On the Trail in Nome – Sunday


If you read my post from yesterday, this is really the continuation of my amazing day yesterday. Let’s attempt to do this in chronological order…

After being taken to the airport yesterday with Kathy Chapoton and Sean William’s dad, I was actually able to hop on a flight with IAF pilot, Wes Erb. This is something that we had been trying to work out for weeks, and finally came together yesterday. We took a short 30-minute flight to White Mountain, a checkpoint that I had been hoping to get to due to my connection with long time resident and Iditarod volunteer, Dan Harrelson. His will be the next post in my “Voices of the Volunteers” series on the 30th, so check back for that later this month.

The flight out to White Mountain was spectacular. The scenery was a total blanket of white with some small bumps and waves spread throughout. Occasionally , there were small patches of darker colors strewn throughout, but the most amazing thing was a very tiny “crease” in the blanket, the Iditarod Trail. From the sky, markers were not visible, and the trail seemed to disappear at times, but when the sun shone just right, it made itself visible again. The lines of white snow that were blowing over the ocean were things that I had only seen in photographs from Jeff Schultz and others. We flew past all of the landmarks that had been the talk of the town over these past few days. Cape Nome, Topkok, the small shelter cabin where many of the teams sought refuge from the brutal winds. But most of all, we flew over the infamous blowhole. I learned earlier this week that my understanding of this area was mistaken. I always thought the blowhole was where the winds whipped off the ocean towards the land which formed a “hole”. I was very mistaken. This treacherous area is the result of the winds actually whipping through the mountains and into an open area between Safety and White Mountain. The wind is funneled down through this area and blows out to sea, making the trail even more hazardous. The facts about this area were incredible to learn about, but more incredible to see first hand. 


After arriving in White Mountain, the best part was when we loaded up the plane with Wes, myself, a bag of Sean Williams’ things, and 7 of my new closest furry friends. We were all packed into this tiny plane, headed back to the Nome dog lot. The entire time I was checking on them, and giving them as much love as possible for the 30 minutes we spent together. One ended up putting his head in my lap and almost sleeping the entire time. My glove and parka were covered in slobber, but I couldn’t have been happier. The entire trip with Wes was another part of this journey I will never forget. 

I then made my way to the arch to see the next two teams cross. Eric Kelly was the first followed by Kailyn Davis. Eric crossed at 9:11, and Kailyn followed at 9:49. I was particularly excited to welcome Kailyn, as I had been working with her this year with my students in Ohio. We had made blankets for her team for use during the 24 hour layover, and other fun things for her to use on the trip. As she crossed under the arch, and was welcomed by Mark Nordman, the emotions of the adventure came out. Her parents and partner, Justin had been waiting for her to complete her dream run for days here in Nome. It was an incredible family reunion. 

Once the crowds dispersed, I headed down to the mini to check on the last 2 teams arriving. While there, I was asked to help with a task that I never dreamed would happen. It might not seem like much to others, but to me it was the greatest thing in the world. I was asked to help take down the famed Widow’s Lamp from the arch and refill it with kerosine so that it would be lit for the last few finishers. Being able to hold this iconic piece of Iditarod lore was unbelievable. Many people might not be aware that there is a difference between the Widow’s Lamp and the Red Lantern. If you are curious about the difference, here is a post that I did last year examining the difference between the two. https://iditarod.com/edu/misconceptions-and-more-red-lantern-vs-widows-lamp/

While carrying the ladder back to the mini, I ran into two people from Shaktoolik that I had gotten to know over facebook; Lynda and Gary Bekoalok. I had connected with Lynda as she is now a retired teacher in SHK. We were talking for a while as Gary was showing me pictures of the conditions this year at their home and checkpoint. The winds during a ground storm looked like something out of the movies. He had a video of Kailyn Davis pulling into that checkpoint being blown sideways, and not even visible until she was about 50 yards away. It was a blue sky day, but the winds of the ground storm made it look like a a white out blizzard. Again, something out of the movies. As I was wrapping up my conversation, Jane Holmes came driving around the corner rolled down the window and yelled that they were looking for me because I had another job. 

I quickly ran the ladder back to the mini and ran back up to the arch to get back in the car. She told me that I had been nominated to be the one to hand off the Red Lantern to the last place musher to carry down front street. I was speechless. If I thought the Widow’s Lamp task was unbelievable, this was on a whole new level. I have been teaching my classes about the Red Lantern, its symbolism and the qualities it represents in the mushers for working to simply cross the finish line. To say this was an honor was an understatement, but I don’t know the words to describe what I was feeling. Jane and Wes drove me down to the point on the homestretch where the trail comes up from the beach onto Front Street. As Honda made her way past, she had trouble getting her team headed the correct way down the street. So, much like I did with Michelle Phillips a couple days earlier, I helped direct them down the correct route. But then we waited for Apayauq Reitan. We watched the headlamp get closer and start to climb that last hill to Front Street, the adrenaline was pumping. I walked slowly towards her and using my best teacher voice announced to her “Here’s the Red Lantern! Carry this the rest of the way down the street!” She took it, and was off to the arch. 

This was the most amazing ending to the 50th Iditarod that I could have possible dreamed of. In fact it was so much more than that. I don’t have the words, and I think I will leave it at that.

Ending the race. Photo credit: Jim Deprez

Adventures with Booloo today was a shot that I needed to have. All dogs run to cross the finish line, so here is Booloo making it all the way to the arch. 

Booloo at the Arch

Teachers: The Red Lantern is another iconic symbol of the Iditarod, and lends itself so incredibly well to the classroom. I use it to promote effort, perseverance, and that “never give up” attitude amongst my students each year; the same qualities shown by the last place finisher in the Iditarod. Here is a lesson plan that I created to encourage these things in my students. Red Lantern Award Lesson Plan