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You load 16 tons, what do you get?

Chris Braunlich

100 bug bites even with a head net . . . 

Thank you to Merle Travis for the tune and to Sharon Wight for adapting Merle’s lyrics to our 2021 Alaska Volunteer Trip experience.

Call me crazy, but even with the bug bites, I felt very lucky to be one of the trip leaders on this year’s trip. I don’t get to go on many volunteer trips. For me, volunteering at ConservationVIP involves more office work than field work. (I owe my soul to the company store . . . )

Our 2021 Alaska Trip was so special that I was determined not to miss it. It was our first volunteer trip since February 2020. We had cancelled 16 volunteer trips due to COVID-19, which was dispiriting. More importantly, we can’t accomplish ConservationVIP’s mission to help sustain some of the world’s greatest landscape and cultural heritage sites while staying home. But because safety is our priority on volunteer trips, we had to wait.

With increasing vaccination rates in the U.S., we concluded we had an opportunity to safely run a trip in Alaska. We “just” had to modify our prior lodging, transportation, dining and project work plans. It took faith, hope, more computer work (&!@$#^!!?*), and the efforts of a lot of people. Marti Marshall tracked down her many Alaska contacts to make the travel arrangements. Ed Eads dedicated countless hours to drafting our COVID protocols and Carol Clark joined the trip to ensure the protocols worked. Trip leaders had a lot to manage, but my cheerful co-leader Susan Murray routinely stepped up to keep the group humming along, well fed and on schedule, which greatly lightened my load. 

And yes, we did get chewed on by bugs and we worked hard. Our 2021 Volunteer Trip Report has pictures which show the 13 cubic yards (more than 16 tons!) of gravel we moved, plus all the other accomplishments. Our project hosts, TrailMix in Juneau and National Park Service in Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park were very happy with our work, and the local vendors clearly appreciated our being there.

We also had an unprecedented 10 days of great  weather, surrounded by beautiful mountains, flowers, and plentiful water – so special to a person from drought-stricken California. So working outdoors, getting dirty, always with one eye on the sky to spot another majestic bald eagle, was exactly where I wanted to be.

   view of mountains from wharf in Skagway   wild irises at Dyea

More important, we had a terrific group of seasoned volunteers who worked hard, shared their suggestions, never criticized me for my ongoing challenges with unlocking the trunk of the van, and rolled with the inevitable hiccups.  What I most enjoyed was the shared laughter  – so normal, yet so precious after the months without seeing our volunteers. Sharon’s revised rendition of “16 Tons”, which she sang a capella at our final dinner, was the frosting on the cake and still brings a smile to my face. Remembering our baked Alaska dessert doesn’t hurt either!

 

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