Volcanoes and Otters and Plane Crashes

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I'm no novice when it comes to weeks of intense training courses; as a resident advisor and desk clerk staff member for several years at USF I went through everything from suicide prevention training and first aid, to peer mediation and conflict resolution. However, nothing has come quite close to the training I've been receiving as a 'volunteer' with the National Forest Service. See, although I am employed with the non-profit SCS or the 'Sitka Conservation Society', Natalia and I are both living free of charge in a Forest Service bunkhouse and are thus required to train and work with the Forest Service as well. SCS and the Forest Service collaborate on a number of projects including predominately  wilderness expeditions to remote areas in Southeast Alaska. Because Natalia and I will have the opportunity to tag along on many different expeditions and projects we have been put through the ringer for training.

We will be receiving ATV training, Wilderness First Aid Response training, Bear training, Aviation training, Radio, and HazMat First Response training over the next few days and have already participated in Sea/shore survival training (Yes, we got to float around a pool in Survival Suits), Shot off flares and put out fires on a beautiful turn-out next to a harbor surrounded by uninhabited gorgeous mountains, learned more about the boats we will be traveling in, and my personal favorite- P.I.G. Training. Dug Jenson has been our predominate teacher and his enthusiasm and expertise are untouchable. I've learned SOO incredibly much over the past few days that I've been noticably walking taller (or maybe that's because I'm now sleeping in a bed instead of curled up in the cab of a truck). Regardless, both Dug and his wife are amazing and train both NOAA Core (hey Kevin) and the Coast Guard.

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Okay, so more about P.I.G. training. Perhaps to your dismay: No, we are not wrestling wild boars. Natalia and I were trained for the crash landing of small planes over freezing Alaskan water. I actually forget now what PIG stands for but I recall it not doing a very good job at describing the activity anyways so, no big loss. Anywho, so perhaps you are thinking- maybe that's overkill, how often are planes crashing in Alaska. Well one scary statistic- of 100 Alaskan pilots, about 11 will die over the course of a 30-year career due to crashes. If a car accident happens in Alaska every 4 days, a plane crash happens every 9- so best be prepared! Good news- only 11% die from the impact of a water landing... the rest drown. This certification is thus incredibly valuable and I really believe has helped me better prepare for, and accept the reality of such a crisis situation. It will also be fun to add to my resume.

So, how does the simulation work? We were strapped into a plastic frame with a 5-way seatbelt and flipped backwards and forwards into a pool at varying speeds and with the additional obstacle of surprise blocked exists. It was actually more difficult than the picture does justice. To be totally flipped upside down and backwards, getting water shot up the nose, an inability to see through the splash, and the claustraphobia of being completely strapped into a seat on impact was at best- uncomfortable as hell. By the 4th go I really felt calm, collected and could maneuver out of the torture device with at least a little grace.

Overall, the past week of training with the Forest Service has brought the risk of working in remote Alaska to a strong reality; death in the field of South East Alaska is far from uncommon. Not to say I have not been a safe and serious backpacker or fieldworker but this week has certainly improved my understanding of and I'm now doing a lot more reading, preparation, and memorization before getting into the field. Since I am no longer huffing and puffing about 15 feet behind Mister Army Ranger (Hey Justen) on my backpacking excursions, it helps to be a bit more self-motivated and prepared.

Okay, so I don't have internet where I live (I'm at a beautiful library right now) and I'm so crunched for time, but I do want to mention a little about the bits and pieces spent with SCS this week. We were taken out on a wilderness crusie expedition last night and boated around checking out whales, rafts of otters, beautiful islands, caves, and coves- incredibly awesome. That white capped peak you see in a bunch of photos up top is actually Mt. Edgecumbe- Sitka's neighboring volcano. Our supervisor, Natalie, and I should be heading for a little backpacking trip to the island Kruzof where the volcano lives. Today for lunch, Natalia and I left training to enjoy one of the famous 'Fish to Schools' lunches supported by local fishermen and SCS at the local middle school. I've been receiving lots of training on the video editing software and other tech-related work with Ben Hamilton, an excellent film maker who is in Sitka for just a few days. You can check out some of his work here: http://www.pioneervideography.com/

Oh, and I sleep a little too.

BAH, the library is closing and I didn't even have time to check for typos- so forgive me if this sounds too stream of consciousness/drags on/is infested by typos.