When you have a lot to say it can be overwhelming so I’m going to make my goal BREVITY…for now anyway.
I’m in an internet cafe in downtown Juneau, about 30 miles from the lodge where I’m staying; it’s Saturday 4:00pm. One the staff members is picking us up from a local pub in two hours to return to our temporary housing — the Eagle Valley Center, an “Outward Bound” type of place during the summer where groups can experience team building exercises like rope courses etc. During the winter, one “SAGA” member lives there, and during the spring (now) it is used to train the 20 new SAGA “team leaders” (I am one of them) before the SAGA “members” arrive in summer for their 5 month stint.
SAGA stands for Southeast Alaska Guidance Association, but it’s a misnomer because now the organization is state wide.
SAGA is an umbrella organization with many smaller organizations within it. I can’t remember all of them but one is “Connections,” a group that tries to work with schools and community residents to educate them about the environment and health. One involves native Alaskan “troubled youth” in building low income housing. Another is my group, the Alaska Service Corps, which involves people of all ages, from all over the country, in projects commissioned by various state and federal (and maybe private too) agencies….most of them are trail building and restoration projects. Some are stream restoration projects. Some are construction of ranger stations.
Out of all the team leaders here, I definitely come with the least experience. Many people were here last year, in Alaska. The rest were involved in trailbuilding, or youth organizations, or environmental service type of work in other parts of the country. I understand that sponsors were encouraging Americorps (oh yeah, SAGA gets FUNDING from Americorps; I know all this jargon is really confusing) to “diversify” — ie target members of different ages and backgrounds, not just different ethnicities. I think they liked that I was a “professional.” We’ll see if their gamble pays off.
My first thought was that I wished I had brought my favorite clothes, because for these first two months we aren’t going to get that dirty. A lot of team building ice breaker type of activities (GAMES!!! I love it!!!) indoors, plus we tried out the rope courses, and got a tour of downtown Juneau.
I am probably one of the older people, as I expected, but it’s hard to tell, because experience wise I probably seem a lot younger. Or it’s in my head that I fit in. Hard to tell. These are people I would love to be friends with in any circumstance. Mostly between 20 and 30, all passionate about the outdoors, helping people, and also HAVING FUN. Danger is a part of their lives, but so is safety. I liked that during one of our team building exercises (making ten people walk together on very long skis), the director (oh, he is older than me; he created SAGA in the 1970s; he is in his 50s) encouraged us to try to cross a frozen steam. We broke one of the “skis” in the process and he thought it was funny. He is a nice man, though, and we have “debriefings” after each activity where everyone shares their thoughts and impressions, very touchy feely. Another activity involved transporting people in fishing nets back and forth across a “race track” — sort of a relay race. Yet another involved a rendition of tag involving a rubber chicken. Our days have been very structured and organized and fun. Each day starts at 8am where we all go OUTSIDE to do stretching. Of course I 1) don’t want to get up that early, let alone go outside but 2) once there, I wish we were doing more than stretching; I’m kind of exercise deprived right now. For the last week before leaving CA I was so busy shopping and packing I didn’t do anything physical, and for these first several weeks in Alaska, we aren’t really doing anything too strenuous. There are mountains and trails everywhere but the steep ones are too icy to climb until summer.
People are assigned nights to cook and nights to clean. I share a bedroom with three other women. I’m on the top bunk. Thank god for Ambien. Sleeping bags rustling around are really noisy. I think my biggest obstacle so far is going to be STAYING QUIET. My tendency is to jump into our group activities with quick answers or jokes or offbeat comments, but I arrived a day late, so as the newcomer, I know that my role is to take a background position, especially since I am so new to all this outdoor survival stuff. So I’m working on my LISTENING skills.
If I was 25, I would probably have crushes on about 10 of the guys. If I was male, I would probably have a crush on several of the women. Overall, very attractive, alert, perky, interesting people. With thoughtful sides. At night, I swear, there are more board games going on than I could every imagine. These people are more into that kind of stuff than me, even. I mean, imagine a bunch of camp counselors all together….that’s the group.
Next week we do power tool training (one whole day is devoted to “felling”). The week after that we do first aid stuff. Then we do our first assignment (just the team leaders) — building a trail in the northeast somewhere. I forget the exact location. The names of all these towns and islands and areas are so foreign to me still. By the way, when my “team” arrives in two months, I will be with one other (probably more seasoned) leader, not by myself with them.
Yesterday we took our Americorps “oath” on the steps of the courthouse, with one of Alaska’s senators. It was rather a big deal.
I know this is really disjointed. There is just too much to say all at once. Will send, re-read later, and probably add more. I do better with questions.
My address is:
9397 La Perouse Ave.
Juneau, AK 99801
My cell works whenever I’m in town (510-919-3126). If you need an alternate phone number, the office (Mon – Fri) is 907-789-6172. I have email when in town, obviously, like today, Saturday. We have weekends “off.” A bunch of people went skiing this weekend (of course I didn’t bring ski gear). But I stayed back because I still had a lot of business to do — getting 8-inch steel toed work boots, knee high rubber boots, more fleece, more gloves, more camping gear — and I have to figure out how to pare down my arsenal of clothing and personal items. I think the rule is that anything cotton is useless….until summer. Many other people took advantage of the weekend to leave the Eagle Valley Center (EVC) and stay in hostels downtown. The EVC is alcohol-free, so the ones who opted to stay in town for the weekend were the ones who wanted to go to the bars. I may do it another weekend. I bumped into some of them today at the cafe I’m at right now (a group of us who opted to stay at EVC were dropped off in town to spend the day however we wanted) and it sounds like they had fun last night.
Tonight when I get back I will probably watch some rented movies with the goup, try to figure out how to set up my tent, try to waterproof some of my gear, play some games…. Tomorrow the plan is to go on a long hike with two people who were here last year. Hope that works out. Yesterday before the swearing in we visited Mendenhall Glacier — it reminded me of packages of blue ice. I’ll send photos. It was neat. We played frisbee on a big frozen lake in front of it. Then pizza was delivered there — funny.
We alternate showers every other day because water is limited at the EVC….What else? The temperature has been about 20-40 during the day, certainly colder at night but I don’t know how much colder. No precipitation yet, so overall extremely tolerable. Juneau is right on the water, gets lots of cruise ships in the summer. The town is tiny, old multi-colored ghost-town type of structures built up on the hill that juts out of the water, like in Vancouver.
OK, will sign off for now. Oh yeah — I’m having FUN!!!!!!!! One of the staff members brought his two adorable dogs to live with us. They are the BEST. There are bald eagles everywhere, and dog-sized ravens, as common as seagulls and pigeons would be in the Bay Area.
Love Ali/Alex/Alexandra (some people call me Big Al here)