Blogging from Alternative Spring Break in Alaska

March 16, 2010
By Chris Richter
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NC State students on an Alternative Spring Break trip tour the Icy Strait Point in Alaska. (Photograph by Susannah Brinkley)

NC State magazine intern Susannah Brinkley, a junior in the College of Design, is blogging for us from her Alternative Spring Break (ASB) trip to Hoonah, Alaska. ASB provides students a chance to take a vacation and complete service projects with other students. In Hoonah, Susannah’s team is working in local schools, with the Head Start and Boys & Girls Club programs, and with the Senior Center and the Hoonah Indian Association. They’ll also learn about the Tlingit Indians’ culture, customs and language. You can see Susannah’s photos here and read the blogs of her teammates and other NC State students on ASB here.

After a long three days of traveling, our group finally made it to Hoonah. We left in the wee hours of the morning on Friday, my 21st birthday. Elissa Trotman, one of my two team leaders, made me wear an “It’s my birthday” badge all day long. Kind of embarrassing, but it was a sweet gesture.

We flew from Raleigh to Chicago to Seattle. Once we got to Seattle, we met up with the other group, and practically the entire terminal sang me “Happy Birthday.” Embarrassing, but very sweet! Shortly after, my group’s flight was canceled, we were moved to another flight. We were settling down at our new gate when someone said “Look! It’s Apolo Ohno!” The Olympic speed skater was giving Hawaiian leis to people flying to Hawaii. The other girls in my group and I swooned over him while taking pictures. And one of them yelled out to him like she was his best friend: “HEY APOLO! It’s her birthday! Will you take a picture with her?” And he said. “Sure! Of course!” And came over to us. It was awesome — I’ll remember that forever.While all of that was exciting, the mood quickly dropped when our second flight was canceled. We found a hotel nearby. Thankfully, those of us who checked luggage (not me!) didn’t lose it. We were all exhausted and in low spirits, but a few of us convinced the others to take a side trip to the Space Needle. We got to the Seattle landmark via light rail and monorail. The view from the top was spectacular, though cold and windy. It was dark, so we could see little of the surrounding mountains, but the lights of the city were breathtaking.

I finished off my 27-hour birthday with a delicious bowl of Seattle clam chowder. On the ride home, the team was slightly slightly loopy from exhaustion. Then we crashed for a three-hour nap before our flight to Juneau, which, thankfully, wasn’t canceled. We arrived in Juneau and immediately visited Mendenhall Glacier. The mammoth hunk of ice stands in between two mountains. Compared to the gift shop postcards, our snapshots show that the glacier is significantly smaller than it used to be. It was a bit of a hike over there, but the quietness and magnificence of the glacier was truly breathtaking. Afterward, we took another quick nap before grocery shopping and a true Alaskan seafood dinner in town, which is not as big as I expected it to be. I’d always believed that Juneau was a big city, but it is not. After dinner, we took yet another nap before our ferry ride to Hoonah, our final destination.

Aboard the ferry, we took a tour of the captain’s quarters, the boiler room and the engines. The first thing I noticed about being aboard the ferry is that everyone was fascinated by us. Most of the people we’d met had never met anyone from North Carolina before, and they were all really friendly and willing to share stories with us. A few members of the group (myself included) took naps on board before docking in Hoonah. The town is small and home to only 840 people.

After we unpacked our groceries and luggage, we ate a quick lunch while a Tlingit man, Owen, spoke to us. Owen brought out hide after hide: beaver, land otter, river otter, seal, baby seal. He showed us knives, paddles and a miniature canoe that he that he carved from wood as he told us story after story about his life and culture. After lunch, we layered up for a cold walk near the Cannery, which at the turn of the century provided jobs to the people of Hoonah. Now, in the summertime, the Cannery holds a museum and gift shops for tourists on cruises that stop through. The Cannery sits on Icy Strait Point, where we hiked. Moto, a Japanese man who visits frequently, and Pete, the brother-in-law of our faculty adviser, Roger Callanan, joined us for our excursion. We hiked along the rock-covered beach, and Pete gave us a geology lesson on the rocks and clams. Owen pulled up a root called Devil’s Club, which is like ginseng, and gave us each a strand to chew, promising us “better breathing.” There was a catch, however: No soda for 24 hours or you’d have pins and needles in your throat! We continued our hike along the beach, skipping rocks and tasting raw clams. We finished our hike in the cold rain in the nearby forest, which has been reclaimed after being cut down to build the Cannery almost a century ago.

The team has really started to bond throughout just the travel and amusement part of our trip. We finished up with pizza, a hilarious game of “Battle of the Sexes,” and a reflection talk about our day. Tomorrow, we begin our service work in the schools, the Head Start Program, the Boys & Girls Club, the Hoonah Indian Association, the Senior Center and the community. I’m looking forward to what the week has in store for us!

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