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Cleveland Teacher Chases Nature, And Freedom, In Alaska

Ted Carter sees his move from Cleveland to Alaska as marking a "defeat" of the mental and physical barriers that limited him as a young man. [Mary Fecteau / ideastream]
Ted Carter stands in front of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio.

When Ted Carter announced he was moving from Cleveland to Anchorage, Alaska, he got sarcastic nods.

"Everybody said, 'Yeah, right, yeah sure,'" he remembers friends and family saying.

If anything, their skepticism drove him on. Within weeks of retiring from his job as a Cleveland public school teacher, he booked a flight. Within months, he packed five bags and was on his way.

He arrived in February 2020, in the dark of the far northern night and with the thermometer reading minus 11.

Carter wasn't fazed. He was on a mission — both to embrace Alaska's forbidding beauty and to transcend the physical and figurative boundaries he'd experienced as a young Black man growing up on Cleveland's East Side.

Carter first shared those experiences and how they shaped his life as part of ideastream's Stories from Cleveland

Now, he speaks from Anchorage, Alaska about how he's rejoicing in his freedom to roam in what he calls one of the most barrier-free places on Earth.

Glaciers And Bears

As I was slowly creeping towards retirement, I'd been planning out what I wanted to do with my life afterwards. I started daydreaming about what it would be like to transition to Alaska.

I wanted to see the glaciers, I wanted to see all of these things — the polar bears, brown bears, moose — while they're still here.

My first day [in Alaska], I probably spent 45 minutes out in the elements. And then I tried to increase it by 15 minutes each day until I got to the point where I was walking four hours each day.

The trail near Ted Carter's apartment is dark and often covered with snow during his daily morning run. [Ted Carter]  

Morning Run

Right by my apartment, there's a trail that goes over a wooden bridge. It goes probably three miles into the woods, then back out. That's my morning run. I do it every morning, and it's so breathtaking.

The beginning of my run is almost like a dream. The mountains are dark purple, glistening with snow caps. The cold air that hits your face is so crisp and so clean.

I've had three black bear sightings. Moose here are like deer in Cleveland, so it's no big deal, you see them coming and going. The important thing is to stay away from their little ones, because they become very aggressive.

Carter aims to spend at least four hours outdoors each day. [Ted Carter]

Learning From Each Other

My school is one of the most diverse middle schools in America. I have not only native indigenous people but Hmong, Somali, Russian, Dominican.

I did take a survey to see how many ever had an African-American teacher, and pretty much I'm their first. So we’re all learning from each other.

Right now we're finishing up about the African-American soldiers that built the the Alaska Canadian Highway. Should they get a monument built here in Anchorage? That's what my students have been writing about.

Carter teaches students of indigenous, Hmong, Somali, Dominican and Chinese ancestry at Clark Middle School in Anchorage. [Ted Carter]  

Chasing Nature

When I think about those barriers now, that eighth grade year, I think about how time has developed me into a person where I've defeated those barriers, I've overcome those barriers.

And by coming here to Alaska, it’s like a breath of fresh air up here. I’m just moving freely, chasing nature’s beauty and enjoying it.

Justin Glanville is the deputy editor of engaged journalism at Ideastream Public Media.