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A few days after our trek to the Eagle Crest warming hut, we awoke to find ourselves in a completely new world:  a sunny Juneau, Alaska!  So of course we took advantage of this grand opportunity to go out on the town and see the sights.  The official statistics about Juneau are somewhat misleading.  If you were to search the official population of Juneau you would most likely find a number around 31,000-however there are two large factors that determine that population.  One, that number includes the population of Douglas (an entirely separate island) and two, it also includes the Mendenhall Valley (know here as simply “the valley”) which is about seven or so miles from the actual town of Juneau.  Needless to say, when you arrive in downtown Juneau it does not feel anywhere near the 30,000 population mark.

I think there about five buildings that have more than seven stories just to give you an idea of what I mean by “downtown.”  There is one McDonald’s and it’s packed right alongside the local businesses that stretch down the two main streets of Juneau.  Here are a few pictures:

The only wrench thrown in this “small town” image is the fact that each day five giant floating hotels pull up to the docks of Juneau and spew out 3,000 people from each vessel.  Some people prefer to call them “cruise ships” but when you can see all of them well above the largest building in town, it’s hard to simply refer to them as “large boats.”   Exhibit A (yep that’s a ship on the right in the distance):

The area around the docks are well stocked with trip kiosks, jewelry shops, and even fur shops that offer a plethora of fur bikinis and lingerie (no, i did not go into these stores-they proudly display these articles of clothing in their front windows). This part of town is so used to tourists “docking” themselves in the shops that the street is actually called “Peoples Warf.”   I can make all of the jokes I want but the simple fact is the cruise industry is a large employer for this area and keeps many businesses afloat (pun intended) each year.  It will actually be interesting to see what Juneau looks like when the cruises stop in early October.

Besides that area of town, the rest of Juneau is very local, very small, and really very comfortable.  You have your local bagel shop (Silverbow), your local grocery store (A&P), local city hall, and even your local sea plane companies (ok maybe that’s not everywhere but there are a lot here!).  The churches here are just as quaint, in particular the cathedral (where we attend mass-and yes this is the cathedral for the entire diocese) and the Orthodox church next door (one of the oldest octagonal churches in the United States):

We ended our day with a stroll down to the water where, as we watches sea planes and ships come in and out, we realized that days like this are why people never leave Juneau – while also realizing that days like this are what what people cling to when it has been raining for a month straight.

After today, I say, bring it on rain, bring it on…

The next few days in our new hometown of Juneau were full of excitement and activities.  We arrived at our new house (which really is only our house for four more weeks due to lease agreements- we’re still looking for our next home unless we want to rename our location as JVC: The Streets of Juneau) which was a quaint little townhouse located across the channel from Juneau in Douglas, AK.  Douglas, AK is located on an island and was actually a larger town than Juneau in the early decades of the twentieth century because of where the mines were located in this area.  The two towns existed separately for many years until just recently Juneau “claimed” Douglas and since has included it in its statistics concerning population, etc.  In fact, you can still find people over here on Douglas that will speak about Juneau as, “over there across the channel” out of pure spite for Juneau taking away Douglas’ independence.  Anyways, Douglas is a very small town these days.  Here’s a written simulation of  what it’s like to drive down Main Street : church, library, post office, theater, well that’s it, that was Douglas!  Ok, I poke fun a little bit but I wouldn’t if I didn’t love the town so much.  It’s a wonderful place to be a new resident.  Everyone is curious about where you’ve come from (they’ll invite you over for dinner, and heck, the one bar here even bought us all a beer when we walked for the first time)! And notice how I didn’t say, “Everyone asks who you are” because everyone knows who we are the moment they see us!  JVs in Douglas are as common place as water in an ocean- they expect us to be here each year.   Oh and one more thing about Douglas–no one locks their doors (in fact we don’t even know where our keys are!).  In the interest of time, I’ll move on from Douglas but here’s a picture to set the scene for you.

Amidst, the hustle and bustle of moving into our home and into the community, we were fortunate enough to have a week to check out the sights and sounds of the area as well as each of our job placements.  Here is where everyone is going to be placed for the next year:

Conor- The Bridge (a day facility for the elderly-particularly those with Alzheimer’s)

Brianna- Juneau Youth Services (specifically at one of the youth residential homes)

Bridget- ORCA in partnership with SAIL (an organization that works with developmentally disabled individuals in an outdoor activity setting)

Chelsea- The Canvas, part of REACH (another organization that works with the developmentally disabled through studio art)

Andie- Zach Gordon Youth Center (working with teen parents and at risk youth)

Lisa- AWARE (working as a Shelter Advocate with victims/survivors of domestic violence)

The guy writing this post- AWARE (working with the Juneau Batterer’s Accountability Program and prevention programming)

I’ll follow up on what our jobs look like when we get a few weeks in and actually know what our roles entail.  Anyways as I said before, in between these agency tours we still had the chance to check out some of the activities that Juneau had to offer.  The second night here, one of our local friends, (yes, we do have some other friends here in Juneau) Jeremy Hansen, took a few of us up to Eagle Crest Ski Resort for some evening hiking!  Let’s just say that I now know what to expect here in Juneau for the rest of the year: adventure and water.  The hike up this ski mountain was incredible, with plenty of vistas looking out on mist-rimmed valleys, colossal peaks, and the ocean beyond.  And what was truly spectacular was the green that surrounded us on every side!  Juneau is technically a “temperate rainforest” (and if you describe it differently locals may correct you) and I can completely understand after getting soaked climbing up this mountain.  I don’t think it even really rained, yet I now know exactly how it feels to live in a cloud with the amount of moisture we went through!  Here are some pictures to give you a glimpse:

After hiking for a few hours and getting a nice “nature shower,” we finished up our hike that night with a overnight stay in a warming hut at the top of Eagle Crest.  Essentially this hut serves as the lodge in the winter, but during the summer months they leave it open for hikers and bikers to use for free!  We had the whole place to ourselves and even enjoyed a little candlelight and salmon as we watched the fog drift in and out of mountains for the rest of the night (Jeremy thought it was fitting to place the knife next to the salmon-I don’t think we actually used it).

What could make this trip even better you say?  Why maybe stumbling across wild blueberry bushes on the way down the next morning!  I think in that one morning I ate my blueberry quota for the next ten years!  It didn’t help that Jeremy had a “blueberry shucker” that you skim through the bushes and just get the berries!  Anyways it was a great introduction to hiking in Juneau and definitely wet our appetites for more (no pun intended-ok maybe just a little) hikes in the future.  Ok another long post without any organization sorry about that I’ll improve on my “blogging skills” I promise!

Boom Alaska!

Alright after much time away from a consistent internet connection, it’s blog time! Hopefully this blog will serve as both a way to update everyone on what’s happening up here in little ‘ol Juneau as well as a way to record the year when it comes to the details that I may not remember when it’s all said and done.

So first things first, the arrival!  After a wonderful second outing to Camp Adams in Mollala, OR, we began our journey to the Last Frontier.   It involved some long layovers and plenty of anticipation but it’s ok I still took some pictures!

We flew into AK with a nice sunset which was really kind of tease as we got closer to Juneau.  To make a connection we took a little stop in the “gigantic” airport in Ketchikan, AK.  As you can see working at the Ketchikan Airport requires someone who doesn’t mind hanging out on the tarmac for a awhile.  Anyways, we finally arrived around 9pm to a very dark and wet Juneau as seen through our plane window.  But the weather definitely did not match the welcome that we received.  Walking through the small terminal I had no idea that forty or so people were poised to welcome us to their town!  Many of them were former Jesuit Volunteers as well as community members that we have since gotten to know and will continue to share our year with.  To have so many individuals waiting for our arrival and, ultimately, to help us in our transition truly solidified the feeling that Juneau would be our home for the next year.   And I think each one of us is very excited about that fact.  JVC Juneau 2010-2011 begins now.

Oh and for some strange reason, Juneau likes to take large animals, stuff them, and then strategically display them in glass cases in places like airports, malls, and even state office buildings.  And lucky for them I enjoy taking pictures with them whenever I get the chance!  My first picture in Juneau, AK – encountering a bear. . . in the airport?