I had fallen asleep in Austin, TX, waiting for my flight, which had been delayed five hours by a thunderstorm. When I woke up, the departure lobby was empty…
McKinney Falls State Park closed at 10 p.m., and the gate blocked traffic from entering till morning. My friend Tami was NOT okay with dropping me off at the gate, mainly because I had no idea where I was supposed to be camping, and a violent thunderstorm was rolling in. The gate was locked with only a small chain….
I was tired. I’d just flown up from Puerto Rico, coming off an exciting and exhausting week with the Sierra Student Coalition, and was here in Austin, Texas, for an Outdoor Nation Summit. A hotel had been booked for me in the city, but what kind of outdoor youth ambassador would I be if I left all the kids out in the inevitable torrential downpour and did not join them? That would be unforgivable.
I decided not to break the chain and instead saddled up my gear, said goodbye to Tami, and headed into the blackness of an unlit state park at midnight with no moon.
It was really, really dark. My flashlight beam looked tiny as it swept across the road and over bushes full of chirping crickets. I decided to head toward the center of the park, but as time passed this plan seemed more and more useless. There were just too many areas where my group might be camping. Then, headlights -- salvation! A car full of campers from my group was returning to their tents after exploring a waterfall.
Half an hour later, I was all set for the night, welcomed into the camp of a youth group called Friends of the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas. They were a lively bunch -- dancing, singing, and playing games as lightning and thunder crashed overhead, creating a spectacular show!
During the night, the skies opened, and I dreamed I was a stowaway on Noah’s ark, only we had hit an iceberg and were sinking. The flooding in our tent was mild compared to most, but by morning we were more than ready for hot coffee and a change of clothes.
At Outdoor Nation, the main event was the planning of grassroots projects that will get more Americans outdoors. Participants formed regional groups and discussed initiatives such as community gardens, bicycle building, and nature-oriented art programs. I joined a group of college students from Houston who wanted to promote environmental conservation by presenting "nature shows" to area schools. After a full day of hashing through concepts, we voted on which projects would actually be funded by Outdoor Nation. My group's program, called Warriors of the Wild, was one of eight winners!
As I waited for my flight back to San Francisco, another thunderstorm broke overhead, temporarily shutting down the airport. My flight had been scheduled to leave at 8 p.m. but was now pushed back to midnight or later. I bought a hot coffee, laid out my sleeping bag, and gazed out through the foggy glass -- watching the weather and feeling quite at home.
Convinced I would wake when my flight was announced, I let myself drift off to sleep.
When I awoke the lobby was empty... [to be continued]
The Outdoor Nation Signature Summit is a two-day event with 250 of your peers working together to find solutions to the challenges that are keeping people indoors. For more information, please visit http://www.outdoornation.org/.
Puerto Rico! I set out to join the Sierra Student Coalition's Summer Leadership Training Program -- and discover my homeland along the way.
I landed in San Juan with no contacts, no addresses and only a vague idea of what I would be doing on this beautiful island. What I did know, however, was that this was my family's homeland, and I was here to discover it for the first time.
I walked outside the airport and spotted a guy about my age nervously checking his cell phone. I'd heard that an SSC envoy would be meeting me and, since he looked the part in khaki shorts and a pink T-Mobile tank top, I went up to him.
"JOAQUINNN SOSAAA!" he exclaimed. "Welcome to the island!" I had made my first friend of the week -- Jose Coss.
That evening was a perfect kickoff to the week --– we ate arroz con habichuelas (rice and red beans cooked by Jose's mother) while gazing out over the bustling city of San Juan. Later, we loaded the jeep and headed inland to Adjuntas, where the SSC training program would take place.
As the road wound upward into the mountains, dense fog engulfed us -- so bad we had to reduce speed and put on our emergency flashers. Some drivers seemed less concerned and raced by, only visible for seconds before they disappeared in the mist. Jose was on edge and asked me to play some music to help him relax. So to boost his courage I played "Hero" by Nas. The song worked more like a caffeine boost, however, and inspired him to stop being a wimp in the right lane and drive like a man, meaning in the left lane.
The only advantage of driving in the left lane is that you are farther from the steep precipice waiting to claim your life. We got to Adjuntas, possibly on prayers alone.
Over the weeklong summer leadership program, our group of 32 students and leaders brainstormed strategy, campaign planning, grassroots outreach, and other topics vital to youth who want to create change. When not in learning sessions, we ventured into central Puerto Rico's rainforests, or "bosques," to learn about the plants or search out hidden pools to swim in. I was shocked to hear that these same forests have been in the sights of both big mining and natural gas companies. So far, though, local campaigns have thwarted their efforts.
By the end of the week, I felt really at home in Adjuntas, where the mountains keep the weather cooler than on the rest of the island. My very limited Spanish proved not to be a roadblock in connecting with my new friends, and I was already thinking of ways to return to the island in the future.
On my last day, before flying on to Texas, I explored Old San Juan, the city of my grandfather, and Cataño, the city of my grandmother, with my friend Mario. As I watched the sun set from Castillo San Felipe del Morro, I reflected on adventures past and contemplated the future -- on to Austin!
The Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) is a broad network of high school and college-aged youth from across the country working to protect the environment. The SSC is the youth-led chapter of the Sierra Club, the largest and most effective grassroots environmental organization in the nation. With more than 13,000 students and 250 groups nationwide, the SSC develops environmental leaders through our award-winning grassroots trainings programs. For more information, please visit http://www.ssc.org.
Wow, what an incredible week! Weeks like this justify the title of this internship – the best on earth. Right now I’m in Puerto Rico for the annual Sierra Student Coalition summer training program, but I’m taking a moment to reflect on my Fourth of July holiday with the our nation’s military families.
We are heading out to remove graffiti and repaint old picnic stands. We couldn’t ask for a more wild place to volunteer to keep the outdoors beautiful. This is Pyramid Lake, Nevada!
Hi everyone! I’m Joaquin Sosa and I am this year's Sierra Club Outdoor Youth Ambassador, otherwise known as the Best Internship On Earth! I still find it hard to believe that I was chosen over a hundred other candidates for this incredible position. As I begin a summer of exploring, connecting, and sharing across the country, I feel excited for adventure, but also a sense of responsibility to fully communicate my experiences to you all.
In this day and age, some might ask the question, who needs wild places? Why do we need nature and the outdoors? Being outdoors is fun and healthy, but as I travel I hope to discover more answers to these questions.
I’ll be participating in an array of Sierra Club Mission Outdoors outings, including Volunteer Vacations, Inner City Outings, Military Families and Veterans Initiatives, and Local Outings, as well as other exciting programs at Outdoor Nation and at the Sierra Student Coalition training in PUERTO RICO!! Look out for videos, blog articles, and photos to stay up to date on these happenings.