I had an absolutely fabulous experience when I was the 2008 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail and was able to visit 19 of the 22 checkpoints on the race route that year. And if you asked me to pick my favorite – I couldn’t. I could tell you about a unique, interesting, awe-inspiring experience I had in every single one. A visit to any of these far-flung hard to reach places and native villages is a gift. In the checkpoint I’ve chosen to share about, Ruby, I received many gifts of experiences….
- Upon arrival, I was invited to the school to share in their pizza lunch, book fair, and fire-building contest. Yes, fire-building contest. The entire student population was put into teams of wide age ranges (pre-schoolers with high schoolers and a few in between). They were given matches and fire starter. The first team to build a sustained fire in the school parking lot won! It is a survival skill that everyone should know – so it is taught in school. The s’mores we made over their fires afterwards were the best.
- On the back of a snowmachine, I was taken up the steep hill to the cemetery where the Russian orthodox influence in the village is prominent in the grave markers and decorations. Villages are small; a cemetery is a very personal place in a small village. Being able to sit in silence for respect of their departed on a high hill overlooking the Mighty Yukon River was quite moving.
- And my last memory to share was the simplest, but had the greatest effect. I was walking from the school in Ruby to the checkpoint. It’s a bit of a long trek. I sensed a snowmachine was on the road moving slowly along next to me. After I noticed it hadn’t gone past, I glanced over and saw an Alaska native woman on this snowmachine, and wordlessly she nodded her head up and over – inviting me to join her on her sled. So I did. Not too long afterwards, sitting behind her, I smelled freshly baked bread. She had made bread for the mushers and was delivering it to the checkpoint; picking me up was an additional act of kindness on her part. When she stopped and parked I thanked her and she smiled and nodded – still without words, took her bread and delivered it to the checkpoint. I was moved by her invitation to ride, her generosity to a stranger without being asked for anything, and her giving spirit. And yes, I did go into the checkpoint and sample her freshly baked bread.
The Iditarod Trail runs through many amazing Alaska native village and other places with incredible people in them. Thanks for re-visiting Ruby, AK with me.