Paws Along the Trail with Hospitality
Early this morning while mushers were traveling with their dogs through Finger Lake and Rainy Pass, I waited with a group of veterinarians, trail volunteers, communications people, media reporters, and others to jump on a plane and leave Anchorage. We flew to the community of McGrath. If you look at the Iditarod Trail map, you can see how many miles we flew.
I was excited to then fly in a smaller bush plane to Nikolai, a checkpoint just past Rohn. Friendly Marti met us on a snow machine as we unloaded our gear into her sled. She gave me a tour of where the teams will come into the checkpoint from the Kuskokwim River. Imagine my excitement arriving at the school in Nikolai! The students were eating lunch and I enjoyed some warm soup and a grilled cheese sandwich with them. We discussed super hero movies at the table.
The students here go from pre-K through 9th grade, though a couple grades have no students. The school has two teachers and twelve students. Three classrooms, a library, and a large room that doubles as the cafeteria and gym make up the school. One teacher even lives in a room in the school! By snow machine, with a trailer, this teacher also gets to take the trash to the dump. They have computers with Internet, but no cell phone service. Another interesting feature is that students are pulled to school on sleds in the winter. Nikolai T.O.T.K.S. School has been preparing a welcome for the mushers who are expected to begin arriving Tuesday morning. The children had an early dismissal, but once school dismissed, several stayed at school, talking with their teacher or playing on the playground.
The school will host any mushers who need a place to sleep, a shower, or some food. They are also having a fundraising meal this evening and more tomorrow. I got to help prepare moose stew in the school kitchen with the principal, the public librarian, and other volunteers. Parents donated the meat for the fundraiser. This community has 80 residents, but with all the Iditarod volunteers and mushers coming in, the population will swell.
Signs are decorating their multi-purpose room to welcome the mushers to Nikolai. The village made us all feel very welcome, and in the morning, we will all go cheer on the mushers!
A great activity would be to write, comparing and contrasting your school and Nikolai T.O.T.K.S. School based on what you’ve learned in this article.