Unalakleet Felt Like Home – 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail, Jen Reiter Reflects on Unalakleet

“Which checkpoint was your favorite?” is a question I have been asked over and over and over since I served as the 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM.

And like every good teacher, I try never to name a favorite. I’ve never had a favorite student, I’ve never named a favorite checkpoint. Each checkpoint I visited was different and unique. Each has its special moments and stories. There are visions of each seared into my brain and I can close my eyes and remember each one of them.

But, truth be told, there was something special about Unalakleet. It just felt different. It felt like home.

I think I spent just over two days there. I have 167 photos just from that one checkpoint. I remember walking into the checkpoint when I arrived to see that I was leading on the tracker, which caused a lot of commotion back home when my students saw it, I later found out! I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Peace on Earth Pizza, but did the only thing I regretted from my Teacher on the Trail experience – I failed to buy a t-shirt. Luckily, Erin Montgomery, the 2015 Teacher on the Trail hooked me up the following year. I saw Aliy Zirkle come in and win the First to the Coast award. I got to spend some time with Nathan Schroeder, who had been my musher for my Ceremonial Start ride. I got to hang out with so many kids who were just so happy to be there, play in the snow, and see the teams.

But what stands out the most to me is the quiet of Unalakleet. I had time to wander the town and the shoreline. I’m from Maryland, and spent the majority of my childhood summers traveling to the beaches in Ocean City. But never, had I seen a beach like this. And I had never seen a frozen ocean before. The blue crab pots were traded for king crab pots, but it was an ocean town. I was struck by how two places so far away from each other could feel so similar and so different at the same time. It just felt like home.

I would have given almost anything to have been standing in Unalakleet this year as Ryan Redington arrived. His mom was born there and he still has family there. I can imagine the crowds gathered to greet him and the sense of pride he must have felt leading the pack into town. I was also worried, in 2014 the rumor was that the musher who led into Unalakleet never led into Nome! Luckily, Ryan disproved that myth and went on to win his version of Redington’s Run.

I’m not sure that I’ll ever be back to Unalakleet. I sure hope to. But rest assured, all of the trail, but Unalakleet in particular, has left a mark on my heart.