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    Northern exposures

    In 1973, filmmaker John Holod took an unforgettable road trip in Alaska with just a sleeping bag and a Harley. He returned in 1998, this time with his camera and a luxury motor home.

    By EILEEN SCHULTE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2001


    It was just your average road trip.

    But 28 years later, John Holod says, he still has dust in his ears.

    In 1973, Holod, then 20, climbed aboard his hog, kick-started it and rode 1,400 miles northwest on the Alaskan Highway, then a bumpy, untamed dirt road leading to Fairbanks.

    Witnessing first-hand the coastal and glacial wilderness and its inhabitants -- the moose, the grizzly bears, the lynx, the wolves, the prospectors -- from the back of a Harley Davidson was a true adventure and privilege for Holod.

    Even lying face down in the gravel after being thrown over the handlebars of the hog, Holod took a minute to appreciate his pastoral surroundings. Thankfully, he was able to get out of the way of the logging truck barreling down on him.

    More than two decades later, Holod, 48, retraced his wild ride, this time in a 34-foot Monaco motor home, and made an 80-minute travel/adventure documentary called Alaska RV Adventure: The Last Great Road Trip about the journey.

    To get 80 minutes of travelogue material, he shot 2.5 miles worth of footage over five months in 1998 and 1999.

    He'll show the film at the Salvation Army Community Auditorium at 1625 Belcher Road in Clearwater Monday, a stop on his 120-city national travelogue tour.

    These days, the highway has fewer curves than when it was constructed in 1942, and it is paved. Holod has likened it to a drive to the mall -- with grizzly bears.

    But to Holod, that doesn't make it any less interesting. When he shows the film he shot, he'll also give a talk about Alaska and "tell some bad jokes," he said, laughing.

    And wherever he goes, he tells the wolf story, the type of story city slickers eat up.

    It goes like this: One day he was standing in the middle of a road with his camera and tripod when a large gray wolf appeared. Immediately, Holod's flight or fight instinct kicked in, along with a bit of adrenalin. Should he jump in the car? Hide?

    The only thing he could shoot it with was a camera.

    So he did what any filmmaker in a possible near-death situation would do -- stayed put, hoping that what he's heard about healthy wolves not attacking human beings was true.

    It was, apparently.

    The wolf closed in, 30 feet 20 feet 10 feet.

    Holod thought he heard the beast growl. Its tail was so close he could grab it.

    Wisely, he kept his hands to himself.

    The wolf did not bother with Holod. It kept right on walking.

    Another time he found himself 30 feet from a grizzly bear; it also wasn't interested in eating him. Holod wasn't scared.

    What does scare him?

    "Detroit," he said, laughing.

    There are other stories, of course, like the one about the Moose Dropping Festival Holod attended. It involves, well, moose droppings, along with a contest and a hot air balloon. Holod tells the rest of the story during his travelogue.

    "They have a lot of spare time in Alaska," he said.

    Then there's a gold prospector, a Californian named Dean, Holod met.

    "He puts on a wet suit, dives in and vacuums (gold mining areas)," Holod said. "That's kind of a weird job."

    He'll talk about his 1973 trip, too. Along the way, there was no Motel 6 to stay in, so he and his traveling buddies camped at any site they deemed pretty, or wherever they ended up by the end of the day.

    While his friends would spend 45 minutes pitching tents, Holod preferred to roll out his sleeping bag, and let the moon shine on his face as he dozed off.

    What would a tent protect you from anyway, a bear? he asked.

    But once, he woke up and found a deer sniffing his head.

    "I have to come back here one day," he thought.

    When he did, it was in the luxury RV with all the comforts of home because "I'm too old to sleep on the ground" using a rock under his cowboy hat for a pillow.

    When reached by telephone this week, John Holod had parked his RV outside a hall in Chattanooga, Tenn., waiting to show his film that evening. He said he was freezing, so he excused himself for a moment and closed the door to the vehicle so he could talk on his cell phone.

    He was slowly making his way south to Florida, which is a good thing.

    He said as he gets older, he can't tolerate the cold as much as he used to.

    But warm weather places have their hazards. During a visit to Cuba, "I was attacked by a giant crab," he said.

    If you go

    Award-winning cinematographer John Holod will present his latest documentary, Alaska RV Adventure: The Last Great Road Trip at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Salvation Army Community Auditorium, 1625 N Belcher Road, Clearwater. The film covers Holod's RV trip on the Alaskan Highway beginning at Dawson Creek, British Colombia, and heading northwest, stopping at Fort Nelson, Liard Hot Springs, the Yukon, Valdez, Anchorage, Seward, and the Kenai Fjords National Park. Of course Holod also shows you Denali National Park and stunning Mount McKinley, then goes on to Fairbanks and along the Dalton Highway to the arctic ocean. Tickets are $6.50. For reservations, call (727) 796-9512.

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