Picture yourself living in complete isolation like the old-timers once did in the North American arctic for 100 days.
Shiloh native Roland Welker, 48, now of Red Devil, Alaska, did proving he was the “big bull of the north woods” by outlasting nine other survivalists on History Channel television show, Alone.
And for that, he won $1 million dollars.
He was dropped off by helicopter Sept. 18, 2019 along the dangerous rocky shoreline of Great Slave Lake’s east arm in the Northwest Territories, Canada.
Each participant had their own campsite with a rucksack of limited survival tools, emergency radios and camera equipment to self-document their day-to-day experiences.
On his journey, Welker took a ferro rod, gill net, a pot, trapping wire, an axe, a saw, a multi-tool, a belt knife, bow and some arrows and a sleeping bag.
With his tools, he had to build shelter and fire, as well as hunt and forage for food in crushing arctic conditions and with fierce predators lurking in the forest surrounding him.
For Welker, this wasn’t some kind of “spiritual journey.” His mission was simple from day one: survive 100 days and win the largest cash prize in the show’s history.
Over six seasons, no single participant had ever lasted that long until Welker “got woodsy,” emulating the primitive lifestyle of the old-timers he deeply respects.
He grappled with massive boulders and logs – some of which weighed over 200 pounds – expending around 500 calories an hour to build “rock house” that he later insulated with a coating of snow.
“I [had] the advantage of a number of far-north winters …,” he said in post-show interview after Episode 2. “I’ve done 50-below in a wall tent so I wanted a warm, substantial, air-tight shelter.”
He kept piles of neatly-stacked firewood, a fireweed root cellar and a berry cache, and on day 29, he had an epic big-game kill when he hit a bull musk-ox with his bow.
Out of arrows and with daylight getting thin, Welker tracked the wounded animal two miles from camp and stabbed it to death with his belt knife.
“Anything can happen … [but] I didn’t want to sit there until dark,” he said after Episode 6. “I got within three or four jumps of it, and I just went in and hit it.”
Welker said when the musk-ox’s legs went out and it fell to the ground, he let out a loud “war hoop” that may have been heard in the next camp five-plus miles away.
Over the course of three days, he put on about 40 miles packing meat. “That was brutal. I’ve packed a good many critters on my back – moose, caribou, sheep, bear hides.
“I’ve hauled probably 20-ton of meat on my shoulders and every year it gets a little bit heavier … butchering and pack-ratting meat [are] the hardest things you’ll ever do to your body.”
He also impressed Alone fans with his meat crib. More robust than most shelters, it kept out hungry predators like bears and wolverines that ravaged the other treetop food caches.
Living off the land took a lot out of Welker, and by Day 48, he looked like a scraggly old-timer on a hardscrabble homestead after having lost 44 pounds, or 20 percent of his body weight.
But he got a fat porcupine on Day 66 and ate the musk-ox from the horns to hooves including the contents of its stomach. “Whatever the musk-ox was eating, we’re eating now – ‘rock house spinach.’”
Once temperatures got “deadly cold” late in the competition, Welker struggled to get daily necessities and to cut enough firewood to fuel his fire for the next 18 hours.
He spent a lot of time hunkered down in his sleeping bag, trying to keep warm, conserve energy and not to succumb to his mental demons.
(Photo by GANT News Editor Jessica Shirey)
Throughout the show, Welker often talked differently than the other participants, using the word “we.” “Maybe, I mean me and you … maybe I mean me and my departed mother.”
His mother, the late Mona Welker, passed away June 30, 2019 when he was in Montana training for the show, leaving him to make the difficult decision to not return home for her funeral services.
Instead, he remained in the vast wilderness of Big Sky Country and vowed to come out as the victor of the “Super Bowl” of survival challenges in her memory.
Six months later as his days waned at rock house, Welker reflected upon life and all the time he’d lost with his family, particularly his mother, whom he kept a photograph of close by.
And then on Dec. 26, he emerged and carved out “100” on his calendar tree. But amidst the silence and solitude, he wasn’t alone as he could hear his mother singing an old church hymn – Standing on the Promises – from 30 years ago.
“We did it. We did it,” he said. “… All this time I said ‘we’ but didn’t know who. It was you. No, it is you. We did it; it’s Day 100 … with that, I commemorate all of this to you. I love you, mom.”
Welker couldn’t take a Bible along with him, but made a pact with his sister, Megan Francis and her husband, Matt, before he left that they’d pray two scriptures – Proverbs 12:27 and 1 Corinthians 1:18 – every evening.
“All the glory goes to God; this is His gift to Roland,” Francis said in a phone interview following the three-hour season finale. “He blessed RW with the strength, wisdom and knowledge. This was all His doing.”