This Alaska Adventure Will Inspire Your Next Road Trip
How a Canadian photographer found his true calling on a solo road trip through the beautiful landscape of Alaska.
A dream trip
I’ve always dreamed about going to Alaska. I’ve seen stunning photos, watched videos of the beautiful vistas and endless sunrises in magazines and on television. I invited four friends a year in advance to go with me, thinking it would be an epic experience.
As the months counted down, and the weeks turned to days before we left, like clockwork, one by one my friends bailed. I decided then I would go alone in July of 2007. I was nervous at first and didn’t know what to expect. I set off at four in the morn ing. I drove for hours, passing white cap mountains and farm fields that stretched for miles. At one point I just had to stop and run through a canola field. Yup, that was a fail. The stems were tightly woven together and as I fell and got tangled, it took me ten minutes to crawl out of them.
I found it interesting that the last 25 miles of the Canadian highway was so rough, with massive potholes, that at one point I thought I had broken an axle and blew a tire. Once I crossed into Alaska, the road was smooth as ice.
Admiring the beauty of Alaska
Travelling the Alaska Highway was picturesque. I observed small ponds and waterfalls along the stretch, and I was stopping to take in the beauty. Wildflowers were in the millions. I went tiptoeing through a massive field of red Indian paintbrushes and pink fireweed. I would have lingered longer in the flowers, but I noticed there were thousands of bees. My tiptoeing turned into a 100-yard dash back to my car.
I made a decision to jump into one of the magical Alaskan ponds beckoning me from my car. I should have second-guessed myself. The water was ice cold and between the mosquitoes and the leeches I lost half of my blood.
I learned very fast that at dusk, every animal would tell each other, “Hey, here comes Jason, let’s all get on the road.” I lost count of how many times I had to slam my brakes, or swerve around moose, deer, bears or chipmunks. Even the tiniest critters need to live.
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Back in my car and speeding down the highway, I spotted a moose crossing the road and, even further up the highway, a massive beast of a bison. I wanted to capture a photo. I pulled over and leaped from my car, walking through the tall grass towards the direction of the huge animal. Kneeling in the grass, with my camera in hand, capturing the mother bison and her calf, I was shaking with excitement. I was 25 feet away from 2,500 pounds of total cuteness. The rapid flick of the camera shutter was all I could hear as I laid my finger down on the button. I was so focused on the two beauties in front of me that when I finally took a moment to look around, I suddenly became very nervous. Lifting my head away from the camera, something dark caught my attention in the corner of my eye. I turned around and realized I was surrounded by a herd of bison. They had moved closer to me, out of curiosity, to see what I was doing. I knew at this point it could turn dangerous, being crushed to death by 50,000 pounds of bison wasn’t what I wanted my legacy to end on. I noticed no threatening posture from any of the herd, nor were they showing any of the usual signs of irritation, such as their fur being in an upright position or stomping the ground with their hooves. Still, I slowly backed up, passing a large male so closely I could almost touch him. When I was 30 feet away from them, I hiked back to my vehicle with thoughts of having an amazing story to tell my friends.
I remember stopping on the Alaskan Highway and sitting in the middle of the road, pondering on life. A storm was brewing to the right of me with big black clouds and the sun shining down on me from the left. Animal pictures came in and out of the cumulus clouds above me. I thought to myself, “Should I turn around, is this trip worth it?” But then, how many people can say they drove the Alaska Highway alone? I was always taught that “if you rely on others, your path in life will slow down, and if you take charge, your life and dreams will become a much quicker reality.”
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See you later, alligator
In 2001, my brother and I decided it was time to go to a sunny and warm location, as our time in Europe had begun to turn cold. We had just completed six months of living on the road and making our pay as shoeshine boys and circus workers. From the Miami Airport, we headed to South Beach and set ourselves up in a hostel. While there, my brother and I decided to start looking for local wildlife. We travelled throughout the state, capturing images of Key deer, wild boar, birds of prey and the cutest burrowing owls.
When we hit the Florida Everglades, we were after the American alligator, and there were thousands of them all around us. It was here I survived my first and only death roll by a little gator. After that, we rented a canoe and headed out for the day in the glades.
After a good long time paddling, we came across a neglected sign that read: “Do not go beyond this point, no one will come looking for you.” It was the infamous “red zone.” We debated on it for a little while and then decided to go forward. So, off we went into the dark, dense sawgrass and mangroves. The water was about six feet deep and about 12 feet wide. Alligators spied us at every turn, sliding into the water and bumping against our boat. In the murky trees above us, thousands of yellow and black golden-silk spiders watched us. We began to duck after we discovered that the webs were so thick, they would bring our canoe to a complete stop. For almost ten miles, we paddled and ducked and tolerated the visitation of hundreds of spiders crawling all over us. When we emerged, I noticed the canoe now looked like a kayak with so much spider webbing. Adventures are stressful and unpredictable, yet surviving such perils has underscored how important my brother’s friendship is to me.
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How it all came to be
My journey from being an event photographer to an extreme animal photojournalist was kind of a fluke. I had just finished photographing a black-tie event when I was asked if I would capture images of a family dog. At first, I was confused. I had no idea that people would want professional photos of their furry friends but, of course, I did the photoshoot and it was so much fun I ended up falling in love with the little furry guy. While completing the photo shoot, the owner told me that this little hero saved the whole family. When their house caught fire, the family pup couldn’t wake him by barking and growling so he peed on his face instead. This, of course, woke him up just in time for the family to jump out the window to safety.
His story was so touching that it inspired me to photograph and interview other pet owners about their love for their animals. So, that same day, I went out and bought a video camera. Now I could begin to capture these special moments between person and pet. From that day forward I opened my heart and started “My Animal Adventures,” a web series that showcases my fun, crazy, and at times dangerous destinations.
Next, check out this wildlife photographer’s thrilling story of spotting a baby lynx.