the kids with us many times also. Definitely after a few days I’m ready for freedom, driving sled dogs and being in the back country again.

Jim Jax:  The stress of the fire was really seen in the Yukon Men episodes.  Please tell the readers just how bad it was on your end and how has it changed your life, especially with so much hunting grounds destroyed.

Stan Zuray:  We lived with the fire right at our doorstep for almost one month. It showed us it could wipe us out a couple of times and consumed our summer with stress and work.  Hopefully some of the country will recover stronger and richer than before as is often the case.  I have lost everything to a fire before in the 1970’s.  I have a respect and fear of fire for life I’d say.

Jim Jax:  When Joe was younger there was the normal friction between an eager impatient young man and his father, but as he’s matured I’ve really enjoyed your relationship growth with him.  I think the more he had to do, the more he respected what you have done and who you are.  How did you feel seeing him becoming a man before your eyes? 

Stan Zuray:  Joe was always strong willed. I always said the best way to get him to do something was to suggest the opposite. That will hopefully help him out in life at times and it is good to see him want to be independent.  It is of course often fun working with him when he was younger.  Now that we are older I see many things in him like myself and the way my father and I were.  We have a close relationship but as with all my kids they will always be something I am proud about and worry about. That always is and never ends.

Thank you so much Stan.  I look forward to this season of Yukon men.  May the fishing and hunting always be plentiful.  Please get Stan’s book with the link above.  A great read!!!  Jim Jax

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