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Forging New Connections

by  Lechelle Barron

Meetups open paths to friendship, adventure

 

Members of the Fairbanks Adventurers Meetup group climb at Dragonfly Creek near Fairbanks.

Sharon Cooke
   

Only 1.2 people would live on each square mile of Alaska if you could divide the state’s 570,641.95 square miles of land equally among its residents.

In a land that grand, newcomers and even longtimers may struggle to find like-minded friends, ignite new connections or simply enhance their lives in a new way.

Meetups, enjoyed all over the country, may be more useful in Alaska than elsewhere.

Are you a “naturist”? There’s a Meetup in Alaska for you! Inventor and innovator who likes to build gadgets and hack hardware? There’s a Meetup for you, too! Pagan? There are no fewer than three Meetups for you in Anchorage!

Meetups also exist in Alaska for locals and tourists who enjoy hiking, skiing, mountain and ice climbing, bicycling, kayaking, dancing, wine and food tasting, gaming and going as part of a group to see films. There are groups for singles, groups for parents traveling with small children, and groups for yoga enthusiasts.

About 50 Meetup groups exist in the Anchorage area but they have proliferated in other parts of Alaska as well, including Fairbanks, Juneau, Kenai and Palmer.

The cost is about $144 a year to keep a Meetup site running; it contains a calendar and mail feature, as well as space for posting text and photographs.

Sharing a Pastime

Members of the Fairbanks Adventurers Meetup group climb at Dragonfly Creek near Fairbanks.

Cristy Joslin

 
   

David Joslin, a combat medic in the U.S. Army, launched a Meetup in March 2010 because he enjoyed climbing but had found in other places he’s lived that it can be difficult to chip into the climbing subculture and find competent, like-minded people to go with.

“A lot of the people who climb up here have been climbing together for a long time,” he said. “Someone new doesn’t find a lot of open invitations to join. I just wanted to create a community that’s open to anyone. Climbing clubs seem to be pretty aggressive, out for peak bagging. I have a wife and a 10- and 13-year-old who climb, but I’m not taking a 13-year-old up Mount Hunter.”

Joslin says his group is not for climbers with what he calls a “super-aggressive high skill level.”

“It’s for people who want to break into the sport and not feel intimidated,” Joslin said. “We make it kind of a family-friendly affair.”

Joslin’s Meetup has 26 members, with a core of around 10 people who are active in the group. Members learn or brush up on skill-building techniques, such as knot-tying or using different kinds of climbing equipment.

“In the middle of ice season we surge to 15 to 20 people who are active,” Joslin said. “In the middle of summer we’re kind of in a lull, everyone’s out doing their own things, trying to limit out on salmon, maximizing family time. As winter creeps up, we’ll notice an increase in attendance at socials, get together to ski, snowshoe.”

Joslin says his wife, Cristy Joslin, his best friend, Adam Miracle, and Adam’s wife, Cherie Miracle, help anchor the Fairbanks Mountaineers Meetup.

“Although I originally founded the group, it would not be what it is today without their dedication and assistance,” he said. “Besides, you usually don’t find me in the mountains without Adam and our wives close by.”

Joslin says the group’s approach to welcoming newcomers is casual and safety-oriented. It offers monthly socials where people can meet and gauge each other’s abilities. The group also coordinates climbing get-togethers at places like Dragonfly Creek, Fox Creek, Grapefruit Rocks, Granite Tors and Johnny Cash Falls.

“When I first started climbing in San Antonio 10 years ago, no one offered advice or told me my technique was wrong. I kind of had to figure stuff out on my own,” he said. “I couldn’t care less if I climb Denali, I just want to share the experience of getting out in the mountains and playing. If someone wants to go on a trip but doesn’t have gear, my garage looks like a virtual REI.”

Delving Into New Cultures

Donald Hennessey organizes a Spanish language Meetup in Anchorage because he wants “to practice, learn, grow and just speak the language on a regular basis.”

“I took a Spanish class, liked it and continued—that was in 1985,” he said. “What I want to be able to do is speak rapidly with a group of people, like they’d speak in a Spanish culture. I invite native speakers to the group; it’s nice to be able to talk with native speakers.”

The Spanish language has intricacies, because it is spoken in 23 countries, Hennessey said.

“There are different usages of the words in all those countries,” he said. “It’s the same with English. I don’t know specifically how to use words in Australia and England though I understand most of the words they say. In Spain, you say you miss someone differently than you say you miss someone in Colombia.”

The Meetup exposes its members to these linguistic complexities as well as opening doors into Spanish culture in other ways.

“Sometimes we fix some kind of Spanish meal and we sample some of these foods, which are diverse,” Hennessey said.

People in the Meetup have goals as diverse as the fare they try.

“One woman is doing missionary work in Mexico and would like to have casual conversation with the housewives she works with,” he said. “We also had a guy who went to Spain to study in the university, wanted to learn a more complex use of the language.”

Seeing Things in New Ways

Marco Gutierrez organized an Eagle River Camera Club Meetup four years ago for members of a camera club searching for a venue to serve as an information hub.

Twenty-five people participate on a fairly regular basis, he said.

“Some nights we do some sort of actual photography, go on a photo walk,” Gutierrez said. “We did a session on learning to use different types of light. We’ve done macrophotography in the studio and about gear, techniques, how to get particular shots, how to shoot something like the northern lights. We mix it up.”

Members sometimes loan photography equipment to others in the group, giving them a way to see how a piece of gear performs before making the commitment to buy it.

People attending a Meetup can broach and discuss with the group ideas they find in online or magazine articles or forums—sometimes they chat about a topic and other times they might make that topic the focus of the meeting. Guest speakers like Jeff Schultz, the official Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race photographer, or Anne Nevaldine, a master gardener from Anchorage, come in and talk about techniques they use in the field.

“We learned when out photographing flowers in the wild, to use flower clamps and carry pieces of construction paper in the camera bag so you can isolate the flower in the wild to shoot it,” Gutierrez said.

One of the best things about having a Meetup centered on photography is that it gives shutterbugs a place to talk shop.

“If you talk about photography for 15 minutes to your friends or spouse, their eyes begin to glass up,” he joked.

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