Flying Out

10 Weeks One Summer: Chapter Two

Flying Out

                I will admit that I was excited. I sat in my seat next to another kid named Sam. Sam was not his real name. He was native and Sam was his English name. He wouldn’t tell me his real name, but made it clear that I was to call him Sam.

Sam was sixteen like me and from a small fishing village in Southcentral Alaska. When I had first met him, he had been wearing a black leather jacket with studs in the shoulder. He also wore biker gloves with studs in them along with a chain attached to his wallet and combat boots. His ears and eyebrow were pierced and he always scowled.

Today however, he was smiling and was dressed in a pair of jeans and a flannel shirt tied about his waist.

We were riding in a small turbo prop plane with three narrow seats making up about a dozen rows. The rows were set up with two seat on the left of the plane and one on the right with a very narrow aisle between them.

A few days before, I had met the crew I was going to be working with. There were four of us. Sam and myself, Carl, a college student, and our boss John.

Carl, a Hispanic young man, was doing an internship with the Bureau of Land Management out of a university in Colorado where he was studying engineering and surveying. He was shorter than me and had a stocky build. It was his first trip to Alaska and he was excited to see bears.

John was in his late thirties and looked more like he came out of a Jeremiah Johnson movie. He had shaggy reddish hair and a matching bushy beard. His beard and hair were not long, but had curls and waves that seemed to be in a constant argument as to which way they should go. He seemed to have a calmness about himself and I wondered if he had chosen to work with a bunch of kids or if this was some sort of punishment.

We had spent the last few days doing trainings and packing for our summer in Southeast Alaska near Lake Iliamna. We were going to be camping and we had to try to fit all of our gear into as few boxes as we could since all our material was going to be flown in by sea plane.

I was called down to the main Federal Building to meet with the program supervisor, Sean, to find out what was going to happen with my internship. We were supposed to get paid for our summer work through the native corporation in our region.

After a short phone call, Sean hung up the phone, a disappointed look on his face. The native corporation for my region, one that my dad was ironically working for over the winter and this summer, had refused to fund me.

If Sean could not find sponsorship for me for the summer, I was going to be shipped back home.

Mike, the operation’s supervisor and my host while  I was in Anchorage, drove me back to the BLM facility. We didn’t talk until we got close. He could see the disappointment in my face and said, “I am sorry. It isn’t right.”

I could feel the frustration rising and my eyes began to sting.

“I will….”

His voice was cut off by the ringing of his car phone. It was one of those phones that predated the modern cell phone and came in a bag. It had a cord that attached the handset to the base and had to be plugged into the cigarette lighter to work.

He pulled off the road and answered it. The conversation was brief and I did not pay much attention to him talking quietly and in short sentences.

He pushed the button to hang up the phone and said, “It looks like you may not be the only one staying behind.”

Without another word, Mike pulled back onto the road, only this time we sped along and reached his office in less than a minute.

I saw Carl and Sam sitting next to the warehouse drinking a soda. Mike parked the truck and quickly went inside his office without a word, so I wandered over to Sam and asked, “What is going on?”

Carl answered, “The job has been cancelled.”

I sat down on a wooden crate and said, “Looks like I am not going anyways. I don’t have a sponsor.”

Neither of them said anything, but Sam offered me a bag of Doritos and I grabbed a handful.

After the break, we wandered back into the warehouse and looked over the boxes we had packed. Sam and Carl had been nailing down the lids to the last of the wooden crates with equipment. Unsure of what to do, we went ahead and began to close up the cardboard boxes and weighing them.

About a half an hour later, John poked his head in the warehouse and yelled for us to meet him inside.

We dropped everything and anxiously rushed in.

John ushered us into a conference room where there was a map of Southcentral Alaska was laid out. We sat around the table and John began.

“Our job near Iliamna does not have all its permits ready, so that is cancelled.”

He moved his finger to a large island in the Gulf of Alaska and said, “When we proposed this summer schedule, we were originally going to go to Larsen Bay and survey a heritage site, but recent discoveries and excavation plans postponed that as well.”

He pulled out a different map that displayed Kodiak Island. He pointed to a small town on the south side of the island called Ahkiok. “They rebuilt the runway in this town last summer and put in a new relay tower. That tower was put on native lands, so we need to survey a new allotment for them. First however,” his finger moved north, “there is land in Olga Bay that was supposed to be surveyed last summer. The permits are in order and we can head out in two days.”

Carl and Sam grinned, but John continued, “We have a job, but it has to be approved for you guys to go. We will be very remote and I am not sure if it qualifies for the internship program.”

Mike interjected, “It is more dangerous than the other places. We just have to make sure we have our ducks in a row.”

John gave Carl a list of changes to be made to our packing list and we spent the rest of the afternoon unpacking and repacking boxes.

The next morning we arrived at the facility and John was not there. A list had been left with a last few minute items to be added, so we spent the early morning packing them up, then we waited.

About an hour before lunch, John showed up and called us into the conference room.

“We have been approved. There will be some precautions taken. At any point, if I feel we are in danger or if I feel you can’t do the job, it is over. We fly out.”

We all nodded our understanding. Carl and Sam had huge grins. I smiled too, but I was feeling a pit in my stomach.

Mike took us all to lunch for burgers at a local cafe called the Arctic Roadrunner before returning and going over the change of plans.

John pointed out the area where we were staying and the survey site in Olga Bay. He mapped out each section on a scaled map and wrote down the plan, including how long he expected it to take. The job in Olga Bay would take about six weeks. The job in Ahkiok would take only a week. After that, Mike said there were some other small jobs near the city of Kodiak to do.

John sent Sam and Carl to place the boxes onto pallets. Mike went to book tickets for the plane, and John asked me to stay behind to talk.

“I went and lobbied for you to go. I think it is a crappy thing they did to you. But without sponsorship, you can’t go with us.”

I felt the tears and the frustration rising again as my face began to heat up. He placed his hand on my shoulder. “I am sorry. If I had my way, I would take you. I appreciate all the hard work you did here knowing it was a possibility you may not go. Did you pack any of your personal stuff in the boxes?”

I took a few deep breathes to compose myself before replying, “Only my fishing pole.”

John walked with me to the warehouse. He shook his head to the other two who looked down or away. I felt the emotion rise to the surface again. I found the box that held my fishing pole and took out my knife to cut off the tape.

I had slit the tape down the middle when Mike poked his head out the door and yelled for me. Looking up, I could see a grin on his face and he motioned for me to come inside.

I stormed out of the warehouse and followed him inside. John was right behind me, walking briskly to keep up.

Mike was in the conference room and he motioned for me to sit. John sat next to me and I could see from his face that he did not know what was going on either.

Mike pushed a button on the phone and said, “We are here.”

There was the sound of someone dropping papers, then a thump as if someone on the other end had dropped the phone.

Sean’s voice came on and said, “I have good news. I got a call from resource officer at the native corporation and they said to go ahead and send you out. They will sponsor you!”

It took a moment for the information to sink in and I missed the next part of the conversation. John asked Sean a question and I came out of my stupor a moment later. I could feel the grin on my face. I thanked Sean and Mike hung up the phone.

Mike returned my grin and said as he got up,  “Looks like I need to book another ticket.”

He left and John walked with me back to the warehouse. As we entered, John yelled out, “Pack up the boxes and gear, we need to get this to the cargo drop this afternoon by five!”

Carl and Sam looked at me and I shouted, “I am going!”

They came over and slapped me on the back. Sam handed me the tape and I gladly retaped the box I had cut open.

A few hours later, a box truck was packed and heading to the airport. The next morning we were doing the same.

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