Hanging off the side a of mountain in a blizzard, standing your ground when a brown bear sow charges in order to protect her cubs, making a runway out of the smoothest piece of land that can be seen from the cockpit: all these scenarios describe the daily lives of lecturers participating in the Outdoor Adventure Series organized by Student Activities in the Student Union.
The Outdoor Adventure Series began its second year of lectures Feb. 1, and will be presented every other Wednesday through April 12. So far presenters have discussed fishing and bush piloting in Alaska. All the speakers are experts in their fields of Alaska outdoor adventure.
Soren Orley, the associate vice chancellor of budget and finance, said he is known as a mild-mannered bean counter at UAA. His March 15 presentation on Alaska outdoor safety may come as a surprise to some people who are accustomed to that image.
“Another aspect of being mild-mannered is paying attention to every detail when all hell is breaking loose,” Orley said.
Orley is a 20-year veteran of the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group. He participated in the largest mountain search effort in the history of Alaska at the time, the Ptarmigan Peak accident that involved students from UAA.
For Orley, paying attention to every detail is a gift, whether he’s looking at every decimal or studying the ground and shrubbery to get an idea of the land.
“I have realized that I have a special gift, and I like to use it to give back to the community,” Orley said. “It is also very hard work and is gratifying when you are finished.”
Ellen Paneok, one of Alaska’s first female bush pilots, also gave a presentation. She said she has flown all over the state during the past 30 years; her adventures have even been featured in a Smithsonian exhibit about female pioneer pilots.
Paneok said she has been stranded in the middle of nowhere for days wondering if anyone would ever find her and thinking about people she has known who simply disappeared into the land. She said her tough upbringing taught her how to be a survivor, which has helped her as a bush pilot.
“My 10th-grade English teacher told me I was lazy, shiftless and would never amount to anything,” Paneok said. “The first time I got published, I drove to her house in my gold BMW and showed her. It was perfect poetic justice.”
Now she travels throughout the state showing young Alaskans that someone who was once told they would never make it has experienced great success _” and they can too. She has been published several times and is in the process of writing her own book.
Beverly Lahlum, a Student Union manager who helped organize the Outdoor Adventure Series, said Student Activities has worked hard to get fresh speakers.
“One thing that is strange about (the series) is that we can do lots of research and we will think that we’ve found the perfect person and then all of a sudden, that person will be doing other talks in town about the same thing we wanted them to do,” Lahlum said. “That happened this year with two of our leads.”
The program is going so well though that there are now speakers contacting Student Activities asking to be a part of the series. Average attendance for each lecture is usually between 60 and 100 people, said event organizers.