Two Years Out, Two Months Left, Time to Reflect

May 10, 2011 marked my two year anniversary of graduating college. And two months from today marks the end of my JVC year in Sitka. For the last two years I’ve lived a life of perpetual movement and change with the ever-looming question, “What are your plans after . . . [fill in appropriate location] Gonzaga? Grand Teton? Jubilee? Alaska?” I’ve lived in Wyoming, Georgia, Seattle, and Alaska since graduation, with shorter stints in Utah and Africa, and my time in Sitka has been the longest of anywhere I’ve stayed since walking across the stage in Spokane Arena and shaking Father Spitzer’s hand.

So I’ll just go ahead and say it right now, on my blog, publicly, to everyone who is interested: I don’t know what my plans are for post JVC.

Here’s what I do know: Yes, I want to go to grad school at some point. No, I haven’t taken the GRE, LSAT, or applied to any programs, but I have ideas! Yes, I’ll stop moving all the time at some point, but for now. . . the travel bug still hits hard and the experiences left to be had before sitting at a desk for forty hours a week (like I have this year) are many. This year I’ve certainly learned that I am capable of working in a professional setting (at least that’s the feedback I get from my work in Sitka, though I’ve noticed at times, perhaps Sitka doesn’t have the work ethic of the lower 48!) and, though, I will likely end up in an office of some kind one day long-term, I have a bit of regrouping/reflecting/reevaluating to do before I find my niche. Having gone to a Jesuit, liberal arts school and received an English degree, I feel like the options are many, but never too clearly cut. In the midst of all this moving around, I have, in the absence of it from my own life, learned the value of longevity, committing to a place, investing in a community, and knowing a place intimately over time, rather than through brief experience. But if it’s not the right place, then it’s not the right investment of time, though I will be taking away much from this year (most of which is still to be discovered, I am sure). If I continue to be creative, I think I can work, roam some new or familiar territory, maintain some cross-country friendships, attend a few weddings of my scattered friends, spend time with my family, and still manage to have a small amount of money in my bank account. What else could I really want right now?

The “plan”: I will have a fabulous Alaskan adventure planned with my parents when they arrive at the end of July and after their tour around Southeast, my mom and I will travel north to Fairbanks, go through Denali on the train, and land in the Anchorage area for a few days. I will then head back to Sitka and work at the shelter through the end of August. Braden and I will hop on the ferry in Sitka at the end of August, putting us in the great state of Washington around Labor Day. Despite my boss, Vic’s, daily attempts to make me stay in Sitka (and I do mean daily), along with several other people’s pleas and bargaining tactics surfacing regularly in conversation, I don’t feel like staying here is the right choice for me. There are many FJVs (former JVs) who head to Alaska for their year of service and never go home, and part of me feels a sense of guilt and failure that my year here didn’t turn into a life-long commitment to this place. Even if there are housing and a job waiting for you, sometimes the unknown is the right path. Right now, some of you are reading this and saying, “WHAT?! You have a job and a place to live and you’re not going to take it?! Do you know how hard it is to have those two things in this economy right now?!” to which I say yes, and I count my blessings. Meanwhile, others of you, who have influenced my life  greatly, are reading this and saying, “Thatta girl, keep searching and exploring and doing what you know is right!” knowing that I’m attempting to learn as much as I can, while having fun and being pretty responsible in the process.

Yes, I am a bit tired from the numerous relocations, but the travel bug along with the desire to be closer to friends and family hits hard. Also, it’s the beginning of summer and naturally, I’m craving an adventure with the warmer weather, especially while reading about some of the rather epic journeys my friends and acquaintances are having. Recently I’ve looked through the blog that is being updated by the Gonzaga students who are in Zambia on the same leadership/service-trip I attended two years ago and am remembering what an incredible and challenging trip that was. Also, I’ve been receiving emails from my buddies Scott and Joe, both fabulous friends from Gonzaga (Joe was on the Zambia trip with me two years ago) and kindred spirits in the sense of nomadic adventures (though both are arguably way more intense than I am!), as they travel across the U.S. on their bikes. They began in Seattle on May 12 with the intention of making it as far as possible before Joe begins his new job at Regis University mid/late June. Here is a selection from Scott’s reports that have kept me laughing and craving the random encounters of adventure:

Day 1: The trip started at 8:04am from Myrtle Edwards Park in Downtown Seattle with our back tired submerged in the Pacific Ocean (Puget Sound DOES qualify as the Pacific, for those of you predisposed to challenge any and every qualitative statement).  We rode through downtown, which was a bit of a rude awakening with 30lbs on the back of the bike.  Almost fell multiple times and the honks did not sound too friendly.  We made it to Issaquah and hopped on I-90 for the assault of Snoqualmie Pass.  Let it suffice to say that even before North Bend Joe and I were in all kinds of pain.  Felt really disheartening to see the “3 miles to summit” sign go by and have it take another 45 minutes to get to the top.

Day 2: Ellensburg to Moses Lake is tame in the mileage category (80 ish) but has one issue- the bridge going across the mighty Columbia at Vantage.  Shoulder is nonexistent, which is REALLY bad news for a bicycling duo like ourselves.  Right before we started to cross the bridge, Joe looked over and said “Scott, this is really a win-win.  Either we make it and we are studs.  Or we die and chill out in Heaven.”  Not the most reassuring thing to hear.  Made it three quarters of the way up the bridge and the semi came.  Could hear it coming.  Couldn’t do anything about it.  Felt it before we saw it.  The wind from it pushed us towards the edge then sucked us back in.  If you have not been passed by a semi going 60mph giving you two feet of space, it is terrifying.  BUT here I am typing this, meaning that we made it(!)

Day 9: This was a long one.  114 miles from Jackson, MT to Virginia City, MT.  After riding 54 miles before lunch, the three of us somehow found a way to put down two family-sized pizzas from Safeway.  Next time you find yourself in a Safeway, please look at the biggest take-bake pizza and picture yourself eating almost all of one.  By yourself.  We rolled into Virginia City with no plans as usual and bumped into a rather inebriated local at the one restaurant that was open.  Told her about our situation.  “Oh yeah, just walk into the church basement.  They always leave the door open.  No, they wouldn’t care at all that you didn’t check up to see if it was ok first.  No way, nobody will be there anyway…” Now picture us in the basement hearing the doorknob turn.  My heart skipped a beat.  Our friend then poked her head in: “Just wanted to make sure you guys were ok.”  We were, lady, until you made me go into cardiac arrest.  This brought our denominations visited up to three.  Looking for more takers soon.

Day 10: Rode to West Yellowstone from “VC.”  We were eating dinner when this owner (Kurt) of a motel offered us a room for $5 apiece.  Couldn’t refuse the offer.  It actually seemed a bit too good to be true.  Then I figured out why.  After we came back to our room from doing laundry and putting down large blizzards from the DQ (at 10:00pm), we came across our benevolent hotel manager, absolutely belligerent.  Ended up playing five games of foosball with him and his equally tipsy friend in the motel “shop.”  Really wanted to go to bed, especially because Oliver is a profound foosballer and he and Kurt beat Joe and me five times of five.  The walls of his “shop” were covered in writing, all saying things along the lines of “Thanks Kurt!  You throw killer parties!”  He offered us our room for free the following night if we would delay a day in town and party with him that night.  Let it suffice to say we left at 8:30 sharp the next morning.

Day 13: at precisely 5:02am the lights of the church turned on, bringing me (Joe is a bit heavier of a sleeper) out of a happy slumber.  Oh shoot, we are in trouble, was my first thought.  Turns out that the Kiwanis club was going to use the church that morning for their meeting- no big deal, we just needed to move our stuff.  The real kicker was that they pay someone to cook breakfast for the meeting.  Fine by me because we got to feast on cinnamon rolls and quiche that had nothing to do with us.  Not too bad of a turnaround considering that I thought someone would be coming into the church with a pitchfork to clear us out when I woke up.  The day was looking just great and we were cruising our way on down to Lander, WY, when we turned just a bit south and saw some of the angriest grey clouds I had ever seen.  The ones that almost make it seem like it is night outside.  So we got to look at these clouds straight in the eyes for a half hour while we approached them then they proceeded to dump what seemed like gallons of water on us.  It was as if they were bitter that they had to be the color grey (instead of all the other NICE colors out there) and wanted the human race to suffer.  We did make it to Lander in one piece and were munching on burgers when a local named Mike came up and started talking to us.  Found out soon enough that he was a cyclist and used to own a bike shop, and within five minutes we were getting directions to his house.  Stayed the night with his family and had a GREAT time talking with them and soaking in their hot tub.  I may have been a tad jealous when we got to see his home-built bike collection, or at least intrigued enough to maybe explore that in the future.  Had a bike with a built-in bottle opener and one of the water bottle cages was modified to hold a flask.  Enough said.

Day 14: In the words of Mike and his wife Dannine, “make it as far as you can today, because there is nothing between here and Rawlins.  Nothing.”  Rawlins was the next major-ish city we were going to pass through, a solid 125 miles down the road.  So what did we do?  We made it ALL the way to Rawlins.  New longest day by about ten miles. We did have some tailwind to thank as well as rather mild weather.  And sure enough, there was NOTHING in between Lander and Rawlins besides a ghost town of 5,000 turned 50.  We met a fellow touring cyclist on the road who had been at it for a YEAR AND A HALF starting in Patagonia at the tip of South America.  You know the feeling when you accomplish something that you think not so many other people have done, then find out shortly thereafter that there are people about 1,000 times as cool as you?  Yup, that about sums it up.  Rawlins itself was pretty depressing and rolling into town so late we couldn’t find anywhere to sleep.  Solution: wait til it gets dark and pitch a tent in the side-yard of the Catholic church.  They wouldn’t mind, right?  First night of stealth camping.

Day 15: I was halfway expecting to wake up again at 5:00 with another pitchfork shoved in my face but nothing ran amok and we set out on the road.  For those of you who have not travelled across southern Wyoming, PLEASE DON’T and spare yourself the visual despair.  That coupled with 50mph winds made for a rather bummer day in the saddle.  We made about 67 miles, a far cry from the 125 the day before.  I feel like we are in a constant dialogue with Mother Nature.  If She wills it, we will be stopped humbled and with tail between legs.  If She allows it, 125 miles passes just like that.  She did indeed look angry when we made it to Riverside, WY.  An awesome woman named Doreen was kind enough to let us crash in her house.  Again it rained that night.  It is funny how we end up meeting great people and staying dry when it gets wet.    -Scott Hippe

Having gone on several road trips, which is nothing in comparison to the journey Scott and Joe are on, I can appreciate the humor in the random encounters and the generosity of strangers. I laughed as I read along remembering the nature of those rendezvous. So here’s to the next two months, and to the next two years, for whatever adventure it brings.

Salmon Lake, Girls on the Run, Busy Fun!

The days are long with it getting dark around 10:30p.m. now, the adventures are many (even able to fit in a hike after work on Tuesday), and the sleep is minimal! Lots of events from the past month, I’ll update with photos as much as possible. The cruise ships are also back; tourists now frolic by the hundreds through our downtown streets, and several times a week Sitka Sound flaunts what looks like a high-rise building in the middle of the water–a rather jarring image out our window the first time it appeared a couple weeks ago!

Work continues as usual, but the weekends have been full of fabulous fun. The first weekend in May, I did not hike Mt. Edgecumbe as originally planned. It’s been a late spring here and there is still a lot of snow at the top, so it was postponed a month. However, my wonderful friend Chris rented the Salmon Lake Cabin in the Tongass National Forest for that weekend and invited me, Brandon, and a few of his Coast Guard friends for an incredible weekend in the woods.

Salmon Lake Cabin

We enjoyed some sunshine on the dock and even took the paddle boat out for an impromptu Alaskan photo shoot!Alaska Photo Shoot III

Boat, Book, Sunshine = Happiness

It was an awesome weekend of relaxing, sitting around the campfire, and sighing while looking into nature and saying, “Ahhh… the great outdoors!” (That was Chris’s favorite line from the weekend anyway). We didn’t see any bears at the cabin or on our hike, but when we returned to the trailhead at the beach, the dingy we used to row to shore was absolutely mangled and only slightly resembled a boat still. Our trusty captain, Chris, stripped down and went for a very brisk swim to retrieve our ride home which was tied up to the buoy offshore. We made it home without any other issues and were all grateful for the fabulous weekend!

The following weekend was the 5k race for the Girls on the Run program I have been volunteering for this spring. Girls on the Run is an empowerment program for elementary school-aged girls that explores ideas such as self-confidence, teamwork, self-image, and media influences through activity-based lessons and running routines. The 12 week program culminated with the 5k race on the beautiful Saturday morning of May 14th! Each girl had the chance to decorate a t-shirt, get her face painted, her hair sprayed with crazy colors, and have a “running buddy” by her side throughout the race. The event was wonderfully successful and brought about 100 people out to cheer on the 25 race participants!

Girls on the Run 5k!

Enthusiasm Runs Wild: Chris shows off his Girls on the Run tattoo on his nose!

Chris's GOTR Tattoo!

Girls on the Run with Attitude: Brandon and I are feeling hardcore with our GOTR tattoos.

Brandon and me, showing our Girls on the Run Attitude

Brandon takes a moment to show his artistic side with facepainting.

Brandon Working on his Artist Skills

The totem pole mentioned in a blog post from a couple months ago was raised on Sunday afternoon May 15th, which brought out hundreds of community members to the waterfront of Sitka National Historical Park. It was a beautiful cultural celebration.

Last weekend was the Second Annual Sitka Seafood Festival, which I got to enjoy with my local friends and Braden who came to town for his birthday weekend (Yay!). We got to watch the rather ridiculous halibut head toss, the fish head bobbing contest, and the fish tote races in the harbor. The Seafood Festival also brought one of the strangest/greatest bands to town to perform, The Wicked Tinkers, a tribal celtic band from California. After dancing to their rhythms Saturday night, Braden and I got a chance to slackline and hike around Beaver Lake throughout the rest of the weekend. It was a fabulous time.

In just two days the JVs from Juneau arrive to spend the weekend checking out the other Southeast Alaska JV location. A “Top Gun” theme party has been planned for the weekend and we’re all looking forward to their visit. After the Juneau JVs depart, my good friend Lucas, whom I haven’t seen in a year, arrives a week later!!! I couldn’t be more excited about my fabulous visitors headed this way 🙂 Finally, on June 10-13,  all the Alaska JV communities will meet in Bethel, Alaska for our final retreat of the year. Busy and exciting! So the end of spring and beginning of summer goes!