From the Sunshine State to the Last Frontier

by Andrea Willingham

Andrea’s been in Nome, Alaska since this summer, serving as the SCA Multimedia and Graphic Design Intern for Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. We’ll be posting her accounts of her adventures in this remote, near-Arctic region over the next couple weeks.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had my sights set on Alaska. Growing up in the sunny, steamy, swampy subtropics of Florida, I could hardly imagine anything so different as this dramatically sublime land in the Great North. I never imagined I would actually make it out here – much less for my first post-graduation job.

Yet here I am, over 4,000 miles from home. I’ve traded beaches for tundra, flip-flops for Xtratufs, heatstroke for frostbite, and suburbia for the backcountry – and I’ve never been happier!

As my first SCA position, I am working as a multimedia and graphic design intern for Bering Land Bridge National Preserve over the next 9 months, which basically means I’m creating the preserve’s new visitor guide and helping manage their social media, among other tasks.

My position is based in the bush town of Nome in northwest Alaska, situated on the coast of the Bering Sea. It’s a modern-day gold mining town that still has this crazy “Wild West” feel to it, and it’s so remote that it’s only accessible by plane (or boat, I suppose).

Right at the beginning of my internship, I discovered that a sense of adventure is crucial for this job – especially considering I had almost no prior experience in anything I was doing. After receiving basic aviation and survival training, I found myself getting dropped off by bush plane or helicopter in various parts of Bering Land Bridge to take photos, help with backcountry maintenance, and learn everything I could about this incredible subarctic region.It’s my dream job for sure, but often only glamorous in retrospect. As you might imagine, the Alaskan tundra is a harsh place, and not quite the idyllic alpine utopia you might envision of the southeastern part of the state. Many a time this summer, I found myself huddled in a tent getting beaten by sideways rain in just-above-freezing temperatures; or battling helicopter-sized mosquitoes; or stumbling for hours over tussocks (evil grass mounds) on the spongy tundra carrying a pack full of photography equipment. But I wouldn’t trade any of this for the world, for in the end the experiences of overcoming these challenges are the true rewards.

It’s August now, and I’m watching the colors of the tundra change from lush greens to warm oranges and reds, and a white dusting cover the low mountain ranges. I know I’m in for a long winter (by Christmas, there will only be 4 hours of daylight) but getting to experience Alaska like this is more than I ever could have hoped for. I feel incredibly grateful to be able to get involved in the local community here, learn from the Inupiaq culture, and truly experience some of the most remote wilderness left on earth, all while serving with the National Park Service. If my time here so far is any indication of what’s to come, it seems the adventure here has only just begun.