Alaska Story 4
Story and Photos by: Chad Hutson, Public Affairs Officer
Layout by: Cynthia Henry, Graphic Designer
Through the windshield of Steve Evans’ government SUV a majestic canvas of Alpine mountains and lush forests framed in a picturesque sky ablaze in sunset colors.
The General Services Administration SUV is traveling along the Alaska Highway - a road cutting through the heart of Eastern Alaska, in the dead of winter. Evans, building management specialist, is headed to a remote outpost of the Alcan Border Station.
Evans sweeps his arm across the view before him when asked why he chose to move the nation’s 49th State.
“How could you not,” Evans replies. “Just look at that.”
His supervisor, and driver for the moment, Tom Deakins, GSA’s Supervisor for the Alaska Field Office, nods in agreement and contorts his face wondering why the question was even asked.
Those who work for GSA’s Northwest/Arctic Region taking care of the needs of federal clients throughout the state and who call Alaska home, think it’s an odd question when they get asked why they live here. The question usually comes from the lower 48’ers - people who live in the contiguous United States.
It doesn’t seem that odd one would question why you would purposely endure sub-Arctic temperatures most of the year or have to worry about getting attacked by a bear in the woods - or in your backyard.
But conversely, who can argue with Alaskans who chose to call this place home? Amazing scenery, abundant wildlife, all the outdoor sports and recreation you could ever want and solitude. Lots and lots of solitude.
“A lot of people come here to get away from everyone,” Deakins said. “They like the quiet and being by themselves. That’s something you can certainly do here.”
Alaskans have been social distancing for decades. Many of them are transplants looking for a quieter, maybe even a more simple life.
Deakins arrived after spending time in the military in Anchorage. A brief stint at the GSA Northwest/Arctic Region’s headquarters in Auburn, WA and he was back up in Alaska. The pace of the lifestyle in Alaska coupled with the unique challenges of the GSA work made it a no-brainer to return and stay - for good.
That work includes managing GSA’s mission in Alaska from maintaining federal buildings and leased space for federal tenants to ensuring each agency’s office needs are being met.
For Evans, who works out of the Fairbanks Federal Building, Alaska is a long ways away from his home in New Jersey. There’s no velvet jogging suits and fuggedaboutits here. There’s giant moose and bitter cold. Oh, and the solitude everyone else here in Alaska mentions.
Evans and his wife, both transplants, have settled into a life in Alaska they wouldn’t trade for anything in spite of what us lower 48’ers might scoff at when the temperatures hit 30 below. For those who live here, the biting cold winters and sometimes hot, muggy and mosquito-plagued summers are just part of the experience.
Michelle Jones, Building Management Specialist for Region 10 in Juneau was stationed here while in the Coast Guard. When she got out she could have gone anywhere. Instead, she stayed.
“I’ve made a wonderful life here,” Jones said. “It has its challenges at times but so does everywhere. And nothing beats the scenery here.”
True story. There’s nothing like the Alaskan landscape to humble you with it’s pristine lakes and rivers wrapped in the backdrop of thick forests of black spruce and Aspen set against jagged mountain ranges that climb seemingly forever into the Alaskan sky.
Jones’ work commute for GSA visiting regional Alaskan federal properties means she sometimes takes a ferry up the majestic Chilkoot Inlet, bounded by snow-capped peaks on either side. Or, if inclement weather shuts down the ferry service, she flies. Not a commercial jet mind you, but a small Bush plane holding six or fewer passengers that snakes it’s way along lush valley floors between the mountains to get to a destination.
“It’s the best work commute in the world,” Jones added.
For GSA employees, all the state’s attributes couple nicely with their jobs, which ultimately is helping the agency’s federal partners complete their respective missions serving the American public. It may sound a bit grandiose, but there’s truly a connection for many of these employees and the mission of their clients. Many federal agencies in Alaska are present to help preserve and protect the natural landscapes and wildlife - the same areas where the GSA staff take time away and enjoy - 660,000 square miles of scenery and recreation to be exact.
Take David Stone, the Store Manager for the GSA ServMart located on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) in Anchorage. When he’s done keeping the supply store stocked and ordering items for the base and surrounding federal agencies, he gets out of town - and heads to many other towns.
Stone recently visited dozens of Alaska’s most remote towns while Geocaching (an outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices). For Stone, places like Sitka, Unalaska, Yakutat, and North Pole give him a chance to see a different side of the state, ones the cruise ships don’t stop at or are urban centers full of tourists.
Whether it’s exploring massive whale bones in the United States’ most northern city of Barrow, which is actually north of the Arctic Circle, or spending time at the finish line of the Iditarod in Nome, it’s a time to get away from it all for Stone.
For everyone who visits the state, there’s no denying the immense beauty. For those who live here, it’s their lives everyday and you get the sense Alaskans don’t take it for granted and they certainly respect it.
Whether it’s seeing a seven-foot-tall 1,400 lb. moose out your office window - or on the street corner waiting to cross, or watching a black bear meander through your backyard playing with the swingset, life in Alaska is unique.
Being outdoors away from it all is the tie that binds many of those who live here. Evans recalls with pride fishing the Copper River for salmon and how thankful he was for the plentiful haul he caught. Those moments in the outdoors at 3 a.m. fighting with an Alaskan King Salmon reminds him why he lives here.
Deakins, when he’s not managing GSA’s Alaska teams, is an avid runner and marathoner. You won’t find him on a treadmill in a gym, or even running through the city parks. Instead, Deakins likes to run along the tops of 5,000-foot mountain peaks, called Sky Running.
“I have the luxury of having an enormous playground right in my own backyard. It would be a shame not to take advantage of it,” Deakins said.
Whether it’s the Copper River, the Chugach Mountains where Deakins runs the peaks, or Geocaching in the small towns of the Aleutian Island chain, There’s no denying GSA staff have one the world’s best natural playgrounds to enjoy when their day is over taking care of GSA’s partner federal agencies. Then there’s that special moment of solitude for many of them that helps re-center things.
“Once I'm on top of the mountains my perspective changes as I take in the views. You can simply see forever,” Deakins said. “There is nothing like running a ridgeline at night while the aurora borealis is shooting streams of multi-colored light over your head. It absolutely clears my head and lifts my spirits. It makes everything right with the world.”