Bill Eppridge, whose photographs of Canada's new wilderness road, the Dempster Highway, accompany Robert F. Jones' article beginning on page 76, was once described by an awestruck associate as "an amasser." Eppridge cheerfully admits, "I'm a gadget freak. I can't walk into a hardware or sporting-goods store without wanting to buy one of everything there." In preparation for the 920-mile round trip through some of the toughest Arctic terrain in North America, Eppridge amassed, among other things: enough dry flies to catch every grayling in the North Country; an all-weather, fast-pitching tent ("The bugs up there are fierce, and the quicker you get the tent up, the less blood you lose"); a short-barreled, pump-action, 12-gauge shotgun ("I've heard some horrendous bear stories"); and a tire-patching kit ("The Dempster eats tires like so much popcorn"). Also, tools and hardware sufficient to rebuild a totally fractured truck. He also amassed a magnificent portfolio of "snaps," as he lightly characterizes his photos, of some of the most bleakly beautiful country in the world.
Mean turf and dangerous assignments are nothing new to Epp. Born in Buenos Aires and a 1961 graduate of the University of Missouri's School of Journalism, he joined the staff of the old LIFE magazine in 1965 and immediately established a reputation for fearlessness. Following his memorable photo essay on The Panic in Needle Park, about the heroin drought on Manhattan's upper West Side, he went to Vietnam in late 1965, shooting combat "snaps" around Danang, Phubai and Hue—Marine Corps territory. "They were the only guys I'd go out with," he says. Upheavals in Panama and in the Dominican Republic (where a sniper took a shot at him); insurrection in Nicaragua; 3½ months' worth of wild horses of the Mountain West; and Robert Kennedy's assassination—all this came to sharp focus through Epp's lens.
Ironically, his only bad on-the-job injury occurred during a SPORTS ILLUSTRATED assignment last year. In San Francisco to photograph the Artists' Soap Box Derby (SI, July 23), he was blind-sided by one of the outrè racers. "It did the final number on my right knee," he says. "I'd been courting knee trouble all my life, running down hills and riding motorcycles. Four years ago, on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, I hit a deer on my Yamaha 350 RD. Busted up my shoulder and a lot of other things. Earlier last year I'd been in Kenya for SI, shooting a story on the state of the game. Bouncing around in a safari wagon, standing up to shoot through the roof hatch, I gave the old knee cartilage a bit too much to handle, and the soap-boxer did it in. I never saw the thing—if I had, I'd either have snapped it or jumped out of the way." The accident laid him up for three months.
Fortunately, he had plenty of toys at home to play with—his Flyshooter, for example. "I found it when I was poking around the Lou Brock Sports Shop at the St. Louis airport," he says. "It's a spring-loaded flyswatter that fires a plastic, perforated plate. You stalk up to the fly and—splat! It would have been great," he says wistfully, "on those mosquitoes in the Arctic."