Attached at the hip
Chico outdoorsman goes on a TV adventure of a lifetime
About a year ago, Chicoan Henry Lomeli applied to be on the Discovery channel show Naked and Afraid. He wasn’t chosen for that series—which pits a couple of strangers against nature in nothing but what they were born in—but he did get a call from a casting agent to be on a new show called Tethered.
“Instead of being naked and afraid, I was tethered and clothed and afraid,” Lomeli said during a recent phone interview.
The series, which debuts at 10 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 5) on Discovery, matches two strangers—one an outdoorsy type and the other, well, not—and literally tethers them together before sending them off into the wilderness. Given a crude map marking an extraction point and a few survival tools, the pair have two weeks to make the journey to be rescued.
“Our mission was to travel close to 30 miles and make it to the extraction point and survive without tapping out,” Lomeli said. “How we got there was up to us. We were given no route—we had to use our knowledge of the terrain and landscape navigation.”
Lomeli is no stranger to the outdoors. A wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for 23 years who also leads eco-tours along the Sacramento River, he has experience with animals including bears and mountain lions, and he can make fire and identify plant species. He was tethered to Laura Thompson-Nelson, an Air Force veteran. They didn’t meet—or even know anything about each other—until they were attached at the hip by a 6-foot cord.
“I was hoping I’d be paired with a survival expert and we could use each others’ skills,” Lomeli said. “But we struggled. She’s 46, from New York, and does not have a lot of outdoor skills. It was a little bit of a disappointment.”
But that’s the point of the show, to pair two different personalities with varying degrees of outdoor experience, plop them in the middle of nowhere and see what happens. Lomeli, 47, and Thompson-Nelson found themselves on Afognak Island, just north of Kodiak Island in Alaska. Other pairs wound up everywhere from Panama to the Smoky Mountains.
“Once I knew about where I was going to be, I started talking to local guides and outfitters, to pump them for information,” Lomeli said. He had about a month to learn as much as he could about the region’s edible plants, wildlife and terrain. “I memorized the tide tables. Alaska has some of the largest tidal planes in the world. The tide comes in and it can cover up a half a mile of coast. So when we swam, we went at low tide and took a half mile off our swim.”
When it came to the actual journey, Lomeli recalls it as laborious. “Everything was work,” he said. And while some of his preplanning definitely paid off, “I did end up poisoning myself and my partner.”
Going into it, Lomeli was prepared for an adventure. What he may not have been prepared for was the emotional impact the journey, shared with a complete stranger, would have.
“It made me much less judgmental about my fellow human beings, more accepting of people’s backgrounds, more tolerant,” he said. “Things that would normally bother you don’t matter anymore after being through something like that.”
As for Lomeli’s relationship with his tethered friend, Thompson-Nelson, he said the bond they created in the Alaskan wilderness together is still strong. They text and chat regularly.
“There were a lot of experiences that we shared together. Now I get to share them with the world,” he said. None of the participants have seen the edited versions of their episodes, so Lomeli will be tuning in with the rest of us on Oct. 12 to see how it all turned out. “We had lights and cameras in our faces for two weeks straight, 24 hours a day. To pick out 45 minutes of that … there was so much more that took place.
“It was the most challenging and life-changing experience I’ve ever endured.”