By Leslie Hundhammer, Guide
The plane landed at Nizina lake and dropped off six teenage girls from Brooklyn. Their eyes were wide, they were laughing, and they had just seen four grizzly bears. The first task after landing was to get three fully inflated rafts a quarter mile down a rocky trail to the lake. Even a non-technical trail becomes technical when orchestrating a large group of ladies carrying a raft. The laughs the girls had as they exited the planes became mere echoes of the past, it started to rain, and frustration ensued. Just as spirits were breaking, one of the girls started chanting: “Where are we from?” The rest yelled back, “BK!” “Where are we?” “AK!” We pounded on the boat to make noise, lifted it above our heads, and completed the last fifty yards chanting and smiling. In our first task on the first hour of the first day, we had become a team.
The Brooklyn to Alaska Project is a non-profit organization that brings Brooklyn teens to the Wrangell-St. Elias classroom. Many of the kids who participate in this program have never been outside of the city, never seen a national park, never set up a tent, and never been this far out of their comfort zone. Started by Sam Gregory after his life-changing experience in Wrangell-St. Elias, the goal of Brooklyn to Alaska is to provide a monumental trip and inspire young teens in the wilderness. In the past, the program has been offered exclusively to Brooklyn boys, but this year was the first girls trip.
The girls went ice climbing and backpacking and, by the time they had gotten out of the plane at Nizina lake, they were entering their final phase of the trip: rafting. In the four days we were on the river, tears were shed, meals were boycotted, sleeping bags got wet, clothes got dirty, and raingear was tested. We bushwhacked, we paddled, and we shivered. We shared tents and sleeping pads and stories. The societal constrictions of age, race, class, and gender evaporated. Adults were playing like children. Teenagers were helping like adults. Women were moving boats and lifting heavy gear. And we did it together.
On our final night, we had a bonfire, we went swimming, and the girls gave a heartfelt thank you that prompted enough tears to warrant a roll of paper towels. The Brooklyn to Alaska motto is a John Muir quote: “Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.” Far from home, far from the city, and far from their comfort zones, the girls threw themselves into cold water and emerged in a new doorway.
And here at Copper Oar, we’re proud to be part of this life changing program.
“Where are we from?” “BK!”
“Where are we?” “AK!”