Juneau? Alaska!

Juneau what happened last month? Well, let me tell you! (I’m sorry, totally cheesey and completely irresistible. Had to take advantage of the word play).

After hearing about Juneau every day since arriving in Sitka (it is, after all, only 90 miles away and the “metropolis” of Southeast), I finally got the chance to travel there for our second retreat with the Alaska JVC community houses (Sitka, Juneau, Anchorage, and Bethel) over President’s Day weekend. With only two flights out of Sitka each day (6 a.m. and 6 p.m.), all six of us stumbled out of the house shortly after 5 a.m. Friday morning and loaded our packs into Hank’s Cab bound for the airport. Prior to leaving for retreat, I realized we would be getting to Juneau rather early in the morning and that retreat didn’t start until 2 p.m., so I began plotting!

Conveniently, my friend Chris from Sitka was in Juneau on a little ski vacation and was looking for a ski buddy for Friday! So, despite thinking that I may not ski at all this year, after our arrival in Juneau and a brief time at the airport, Chris picked up me, my friend, Ian,  from Gonzaga (a JV in Juneau this year), and his housemate, Conor. We headed out to Eagle Crest ski area just 20 minutes down the road under perfect blue skies. The word “excited” drastically understates my feelings as we headed to the ski hill. I think I bounced up and down in the passenger seat on the way there, and I was so enthusiastic, in fact, that I lost my ability to think, and I left my ski boots at Ian and Conor’s house. Naturally, this became obvious when we got to Eagle Crest and began getting ready. . . Well done, Liz! So, we piled back in the car (Ian with one ski boot already on).  I endured relentless teasing from the boys, and we made a quick trip back to the JV house. Upon our second arrival at Eagle Crest, we had a more successful start! I believe a direct quote from me to Ian while on the chairlift was, “I feel like I’m reconnecting with my soul!” Needless to say, it felt amazing to be up on the mountain again, 14 months (not that I’m counting) after I made my last turns in Alta, Utah. I do not, however, have ski legs this season, so the half day we skied before retreat was plenty for me!

After heading down from the mountain, we managed to fit in a quick trip to Alaskan Brewery! The other JVs had arrived while we were skiing, so we quickly picked up Braden downtown (yay!) and headed out to get some local samples. You have to have a beer after skiing anyway, right? Alaskan Brewery was actually much smaller than I thought and even felt a bit similar to Baranof Island Brewing Co. here in Sitka. With the popularity of Alaskan, I had imagined the venue on a slightly larger scale. The samples were, of course, fabulous and then we headed on to retreat, since that was in fact what we came for!

Our retreat was held at The Shrine north of Juneau surrounded by water and snow-capped mountains. I had heard nothing but incredible things about it, and the setting did live up to expectations. Pictures to follow later when I have them available. Our weekend was facilitated by Father Thomas, a former parish priest in Juneau who has recently been moved to Wrangell/Petersburg. He led several hours of reflection and prayer throughout the weekend, and we were even treated to his lovely spinach/broccoli/almond blended delight in the mornings (not something I have continued to consume since!). The weekend went by quickly, we shared many stories of our jobs with one another, and, just like retreat in October, it felt wonderful to come together with the other JVs.

Though the retreat ended on Monday, I extended my time in Juneau for a couple of days, as did Braden and six people from the Bethel house. On the way back from retreat, we stopped by Mendenhall Glacier, which I thought would be cool, but it was significantly more impressive than I even imagined. Due to the cold temperatures and the storm that had blown through that weekend, Mendehall Lake was completely frozen and had about two feet of snow on top. On a perfectly sunny Monday afternoon, we all trekked out on the lake walking across the frozen and snowy surface to the base of the glacier. It was sunny. It was quiet. And it was BIG. I felt very little next to even a “small” piece of ice that had broken off and was stuck frozen in the lake. This was obviously a unique time to experience Mendenhall since most people have to kayak to the base during summer.

Throughout the rest of the time in Juneau we went to the Alaska State History Museum (which was actually way more interesting than I thought it would be), we hiked through the snowy meadow part way up Mt. Jumbo, toured around downtown Juneau, wandered through the ruins of old mines around Douglas, and went to the local rock climbing gym where they love JVs and let us climb for free! I also got the chance to visit the AWARE domestic violence shelter where Ian and his JV housemate work, which gave me a nice opportunity to see another shelter in action. It was much different than the SAFV shelter in Sitka and left me with plenty of thoughts about my work as an advocate. I can’t forget to mention, of course, the Island Pub in Douglas (across the channel from Juneau, where the JVs actually live) where I indulged in the greatest steak sandwich of my life. The weather was cold and sunny during our days of touring around town, and it was a nice change of scenery. Though Sitka and Juneau are often compared to each other, I came to the important conclusion that in Sitka the water is dominant, while the mountains are secondary, but in Juneau the mountains are dominant, while the water is secondary. I felt much more surrounded by mountains during my time in Juneau, whereas here in Sitka, I feel much more surrounded by water (perhaps because I’m on an island?). This might not sound like much of a revelation to someone who hasn’t been to either of these places, but for as similar as they are, they offered a much different feel, at least to me!

So, that is a bit of a report of the weekend/retreat events in Juneau. It was a wonderful time to be with other JVs, to see a new place, and to take a break from work. Back in Sitka, spring is on the horizon. The snow is melting, but what most makes it feel like spring here is the return of fishermen to town. Herring season begins in just a couple weeks and the docks are filling with people as many preparations for the opener take place! My life-long friend, Annie, is also coming to visit in just 12 days with her friend Amy and I very much look forward to showing them around and sharing my life in Sitka with them. I will post pictures as soon as they are available. Until the next report, I hope spring is beginning to reach you wherever you are!

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