Heart of an explorer
Clayton Anderson ‘97 charts his own course

By Mary Chapman, King’s Communications

Clayton Anderson ‘97, Vice-President of Product Development at Adventure Canada knew he wanted to be a travel writer since he was in high school.

“I went on Rotary exchange to Mexico when I was 16 and brought with me a Let’s Go Mexico guide book. I was honestly amazed that someone got paid to write it and decided that was what I wanted to do,” reflects Clayton. He decided then to apply to King’s and earn a BA in English. “After King’s, I set myself up with a 6-month internship in Costa Rica at a small travel newspaper called Central America Weekly. I was the English language editor, but also took photos and wrote articles. When I returned, I saw a newspaper job ad for travel writers for Ulysses Travel Guides – I applied and got a three-book contract. From there, I was a magazine editor and a freelance writer. I wrote speeches, technical manuals, ad copy – you name it. In the early 2000s, after coming back from a year in Australia, I answered a want ad for a marketing coordinator for Adventure Canada… that was 14 years ago now.”

During his career at Adventure Canada, Clayton has taken people to the Galapagos and Machu Picchu 14 times, done small-plane expeditions in southern Africa, circumnavigated New Zealand, traversed the Trans-Siberian by private train, and sailed past the Antarctic circle. “For me it’s about the variety, authenticity and visceral richness of the experience.”

In terms of unparalleled Canadian landscapes, Clayton believes the top three are Baffin Island, Ellesmere Island and the coast of Labrador.

“Baffin and Ellesmere Islands are powerful, desolate landscapes with vibrant communities that support a rich and ancient culture. Being up there in the summer, we have 24-hours of sunlight and a seemingly endless horizon with city-block-sized icebergs accented by bowhead whales and the occasional polar bear. The coast of Labrador is also one of Canada’s undiscovered gems. With its deep fjords, towering mountains and rich wildlife, it is one of the most spectacular and remote destinations in Canada.”

Traveling to remote Canadian destinations comes with major challenges, especially dealing with weather and wildlife. “We’re guests in an unforgiving environment,” says Clayton. “Because Adventure Canada operates a small, ice-strengthened ship, we have amazing access to the North, but as we are not an ice breaker, sometimes we have to change our plans. One year we had too much ice to complete the passage, another year we found an uncharted rock and grounded the vessel. All kinds of other delays, from fog to wind to ice, have interfered with our charter flights, sometimes requiring us to set up alternate plans for up to 200 travelers. We roll with the punches and have found that it’s really how you handle the challenges that earns your travelers’ respect.”

Wildlife sightings are greatly anticipated on the tours. “We have not had a trip in the North without a polar bear – though the intensity of the experience varies. We’ve had everything from them swimming in front of the Zodiacs (inflatable boats) to approaching us on land, to small dots in the spotting scope. There’s always a great collective sigh of relief when we see our first bear, our first whale, our first walrus – this is often what people have waited a lifetime to see.”

Adventure Canada has a proud history of working with the communities they visit, hiring locally, and ensuring their vision of tourism is a sustainable one. Additionally, Adventure Canada’s Discovery Fund supports a number of initiatives from high profile to grassroots in Canada’s North and East Coast. “We work with Project North [to] distribute hockey equipment to northern communities, we support The Inuit Heritage Trust to [help] protect Nunavut’s archaeological sites, ethnographic resources and traditional place names, and we partner with WWF-Canada towards their ongoing work in the North.”

Having done so much travelling within Canada and abroad, it’s surprising that there are places Clayton has not explored. “I’ve yet to get to Dawson City, Yukon. I like the idea of the gold rush history, the small-town, frontier atmosphere and the fact that they have a cocktail with a human toe in it. I haven’t spent enough time in the West and would like to fix that.”

Looking back, Clayton says, “I think that a liberal arts education – in my case, an English Literature BA – really teaches you how you learn and forces you to meet deadlines and expand your mental horizons. My time at King’s was among the best years of my life and there is very little I would change. My best friends are still those I made in school, and I see them a lot – but there were so many great people. If anyone wants to reconnect, I guess they now know where to find me!”

This article appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the King's Herald