Q: Who exactly is Kevin Casey, the Remote River Man? Can you give us a brief bio?
The mercifully abbreviated version: I was born in San Francisco, California, went to high school in San Diego, spent four years in the US Coast Guard (mostly fisheries patrols in Alaskan waters and search and rescue in Hawaii), travelled extensively, and migrated permanently to Australia in 1991. I am a former Alaska State Chess Champion, a member of the International Society of Professional Trackers, and the author of Australian Bush Survival Skills, (published in 2000, now out of print).
How long are most of your journeys?
A month is normal, but they have been as short as three weeks and as long as seven. It often takes over a week just to reach the river area where the main part of the expedition begins - these are not the most accessible parts of the planet, and there is never a terribly convenient entry or exit point. But their sheer remoteness and primeval grandeur is what makes these places special to me.
After years of exploring obscure and pristine rivers, why did you finally decide to start filming your journeys?
I always felt it was important to record the journeys, not just so my great-grandchildren would one day know what I got up to, but also because the places I get into are so incredibly remote that the chance of encountering extremely rare wildlife, coming across never-before-filmed spectacular waterfalls or running into other surprises is very real. However, the nature of what I do and how I do it had previously made filming impractical. I go in completely alone, carrying everything on my back (and sometimes with an extra bag or two along for the ride), so gear weight is crucial. Modern video cameras are a far cry from the old 16mm Bolex hand-crankers that wilderness explorers had to use in the old days. Over the years cameras have gradually become both smaller and better for my unique purposes. Now I can carry a high-definition, compact video camera of broadcast quality in my pack, and edit the footage myself if necessary on a PC. I've basically been waiting patiently over the years for the technology to catch up with what I do. Now it has, and I am able to carry a very lightweight camera, tripod, batteries, tapes and other filming gear on all my river journeys. It is important to point out that I am not a cameraman who one day decided to film river journeys - I am a lifelong river explorer who finally got around to dragging a camera along. I would still do the journeys, even if I did not film them. For me, the film-making is secondary to the river exploration.
Do you really film all of your own footage?
Yes. What I do is a one-man operation. There is no film crew, no support team, no script, no producer, no survival consultant, no writer, nobody but myself. I go in, I film the exploration of a wild and little known river, and hopefully I get out intact again. So far, so good.
Your trips are incredibly unique. Nobody does what you do. How come you're not on television?
I have been told by many people (both in and out of the television industry) that my journeys are worthy of television. Recently however, I have come to wonder if television is worthy of my journeys. I have cable TV at my house and over a hundred channels, but I often struggle to find something decent to watch. You can take an old episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents from 1959 or an old black & white episode of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone, and as ancient as that stuff is, it is still more entertaining than 99% of what is on offer today. The technology of television has become amazing, but the quality of programming has certainly not kept pace. The networks that used to offer a venue for more traditional documentaries (such as the excellent David Attenborough stuff I grew up on) are now showing programs about tattoo parlours, fashion advice, endless cooking shows, and 'most inane and infantile home video' shows. It's all so terribly artificial and devoid of imagination. When I produced my first DVD in 2004 (Remote and Wild) about a trek through the Kimberley in Western Australia, I decided on a whim to send it to a production company in Brisbane (Epix Productions, who are well known for their quality programs, including the excellent Barefoot Bushman/Killer Instinct series which aired on the USA Outdoor Network). They were sufficiently impressed with the concept of solo, self-filmed wilderness exploration and the potential for a television series that they sent me to Borneo, where I had a tremendously successful search for exotic wildlife between the Kinabatangan and Segama rivers (including an extraordinary encounter with a wild orangutan). Since then, I completed and filmed many incredible journeys and they tirelessly pitched the idea of a series to various overseas networks, without success. Since 2010 I have opted to go it alone and produce my own DVDs - it's now a total one-man operation from start to finish. Because what I do is real - genuine river explorations, filmed as they happen - it is completely different to the contrived 'reality' of modern programming. Perhaps television is confused about where Remote River Man would fit in. I should mention that Aurora Television (Foxtel channel 183) here in Australia does periodically screen my first-ever self-filmed journey Remote and Wild: Alone in the Kimberley, so I am not completely absent from television.
What do you consider the most dangerous aspect of solitary wilderness exploration?
If you are prepared, knowledgeable, fit and know the difference between responsible risk-taking and recklessness, the dangers of the outdoors - even in extremely remote places - is greatly exaggerated. Sadly, the days of cannibals ready to measure you for the pot and man-eating tigers lurking behind every bush are over. Internal parasites, a branch poking you in the eye or a careless stumble are much more likely disasters-in-waiting. I have always considered the most dangerous part of my river journeys to be the car trip from my house to the airport. Once I'm in true wilderness, I'm fine.
Why do you go alone?
To see more wildlife (one person in the wild is always quieter than two or more), to be able to focus completely on what needs to be done (being sociable takes considerable concentration), and because that was always my dream, from a young age. Besides, it's tremendously gruelling work physically - most sane people would never be prepared to go through what I do to complete such journeys. It's rewarding, but it's very hard work too, in extreme conditions. I think of wilderness exploration as a 'pure' activity - the more extra complications (including extra bodies) you add to the mix, the more problems you have. Many long years ago I read a book about a major British expedition across the famous Darien Gap in the jungle of Panama. It was a massive operation with lots of personnel and special vehicles, all commanded by a military guy wearing a pith helmet. Just getting this huge human caravan through the terrain was like a Hollywood production. I chuckled when I read that when they got to a particularly insidious and remote stretch of swamp and were in the midst of lengthy preparations and discussions to figure out a way across, a couple of teenage New Zealanders nonchalantly waded across with mountain bikes and knapsacks carried high above their heads, heading across the mire in the opposite direction! So much for being the first to carry out a major expedition across the Darien... That situation has always resonated with me, and confirmed my long-held view that when it comes to exploring really remote places, minimalist is best. Along the same vein, one time when I was in northern Australia tracking animals with an Aboriginal man, he told me "You carry what you need to survive on your back. We carry what we need to survive in our heads." I was carrying a big pack and he was carrying nothing but two spears (one for fish, one for kangaroos) and wearing just a pair of shorts. Since then I have always asked of every piece of gear I take: "Do I really need this?" As a rule, my journeys involve total solitude for weeks, but on two occasions I have been forced to use river guides, which isn't my preference at all. Once was in Gabon, when I felt I would learn a lot from being accompanied by Baka pygmies, and the authorities weren't happy anyway about allowing the solo thing. The other time was along a section of river in Borneo, where the local villagers wouldn't rent me a canoe because they were worried that if I got dragged away by a crocodile, got lost or managed to drown myself, they would be held responsible and get into trouble with the government. These situations were exceptions, though - I normally go where there are no other humans around for hundreds of kilometres - just the way I like it.
Sometimes on these explorations you don't see another human being for a month or more. Don't you get lonely?
In pure wilderness, never. In crowded cities, sometimes. Solitude in pristine and untouched wilds is very peaceful, and self-reliance is very satisfying.
Do you have any favourite bits of gear?
I am very, very particular about the equipment I take on these trips. My life depends on it - literally. I'm not one of those guys who relentlessly pursues outdoor gear sponsors - I can count mine on one hand, in fact. I'll only take a piece of gear with me if I believe in it, and it works. Probably my two favourite bits of kit are my trusty Alpacka Yukon packraft and my Lifesaver Bottle, which is a great filter for purifying drinking water, because it gets rid of viruses too. It worked great in the jungles of West Africa for me. I also like the LifeStraw, which is cheap, lightweight and effective. I occasionally improvise gear - when I want an overhead shot of myself paddling along a jungle river edge, I might use an old basketball net. I put the camera in the net with the lens poking down out of one of the openings, hang the net from a tree branch overhanging the river, turn it on, paddle directly underneath it, and voila - a professional-looking shot with an unusual angle. I am a bit old-school when it comes to expedition clothing - I still prefer sturdy cotton canvas shirts for barging through the scrub. The lightweight, quick-drying, 'moisture-wicking' shirts that are all the rage these days are fine for more sedate activities, but are quickly ripped to shreds in the places I venture into. Outdoor equipment company Sea to Summit based in Perth, Western Australia, has some gear I quite like - excellent compression dry bags, and my favourite tropical tent - the Bug Dome, made by Wilderness Equipment (which isn't just for jungles - I used it in Canada too, during several straight days of relentless rain). When a tent is not the best option (too swampy or lots of uneven ground), I sleep in a Clark Jungle Hammock - sometimes hanging it directly above shallow swampy water when necessary. In circumstances where I have open water, high winds and little or no current, I prefer my Sevylor K2 inflatable expedition kayak over the packraft, for its smoother lines and better directional stability. The packraft is very handy on small flowing creeks and narrow swampy channels, though, and for something that weighs less than 3 kilograms, it carries my 70 kilograms plus another 40 or 50 kgs of gear without any trouble. I think Macpac makes some superb serious expedition backpacks (I believe Ed Stafford, who just completed the extraordinary WALK THE AMAZON two-year trek, used the same Macpac Cascade 90 pack on that journey that I use). They're sturdy, reliable packs and you can cram some pretty masochistic amounts of weight into them if necessary - and they keep going strong. Since the time I took an Iridium satellite phone and a Solara Field Tracker 2100 on my Guyana jungle journey, I have become a huge fan of the remote-area communications equipment of Landwide Satellite Solutions down in Sydney, too. For detailed information on my preferences when it comes to solitary exploration gear, please check out the MY GEAR page on this website.
How do you survive on a month-long solo trip, food-wise? What do you take with you?
With all the other stuff I need to carry on these trips, the amount of space I have left for food varies a lot, but is always less than I'd like. I painstakingly research every environment before I go to determine what local wild foods may be available along rivers, and prepare accordingly (for example I might go to the trouble of taking metal spear prongs if there are potentially plenty of freshwater crayfish, as these can often be attracted to the creek edge with a headlamp and speared at night). Generally, the more remote and untouched the area, the more likely it will help sustain me with edible plants, fish, crustaceans or other food items. I have eaten quite a range of interesting meals over the years, including donkey stew, termite soup, roasted lizards and snakes, fried grasshoppers, stingray flaps cooked in a natural ground oven, raw queenfish and lots more. Knowing what is safe to eat and what isn't is a matter of experience. When in doubt, go hungry - that's my motto. As far as what I carry with me, it's obviously all dehydrated and based on nutritional value for weight. I don't eat prepackaged hiking foods - I get everything from an ordinary supermarket. Oatmeal is a wonderful expedition food - excellent food value, and it keeps for months provided you keep it dry. Crushed up cereal with powdered milk, dried fruit and nuts is a fairly standard breakfast. Lunch is minimal - either meusli (granola) bars, high-calorie nuts such as macadamias or some wild food I've stumbled upon. Dinner is pasta, rice, or dehydrated potatoes with re-hydrated vegies and whatever protein I can add to it, with some sort of sauce conjured up from dry soup packets of various flavours. That dubious pseudo-parmesan cheese that comes in packets can enhance the fat content of a meal when one is starting to become a bit too skinny. It was once possible to buy dehydrated tomato paste flakes here in Australia, but they've stopped making it. For the remote-area chef, that stuff was gold...
Do people ever compare you to the various 'wilderness guys' on television?
It's bizarre - a few folks seem to want to compare me to the Man vs Wild guy, or the Survivorman guy. I guess these are the closest things that they can relate me to, despite the fact that I am not filming a survival show, I'm filming genuine wilderness exploration along extremely remote rivers. Totally different. Also, these two go out filming for a week - I go out for 4 or 5 weeks. Plus, they have a huge list of people that help them make their shows - check out their ending credits. There are survival consultants and people who handle travel arrangements, safety people, executive producers, camera, sound, editing, music, support crew, various assistants, post-production people and all the rest. I'm just one guy with a camera, a really distant and obscure river, a burning desire to explore, a unique outdoor skillset, a freakish level of fitness, an abnormal dose of upbeat stubbornness and an editing program on my computer. I have tremendous respect for what Les Stroud attempted to do with Survivorman - it is interesting to me from the standpoint of filming oneself (though I think he carries four cameras, while I, completely on my own, can only carry one). He certainly showed that survival is not glamorous, and that filming yourself while you do it is darn hard work. I think he did a nice job with Survivorman. As for Eddie Grylls and Man vs Wild, enough has been said by others about this show for me to want to expand on it here. Suffice to say I have explored the remotest parts of the earth completely alone for roughly a quarter of a century, and survived by necessity in a range of difficult environments in the course of making my way along very wild rivers, and never once have I found it necessary to slurp raw animal innards, jump out of perfectly good airplanes, run down loose gravel slopes, drink my own urine, swim through icy flooded caves or eat raw grubs. In regard to other television presenters who specialize in jumping off motorbikes and wrestling large lizards to the ground, or pin down snakes with sticks and then prance around with them in front of the camera, I must admit to being quite able to resist the urge to harass every single unsuspecting reptile I come across. I love snakes, but prefer to film them in their natural world and then leave them in peace. Not as dramatic, but far more respectful. Two people I do admire greatly are David Attenborough, who understood that his job was to serve as a conduit between the viewer and the wonders of the earth, and knew how to make a quick intro and then back out of the way and let nature be the real star of the show, and also the late Malcolm Douglas, a legend in Aussie wilderness film-making who was still making entertaining adventure films at age 69 when he passed away, and always edited all his own footage. He was a genuine conservationist, an excellent instinctive film-maker and a good mate, who, even though he was a terribly busy man, would often take the time to ring me up from across the continent just to say hello and check on what I was up to - a kindred spirit who once told me he made outdoor films 'to get away from ringing telephones'.
Do you carry any electronic gear with you on your journeys?
I don't own a mobile phone, and still think Twitter is the last name of an old Country and Western singer, but I'm getting better at keeping up with the times these days. For navigation I traditionally rely on a compass (and carry a spare) and the best topographical maps available. Google Earth comes in handy in the planning stages too. Compass bearings, maps, sun, moon, stars, prevailing winds and experience get me where I need to go much of the time, but there are certainly instances where a GPS can be a big help too. I am very excited about working with Landwide Satellite Solutions (since August 2011) - they really know their stuff and provide me with excellent satellite phone and GPS tracker technology to help keep me safe and improve communications in these extremely remote places. I have also carried an EPIRB (emergency personal rescue beacon) on some of my trips. The new digital ones are quite good.
What has been your most amazing wildlife encounter?
Coming down a jungle river in central Gabon, I passed a log overhanging the river, and draped over it was an African rock python, easily 5 metres in length (about 16 feet). I had never seen such a huge and beautiful snake - it had recently eaten, and its girth around the middle looked like there was a good-sized antelope getting digested in there. Very impressive - I was smiling for the rest of the day. Also of course, it was a huge relief to finally track down a wild orangutan in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. I was in Borneo for 31 days, and found it on day 28 - just in time! Most people don't realise that a lot of the footage of orangutans that is passed off as 'wild orangutan footage' by documentary makers is often filmed at orangutan sanctuaries, where semi-tame animals are attracted to a feeding station so tourists can see and film them. I always thought this was cheating, and desperately wanted to film a real wild orangutan going about its day in its normal environment. I finally found one feeding in a big fig tree. He took a long nap in the middle of the day, and I had to wait in the heat for hours before he finally got moving. He came down to within 3 metres of me at one point - a very beautiful creature, and a once in a lifetime experience. For a heart-starter, the collared peccary (a neotropical member of the wild pig family) that burst out of the brush just in front of me in Argentina, huffing angrily and showing raised hairs along its back, certainly woke me up. Fortunately I had the camera running at the time. Also, many years ago I was rowing in a dinghy in a saltwater inlet in northern Australia (an optimistic thing to do, considering the crocodiles), when a huge Indo-Pacific stingray passed directly underneath the boat. It was longer and much wider than the boat - initially I thought it must be a manta ray, until I saw the massive metre-long barb on its tail as it cruised through. They grow their sharks, crocs and rays mighty big in northern Oz.
How do you pay for all these journeys?
I am one of the most in-demand professional freelance copywriters in Australia, and I write for high profile business clients all over the world. Because of this, I am able to work for only 8 months or so per year - and then escape the computer desk and venture out into the wilderness during the other months. I'd prefer 4 months of working and 8 months of river exploration, but hey, you can't have everything.
Being alone and without any help in remote wilds surrounded by bears, leopards, tarantulas and piranhas doesn't seem to bother you. So what does scare you?
Smiling politicians, crowded shopping malls, and women who paint their toenails black.