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Discovery Channel's Bear Grylls meets fans in Valencia

• Star of "Man Vs Wild" was at Barnes & Noble to sign books.

Posted: May 7, 2008 2:44 a.m.
Updated: July 8, 2008 5:02 a.m.

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It was man versus crowd Tuesday night, as Barnes & Noble in Valencia was packed with shoppers waiting for a chance to meet British adventurer Bear Grylls.

The host of Discovery Channel's "Man Vs Wild" was in town to sign copies of his latest book, "Man Vs Wild: Survival Techniques from the Most Dangerous Places on Earth."

It was his first U.S. book signing, according to Sean Sarrow, the store's community relations manager. By the time Grylls arrived at 7:30 p.m. the store had sold out of the roughly 225 copies of the book that were on hand.

About 100 people packed the store's reading room, while at least double that lined up through the store, as Grylls led a brief question and answer session.

Questions ranged from "what's the most scared you've ever been," to "what's the grossest thing you've ever eaten?" The answer to the latter was "frozen yak eyeballs."

The questions went on for about 20 minutes, and then with a humble "thanks" to everyone there, he set to signing book after book, posing for a photo here and there, and shaking hands.

The road to adventure

While he's braved all manner of harsh environments, on Friday 33-year-old Grylls was faced with a different kind of challenge - the fast pace of New York City.

With the release of his book and new episodes of the show, life has become a whirlwind of publicity activity, he said during a phone interview.

Grylls and his crew wrapped up filming the second half of the second season of "Man Vs Wild" in the last few weeks.

"I'm really proud of it," he said. "The locations are definitely the most extreme (so far)."

Those locations included filming in Siberia where nighttime temperatures plummeted to 30 to 45 degrees below zero, to Indonesian black swamps filled with crocodiles that have, as he put it, fed on the bodies of tsunami victims and have developed a taste for human flesh.

"It's a mad place to try and survive," he said.

Asked how long he sees himself doing "Man Vs Wild," Grylls said that, "I have done it since I was four.

But without the cameras.

"I hope to keep living this life, but maybe with less mosquitoes and danger."

The son of the late Sir Michael Grylls, a member of British Parliament, Grylls said his life of adventure found its genesis in learning to climb with his father.

"It was my way of getting close to him," he said. "A lot of my identity growing up was in (adventuring)."

At 19, Grylls joined the British Special Air Services.

At 23, a parachuting exercise went wrong, breaking his back in three places.

That kind of curve ball might put a halt to some adventurers' exploits, or at least make them more hesitant.

Not Grylls.

"Sometimes it takes a knock to make you realize what's important," he said. "It's like life has given me a second chance."

In retrospect, he said he wonders if he would have done as much as he has, had he not had that wake-up call.

"It very much gave me the drive to get out there (and pursue these things)," he said.

Indeed, in May of 1998, Grylls became the youngest British climber to ascend Mount Everest.

Coming alive

It was the Discovery Channel that approached Grylls about doing a TV series, he said.

"I was kind of nervous about doing it at first (but) it just sort of took off," he said.

In general, he said the "good viewing" moments of the show - for example, surviving in the desert by drinking his own urine out of a dried snakeskin - are by no means the highlights of the show for him.

But he loves the big moments - when the adrenaline gets pushed to the limit.

"I come alive in those moments," he said.

When filming, Grylls typically has a three to four man crew with him: A cameraman, sound man, director, and occasionally a safety technician.

"They're amazing guys," he said of the crew who go through the same inhospitable environments he does. "Unsung heroes."

When it comes to preparing for and recovering from filming, Grylls narrowed it down to three things: "Eat lots, train hard and spend cozy times with my family." He also said that his Christian faith, "is my backbone in my life. It has helped me so much through so many hard times and I have learned it is a proud man who says he needs nothing."

An impressive resume as an adventurer does have its apparent drawbacks.

Asked what he could see himself doing if he had to pick another career, Grylls said that, "I am now 100 percent unemployable in anything sensible."

When it comes to a lasting legacy, he waxed motivational.

"(I want) to have touched people's lives and have encouraged many to not be scared to follow their dreams," he said.

The woman behind the man

Grylls was an adventurer long before his wife Shara met him. She knew what she was in for, she agreed. Of course, it still takes about three days to get used to him being around after he's done filming, said his wife of eight years.

Asked how she copes with what her husband does for a living, she answered simply: "Ignorance is bliss."

She said the most worried she ever was, was when Grylls and a small crew sailed across the frigid waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.

A homing beacon on the boat allowed her to check the boat's progress on the Internet.

That is, until the signal disappeared. For 24 hours.

"It was absolute hell," she said. "That was the worst time of my life."

Her husband's eventual phone call - he was fine - was beyond surreal, she said.

And for as extreme as Grylls' life is, it's not unusual to Shara Grylls.

"This is normal," she said.

72 hours in heaven

He's ascended the world's highest peak, sailed through arctic waters in an open boat, and survived in countless extreme situations.

So, given 72 hours to go anywhere in the world, where would Bear Grylls go?

"To our island in Wales," he said. "No electricity and no running water, sea cliffs, and our little home and Shara and our two little boys. Heaven!"

For more information on Bear Grylls visit www.beargrylls.com

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