Tails from the Trail….
I was recently able to catch up with Samantha, one of the two teachers in Nikolai. Iditarod 2021 is definitely different for everyone. See what Samantha has to say about life in Nikolai!
What is it like to be living and working in Nikolai?
Nikolai is a small Native village, only accessible by plane and snowmobile or boat (or dogsled, of course), depending on the season. My husband and I buy our groceries twice a year in Anchorage and have them shipped out to the village, and we supplement our food with hunting and fishing when possible.
We are the only teachers here and we share the job of principal, thus we spend most of our time at the school, together. Our home sits on the playground so we have the world’s shortest commute. Our students are awesome (we have 14 at the moment, K-12), and we love the close personal relationship we’re able to have with them in such a small setting. Teaching several grade levels in one room is challenging in the best way, and we are never bored.
How does the village and students prepare for the Iditarod?
During a non-Covid year, Nikolai is very involved with the race. Mushers, media crews, tour groups, and anyone else involved with the race eats and sleeps at the school and interacts with students and community members. The school usually has food available 24 hours a day for as long as there are mushers coming through town. Students help with everything they can, from parking dogs to making food to waking up mushers at their scheduled times. They wait impatiently for their favorite mushers to arrive so they can go down to the river to watch them come in. Everyone is always exhausted at the end of the week, but so thrilled to have had a small part in such an incredible event.
How is it going to be different this year?
This year no one is coming to the school, or really into the community at all. The mushers are staying down at the dog yard near the river, and anyone helping out is staying nearby. The teachers, with help from the community, are making food and taking it to the mushers and volunteers, and everyone is staying socially distanced. The village is much quieter this Iditarod, and we definitely miss the fun and chaos of a normal year, but we’re glad they were able to find a way to carry on despite all of the new challenges.
Thank you, Samantha and Jacob, for all you do! I am sure Nikolai is looking forward to the excitement of the 2022 Iditarod next year!