Love story: A wild love

Jim Grant/Nevada Appeal

Jim Grant/Nevada Appeal

Editor's note: It is easy to be cynical about Valentine's Day. Some say it's holiday built around little more than greeting cards and roses. But underneath the piles of stuffed animals and chocolates, resonates something real and abiding: Love.

This Valentine's Day, we set out to highlight what it really means. We discovered that love is romantic and fun, and that it also requires sacrifice and, sometimes, heartbreak.

Suspend your doubts, and share with us these stories of adventure, perseverance, spontaneity and intrigue - stories of love.

Theirs started as an impossible love story. Jake Willers and Alyson Andreasen met while he was in the area for four days, filming a documentary on black bears for National Geographic.

She was volunteering for the Nevada Department of Wildlife at the time, and the two worked closely together on the project, which ended with a bear caught in a tree outside the Capitol.

That night, just hours before he was to catch a flight back to his native England then leave again for another assignment in South Africa, they confessed to one another the feelings that had started to develop.

After that conversation and a few emails after he had returned home, the two came to the same conclusion.

He managed a wildlife park in England and worked as a documentary host for National Geographic. She was just getting started on her career here.

"This can't work," Jake remembers saying.

But one year and one passionate kiss under a banana plant later, it was a love impossible to deny.


After Jake returned to his life, Alyson moved on with hers. The 1997 Carson High School graduate began pursuing her doctorate from the University of Nevada, Reno.

Although they had corresponded by email for about a week after he left, they decided it was best to just let it go and decided not to keep in contact.

Despite her focus on her studies, she couldn't help but think of him.

"I couldn't get him out of my head," she said. "He seemed to kind of check off every quality I hoped to find in a perfect man."

Nearly a year later, in September 2006, she got a phone call from one of the producers on Jake's crew asking if she'd be interested in helping them film a documentary in a rain forest in Peru.

"I jumped at the chance," Alyson said.

After a plane ride to Peru then a three-hour boat trip, they arrived at their camp - three huts in the middle of the jungle.

They were two of a four-person film crew documenting scarlet macaws and army ants. Their days began before dawn hiking to 6-by-8-foot watch stations where they spent up eight hours observing the birds in complete silence.

For the first week, Jake recalls, they didn't speak much to one another.

"There was definitely a feeling being awkward," he said. "And we were in a position where we had a lot to organize on the shoot. We kind of went about our business."

Then one afternoon, they were left alone at the camp.

"We started talking, and our conversation was just amazing," Alyson said.

During the year that had passed since she had seen him, she said, she had tried to convince herself that she had fantasized him into the image of the ideal man.

"He's probably actually a jerk," she reasoned.

But as they talked, her fantasy began transforming into something real.

"I just started realizing he really is what I thought," she said. "He continued to keep checking off my list. He really was the perfect person."

Jake suggested they take a canoe ride down the river, and they borrowed a hollowed out tree trunk from some locals. A mile into their trip, however, the canoe had all but sunk.

They managed to make it to the shore and drag the canoe along.

"We ended up in a super, super dense jungle," Jake said. "We had to find a way to pick our way back to camp."

But they argued about which way to go.

"In this disagreement, our eyes met," Jake recalled. "We just started kissing. And in that instant, it started bucketing down rain. So we got under a banana plant, under this giant leaf, and kept kissing."

Wanting to keep their budding romance private, the couple continued to behave professionally during the day. At nights, they would sneak down to the river, lay under the stars and talk the night away.

"We probably averaged about two hours of sleep a night," Jake said. "But it kind of felt like it was limited time. We weren't thinking about anything else."

At the end of the three weeks, they found themselves in familiar territory. He was returning to his work and she was going back to school.

Standing in the airport, destined for different continents, this time it wasn't so easy to say goodbye.

"It was like having your heart ripped from your ribcage," Jake said.

Before he knew how he would make it happen, he told her, "Whatever happens, I'm coming back for you. We'll make this work."


A week later, he called her from an assignment in Kenya. To get reception, he had to wander away from camp in the middle of the night.

He asked if he could come visit her. She said yes.

As he returned to camp, he nearly stumbled upon a dead impala. He shined his flashlight down and saw its eyes still glistening.

"Suddenly, I got petrified," he said. "I realized it had just been killed."

The next day, he returned with his Masai hosts to find the only a head and spine left of the carcass the leopard had killed moments before he approached the night before.

"Here I am, a wildlife expert, and I almost got killed because I was so daft in love," he said.

During the next five months, he visited her four times and she flew to see him twice.

He did not want to interfere with her studies, so, at 36, he turned in his resignation at the wildlife park, and moved to Carson City in June 2007.

They were married July 14, 2008, at Lake Tahoe.

He had thought he would keep his job with National Geographic, but delays in getting a visa ended that career as well.

Starting over, Jake said, was a small price to pay.

"I don't regret it for one second," he said. "It was the hardest decision of my life, but it was the easiest decision to make. If it would have been for any other reason, it would have been crazy tough. But knowing why I was doing it made it easy. We couldn't spend our lives apart."

The two now live on Stephanie Lane where Alyson continues to pursuing her doctorate, working on a project tracking and tagging mountain lions. Jake works alongside her, and is starting his own production company as well.

"We don't take it for granted," Alyson said. "It's an amazing life of adventure we're leading right now. We're privileged to be able to it - and I'm doing it with the man of my dreams."


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