Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: Scavenger Hunt

"If all difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all." - Dan Rather

“If all difficulties were known at the outset of a long journey, most of us would never start out at all.”          – Dan Rather

Last weekend the journey to the Iditarod became even more real for Iditarod rookies. The weekend of December 6-7 was the Iditarod Rookie Meeting. All rookies attend this mandatory meeting. A rookie is a musher who is running the race for the first time or who has never completed the race. Several topics are covered during the meeting, from dog care to self-care. Taking care of the dogs is a primary focus for the mushers. Early detection of potential issues in the dogs was a major topic of discussion among the mushers. In order to prevent issues with their dogs, the mushers listened to veterinarians and veteran mushers talk about run-rest schedules. An equal run to rest schedule is popular among many mushers. For instance, running the dogs for three hours would require a three hour rest.

In addition to caring for their dogs, self-care was emphasized to the mushers. Sleeping, staying hydrated, and eating properly were among the topics. Veteran mushers described that there are going to be highs and there are going to be lows. It is important for the rookie mushers to focus on the moment and let go of the negative moments.

This week, Iditarod Trivia Tuesday  focuses on the rules of the Iditarod. This is a great time for you and your students to get yourself familiar with the rules of the race, since it is right around the corner. I am challenging you to a scavenger hunt. Give your students a copy of the Iditarod rules or allow them to use a computer to access the Iditarod website. You can make this a competition to see which student/group can find the answers to all the questions first. If your students are “experts” at the race, challenge them to answer the questions without using the rule book. The student/group to get the most correct wins. To access the rules you will need to go to  Once there, click on the Race Center tab and scroll down to Iditarod Rules.

Iditarod Rules Scavenger Hunt

1. What is the minimum age requirement to enter the Iditarod?

2. What is the current entry fee?

3. There are 3 mandatory stops on the Iditarod trail. When and where must the musher make these stops?

4. The rule book states a musher must have certain mandatory items with them at all times. What are these mandatory items?

5. What type of dogs are allowed to race in the Iditarod?

6. A musher must qualify to run the Iditarod. What are the qualifications?

7. When will mushers draw for their starting spots?

8. When and where will the 2015 Iditarod start?

9. When and where is the 2015 Iditarod restart?

10. How many sleds can be used during the race?

11. What is the maximum/minimum number of dogs a musher can start with?

12. What is the minimum number of dogs a musher must have to be able to finish the Iditarod?

13. Can a musher substitute a driver to take their spot?

14. The teams do not start as a mass start. How many minutes apart do teams start the race?

15. What do the rules state about passing on the trail?

16. Are mushers allowed to use cell phones?

17. What is the maximum number of entries the Iditarod will accept?

18. How many pounds of food must be shipped to the checkpoints prior to the race?

19. What does rule 31 state about “Outside Assistance”?

20. Who is eligible for drug testing – mushers, dogs, or both?

Printer friendly scavenger hunt questions

Scavenger Hunt Answers

Finding Percentages with Cindy Abbott’s Budget



The 2015 Iditarod champion will win $70,000 and a brand new Dodge pickup truck. The amount of money mushers will spend on training, dogs, food, entry fees, supplies, or anything associated with sled dog racing easily surpasses that amount. It’s apparent that dog mushers don’t get into the sport for money. These athletes are in the sport for the love of the dogs and to preserve dog mushing.

Cindy Abbott shared her 2014-15 winter season budget with my class. The basic budget she shared with us is for supplies and expenses just for the races she has planned for the season and is not even half of the money she will spend on her dream of crossing under the burled arch in Nome. Cindy’s basic supply budget is over $35,000.

This budget is a perfect opportunity for students to work on figuring percentages. Students will begin the lesson by making an inference about how much money Cindy will spend this racing season. I imagine your students’ jaws will hit the floor when you give them the actual number. $35,000 is such a large number. Have your students make a list of supplies they think would be included in Cindy’s list.  Start off by giving them a few examples: dog booties, gloves for her, sled, etc. Let your students now look at her supply list, minus the dollar amount. After closely examining Cindy’s list, have your students categorize these supplies into five groups. An example of a category would be travel expenses. Next, give your students a budget of $36,000. Their task is to divide the $36,000 into the five categories. The concept is to get as close to Cindy’s numbers as possible. Using these numbers, students will create a circle graph to display their information. We use Google Drive at my school, so this is the tool we will use. Another option is to use Microsoft Word.

Now share Cindy’s exact numbers with the students. Have your students allocate the correct amount of money to each category they created earlier. The students will create another circle graph from the actual numbers. Putting the graphs next to each other, students are able to see what they predicted compared to Cindy’s actual numbers. On the worksheet assigned to the students are some additional percentage questions based on Cindy’s budget.

This Common Core aligned lesson challenges students to determine their own categories and allocate funds to those categories. This lesson also involves a real world topic and questions. An option to add to this is to compare this budget with the average salary of a member of your community. Another option is to have your students create a spreadsheet with the budget and average salary.  Create a monthly allowance for your bills at home and bills for sled dog racing.

Finding Percentages Lesson Plan

Finding Percentages Worksheet

Cindy’s Supply List

Cindy’s Budget (including money)

Checkpoint Checkup: McGrath to Takotna


“The beautiful journey of today can only begin when we learn to let go of yesterday.” – Steve Maraboli

Many of the mushers will choose to take their mandatory 24-hour stop in McGrath while others will check into McGrath and move on to Takotna for their long rest.  Still others will go further down the trail before taking their 24-hour break.  For those who spend 24 hours in McGrath, they’ll leave for Takotna with fresh and eager dogs. This trek will be a short 18-mile run that should take about 2-3 hours. Mushers will immediately head down to the Kuskokwim River, which is a half mile wide at this point. This will take them directly to the mouth of the Takotna River.  After about a mile they’ll leave the river to slowly climb west for roughly eight miles through swampy land. Five miles or so down the trail, they will cross another river, the Tatalina River; however, it might not be that noticeable. This part of the trail is heavily trafficked by snow machines which can make for some ruts. This is about the only thing that will slow a team down on this fast run.

Many will choose to do this run at night, but for those that do the run during the day, they’ll be able to view the summit of Tatalina Mountain, 3200 feet. At this point they are running along a ridge that will eventually head 500 feet down the mountain back to the Takotna River. It will be a quick couple of miles until they reach the checkpoint.

I spoke with volunteer and teacher, Tabitha Meglitsch, who lives in the village of Takotna, and learned some interesting information about the village. Takotna was founded as a supply depot for the local mines a little over 100 years ago. At that time, Takotna was a very large community. Today, there are about 50 residents. In the village there is a post office, school, water distribution building, Takotna Tribal Council, and the Takotna Community Association. The residents are a mixture of Native Alaskan, Caucasian, and Hispanic. Folks in the community get along very well with each other. They act as a large family, helping each other out whenever necessary.

The Iditarod is an important part of the culture in Takotna, especially since historically the whole village volunteers during race time. Prior to the start of the race they will cut and split 4-5 cords of firewood. A cord of wood is any dimension of stacked wood that adds up to 128 cubic feet. The firewood is used to provide mushers with hot water to use to feed their dogs. The community also cleans up the church, library, and Twitchel Building (where the Council offices are located) in preparation for all the visitors. Another job prior to the race is for the village to buy and cook all the food they will serve to mushers, volunteers, and paying visitors.

Resting dogs

Resting dogs

During the race, village residents, both young and old, volunteer to help with the many round the clock jobs. Tabitha’s job is the “Lead Dog Handler.” This means she will organize the parking crews who park the teams that decide to stay in the checkpoint. Tabitha also helps the vets set up the dropped dog area, feed and care for the dropped dogs, and take the dogs down to the airplanes. Other jobs the villagers volunteer for are checkers, cooks, water crew, clean-up and fire crew. These crews are usually split into a day shift and night shift.  Many relatives and friends of the Takotna residents come to the village to help out during the race.

Famous Takotna pies

Famous Takotna pies

The village does their best to treat every musher equally, no matter if they are the first or the last to arrive.Takotna’s hospitality is one of a kind. Each musher is offered a steak dinner and their choice of Takotna’s famous pie. About 80 pies are baked each year for the Iditarod. The pie ladies know just about every kind of pie the mushers enjoy.

Sounds like a place you don’t want to leave, but they must keep on moving. 646 miles to Nome. Next stop, Ophir.

To read more about Takotna check out Don Bowers Trail Notes and Virtual Trail Journey – Takotna.

Ideas for the classroom:

1. What percentage of the trail have mushers completed?

2. A common cord of wood is 4 ft in width, 4 feet in height, and 8 feet long. How many cubic feet is 1 cord of wood?

3. If the village of Takotna cuts down five cords of wood, how many cubic feet of wood have they cut down?

4. What is your favorite kind of pie? Look up the ingredients to your favorite pie. How much of each ingredient would you need to make 80 of your favorite pies?

5. Find the price of each ingredient in your pie.  Approximately how much would it cost you to make 80 of your favorite pies?

6. If you can fit 2 pies in your oven, how long will it take to make 80 of your favorite pies?

7. Take a poll of everyone in your class. What is everyone’s favorite kind of pie? Make a circle chart showing your classes favorite kinds of pie.

Making Inferences with Quotes and Photos

“Memories are but a journey we take in our minds, but relive in our hearts.” - A. Grant

“Memories are but a journey we take in our minds, but relive in our hearts.” – A. Grant

This week’s Iditarod Trivia Tuesday posed questions about Jeff Schultz, official photographer of the Iditarod. Continuing with the theme of photography, this lesson will focus on interpreting quotes and inferring their meaning while using photography. To begin this Common Core aligned lesson you will have your students brainstorm quotes they remember or often quote from movies. After compiling a list of quotes, have your students make note of the quotes that they feel have a bigger meaning.

There are many famous quotes that can be interpreted many different ways. In fact, we can interpret quotes to fit our own life experiences, or even Iditarod experiences. The next step in this lesson is for your students to discover a quote that represents an Iditarod picture. Choose a picture ahead of time from Jeff Schultz’s 2014 Iditarod photo album to display on your board. Note: Due to copyright laws you cannot reproduce these images. In small groups, students will search for a quote on Brainy Quote that represents the  image. Once students find their quote they will complete the Making Inferences with Quotes and Photos Worksheet analyzing the quote they chose. The worksheet challenges students to infer the meaning of the quote by asking a series of questions. Does the quote remind you of something? How can you apply these words to your own life? How does this quote relate to the Iditarod? After sharing the quotes with the class, your class will have a list of quotes that represent Jeff Schultz’s image.

To culminate this lesson students will have the opportunity to snap their own photos. Allow your students a couple of days to find the perfect images.  Your students will be required to snap eight pictures, each picture representing a different letter of the word IDITAROD. Finally, using the web tool, Livebooklet, your students will create a flipbook of their images including a quote for each image. Your students should be able to defend their decision of each quote they chose. The final product will be shared with the teacher via email and can also be shared through social media.

If your students don’t have access to cameras, allow them to do a drawing of their picture. Encourage your students to be creative while shooting pictures. Maybe take a selfie with the item/place of the picture they are taking. Possibly have your outstanding photographers print their images out and display them in the library. Think about hosting a Photo Exhibit with all of the pictures and quotes that represent IDITAROD.

Click here to see an example IDITAROD flipbook.

Making Inferences with Quotes and Photos Lesson Plan

Making Inferences with Quotes and Photos Worksheet

IDITAROD Photography Instructions


Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: Did you know Jeff Schultz is the official photographer of the Iditarod?

“That’s the beauty of art - we strive for perfection but never achieve it. The journey is everything.” - Rafe Esquith

“That’s the beauty of art – we strive for perfection but never achieve it. The journey is everything.”                    – Rafe Esquith (Iditarod musher Ed Stielstra named one of his dogs after Jeff Schultz)

1049 miles. This is the approximate distance of the Iditarod and Jeff Schultz gets to see every mile, every year. Jeff Schultz began snapping photos of the Iditarod way back in 1981. He was invited to photograph the race by none other than the “Father of the Iditarod,” Joe Redington, Sr. The first year Jeff had to pay for his own transportation along the trail. Then the next year, the Iditarod Trail Committee asked him to shoot photos again, but now they would transport him along the trail in their planes. This opportunity has changed Jeff Schultz’s life. To read about how being the official photographer of the Iditarod has changed Jeff’s life check out his fascinating book, Chasing Dogs.

Many things have changed in photography since 1981, one of the biggest being the change from the use of film to digital cameras. Around 1999, Jeff gradually started using digital cameras. By 2003, he was using digital cameras full-time. Jeff’s favorite part of the trail is between Finger Lake and Rohn. I asked Jeff what his favorite image was to shoot. He loves to take pictures that show the dog team small with a big landscape, especially with mountains. According to Jeff, “It’s the shot that says it all that people love.” To view some of Jeff’s pictures from the 2014 Iditarod click here.

Ideas for the classroom:

1. Jeff Schultz takes approximately 10,000 photos during the course of one Iditarod.  If Jeff is taking pictures for 15 days (Ceremonial Start through the Finisher’s Banquet), about how many photos does he average per day?

2. Jeff Schultz will publish approximately 200 photos to the Iditarod website.  Using 15 days, about how many pictures will Jeff upload to the website daily?

3. Roughly, about how many dogs has Jeff Schultz had the opportunity to snap shots of? Use the Iditarod website by going to the Race Center tab and then down to Race Archives to find out how many mushers started each race Jeff has been involved in. Let’s just suppose that each musher started the race with 16 dogs.

4. It costs about $13 to have a 35 mm roll of film (36 pictures size 4×6) developed. It costs about 9¢ to have one 4×6 digital picture printed. What is the price difference in getting a roll of film developed (36 pictures) compared to 36 digital prints.

5. What do you feel are the benefits of using digital versus film?

6. Challenge: Spell IDITAROD with your camera/phone. Using any device that has a camera, go around your school and take a picture that represents each letter of IDITAROD.  For example; I –  Ink Pen (take a picture of an ink pen)

7. “Caption this.” Look at the 4 pictures below. Write a caption for each picture.

8. “Zoomed in.” What do you think the picture below is?

DSC_2741Click here for the answers.

Teaching “Theme” with Hobo Jim

“Without music, life is a journey through a dessert.” - Pat Conroy

“Without music, life is a journey through a dessert.” – Pat Conroy

Hobo Jim

Hobo Jim

No matter what age, grade, or skill level, analyzing the theme of a story or book is a difficult task. It requires students to make an inference. This higher order thinking skill can be quite challenging. A fellow teacher of mine noticed her Literacy students were having trouble grasping theme. She turned to something almost all kids enjoy, music. She determined that using T.V. show theme songs could help them master this skill. As we talked about this, my mind turned to the Iditarod. Could this be done using an Iditarod themed song? Well, of course, and the song would be I Did the Iditarod Trail by Hobo Jim.

This Common Core aligned lesson can be used with any grade level. To grab her student’s attention she played the theme song to the T.V. show Friends. It was pretty easy for the students to pick up on the theme of this song, friendship. However, when you look at the beginning of the lyrics with no music, it appears quite depressing. Adding the music, the tone of the singer, and the chorus, we can easily determine this song is about friendship.

Before actually listening to Hobo Jim’s song, students complete a close reading using the lyrics of the song. This concept is for the students to analyze the lyrics and identify the words and/or phrases that support the theme of the song. Students will use the Song Lyrics Analysis Worksheet during the close read. While analyzing the lyrics they will discuss the mood of the song and how it makes them feel. This will help determine the theme. What do you think this song is saying about life? Is there something to be learned? Or, is the writer of the song trying to teach you something? After determining what they feel the theme is, the students must defend their choice by highlighting the evidence in the song. Any words or phrases that support their choice should be highlighted. After a class discussion it’s finally time to listen to the song.

The next part of the lesson is individual practice for the students. Have your students choose a book they are currently reading or have recently finished. Students will determine the theme of their book and choose a song they feel could be the “theme song” for this book. To defend their choice, students must highlight the evidence in the lyrics of the song.

If your students are really creative, they can actually write their own theme song (parody). Have your students choose a song  whose music they like and rewrite the lyrics of the song. Your students can then use GarageBand or Audiotool to put the lyrics to the music.

To extend this lesson, make it cross curricular. Have your physical education class do a square dance routine listening to the song. Diane Johnson, Iditarod Education Director and 2000 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, asked her P.E. teacher to devise square dance steps for I Did the Iditarod Trail and the students performed the dance. View the steps here. Involve the music class by having your students learn the song and perform it for an upcoming concert. Social studies students could map out the places Hobo Jim has performed. Math students might analyze the measurement of time in the song. Using the song, science students learn about the effects music has on the growth of plants.

Music is an excellent subject to incorporate into your lessons. Just chatting with my friend about the difficulty of understanding theme of a story, many lesson ideas incorporating music evolved. I love music, so incorporating it into my classroom is no problem. I hope you take the opportunity to bring the idea of song, especially Hobo Jim’s I Did the Iditarod Trail, into your classroom.

Teaching Theme with Music Lesson Plan

Song Lyrics Analysis Worksheet

Iditarod Square Dance Steps

Click here to learn more about Hobo Jim and purchase a CD.

Checkpoint Checkup: Nikolai to McGrath

"The journey is my home." - Muriel Rukeyser

“The journey is my home.” – Muriel Rukeyser

Vern Halter, Dream a Dream Dog Farm, with one of his dogs, Aspen.

Vern Halter, Dream a Dream Dog Farm, with one of his dogs, Aspen.

It’s time to pack the sled and booty the dogs, and go onward to McGrath. As often quoted by Vern Halter, former Iditarod musher, “If you make it to Nikolai, you will likely make it to Nome.” By no means does this mean it is smooth running from Nikolai, it just means, statistically speaking, the toughest part of the trail is behind the mushers.

One of Vern Halter's dogs modeling a winter coat.

One of Vern Halter’s dogs modeling a winter coat.

According to Don Bowers, this 4 ½ to 7 hour run can be quite boring. Most mushers will choose to do this run at night when it is cooler and the dogs will go faster. Bowers also mentions it is generally very cold down on the Kuskokwim River, so it would be a good idea to put coats on the dogs. After leaving Nikolai mushers will be back down on the Kuskokwim River for about a mile. Then up and out of the banks of the river, the trail will be straight, quick, and fast. It will be very easy to follow because it is the main snow machine trail between Nikolai and McGrath, a distance of 48 miles. Halfway to Big River, mushers will cross the big Guitar Lake. This lake is almost two miles wide.

Once the mushers arrive at Big River, they are halfway to McGrath, 23 more miles. The mushers will be back on the Kuskokwim again. After some time on the river the teams will exit the bank and head through the woods for about seven miles before meeting back up with the river. The rest of the way to McGrath is on the river, off the river, repeat. When the mushers arrive in McGrath it will most likely be very busy. McGrath has become a popular checkpoint for many mushers to take their 24-hour mandatory stop. Many mushers will also have a replacement sled waiting for them in McGrath. The first musher to arrive in McGrath will receive the Spirit of Alaska Award from Penn Air.


I spoke with Iditarod volunteer Stacey Cardy about what it is like in McGrath. McGrath is the next big “hub” after Anchorage. A hub is a larger town that has an actual airport where larger planes can land. McGrath has a blend of both native and white people, whereas the smaller checkpoints are predominantly native.

With two stores, a school, a library & museum, a restaurant, a regional health center and a community center, there’s plenty going on in McGrath.  Prices in the village for groceries would seem high to shoppers from the lower 48 states.  According to Stacey, an Alaska resident, it costs $13 for a ½ gallon of ice cream.  Both stores are well stocked and offer groceries, dry goods and hardware.  The Alaska Commercial Store (AC Store) is huge compared to the small pink barn shaped structure known as The Shoppe.  Walking from logistics to the checkpoint, you’ll pass the newly built health center, the library & museum, a church, The Shoppe and the school.  Sixty-one PK-12 students attend school in McGrath.  They are known as the McGrath Knights.  The Community Center is a nice, large, multipurpose building equipped with a washeteria (laundromat & showers).  The Fire Hall is part of the Community Center.

Year round, McGrath serves as a transportation hub for the surrounding area.  The community also serves as an Iditarod hub. Logistics (coordination and staging) operations for the race are based in the Cafe which is located near the airstrip.  Volunteers working checkpoints from Rohn to the Yukon River fly commercially to McGrath, then wait for IAF transportation to smaller checkpoints.  If waiting overnight, race personnel can sleep in a big bunk room upstairs over the Cafe.  The Iditarod Air Force (IAF) pilots have a bunk room of their own downstairs.  Logistics people and pilots let volunteers know when their IAF flights are departing. On the other end, when a checkpoint closes after the last musher leaves, volunteers might be flown into McGrath and then wait for a commercial flight back to Anchorage or a flight further down the trail to their next assignment.  The Cafe, a local gathering spot, serves excellent food.  During the race, the Cafe kitchen is a double duty operation.  Iditarod cooks share the kitchen with the Cafe’s chef/owner to prepare food for the logistics crew, the pilots and other volunteers awaiting transport.

Volunteer Comm's Rob Johnson works the communication desk at McGrath on Wednesday March 5 during the 2014 Iditarod. (Photo by Jeff Schultz)

Volunteer Comm’s Rob Johnson works the communication desk at McGrath on Wednesday March 5 during the 2014 Iditarod. (Photo by Jeff Schultz)

It’s an easy one-mile walk from the Cafe/logistics to the Community Center where the checkpoint is located. Stacey works at the checkpoint as a Comms (Communications) volunteer. Comms sets up shop in the Community Center in a small office like room. News crews will base themselves out of McGrath since it is a larger checkpoint. They set up shop in the laundromat in the Community Center.  While a cook is on hand 24 hours a day at the checkpoint to prepare food for the mushers and volunteers, community members also bring food in – pies, cakes, bars, soups and stews are delivered regularly.  Day and night, kids and adults come to the checkpoint to hang out, visit with neighbors and watch the mushers.

Everybody keeps an eye on the tracker for the mushers. When they are about a mile or so out, the checker and a Comms volunteer, along with dog team parkers and vets, will prepare to head outside.  When the team is on the river, everyone heads outside to welcome  them to McGrath. The checker will write down the time the musher arrived, how many dogs are with the musher, and then tell them where to park. Assisted by the parkers, the musher will guide the team to their parking spot. If the musher is a first-timer, the checker will let them know where the musher bags, hot water, and musher facilities are located.

After a long rest and great meals, the mushers will be back on the trail heading to Takotna.  669 miles to Nome.  Virtual Trail Journey and Don Bower’s Trail Notes provide more information about McGrath and the trail from Nikolai to McGrath.

Ideas for the classroom:

1. How much does a 1/2 gallon of ice cream cost in your town?  Compare your price with the price in McGrath.

2. Mushers leave Willow 2 minutes apart. This time is made up during the 24-hour mandatory stop.  The last musher to leave Willow will spend exactly 24 hours at the mandatory stop.  The second to last musher will leave 24 hours plus 2 minutes, and so on. Have your students create an easy to use formula to determine when each musher will leave their mandatory stop.

3. Using the current number of mushers signed up for the 2015 Iditarod, 73, have your students figure out when bib #32 should leave their mandatory stop.

4. Writing prompt: Why do you feel a musher would have a replacement sled waiting for them in McGrath? Defend your response with factual evidence from earlier Checkpoint Checkups. (Hint: Think about trail conditions.)

Celsius vs. Fahrenheit

"To travel is to take a journey into yourself." - Danny Kaye

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.” – Danny Kaye

Ken Anderson getting hot water from the cooker in Takotna.

Ken Anderson getting hot water from the cooker in Takotna.

Tomorrow will be a scorching 35° outside! How often have you heard a meteorologist utter these words? 35° can sound scorching if you’re from Norway or Sweden, but here in the United States it is actually quite chilly. 35° Celsius is approximately 95° Fahrenheit. The United States still measures temperature in Fahrenheit while many other countries are using Celsius. If your students completed this week’s Iditarod Trivia Tuesday, they found out there are 13 mushers from countries other than the United States signed up for the 2015 Iditarod. Converting temperatures is a quick and easy lesson aligned with the Common Core.

To grab your students’ attention right off the bat, reveal tomorrow’s temperature to them in Celsius. This can easily transition into a discussion about how the U.S. uses Fahrenheit while many other countries use Celsius.  This can lead directly to students discovering which countries the 13 mushers from out of the USA call home.

In this lesson students will identify Iditarod mushers that are not from the United States while making real world temperature conversions such as, boiling water, freezing water, body temperature, etc. Students will also develop a week-long weather forecast for their hometown and a village on the Iditarod trail. The weather forecast must be accurate according to the weather app the students choose. While developing the forecast they must also convert the Fahrenheit temperature to Celsius.

Gas stove heating water for all mushers in Skwentna.

Gas stove heating water for all mushers in Skwentna.

The sixth grade students at Camanche Middle School, where I teach, report the weather daily at the beginning of the day. I am going to challenge them to start reporting the temperature in Celsius. This will require reporters to convert the temperatures and encourage the listeners to convert the temperatures. Good luck converting temperatures.

Temperature Conversion Lesson Plan

Temperature Conversion Worksheet

Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: How many mushers have signed up for the 2015 Iditarod?

“Everyone’s journey is completely different.” - Jeremy Piven

“Everyone’s journey is completely different.” – Jeremy Piven

June 29, 2014 was the first day mushers could sign up for the 2015 race. Each year on the last Saturday of June the annual Musher Sign Up/Volunteer Picnic takes place in Wasilla, Alaska. A majority of mushers will join in the festivities and sign up for the race. Signing up at the picnic gives mushers the chance to earn their $3000 entry fee back. It’s safe to say that is a great reason to sign up on site. If mushers are unable to attend they are able to mail their entry in. Mushers have until December 1 to enter the 2015 race.

Use the Iditarod website to locate mushers who have signed up for the 2015 race. When you arrive at the site you will have some more searching to complete. Hover over the Race Center tab and then click on 2015 Musher Profiles.  There are two options to view this page; 1. Alphabetical order with a head-shot, or 2. Click View Musher Roster as a list. Viewing as a list displays more information about the musher; name, sex, city, state, country, and status (rookie or veteran).

Questions for the classroom:

1. How many mushers are signed up for the 2015 Iditarod?
2. How many mushers are from the state of Alaska?
3. What is the percentage someone from Alaska will win?
4. How many mushers are from the Lower 48?
5. What is the percentage someone from the Lower 48 will win?
6. How many mushers are from a country other than the U.S.?
7. What is the percentage that someone from out of the U.S. will win?
8. How many mushers are previous champions?  Use the website to help you. Hover over the Race Center tab then click on Race Archives.
9. How many rookies are signed up for the race?
10. Rookie of the Year is awarded to the first rookie to cross the finish line.  What is the percentage the Rookie of the Year will be male/female?
11. How many females versus males are signed up for the race?
12. What is the percentage a female will win?


1. Who do you think will be the 2015 Iditarod Champion?
2. Choose your top ten finishers.
3. Who will be the first female finisher?
4. Who will be Rookie of the Year?

Click here for the answers.

Read more about this summer’s Musher Sign-up/Volunteer Picnic in The First Step and Eye on the Trail.

Skype With Me

"Enlightenment is the journey from the head back to the heart, from words back to silence." - Jock Brocas

“Enlightenment is the journey from the head back to the heart, from words back to silence.” – Jock Brocas

Would you and your students like the opportunity to Skype with the 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ before the race? Would you like to Skype or receive a video message live from the Iditarod Trail?  Sign up for the Skype in the Classroom lesson by simply clicking here.  If you have difficulties accessing Skype in your district, I am willing to communicate with you using another mode, such as Google Hangout. However, Skype will be the only mode for me to stay in touch with you when I’m on the trail. You can email me by clicking here.

Once we lock down a date and time I will direct you back to this posting. To prepare for your Skype in the Classroom lesson, have your students keep a journal entry with answers to the questions below. In your Skype session with me I will be covering the topics that I have your students preparing for. Try to have the pictures posted during the Skype session and have your students have their answers to the questions with them.

Some teachers and students have a deeper knowledge and understanding of the Iditarod.  With advance notice, I am willing to focus the Skype session on a more specific topic of your choice.

Skype Lesson Preparation

Part 1: Puppies

View the video below titled Puppy Cam. After viewing the video have your students answer the following questions:

When do you think mushers begin training puppies?
What do you think is happening in this video?

View the pictures below.  These are the same puppies you watched in the video.

What do you notice about the names of all the puppies?

Part 2: Types of dogs

Do you know what kinds of dogs are used in the Iditarod?

View the pictures below. Label each picture with the type of dog you think it is.

Part 3: Team

View the picture below. Each dog has a position on this dog team. Can you name the positions on this dog team?


Part 4: The “Lead Dog”

View the picture below.  Write a short paragraph from the perspective of this dog. Take a look at his surroundings and notice what is going on. What is he thinking? Why do you think he is just sitting there, as still as possible?


Why Calories are Important

"The journey has to be based on passion. Put yourself in something you love to do. If you love what you do you're able to dedicate yourself, overcome obstacles." - Rickson Gracie

“The journey has to be based on passion. Put yourself in something you love to do. If you love what you do you’re able to dedicate yourself, overcome obstacles.” – Rickson Gracie

Many people record and track the number of calories they consume daily since an increasing amount of tools and apps have become available. It seems like everyone knows the exact number of calories they should consume and burn per day.  Why are they tracking calories?  Why are calories important to your body?  Through this lesson, my students discovered how important calories really are.

I posed a number of questions for my students to ponder. What is a calorie? How many calories do you consume? How many are you supposed to consume? How many calories does an Olympic swimmer consume? How many calories does an Iditarod sled dog consume? The objective of this lesson was for students to compare their caloric intake to that of an Olympic athlete and Iditarod sled dog. The results were very interesting.

This lesson required students to reflect about what they eat and drink during a day along with any exercise achieved. We started out by discussing what a calorie is and the importance of calories. A calorie is a unit of energy.  Any physical activity requires a great deal of energy. Our body, and a sled dog’s body, needs energy to build and keep muscle. The students were to keep this in mind as they were working on the activity.

After calculating the amount of calories they think a person their age should consume during a day they went online to find out. They were fairly accurate. Next, it was time for them to really reflect on their health. We used an app called Diet Diary to record an entire day’s worth of eating and drinking. The students also recorded any exercise they completed. The idea behind this is to notice how many calories they truly consume along with how many they burn.

The task for the students was to create a Prezi, highlighting the differences in caloric intake between themselves, their Olympic athlete of choice, and an Iditarod sled dog. Additionally, they would be sharing their favorite food and how much of that item it would take to reach the amount of calories each person/dog needed.

Vern Halter's (Dream a Dream Dog Farm) dogs taking a snack and water break on a summer tour run.

Vern Halter’s (Dream a Dream Dog Farm) dogs taking a snack and water break on a summer tour run.

The dogs are ready to get back at it.

The dogs are ready to get back at it.

Reflecting afterwards we saw some interesting data.  Some kids consumed over 4,000 calories/day.  Others consumed less than 2,000.  Some Olympic athletes only needed to consume 3,000 calories/day, while others need to consume over 10,000, depending on their sport.  Iditarod sled dogs need to consume approximately 10,000 calories/day, too.  Our discussion led us to why it is necessary for some to consume so many calories.  We  reviewed what a calorie is again and how much energy is required for certain sports. It was very fascinating listening to all the conversations as they found out how much certain athletes “get” to eat while performing.

Why calories are important lesson plan

Student sheet for calories

Caloric intake chart

Caloric intake chart source:

Checkpoint Checkup: Rohn to Nikolai

"Never stop just because you feel defeated. The journey to the other side is attainable only after great suffering." - Santosh Kalwar

“Never stop just because you feel defeated. The journey to the other side is attainable only after great suffering.” – Santosh Kalwar

We took a break in Rohn in our last Checkpoint Checkup. It’s time for our mushers to get moving again.  This section of our journey is approximately 75-80 miles and will take about 10-15 hours. This part of the trail can be broken down into three sections; Rohn to the Farewell Burn, across the Burn to Sullivan Creek, and then Sullivan Creek to Nikolai. Since this is such a long run, some teams will give their dogs a long break along the way and others will take several shorter breaks.

Mushers can look forward to some beautiful scenery along the way, but some challenges will arise also. First, teams must contend with some harsh winds. As mushers are traveling along the Kuskokwim River, they will meet winds in excess of 40 mph, usually head on. This part of the trail also includes sections of glare ice. Glare ice is ice that has a very smooth, glass-like surface.

Egypt Mountain from the sky.

Egypt Mountain from the sky.

Eventually, the dogs and mushers will  run through the Buffalo Chutes. Since being moved from Canada in 1965, hundreds of bison roam this area. It is on this part of the trail mushers will see Egypt Mountain which is approximately 3000 feet high. Once past Egypt Mountain, mushers will run into a difficult section of overflow. Overflow occurs when the ice gets so thick that the water has nowhere to go and pushes up over the ice. Overflow can be very challenging to cross. Mushers will soon be at Farewell Lake. After about five miles they will head past the Old Pioneer Roadhouse. According to Don Bower’s trail notes, this is an original stop on the old Iditarod. He also notes that you can still see ruins of a couple of cabins there.

View of Denali.

View of Denali.

Mushers are now in the second major section of their journey to Nikolai, the Farewell Burn. The Farewell Burn is the location of one of the largest forest fires in Alaska history. In 1978, a forest fire  destroyed about one million and a half acres of forest. Mushers will be traveling through this land for about 40 miles. Initially, after the fire, this part of the trail was very difficult due to all the burned trees and limbs blocking the trail. The Bureau of Land Management has since cleaned this area up. With the absence of trees, mushers can see what seems like forever. During the day mushers have the hope of seeing a magnificent view of Denali.

After a very long straightaway, the trail will go in and out of the treeline until arriving at Sullivan Creek. There is a bridge here for mushers to use to cross the creek. Good thing, because usually the creek is open water and pretty deep.

Section three of this part of the trail is Sullivan Creek to Nikolai, about 21 miles. The last 12 miles of this section is marked and maintained by the Nikolai villagers. This will be a quick run, flat and fast through the woods, swamps, and lakes. The mushers have made it to Nikolai. Most of the tough part of the trail is behind them, but they better not let their guard down, because anything can happen.

Nikolai is the first Native Alaskan Village along the trail. Nikolai is an Athabascan village that was settled during the Gold Rush. Originally, it was the site of a trading post and roadhouse that connected the Ophir Mining District to the Cook Inlet. Present day Nikolai has approximately 100 people living in the village.

Traditionally Athabascan people have lived in the Interior along the Yukon, Tanana, Susitna, Copper, and Kuskokwim (Nikolai) rivers. Today they live throughout Alaska.  Children in Nikolai are taught the many Athabascan Cultural Values. Athabascans are taught respect for all living things as well as village cooperation, respect for land, sharing, and respect for Elders.

The school in Nikolai.

The school in Nikolai.

The first time I spoke with the students and teacher/principal at Nikolai it was their lunch time. Immediately I noticed cultural values being practiced. Sitting in the midst of the 12 students of the Top of the Kuskokwim school (Nikolai) were several Elders. The Elders frequently lunch with the students, a wonderful opportunity to share stories with young children at the school.

The Top of the Kuskokwim school is part of the Iditarod School District. There are about 200 students served in seven different communities. None of these schools are accessible by road. My students were amazed when they found out there were only 12 students in the entire school, kindergarten through 12th grade. Even though this is a small school, they have many opportunities. We met a student who was using his lunch time to engage in a virtual flight simulator. My students thought that was awesome. Students in grades 7-12 have the opportunity to take aviation classes. With limited access to roads, air travel is important. Studying for a future career at this young age is a perfect opportunity for students.

Timothy's (from Nikolai) writing about working during the Iditarod.

Timothy’s (from Nikolai) writing about working during the Iditarod.

This school district also integrates its culture into their curriculum. The first two weeks of school are spent at Fish Camp. Fishing is crucial to their lifestyle, and it is imperative children learn this lifestyle. Students also learn the health benefits of cross-country skiing. Another opportunity the students have is Culture Camp. Here, students learn leadership and communication skills by blending Western Science with Native knowledge. The Nikolai students also complete a large unit on the Iditarod, very fitting since they are located on the trail and for a couple of weeks each year it’s a huge and exciting part of village life. Besides studying the Iditarod, the students help during race time. According to young student, Timothy, “There are four jobs when the Iditarod happens. I’ll tell you one job. It’s taking shifts. There is a morning, afternoon, and all night shift. Morning shift is cooking brunch for the mushers. Afternoon shift is cooking lunch for the mushers. All night shift is cooking dinner for the mushers and cleaning up the school.”

Ideas for the Classroom:

1. Read through the list of Athabascan Values.  My school has a list of values that we expect all students and staff to abide by: PRIDE (Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Discipline, and Excellence).  Examples of these values are holding doors open for others, walking down the correct side of the hall, acting appropriately at assemblies, turning in work, respecting all students and adults, getting to classes/practices on time, etc. Is there a set of values that your school follows? Choose one Athabascan Value and one of your school’s values. Compare and contrast the two values.

2. How do you think a student in Nikolai could display your value? How do you think you could display an Athabascan Value at your school?

3. How can your value be displayed by a musher running the Iditarod?

4. How can an Athabascan value be displayed by a musher running the Iditarod?

5. Draw a picture of portraying your value and a picture portraying the Athabascan value.

To read more about the trail from Rohn to Nikolai read Sanka’s Virtual Trail Journey or Don Bower’s trail notes.

Mystery Skype

“When we embrace uncertainty, honor it, and welcome it, the mystery of our journey unfolds with grace.” - Unknown

“When we embrace uncertainty, honor it, and welcome it, the mystery of our journey unfolds with grace.” – Unknown

Skype is an incredible tool teachers have at their fingertips allowing them to communicate with other classes and speakers around the world. Skype in the Classroom provides teachers with opportunities to share lessons, join lessons, and find guest speakers for their classrooms. A very popular Skype in the Classroom lesson is Mystery Skype. My class recently held a Mystery Skype with the village of Nikolai. Nikolai is a small village along the Iditarod Trail. Tuesday (11/11/14) I will post a Checkpoint Checkup sharing information about Nikolai.

The objective in a Mystery Skype is to ask yes or no questions about location to determine where the other class is located. The questions should be centered around geography (directions, latitude/longitude, equator, bodies of water, mountain ranges, etc). The classes take turns asking each other questions while trying to locate each other.

A Mystery Skype does not necessarily have to be with another class. The reason we chose to do a Mystery Skype with Nikolai was to start a relationship with that class. My class will  communicate and work with the Nikolai class over the next couple of weeks. This is a great way to start a relationship with another class as well as analyze the geography of their location. Jen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, held a Mystery Skype with a friend and Iditarod volunteer in New York, live from Central Park in front of the Balto statue.  Maybe you have a friend or family member living or vacationing in Alaska. Have this person work with your class on a Mystery Skype. Another idea is to contact the museum in Cleveland, Ohio, home of stuffed (preserved and mounted) Balto. The Cleveland Museum of Natural History offers a distance learning program called Balto: A History of Humans, Huskies, and Health in Alaska. This program teaches students about the disease diptheria and how instrumental Balto was in the famous Serum Run. Balto reminds us how important sled dogs were in the history of Alaska.  Preserving the use of these great athletes is why Joe Redington started this amazing race, the Iditarod. Participating in the distance learning program also provides students the opportunity to try on authentic Iditarod gear. Any Mystery Skype can turn into an unlimited amount of future assignments and projects to do with the other class.

One of my students working with Google Earth trying to locate the other class

One of my students working with Google Earth trying to locate the other class.

When my class participates in a Mystery Skype, students are assigned specific jobs to complete during the Skype session.

Jobs: These can be modified to better fit your classroom. The following jobs are used in my classroom:

Greeters: The greeter introduces the class to the other class. Make sure the greeter doesn’t tell them the location of your class. Do identify the grade and subject of your class.

Q&A: This job is to ask the questions your class has for the other class. Q&A students will also answer any questions from the other class. Remember, questions must be yes or no. The Q&A person (or group) should be receiving new questions from the New Questions group as you are working.

Recorder: The recorder  keeps track of all the questions your class asks the other class and records the answers on the board. This helps the other students work and determine their next question.

Videographer: This person takes video clips of your Skype session.

Photographer: The photographer takes pictures of your class working during the Skype session.

Google Earth: This job requires students to use Google Earth to narrow down the other class’  location. This group works with the New Questions group.

Mappers: The mappers use the class Atlas to narrow down the other class’  location. They also work with the New Questions group, as well as with the Google Earth group.

New Questions: This job requires students to work with the Google Earth and Mapper groups to create yes/no questions to ask the other class.

Runners: The runner runs (walk fast) the next question to the Q&A group.

Bloggers: The bloggers create a blog about the Mystery Skype with the other class. Our class’ blog will be posted to our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Twitter: This group is in charge of creating live tweets during the session. They will use #mysteryskype in each tweet.

When on Skype- look for Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ to Skype with me and/or my class and/or contact me by email for additional information.

Mystery Skype Lesson Plan

Mystery Skype Jobs

Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: Did you know Matthew Failor gets a pizza delivered to him when he arrives in Unalakleet?

“It’s the friends we meet along life’s road who help us appreciate the journey” – Unknown

“It’s the friends we meet along life’s road who help us appreciate the journey” – Unknown

In 2013, a fan from Florida placed an order with a restaurant in Unalakleet to have a pizza waiting for Matthew Failor when he arrived with his dogs.  Would this be the start of a tradition?  In 2014, there were five pizzas waiting for Matthew in Unalakleet, which he didn’t get to eat since he checked in and out of the checkpoint in a matter of minutes.  Sadly, the pizzas weren’t from the same Florida fan who had them delivered in 2013.  That fan had passed away earlier in the year due to complications with diabetes.  Her friends didn’t let her down and decided to keep the tradition alive. Other mushers enjoyed the pizza, along with other food prepared by village volunteers for all the mushers.

Questions to use in the classroom:

What is the name of the restaurant in Unalakleet the pizza was delivered from?

What is your favorite pizza and from what restaurant?  Find out how much it would cost you to buy your pizza.

Find out how much a pizza costs in Unalakleet at the restaurant Matthew’s pizza comes from.

Why do you think it costs so much more for a pizza in Unalakleet?

Read the story below from Matthew Failor.  Make a musical playlist if you were making the run from Rainy Pass to Rohn (you only get 10 songs).

Since our Checkpoint Checkup last week was Rainy Pass to Rohn, I asked Matthew to share a little bit about his most recent journey.  As he and his dogs were jamming to Ted Nugent, the sky was full of stars and the moon was as bright as the sun.  It was a very fast and technical run, with barely any snow.

Matthew Failor (Photo by Jeff Schultz)

Matthew Failor (Photo by Jeff Schultz)

Here is what Matthew had to say about arriving in Rohn in 2014: “It was an unsettling, eerie feeling. Felt like I had just walked into a funeral home during calling hours. Dumbfounded mushers were standing by their sleds, not moving, not talking. I had been so focused on what I was doing that it finally dawned on me that I wasn’t the only musher who’d had a difficult time controlling my team in the gorge. Mushers with broken sleds, bones, and wills were log-jammed here in Rohn. My plan was to stay there only long enough to pack my sled, all in all maybe 15 minutes. I squeezed in snacks for dog and man, Heet and straw. After packing my sled for the long run to Nikolai, I dashed into the log cabin for a drink of water. I was full of sweat and showing signs of dehydration. By accident, I found the jug of Tang. It was tasty enough, so I slammed down 4 cups of that sugary stuff as fast as I could. As I was heading out the door I noticed my friend DeeDee (Jonrowe) by the wood stove. I stopped to give her a big hug, told her she was the ‘Queen of the Dalzell Gorge’ and that the worst was behind us…I was wrong. The worst was not behind us…  When the smoke cleared a dozen or so mushers pulled the plug in Rohn.”

Trail crews had worked hard to prepare the trail through the Dalzell Gorge in 2014.  With their hard word and a little cooperation from Mother Nature, the trail would be decent.  Mother Nature dropped the snow everyone was hoping for, not much, but a couple of inches can make a big difference.  Things looked reasonable; however, under a bright, radiant sun, temperatures warmed well above freezing as the race began in Willow and the precious little snow that had fallen began to melt.  Conditions in the Gorge during 2014 were not at all typical of what mushers usually see or don’t see.  If he were talking about his runs in 2012 or 2013, Matthew would tell a story about triumph and satisfaction in Rohn rather than shock and disbelief.  While the red line on the map is the same, the condition of the trail makes each year of the race unique.

This page will help in researching the restaurant and prices.

Click here for trivia answers.

Get Ready for Veterans Day with Heroes Among Us

"The journey of the hero is about the courage to seek the depths." - Phil Cousineau

“The journey of the hero is about the courage to seek the depths.” – Phil Cousineau

With Veterans Day just around the corner, November 11th, you may want to think about doing a lesson comparing dog heroes to our human heroes. This lesson, aligned with the Common Core, is broken into three parts. I will be starting this lesson with my class on Monday with the hopes of holding our culminating activity on November 11.

Part 1: Alaska’s Dog Heroes

One might not think of a dog in terms of a hero. After you read Alaska’s Dog Heroes by Shelley Gill your mind may be changed. To introduce this lesson have your students brainstorm the definition of a hero. Then discuss the actual definition of a hero and have your students create a list of qualities or traits a hero might display. As I discuss these traits with my class, we will reflect on the traits included on our Iditarod quilt squares that we created earlier this year. Are the traits they thought of for their mushers similar to the traits they came up with for heroes in general?

In small groups, the students will read a couple of short stories from Alaska’s Dog Heroes. I am going to assign each group two different stories so that all groups have different dog heroes to read about. After reading, I will ask students to make a list of qualities their dog hero displayed in the story. We will then make an electronic trading card. Click here to get to the e-trading card creator website. This website is very easy to use and you are able to finish any unfinished work and continue at a different time, in case students need more a separate session to finish. Students are also able to accumulate a collection of trading cards that can be traded with other classmates or the teacher. My class plans to print and laminate our trading cards to display.

Part 2: Heroes Among Us

My grandpa, Lyle Lockard, served in World War II

My grandpa, Lyle Lockard, served in World War II

I feel strongly about young people honoring and giving respect to our nation’s veterans. My students will now be asked to glimpse into the life of a local veteran. If you contact your local VFW you can access a list of veterans in your community. In their small groups, the students will  choose one veteran from our town to focus on. As a whole class, we will discuss traits one must demonstrate in wartime. We will look back at our dog hero traits and compare those qualities.

Returning to their small groups, students will start forming questions to ask their veteran. Example questions could be: when did you enlist, why did you enlist, length of enlistment, branch of armed forces, etc. Depending on your local VFW, you may be able to also get contact information for the vets. If so, have your students contact their vet during class. This fits perfectly with the speaking and listening standards in the Common Core. Remind the students to introduce themselves and explain the class project. You should also have the kids ask their vet if they mind answering a few questions. I am going to have my students put the phone on speaker so everyone in the group can hear and they can all work on recording answers. Following the interview, the students will go back to their e-trading card collection.  They will now create a trading card on their veteran. Again, the students will print their trading cards. To conclude part two, the class will share their dog hero and “Hero Among Us” with the class.

Part 3: Heroes Among Us Assembly

Our culminating activity for this lesson is organizing and holding an assembly honoring our “Heroes Among Us.” If possible, hold your assembly on or close to Veterans Day. Put the students in charge of all the planning, including the order of events. They must invite their veterans and anyone else they feel should be there. It would be a good idea to contact your local newspaper or television news channel.

To prepare for the assembly students need to create a certificate for their veteran. Our certificate will say something similar to, “Camanche Middle School Honors (Name of Veteran) as a Hero Among Us.”  We will also present each veteran with a mini flag, along with the e-trading card the students made in class.  The students also need to choose a main speaker who welcomes everyone, explains the class project, and introduces each group. When each group is called to the stage at the assembly, they will introduce their veteran to our guests. They will then share with the guests the information they learned about their vet. Finally, they will present their vet with the trading card, flag, and certificate telling them they are a “hero among us.” A possible closing for the assembly is to have a couple of band students play Taps.

I am very excited to start this lesson on Monday. I think it will be a great opportunity for students to learn more about the diversity of heroes among us.

If you don’t have Alaska’s Dog Heroes, you still have time to order it to be able to do this lesson coinciding with Veterans Day.  Go to Shelley Gill’s website and order your copy today.

Heroes Among Us Lesson Plan

Checkpoint Checkup: Rainy Pass to Rohn

"To get through the hardest journey we need only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping."  - Chinese Proverb  (Photo by Jeff Schultz)

“To get through the hardest journey we need only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.” – Chinese Proverb
(Photo by Jeff Schultz)

On our last checkpoint journey, we left Karin Hendrickson in Rainy Pass. The next part of the trek will take us about 35 miles to Rohn. This section of the trail can be quite challenging. Mushers will summit the highest point on the trail and travel through the infamous Dalzell Gorge before finally arriving in Rohn.

Due to the challenge and technical difficulty of this run, some will do this 3 ½ to 5 hour leg during the day while others prefer night. It’s a matter of personal preference based on experience or advice they’ve been given.  Mushers depart the Rainy Pass Lodge, 1800 feet above sea level, and work their way up the Alaskan Range until reaching the summit at 3160 feet above sea level. From the summit, the mushers begin their descent into one of the Alaskan regions called the Interior as they work their way down to the valley of Dalzell Creek. Mushers will get a little break from the descent with a nice, easy run for a couple of miles in this valley. It’s a good time to mentally prepare for the Dalzell Gorge.

Just before reaching the Gorge, mushers will see a large, explicit warning sign nailed to a tree.  Over the next two miles, the trail will drop about 200 feet.  Depending on trail conditions, the descent can be extremely difficult or just technically challenging.  Some rookies have said they didn’t even realize they were in the Gorge until it was behind them. The trail weaves back and forth in the Gorge, crossing the creek that typically has running water. With the fast speed they are traveling and the sharpness of the curves, you can imagine that a few sleds have gone into the creek.  Don’t worry, it’s barely a foot deep. The Dalzell Gorge is only about two miles, but as it snakes along the creek, crosses over the creek on ice bridges and curves around big trees and ice ledges, it seems much farther. Reaching the bottom of the Gorge, mushers have about five miles of flat trail down the frozen Tatina River to Rohn.

Tina Scheer models a native made parkaTo get an idea of what Rohn is like, I spoke with volunteer, Tina (Timber) Scheer. Timber, along with many others, feel Rohn is the best checkpoint on the entire Iditarod trail. The reason people love this checkpoint so much is because of the remote location and the astounding beauty. Rohn Checkpoint is between two beautiful rivers, the Kuskokwim and the Tatina, and it’s surrounded by two gorgeous mountain ranges.  A roadhouse once stood near the site of the safety cabin that houses the Rohn Checkpoint today.  The old Iditarod Trail Roadhouse served the mushers and dog teams delivering mail and supplies to the area back in the days of the gold rush.  The population of Rohn is zero, except during Iditarod when it’s a hustling, bustling place for a few days and dogs far outnumber the humans.

Timber has been volunteering for four years at Rohn.  The volunteers arrive at Rohn about a week before the first musher is expected to arrive. Timber and the crew come in by plane, usually flying into McGrath on a larger plane then jumping on with the Iditarod Air Force to Rohn. The “Core Team” has been doing this for over 20 years. They set up, tear down, and fix anything that needs fixing. Jasper Bond, the Sheriff of Rohn, is the checkpoint’s amazing cook. Terry Boyle, the Mayor of Rohn, is in charge of the outside. The Sheriff and Mayor of Rohn have acquired these titles, perhaps self-appointed, over time for their roles in coordinating and directing activities at the remote, unpopulated checkpoint. There’s no cell phone service and no high speed internet connections at the Rohn Checkpoint.  Race data and communications are sent and received via emails through dial-up satellite phone connections.  The computer and sat-phone used by the communications team at Rohn is powered by a small generator.

The first few days Timber is at Rohn, she helps get the checkpoint ready. During the days leading up to the first musher arriving, volunteers get to sleep in the safety cabin. Once the race arrives they head outdoors and set up tents, or Arctic Oven Tents.  These tents have a wood stove inside and are really very cozy for housing the veterinarians, volunteers, press, and race administrators.

One of Timber’s favorite chores is working maintenance on the Dalzell Gorge. She and others travel up the Tatina River and into the Gorge by snowmachine. Their job consists of light maintenance on and around the trail, cleaning up large branches and small trees.  Heavier work and significant trail preparation are done during the summer and fall.

Entering Rohn under the small burled arch.

Entering Rohn under the small burled arch.

The mushers are here!  Once the first musher arrives, it is 48 hours of crazy, non-stop action. Mushers, dogs, airplanes, vets, press, volunteers, spectators and snowmachines are in and out of Rohn at all hours of the day and night.

Mushers enter Rohn under a small burled arch. They are immediately asked “short-term or long-term,” referring to where they will be parked. Rohn used to be a popular place for taking the required 24-hour rest along the trail.  Not so much anymore.

While in Rohn, mushers are in charge of getting their own water. They are provided with a sled with water buckets and a ladle.  It’s a good 10-minute hike down to the river to fetch water. Often mushers forgo the hike and melt snow for water.  Mushers can use any of the four bunk beds in the cabin to catch a little shut-eye. Remember, it’s important to get a little rest on the trail.

Just like that, the race is gone, moved up the trail. Time for cleanup. All the gear and supplies that were flown in are flown out. Tents, stoves, communications equipment, musher return bags*, straw, leftover HEET**, garbage and the volunteers; everything goes. Their job is finished and they will be back next year to do it all again. Timber’s job is finished, but our mushers still have 735 more miles to travel before reaching Nome.

The Virtual Trail Journey and Don Bower’s Trail Notes provides more information about the trail from Rainy Pass to Rohn and the Rohn checkpoint.  Next stop, Nikolai.

*Musher return bags are bags for the mushers to put any items in that are left from their drop bags. If mushers want these leftover items flown out of a checkpoint and ultimately returned to them, they put them in these bags labeled RETURN, along with the musher’s name on them.

**HEET is an alcohol-based fuel mushers use to quickly warm water. Cases of HEET are delivered to the checkpoints, but mushers must also carry HEET or another fuel with them in their sled to heat 3 gallons of water. See the Race Rules, p. 81, for mandatory items.

Ideas for the Classroom:

From Rainy to Rohn, mushers will summit the highest point on the trail.  In this posting you read the elevation of the Rainy Pass checkpoint.  What is the difference in elevation of Rainy Pass and the highest point on the trail?

Find the elevation of the start in Anchorage.  What is the difference in elevation of Anchorage and the highest point of the trail?

Find the elevation of the finish line in Nome.  What is the difference in elevation of Nome and the highest point of the trail?

Find the elevation of your hometown.  What is the difference in elevation of your hometown and the highest point of the trail?

What is the highest point in the United States (or your country)?  What is the difference of this elevation and the highest point on the trail?

Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: What reality T.V. show did Hulu produce in Rainy Pass?

Photo by Terrie Hanke

“Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” – Matsuo Basho

What number checkpoint is Rainy Pass?

How many miles is Rainy Pass from the Ceremonial Start in Anchorage?

What percentage of the trail have the mushers covered when they get to Rainy Pass?

How many miles does a musher have to go until they arrive in Nome?

What percentage of the trail do they have left until Nome?

What is the average temperature in Rainy Pass during the Iditarod?

What is the average temperature in your town during the Iditarod?

A musher left Willow with 16 dogs.  At each checkpoint they changed each dog’s booties.  When they leave Rainy Pass how many dog booties have they gone through?

Watch the episode below titled, Let the Winter Games Begin.  This episode is about the Iditarod traveling through Rainy Pass.  View the section starting at 24:25 until 34:00.  Have your students complete the following journal prompt:  Take on the role of Stevie or Jeff Schultz when they were on the snow machine.  Describe the scenery as you traveled from Rainy Pass to Rohn by snow machine.

Click here for the trivia answers.

Quilt Qualities

The teachers with their quilt squares

“Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone’s hand is the beginning of a journey.” – Vera Nazarian

What qualities do you feel an Iditarod musher displays? My students recently came up with a lengthy list of qualities that they felt described an Iditarod musher.  There are plenty of them and they’re unique.

Iditarod Traveling Quilt created by Summer Camp Teachers

Iditarod Traveling Quilt created by Summer Camp Teachers

My school currently has the most recently created Iditarod Traveling Quilt, which was designed this summer by teachers at the Iditarod Summer Teacher’s Camp. I wrote a post about our squares earlier this summer, The Incredible Quilt. Terrie Hanke, 2006 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, took the squares which were drawn on white handkerchiefs and sewed them onto a piece of fleece making a colorful quilt.  Having the Traveling Quilt in your classroom is the perfect opportunity to do several lessons with your students.

One lesson I did with my class was on character qualities, or character traits. To start the lesson I shared the quilt with the students. Since I was at summer camp, this quilt is personal to me.  I designed a square and heard ideas from the other campers as they created their squares.  I shared the meaning behind each square with my classes. We discussed the qualities shown on the quilt squares and how each symbolized Iditarod mushers. Teachers at summer camp chose Inspiring, Determined, Incredible, Teamwork, Achievement, Respect, Overcome and Dream  as the character traits for the squares they created.

We read a story from Lew Freedman’s Iditarod Classics. I chose a different story for each group to read. Students took their time and read the thrilling Iditarod accounts. When the students finished reading, they stayed in their groups and brainstormed qualities they felt the musher in their story displayed. We then came back as a whole class and discussed those words and the significance they had in the story.

The next step was to assign each group a different letter from the word IDITAROD. The students had to come up with a quality or trait describing the musher from their story using the letter they were assigned. This was a great opportunity to work with students on using a thesaurus. Some students had many words to describe their musher, but no words that started with their letter.  Using the thesaurus was very helpful.

We are now to the point of designing the quilt square. When we made our quilt squares this summer, we just used white hankies. While I was looking for hankies I found some pre-cut felt squares at Wal-Mart for just 23 cents. The students using their chosen quality designed and decorated the square depicting the story their group read.

Much the same as we did at summer camp, when the squares were finished it was time to share with the class. After they shared their story, they shared the quality they chose and why. Finally, they shared their quilt square with the class and the meaning behind the design.  Our goal is to have our squares turned into a quilt.

This year there are 18 quilts traveling the United States.  When an Iditarod Traveling Quilt reaches a participating school, a binder full of ideas for teachers to use in the classroom is included. There is an instruction page on how to actually sew your quilt if your class designs quilt squares. As the quilt travels from school to school around the country, teachers continue to add lesson ideas on how they used the quilt in their classroom.  If you are interested in having a quilt visit your school click here.

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As a post lesson activity we watched Cindy Abbott’s recent TEDx talk. TED talks are conferences that are centered around technology, entertainment, and design.  Their slogan is “Ideas worth spreading.”  Cindy gave a local talk in California earlier this year.  It has recently been posted online.  Our class viewed the lesson and discussed the qualities she displays.  We then compared these qualities with the qualities chosen for their squares.  Check out the video below.

Click here for Quilt Qualities Lesson Plan

Checkpoint Checkup: Finger Lake to Rainy Pass

"The journey of life is with many twists and turns. But with faith and courage, no obstacle can stop you from reaching your goals."  - Unknown

“The journey of life is with many twists and turns. But with faith and courage, no obstacle can stop you from reaching your goals.”
– Unknown

Photo by Jeff Schultz

Photo by Jeff Schultz

As a reminder, I’ll be posting Trivia on the first and third Tuesdays of the month.  Checkpoint Checkups will be posted on the second and fourth Tuesdays.

The Last Checkpoint Checkup left us in Finger Lake.  The journey to the next checkpoint, Rainy Pass will cover 30 beautiful and exciting miles.  I spoke with Karin (Car-in) Hendrickson about the trail between Finger Lake and Rainy Pass Checkpoint.  Karin enjoys this portion of the Iditarod Trail and hasn’t had any major difficulties on this run.  On the flip side, mushers can and do have difficulties, especially coming down the Steps.  If icy, the Steps can be extremely challenging.  We will follow Karin’s journey as she begins climbing into the Alaska Range.

The scenery from Finger Lake to Rainy Pass is breathtaking.  Karin likes to run this part of the trail early in the morning to view the stunning sites.  Leaving Finger Lake, the trail heads down onto frozen lakes and swamps.  Karin considers this to be an easy part of the trail to navigate, even though it’s full of twists and turns.  For now, it sounds beautiful and peaceful.

Iditarod 2014 03 Monday

Photo by Jeff Schultz

An hour into her journey, she starts to feel a little antsy because she knows the infamous Happy River Steps will be sneaking up on her soon. Before she even gets to the steps, there are some shorter steep drops.  Arriving at the Steps, she’s on top of a ridge overlooking the Happy River. From this point, the trail takes her on a roller coaster ride.  Karin will have three steep drops that will test her ability to control her sled.  Sometimes the trail can be hard and icy, which can get her going a little faster than she’d like.  Not only that, but she also has to compete with centrifugal forces that can flip her sled on a sharp turn.  The final turn is so steep and sharp that the sled often goes airborne.  As the law of gravity says, what goes up must come down, but landing isn’t always pretty.  Karin shared with me that one year, there was a tree right where the sleds usually land.

If she feels like avoiding the activity at the checkpoint, Karin will camp shortly after the Steps on the short flat part of the trail that runs on the Happy River.  While camped, she can’t help but hear team after team making their way to the bottom of the Steps.  From her camp on the river, she has about 20 more miles to Rainy Pass.  Can you believe that all this excitement was packed into only 10 miles?

After camping on the Happy River, she’s off again continuing the run to Puntilla Lake and the Rainy Pass Checkpoint.  There’s an extremely steep climb off the river that heads through some narrow ravines. At the top of that climb, she sees a frozen expanse of lake and then for another few miles Karin and team continue climbing through wooded ridges.  I hope she’s ready because this next part is going to test her athleticism.  The trail is now going to be twisty and narrow with a lot of sidehills and steep edges.  She will really have to balance and use all her muscle to keep herself and her sled upright.  Finally, she sees rolling hills and meadows.  This means Rainy Pass Checkpoint, a welcome sight, is just ahead.

Rainy Pass Checkpoint on Puntilla Lake

Rainy Pass Checkpoint on Puntilla Lake

Rainy Pass Checkpoint is located on scenic Puntilla Lake in front of the Perrin’s Rainy Pass Lodge.  The Lodge, a premier wilderness destination where guests can hunt, fish, hike, ski, ride horseback, sight see and view the Iditarod, is owned and operated by the Perrins Family – Steve & Denise and their five sons Steve II, Shane, Clayton, Chase and Colton.

The Virtual Trail Journey can provide you with more information about this segment of the trail.  Next, our journey will take us up and over the Alaska Range to Rohn.  From Rainy Pass it’s 845 miles to Nome!

Journey of Fall Training

"You must remain focused on your journey to greatness." - Les Brown

“You must remain focused on your journey to greatness.” – Les Brown

Training for the Iditarod definitely is a journey.  It is quite the time commitment on the part of the musher.  For the dog…it is pure fun!  They’re doing what they love to do.

I spoke with a couple different mushers on what their fall training looks like.  Some mushers do different things and start at different times, but one thing remained similar; fall training builds muscle, strength, and endurance in the dogs.

The first musher I spoke to was rookie musher, Philip Walters.  Philip trains with Justin Savidis at Snowhook Kennel.  Philip and the dogs started training in late July.  His comment about fall training sums it up, “Imagine yourself being covered in water, fur, and mud.”  While fall training is pure fun for the dogs, it’s not always fun for the less adaptable humans.  Needless to say, Phil prefers being on snow training his dogs with a sled over fall training, but fall training is the basis of a successful Iditarod and has to be done.  When fall training begins and it is still a little warm, the dogs are just taken on super short runs a few miles at a time.  During these runs there are lots of water breaks for the dogs.  As the weather gets colder the miles start going up; 20 miles, 30 miles, 40 miles, etc.

Photo by Philip Walters

Photo by Philip Walters

Fall training is also a time to start developing habits and routines for the dogs as well as the mushers.  During the race mushers will be sleep deprived, chilly, hungry, you name it so it’s crucial that routines become second nature for them.  Dogs need routine too.  One could say fall training is as important for the mushers as it is for the dogs.

Iditarod veteran, Jodi Bailey, operates out of Dew Claw Kennel along with her husband, Dan Kaduce.  She started fall training September 1.  During the summer months she does a lot of free running with the dogs.  Free running is letting the dogs run off-line and just having fun being dogs.  In addition to letting the dogs by dogs, Bailey uses the summer months to focus on lead dog training.  Once September hits, it’s back on the lines to develop muscle, endurance, and strength.

While there’s been a little snowfall here and there in Alaska, there’s not enough to run a sled on.  So, how do dogs pull a sled in the fall with no snow?  Philip and Jodi, and most mushers, use a quad (4-wheeler).  A quad is about 3-4 times as heavy as the sled the dog will pull, so this is a great muscle builder.  Some mushers will leave the quad on and in gear to make it a little easier on the dogs but others will leave the quad off, and put the machine in neutral.

Wow, these two stay busy in the fall.  Imagine what winter training will look like.

Below is a video of fall training at S&P Kennel.  Permission to use video granted by Aliy Zirkle.

History of the Iditarod – Lesson Plan

"The journey of our past has lead us to the present and will educate us for our future." - David Hutchinson

“The journey of our past has lead us to the present and will educate us for our future.” – David Hutchinson

I like to have my students learn the history of the Iditarod early on in the year so we can refer to it as we progress.  This past week my students have been completing and sharing tasks about the history of the Iditarod.  In addition to using Katie Mangelsdorf’s book Champion of Alaskan Huskies, students also used the following websites:,,,

Each small group was assigned a different task.  One task, entitled Snapshots of History, had students diving into the different decades of the Iditarod.  Obviously, students needed to find out how many different decades the race has been in.  They would then determine, through research, a picture that could represent that specific decade.  For example, one group determined Susan Butcher was the clear-cut choice for their 1980’s picture.  Students created a collage using PicMonkey.

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Another task is creating a Fakebook profile for Joe Redington, Sr.  A favorite status update for students was about Joe and his dogs summiting Denali.  This task was quite appealing to my students as most are very familiar with Facebook.

Joe Redington Sr. Fakebook profile

For my artistic students I had a task to design a flag for the Iditarod.  After designing their flag, students illustrated their flag on their computer using the tool Sketchpad.  This tool allows students to save their flag to their Google Drive as an image.  They then could share the image with me.

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A fourth task was the Cartographer group.  Their task was to map out the Iditarod trail on Google My Maps.  In addition to mapping out the trail, the students had to provide a short description of each checkpoint.

Finally, for my musical students was a task to compose a song for the Iditarod.  Students chose a song and replaced the lyrics with the lyrics they wrote.  When they were ready to sing their song, they used the tool Audiotool to edit.

My students enjoyed doing this activity in class.  Each student was grouped based on interest.  All students learned a great deal about the history of the Iditarod, each group presenting their information in a manner best suited to their interest.

Check out the lesson plan below.  Included are websites to get to the tools the students used to complete their task.  There are also websites listed to aid students in their research.

History of the Iditarod Lesson Plan

History of Iditarod Tasks

Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: Did you know Aliy Zirkle runs half marathons?

“We may run, walk, stumble, drive, or fly, but let us never lost sight of the reason for the journey, or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way.” - Anonymous

“We may run, walk, stumble, drive, or fly, but let us never lose sight of the reason for the journey, or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way.”
– Anonymous

Iditarod trivia facts will be posted on the first and third Tuesday of each month.  If you haven’t started using them in your classroom, now is the time to start.  After talking to some teachers at the Midwest Sled Dog Symposium and Iditarod Teacher Conference, I found out how some teachers are using this in the classroom.  Some teachers are putting the trivia right up on the Smart board for kids to work on in class.  Other teachers are printing the page off for their students to work on.  The trivia will always be posted with suggestions and questions to use in the classroom.  There will be a link for you to get to the answer.  A great idea would be to post all the trivia in your classroom throughout the year.

In the off-season, Aliy Zirkle competes in half marathons.  What a great way to stay in shape.  As a long distance musher, it is very important to be physically in shape.  Aliy Zirkle is a great role model for physical fitness.

Have your students work out some of these problems that relate to Aliy, half marathons, and the Iditarod.

How long is a half-marathon?

It took Aliy 3 hours 12 minutes and 18 seconds to finish the Skinny Raven Half Marathon back in the summer of 2013.  What was Aliy’s average pace (average minutes per mile)?

How many half marathons would Aliy have to run across the entire Iditarod trail?

If Aliy ran the Iditarod using her average pace you figured out earlier, how long would it take her to run the Iditarod trail?

I chose this trivia fact for this week because I am running the Chicago Marathon on Sunday, October 12.  My goal is to finish in 4 hours and 59 minutes.  What pace do I need to run in order to accomplish my goal?

How many marathons would someone need to run to cover the entire Iditarod trail?

Click here for the answer.

Midwest Sled Dog Symposium and Iditarod Teacher Conference

Every single journey that "I've embarked on, I've learned something new."  - Shailene Woodley

Every single journey that “I’ve embarked on, I’ve learned something new.”
– Shailene Woodley

This past weekend teachers, mushers, and even kids attended the Midwest Sled Dog Symposium and Iditarod Teacher Conference in Curtis, Michigan.  The symposium, hosted by Nature’s Kennel, had breakout sessions for both mushers and teachers.  The teacher presenters came from around the country; Nancy Wendt and Linda Fenton from Wisconsin, Jen Reiter from Maryland, and me, from Iowa.  Musher presenters included Nathan Schroeder, Hank Debruin, and Jeff King.  There were a number of other presentations on topics such as skijoring, puppy care, and ATV/snowmobile repair.presenters

Nancy Wendt is a recently retired teacher from Eau Claire, Wisconsin.  Nancy shared many admirable Iditarod themed lessons.  Nancy’s main focus was demonstrating to the teachers how Iditarod activities align with the common core.  An exceptional idea Nancy shared with us was her Iditarod Open House.  After working for quite sometime in the classroom on Iditarod projects, the students hold an open house inviting parents and community members to enjoy.  Students practice their speaking skills while sharing information with the guests.  Nancy said she has had over 250 people attend the open house.

edJen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, shared some of her favorite Iditarod stories.  In addition she shared a few of her favorite lessons.  This session was not only for teachers, but eager to learn children.  One story Jen share was when Karin Hendrickson was riding her sled along the trail when all of a sudden, “Splat!” she was hit square in the face with dog poo.  That story made both adults and children laugh.  It was fun and useful for the teachers to be able to add more lessons to their collection while also seeing these lessons in action.  A favorite lesson among the teachers and kids was creating their own Aurora Borealis using water paints, kosher salt, and dog stamps.  It was very sweet to see parents working alongside their children.

Linda Fenton was another presenter in our afternoon sessions.  Linda was 2013 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.  Linda also shared hands-on lessons with our tiny people conference attendees.  A highlight in Linda’s presentation was her lesson on the genetics of dogs.  This lesson came full circle Sunday morning at Nature’s Kennel.  As Linda was walking around she heard some of the kids say, “look, a floppy-eared dog,” or, “look, a blue-eyed dog.”  By the way, there was only one blue-eyed dog in the kennel.

I presented in the morning.  I shared with the teachers my theme, Journey through the Iditarod.  I also shared some of my favorite lessons, which can be found on this website.  We discussed more lessons and posts that will be coming.  In addition, it was nice to hear what the teachers would like to see on the website.

The attendees were also treated to some great speakers.  Friday evening Hank and Tanya DeBruin spoke about their many adventures of their sled dog lifestyle.  Saturday morning many had the pleasure to listen to 2014 Iditarod Rookie of the Year, Nathan Schroeder.  Saturday evening, a favorite to many, we were entertained by Jeff King.  To read more about these speakers, check out Terrie Hanke’s articles.

Sunday was a dog lover’s dream.  Included as part of the conference is a tour of Nature’s Kennel, operated by Ed and Tasha Stielstra.  On fifty acres of land the Stielstra’s have around 150 dogs.  I know I could have spent an entire day wandering around playing with all the puppies and dogs.

If you have not been to this conference you should consider making the trip to Curtis next year.  It is a great opportunity to listen to teachers share great Iditarod themed lessons as well as hear and meet Iditarod mushers.

Just a reminder, there will be a workshop for teachers November 14 and 15 –  In Baltimore.  Find out more and B’there!

Checkpoint Checkup – Skwentna to Finger Lake

 . 68 68 "We're on a journey here, and we don't have a road map." — Ralph Brennan

“We’re on a journey here, and we don’t have a road map.” — Ralph Brennan


If you are following our journey of checkpoints, you know we were just at Yentna Station.  Our journey will take us up the trail 30 miles to Skwentna.

Welcome to Skwentna Checkpoint.  Most of the trail to Skwentna is on the Yentna River.  The population in 2010, the latest census, was 37.  Skwentna is another checkpoint at which the teams are coming in very close to each other. All volunteers involved at this checkpoint have their job down to a science. This checkpoint is so organized, some volunteers compare it to a factory. There are four major jobs at the Skwentna checkpoint: veterinarians, comms (communications), the Darlings, and the Sweeties.

The Comms team is always progressing with technology. The volunteers on the Comms team do a fantastic job of getting information back to headquarters. The veterinarians must check each team that comes through Swkentna. The teams come and leave Skwentna very fast. To keep things running smoothly the vets need to be on top of their game when checking the dogs. The mushers, of course, are going to be in a hurry, but the vets need to do their jobs in checking the health of the dogs.

The Darlings run the river part of the checkpoint. This group takes care of setting up the area of the checkpoint where the teams come in, parking the teams, and they act as the checkers. Many of the Darlings have worked this checkpoint for years. Several of them worked directly along side of Joe Delia who hosted the checkpoint for many years.

The Sweeties, as they are affectionately known, are the cabin crew. Their job is all about food. The Sweeties take care of all the cooking. They cook for all the volunteers as well as the mushers. There is always food and a hot, damp cloth for mushers as soon as they enter Skwentna. In addition to cooking, the Sweeties take care of the dropped dogs. Who else would you want taking care of your dog than someone with the nickname “Sweetie?”

After a quick stop in Skwentna we continue our journey up the trail 40 more miles to Finger Lake, population 2.

This checkpoint is also operated by Carl and Kristen Dixon.  Kristen makes free meals for all the mushers passing through.  Finger Lake Checkpoint is actually on Winter Lake. Old timers call it Finger Lake because the lake is shaped like a finger.

The next part of our journey will take us through the infamous Happy River steps.  I hope you are excited. 852 miles to Nome.

Next checkpoint checkup: Rainy Pass to Rohn.

Alaska vs. The World

"Sometimes a [life] journey can take you to a place that is not on any map."  - Cold Fever (movie)

“Sometimes a [life] journey can take you to a place that is not on any map.”
- Cold Fever (movie)

Alaska is our largest state.  In fact, it is ten times larger than Iowa (my state).  Since my class learns a lot about Alaska, I think it is important for them to see just how large of a state Alaska is.

We study many different countries in my classroom.  Each time we get to a new country we will compare the size to Alaska.  We just finished studying the Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations.  We decided to compare Alaska to Mexico, Peru, and Guatemala.  These are a few of the countries where these civilizations were located.

Photo Sep 16, 9 18 33 AMThe task for the students was to find out how much larger or smaller Alaska is than the three countries.  The students used the website  Using this website students are able to compare any city, state, country, or continent.  It is very easy to navigate.  All you need to do is type the two places you are comparing.  The site gives you the comparison. For example, Alaska is 15% larger than Peru.  It also has an outline of each state/country that you are able to move around and over top of each other.  In addition, off to the side there are facts about the places listed.

The students took their information and wrote it on a blank outline map, which we posted in the classroom (actually it was a competition and the best one was hung up).

Students that finished early were excited to compare Alaska to cities in our state as well as other countries around the world.

Our results:

Photo Sep 17, 2 24 35 PMAlaska is 10 times larger than Iowa

Alaska is 15% larger than Peru

Alaska is 14 times larger than Guatemala

Mexico is 33% larger than Alaska

View the lesson here – Alaska vs. the World Lesson Plan

Here are three great websites you can use to compare Alaska to another country or state.

Trivia Question: What are checkpoints?


Have your class research the number of checkpoints that are on the Iditarod Trail.  There are two routes on the Iditarod Trail, the Northern Route and the Southern Route.  On even years, the trail takes the Northern Route and on odd years the trail goes the Southern Route.  

Click here for the answer.

Checkpoint Checkup – Willow to Yentna Station

"Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."  - Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

The “Restart,” the official start of the Iditarod.  The Iditarod officially begins on Willow Lake in Willow, Alaska.  At 2:00 p.m. on the first Sunday after the first Saturday in March, dogs and mushers begin their journey to Nome.  It is hard to fathom that just 8 months earlier this lake was a peaceful lake with ducks swimming quietly and now is a sports arena filled with trucks, dogs, people, snow machines, and much more.

Willow, Alaska was settled when miners discovered gold back in 1897.  By the 1950’s it was the largest mining district in all of Alaska.  In the 1970’s, there was talk of even moving the capital to Willow. However, due to funding this was unable to happen.

Every two minutes mushers and dogs depart the starting line in Willow.  Destination: Yentna Station, 42 miles down the trail.

Yentna Station is a “roadhouse” only accessible by boat, plane, or of course, dog sled.  Yentna Station is a family owned roadhouse that is open 24-hours a day, 365-days a year.  During the winter months it serves as a checkpoint for many winter sports.  In the summer, they offer a variety of salmon fish excursion packages.  Yentna Station Roadhouse, the official name, is only accessible by boat, plane, snowmachine, or of course, dog sled. Yentna is the only checkpoint that hosts both the Jr. Iditarod and the Iditarod. This checkpoint is hosted by the Gabryszak family. The Gabryszak’s arrived in Alaska in 1981 with the dream of building a lodge on the Yentna River.

The Yentna Station Roadhouse is a very organized and intense checkpoint. It is hard to describe in words what this checkpoint is like. According to Jen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, “There is no place like Yentna.” To really capture what it feels like one must go there themselves. Inside the roadhouse is like a museum of Iditarod memorabilia. Outside, the checkpoint is operated like a well oiled machine. There are five lanes set up for mushers and dogs to check through. Being the first checkpoint, teams are coming in very close together.

The Gabryszak’s are a very gracious family. On top of the six children they have of their own, they have fostered at least 30 children throughout the years. During the Iditarod, the Gabryszak’s are very hospitable to both the mushers and the volunteers. You can always get something to eat no matter what time of the day. The Iditarod depends on hosts like the Gabryszak family to help run checkpoints.

922 miles left to Nome.

Next checkpoint checkup – Skwentna to Finger Lake

Glogster – The Iditarod, Machu Picchu, and Denali

"To travel is to take a journey into yourself."     - Danny Kaye

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.”
– Danny Kaye

Many teachers always comment that they want to incorporate the Iditarod all year, but they don’t know how.  As a result, the Iditarod makes it into their classroom for a small amount of time.  It is very possible to teach the Iditarod year round while still teaching your other curriculum.

My students are currently studying the Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations.  During this unit we take a look at the history of Machu Picchu in Peru.  Many hike the 26 mile Inca Trail to the highest point, 4200 meters, Machu Picchu.  My class did some comparing and contrasting of Machu Picchu and the Iditarod.  We also added a third adventure, climbing Denali.

This lesson was done using the online tool, Glogster.  Glogster is a type of social networking site in which you create and share Glogs.  A Glog is an interactive poster that includes text, images, audio, video, etc.  Glogster can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom.  A couple different ways to use Glogs are having students create an interactive poster as a unit project or a teacher generated lesson.  For this topic, I created a lesson for the students to complete in groups.

Photo Sep 08, 8 31 38 AMAt the top of the Glog the assignment is posted clearly for the students.  The assignment is to view the Glog, making sure to click on all the links, images, and view all video clips.  When they are finished they are to individually answer two writing questions; 1. What do you feel all three adventures have in common?  Defend your answer with facts from the Glog.  2. Which adventure do you feel is the most challenging?  Defend your answer with facts from the Glog.

Check out the Glog here.

Photo Sep 08, 8 31 54 AM

With some glitches here and there with Internet connections, this lesson took three days.  We will then have a class discussion over the three adventures.  Our final task will be to get the perspective of someone who has climbed a mountain and has done the Iditarod.  Our class rookie musher, Cindy Abbott has summited Mt. Everest and has attempted the Iditarod twice.  We will ask her which was more challenging for her and why.

Glogster is a great way to incorporate technology into your lessons.  You are able to add so much more to your lessons.  My students are looking forward to creating their own Glogs.

Trivia Question: Who is the “Father of the Iditarod”?


Joe Redington, Sr.

Have your students research the “Father of the Iditarod.”  Who is he?  When did he start the race?  Why did he start the race?  Did he ever race in the Iditarod himself?  Does he have family members still racing?  

Click here for the answer.

Visit the Online Iditarod Museum for additional information on the Father of the Iditarod.

The Journey of a Volunteer

“We are to help one another along life’s journey.”  - William J. Bennett

“We are to help one another along life’s journey.” – William J. Bennett

The definition of volunteer is a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.  There are thousands of people who volunteer each year for the Iditarod.  Without these many volunteers, there is absolutely no way this race could happen.  The journey of a volunteer does not just take place during the few weeks of the race.  An Iditarod volunteer can be a year long journey.

GailI spoke with Gail Somerville about her role as an Iditarod volunteer.  Gail has been volunteering for the Iditarod since 1978!  Gail’s journey as an Iditarod volunteer is not just during March; she does many things throughout the year.

Gail retired from teaching at the end of last school year.  She had been a teacher for 46 years!  Gail has always volunteered her time with many different organizations and events.  Now that she is retired, she is looking forward to volunteer even more of her time.

Even though most people only see “Iditarod” in March, it is a year long event.  One job Gail helps with is selling raffle tickets at the Alaska State Fair in August.  The raffle tickets are another way the Iditarod raises money to put this event on.  Another job Gail helps with in the summer is providing transportation for the teachers during the summer camp for educators.DSC_0799

Gail’s primary volunteer job is to write homework questions for elementary students.  She then emails these questions to all the elementary school teachers in Anchorage.  With this project she also gets middle school students scheduled to volunteer at headquarters in the phone room each school day to help answer the questions from the elementary students that they phone in.  Just writing about this task makes me tired.  That is a lot of time and effort Gail puts into that project.  Shout out to Gail for helping the Iditarod and incorporating it into education.

Let’s get our students to understand the importance of volunteering and helping others.  If it were not for volunteers like Gail, this race could not happen.
What can you do in your classroom?

Discuss what a volunteer is.
Discuss the importance of helping others.
Discuss the different volunteer jobs there are for the Iditarod.
Is there something your class can do to help the Iditarod?

Movie Preview – Musher Profile

"The main thing that you have to remember on this journey is, just be nice to everyone and always smile." - Ed Sheeran

“The main thing that you have to remember on this journey is, just be nice to everyone and always smile.” – Ed Sheeran

As part of the Iditarod Summer Camp for Educators, we are given the opportunity to hook up with a rookie musher and follow them throughout the year.  My class is working with Cindy Abbott.  The students are very excited to have the opportunity to follow and communicate with her this year.

Our first task was to get to know Cindy.  Our final goal was to create a movie preview for each class period.   With students working in small groups, they used a question sheet to find out information about Cindy.  Their task was to use Cindy’s website, and the Iditarod website,  During this portion of the lesson the students learned a lot of interesting information about Cindy.

cindyAfter we discussed their information and checked out a few pictures and video clips, each class chose a theme they would focus on for their preview.  Each class had a different focus; the Iditarod, Cindy’s accomplishments while having a disease, and the disease she has.  The groups then chose what their written statement in the preview would be, which would help them design their video clip.  For example, “A story about a woman and her dogs.”

Now the fun part.  It’s time to design and film our small clips of video.  Students had great ideas on how to represent their specific part of the preview.  Time to edit.  After learning and discussing how to import video into the program we were using, we began creating our preview.  Video clips, pictures, titles, text, and credits were all edited and turned into a final movie preview.

The movie previews turned out fantastic, in my opinion.  The students had a great time designing, creating, and editing them.  Our final step was to upload the movie previews to our YouTube page and share them to Twitter and our class website.  We tagged Cindy so she could watch them, she loved them.  View all three previews below.

Movie previews are a great way to give information in a quick way.  Think about having your students research a musher and design a movie preview.  Use the lesson plan and worksheet below as a guide to researching and creating a movie about a musher of your choice. Another great idea would be after reading a book, create a preview about the book being made into a movie.

Worksheet used to discover:  Who is Cindy Abbott

Lesson Plan:  Making a Classroom Movie 

All video in trailers filmed at Camanche Middle School by students.  Any pictures used provided by Erin Montgomery and Cindy Abbott (with permission).

Trivia Question: What is the name of the intersection in Anchorage where the Ceremonial Start begins?

Corner of Cordova

Have your students estimate how much snow must be brought into Anchorage for the Ceremonial Start?  Where does this snow come from?  How many streets are used in Anchorage for the Ceremonial Start?

Click here for the answer to the trivia question.

Checkpoint Checkup – Anchorage to Campbell Airstrip


Trivia Question:  What is the name of the intersection in Anchorage where the Ceremonial Start begins?

Periodically I will post trivia questions for you to use in the classroom.  You can use the trivia in a variety of ways.  Challenge your students to find the answer to the questions before I post the answer, which will be within two days.  Use the trivia as a discussion starter in class.  Post the different trivia throughout your room.


This week’s checkpoint focus will be Anchorage to Campbell Airstrip.  The Iditarod starts on the first Saturday in March.  This year it will be March 7.  March 7 will be a day filled filled with excitement, spectators, mushers, reindeer sausage, and of course, dogs.  Dogs lining the streets of downtown Anchorage.  Friday night, workers will bring large amounts of snow to fill the city streets.  March 7, the ceremonial start, is like a parade of mushers and dogs.  This day does not get recorded on the musher’s time.  That will start in Willow on restart day.  Each musher will have 12 dogs, a whip sled, and an Iditarider.

10170774_10152046993652405_8989262751585810982_nOn restart day mushers can start with 16 dogs.  They are only able to use 12 on Saturday because 16 would be very powerful and we don’t want anyone to get hurt, dog or musher.  Some mushers will save their best dogs for restart day and not even use them during the ceremonial start.  The whip sled will also help control and slow down the team through the city.  The Iditarider is a person who has bid to ride with a specific musher.  Mushers are auctioned off prior to the race to raise money for the Iditarod.  What an exciting way to experience the Iditarod; actually riding the first part of the trail with your favorite musher.  The ceremonial start is an 11-mile adventure ending at the Campbell Airstrip.


Anchorage Fast Facts:

-Anchorage has the largest population in Alaska

-They have attempted to move the capital from Juneau to Anchorage several times

-Average temperature in the summer 55-78 degrees

-Averages temperature in the winter 5-30 degrees

-Home of the Fur Rendezvous (World Championship Sled Dog Races)

-Average gas price in Anchorage (as of today) $3.92

-Average gas price in Iowa $3.37

Compare these Anchorage fast facts with the same facts from your city/town.

If you have read the post about the Iditarod trail map my students are making on my classroom wall, we are posting fast facts next to each checkpoint.

Next checkpoint checkup – Willow (Restart) and Yentna Station

The Camanche Middle School Trail

Life is a journey, not a destination; there are no mistakes, just chances we've taken. -India Arie

Life is a journey, not a destination; there are no mistakes, just chances we’ve taken. -India Arie

I teach at the Camanche Middle School in Camanche, Iowa.  Our class is on a journey, thus, the Camanche Middle School Trail.  This article will provide you with ideas on how to create your own trail.

I have wanted a trail map on my wall for a while now.  This year it is happening.  My last class of the day is MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support).  This class is designed to enhance student learning.  The project we are currently working on in this class is creating a map of the Iditarod trail on one of the walls in my classroom while documenting our journey via social media.

Photo Aug 19, 2 58 29 PMWe started measuring the distance in miles of the trail.  We used this year’s route, the southern route.  After we determined the mileage, 1093 miles, we measured the wall we would be using, 29 feet.  Our next step was to figure out how many miles would represent an inch on the wall.  The class agreed that 1 inch would represent 3 miles.  I took their word for it.  That would work if the trail was just east to west, but the trail goes north at some points.  The kids didn’t realize our mistake until about Rainy Pass and the ceiling got in the way.  We used this as a great opportunity to learn from our mistakes.  We talked about what we did wrong and what we should have done.  We decided to keep going from where we were and just modify the trail a little and make it unique to our classroom.

The students have been put in groups with specific jobs to work on each day.  Below are the jobs and their descriptions.

Photo Aug 19, 2 54 49 PMMeasurer – this group finds out the distance between checkpoints.  They figure how many inches to measure on the wall and then mark a dot on the wall.

Wall writer – this group writes the checkpoint name on the wall and connects each checkpoint.

Designers – this group comes up with ideas on how to decorate our wall map when finished.

Photo Aug 19, 3 00 57 PMBlog – this group writes journal entries on our blog about what we are working on that specific day.  Follow our blog.

Twitter – this group keeps a live feed going about how the map is coming along on our Twitter page.  Follow us.

Instagram – this group takes pictures of all the groups working and posts them to our Instagram page.  Follow us.

Facts – this group looks up facts about each checkpoint and keeps a notebook.

The groups are rotated each day so the students have an opportunity to work on each job.  We are currently still working on our map.  Follow our journey of creating this map on our different sites.  I will post a final picture when the map is completed.

Here is the completed lesson plan. Use this as a guideline for your own Trail.  Camanche Middle School Trail Lesson

The Journey to Your Starting Line

The hardest part of starting a new journey is the leap of faith at the beginning.  -Unknown

The hardest part of starting a new journey is the leap of faith at the beginning. -Unknown

Don’t let your journey to the starting line begin in late February/early March. Start as soon as you can. Yesterday was my first day with students here at Camanche Middle School. I love the beginning of the year. It is always exciting to decorate my classroom and start a new year with fresh ideas. Of course, my classroom is going to have an Iditarod theme throughout. As you start preparing to start your year, think about what you can do to begin your journey to the starting line.

Photo Aug 08, 12 50 52 PM In my room I have designated a specific area to Iditarod books and treasures. Last school year the wood shop class made my classroom a sled. Our goal this year is to have the art class decorate the sled. Currently the sled is our bookshelf for books and other Iditarod items. Would you love your own sled in your classroom? Take a look at the plans our shop class used. It is a very simple model.  Dog Sled plans

Get your hands on as many posters as you can. Hang the posters in your room, spark interest with your students. Would you like lots of posters for free? Come to the winter conference or the summer camp for educators.

Photo Aug 08, 12 46 52 PMThis year I am going to assign jobs to my students. The idea for my classroom jobs came from Jen Reiter, last years Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. I tweeked it a little to fit more to middle school students. “Jobs on the trail” is a great way to introduce your students to some of the volunteer jobs along the trail.

Jobs on the trail

Dog Handler – Take Dixon outside (Dixon is our therapy dog)

Volunteer pilot – Water any plants and keep Dixon’s water dish full

Chief Veterinarian – Help new students get the information they need for class

Checker – Check the extra copy folder and make sure class agenda is filled out

Race Comms – In charge of Twitter (student will create a tweet at the end of class)

Race Stats – Update board (date, homework, Today in history, Iditarod trivia)

Musher (mail carrier) – Pass out newspapers at the beginning of class

Start your journey immediately.  You do not have to do something every day, but slowly introduce the Iditarod to your students to generate interest.  I’m excited for this journey and I want my students to be as well.

The Journey Ahead

"When the journey ahead seems bleak, don't forget to look behind you and see all you have survived already." -Andee Jaide

“When the journey ahead seems bleak, don’t forget to look behind you and see all you have survived already.” -Andee Jaide


As the school year approaches, August 7 for me, I want to share with you what you can look forward to this year.

If you read my blog entries from summer camp, then you may have picked up on my theme, “Journey through the Iditarod.”  I plan on using this theme in a variety of ways.  I will be sharing with you the journey a musher takes to get to Nome.  This journey does not start in Anchorage, it most likely started several years ago.  You will also experience the journey a dog takes from puppyhood to his or her training schedule to travel to Nome.  Several other journeys will be shared as well; pilots, veterinarians, volunteers, etc.

DSC_9875Another topic I am excited to share with you is the checkpoints.  I want you and your students to be familiar with each checkpoint prior to the race.  You will also notice Iditarod trivia questions to use with the students.  This would be great to post on the board in your class or even in the hallway for the entire school to view.  As a whole class your students can work to find the answer to the question.  Another option is to see how many students can find the answer by the next day.  The answer will be posted the following day.  Take time to discuss the answer with your students.

I am most looking forward to sharing with you a variety of technology ideas through Iditarod themed lessons.  I will be introducing you to many new and exciting ways to incorporate technology in your Iditarod lessons.

My class is very “social.”  Meaning, we use social media a great deal in my classroom.  We would love for you to follow our journey as a class this year.

Follow us on Twitter @DixonsClass1

Follow us on Instagram @dixonsclass1

Follow us on YouTube

Check out our website

Journey to the Top


“The journey to the top is going to be the most exciting and rewarding trip you’ll ever take.” Zig Zigler


20,237 feet above sea level – Denali
1,150 miles in distance – Iditarod

21,182 climbers have summated Denali
731 Iditarod finishers
1 dog team summit of Denali

Last night I went to a presentation in my hotel discussing Denali, or Mt. McKinley. Denali means, “The High One,” in Athabascan. An Alaska Nature Guide delivered our presentation.

As I was sitting, taking notes, and soaking in the information, I couldn’t help but mentally compare climbing Denali to running the Iditarod. Both demand extensive training. Both require a high mental and physical state. Both have treacherous and rugged ground to cover. Both involve extreme weather. Most important, both require you to be able to care for yourself, and sometimes others, under extreme conditions.

Cindy AbbottCindy Abbott, Iditarod rookie musher, has summated Mount Everest. Now Denali’s peak isn’t as high as Everest (29,029 ft.), however, it is a taller mountain. This is because tall is measured from the base and Everest’s base starts much higher, making Denali about one mile taller. Both mountains require a ton of focus and are very difficult to climb. It is very impressive for anyone to summit either of these mountains. My students asked Cindy which is harder, climbing Everest or running the Iditarod. Her answer shocked the students. She told us that the Iditarod is much more difficult. Her reason is because in the Iditarod, not only are you caring for yourself, but you are responsible for the care of your 16 best friends. Cindy recently signed up for the 2015 Iditarod. This will be her third attempt. Talk about perseverance.

Father of the Iditarod, Joe Redington Sr., had a goal of climbing Denali with his dog team. Many said it couldn’t be done. Just like everything he did, he set his mind to accomplish his goal and never gave up on his goal. In 1979, Joe Redington Sr., Susan Butcher, and the dogs summated Mt. McKinley. Read more about Joe’s dream of climbing Mt. McKinley in Katie Mangelsdorf’s book, Champion of Alaskan Huskies.Joe Redington Sr.

For Cindy, Joe, Susan, the dogs, and the many more that have achieved their goal of summating or finishing the Iditarod, they have reached the top and I can only imagine how exciting and rewarding their journeys were.

This school year I will be doing lessons comparing/contrasting on these two amazing feats. Keep you eye on the blog.


The Incredible Quilt


“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers.  The mind can never break off from the journey.”  - Pat Conroy

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy

Today was the last day of camp for the teachers. Most of the teachers will travel home later tonight or early in the morning. Kerry, Jen, and I are traveling some more, separately.

I spoke yesterday of the letters each camper was given to create a quilt square and how they were to connect them with yesterday’s adventure. This morning we shared our quilts and connections.


I – Melissa chose the word inspiring. Melissa spoke about how our hike on the glacier yesterday very much inspired her. She was inspired how none of us had ever put on a pair of crampons, but did this very well. She was inspired by the fact that none of us have hiked on a glacier before, but did this amazing, with no one complaining once.

Picture taken by Don Distell

Picture taken by Don Distell

D – Don chose the word determined. Don was determined to get beautiful pictures of wildlife. Don and his wife, Jan, took a glacier cruise yesterday in Portage. On their way back they stopped at the wildlife preserve. Here, Don had the opportunity to photograph outstanding pictures of wildlife.

I – Martin chose the word incredible. If you look close at his square you will see it appears to represent the Incredible Hulk, I love it. Martin stated that the definition of the word incredible is “too unusual to believe.” He said when he gets home to share his stories and pictures with his family; he will have a hard time. Pictures and stories cannot do his trip justice. It is just simply incredible.

DSC_1029T – Nicole chose the word teamwork. Nicole admitted she is not a hiker. She loved how the entire group that went to the glacier was always looking out for her. That is teamwork. In my opinion, she did an excellent job. Our guide, Ben, said we went out on the glacier further than any other group. That requires teamwork. We all made sure we were always together and keeping up with the group.

A – Jan chose the word achievement. Jan felt a sense of achievement on this trip to Alaska. She reached a tremendous goal on her journey to Alaska. Jan received a grant, she worked very hard to get, to attend this summer camp. Jan did some things on this trip she never has done before nor ever thought she would do.

R – Jen chose the word respect. On her square, Jen included the quote, “Leave everything a little better than you found it.” Jen related this with how much we had to respect the glacier when we hiked it. Also, think about how much Jen had to respect the many villages she visited last winter on the trail.

O – Jamie chose the word overcome. Jamie thought it was amazing how many obstacles we had to overcome yesterday in hiking the glacier. Some of us had to step out of our comfort zone to complete the hike.

D – I chose the word dream. Yesterday in my entry I explained how while standing on the glacier I realized my dream was coming true.

The teachers with their quilt squares

I’m very excited to see what the quilt turns out looking like. I am also excited to share this quilt with my school and begin working on the many lessons that can be created.

I’m glad I had the pleasure to make new friends at camp and reconnect with friends made last summer. We all came on this journey to make ourselves better teachers and create an unforgettable experience in the classroom for our students. Now that we have traveled to Alaska, our minds will constantly be wandering on how we can use our experience in the classroom.

Like the quote says, “once you have traveled, your voyage never ends.” Many of these campers will find this experience has changed them. Their voyage will never end. They will find many ways to better themselves as an educator. They will use new ideas learned at camp in their class about the Iditarod. Some of them may apply for Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. Maybe, this has sparked an interest in coming back to visit this great state. Even though this traveling experience is over, their journey has just begun.


“I know the distance between your dreams and the reality can seem to be scary. But for me, my dream is one long journey and I am ready to take every step on the route.” –Mina Deanna

“I know the distance between your dreams and the reality can seem to be scary. But for me, my dream is one long journey and I am ready to take every step on the route.” –Mina Deanna (picture taken by Terrie Hanke)


One task the campers are given at the beginning of camp is to create a quilt square. Terrie Hanke will make the squares that the campers make into a quilt. They will then be shipped to each camper’s school for a month to be used for lessons in the classroom and displaying purposes.  Look into the traveling quilt project for your classroom.

 This year each camper was given a letter from the word “Iditarod,” to create his or her square.   The camper was to come up with a word from their letter that can be turned into a lesson in the classroom. It has been very inspiring to watch the campers create their squares all week. They worked very hard on their squares, going through rough drafts, looking through thesauruses, and collaborating with each other. You could really tell they wanted this quilt to be the best.

DSC_1038I received the letter “D.” There were several words that came to mind for the letter “D.” Discipline, desire, determination, driven, dedicated, and many more. I thought of how students could use this in the classroom and connect it to the Iditarod as well as how I could connect with the word. I chose the word, “Dream.”

In my mind there are many that dream to run the Iditarod, dream to live in Alaska, and dream to live the best life possible. One can use this word in the classroom an endless amount of ways. Students can discuss their dreams and how scary them may seem, but they can reach them. The discussion can turn to how we reach goals. This can lead to how to set goals and writing these goals with the students. I am excited to see the other words the other campers chose tomorrow morning. I am planning on using these words throughout the year; plan to see lesson plans on this topic.

DSC_1007Today was a free day for the campers. Several of us went to the Matanuska Glacier and did a guided hike. Our task for the day was to somehow connect our word with what we did on our adventure. I connected my word and quote with my adventure today. I had a dream to be the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.  I had a dream to come to Alaska and experience first hand the culture of a native village. I had a dream to bring true Alaska experiences back to my classroom. I had a dream of representing my school, my community, and other teachers around the world as Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.  Out on that glacier today I realized my dream was coming true and I was living it.  It was a surreal experience.  It was and is very scary.  But, as the quote states, I am ready to take every step along the way.

The First Step

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao Tzu


The journey to that 1049-mile race began today for many mushers. They took that first step to reaching Nome.

Father and son signing up, sisters signing up, and even boyfriend and girlfriend signing up. Jeff Schultz autographing his new book and taking photos.   Camera crews, junior mushers, rookies, veterans, even some old-timers, and many volunteers are enjoying a beautiful summer Alaska day.

Today the campers had the opportunity to go to the annual Iditarod volunteer picnic and musher sign up day at headquarters. The event began promptly at 9:30 with the first musher signing up at 9:32. Rohn Buser, son of veteran musher Martin Buser, was the first to sign up. Shortly after were Ray Redington Jr. and Martin Buser. Strange bit of information about the first three to sign up, they were all left-handed. Talking with Rohn, there are many mushers that are left-handed. As we watched several mushers sign up today, we indeed saw many lefties.

DSC_0907Starting at around noon, everyone enjoyed a wonderful lunch catered by Golden Corral. Lunch consisted of pulled pork or chicken, potato salad, Cole slaw, Cajun sausage, homemade BBQ chips, and a cookie or brownie. It was delicious.

After lunch many mushers continued to stroll in to sign up for the 2015 race. A huge treat was to see fan favorite, Aliy Zirkle. Mushers had until 2:30 today to sign up to be entered into the drawing to win back their entry fee, $3000. The winning mushers must be present to win. The first musher drawn was, Jan Steves. The second musher drawn was rookie, Ben Harper. Both mushers were overjoyed to win their entry fee back. Running the Iditarod is a very expensive sport, and anything can help.

 The last part of the day was to determine the order of the bib draw. The bib draw takes place at the Mushers Banquet the Thursday before the race in Anchorage. There were 60 mushers that signed up today that were drawn. You can find the order that these mushers will draw for bib numbers on the Iditarod website.

The deadline to register for the race is December 1. Any musher that registers from now until then will be placed after the first 60 mushers for the bib drawing.

I was able to officially take my first step in my journey today as well. At the picnic Jen Reiter officially handed over Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ to me. This is done through the handing over of the sleeping bag used on the trail. Jen did an incredible job this past year. I know I learned a ton through her posts and from just talking with her. I have big shoes to fill, but I look forward to the challenge.

It was very exciting to see all the mushers and volunteers sharing their stories from the 2014 race. You can see it in their eyes how much passion they have for this race and for what they do. I am very blessed to have been part of seeing people take their first steps. It’s very exciting for me to be able to say I will watch many of their journeys along the trail.

Man’s Best Friend

 “The gift of friendship is that it takes us by the hand and reminds us we are not alone in the journey of life…”  Unknown

“The gift of friendship is that it takes us by the hand and reminds us we are not alone in the journey of life.” Unknown

You are driving your family over 1000 miles this summer on vacation. I’m sure you want your family to arrive safely; after all, they are the most important people in your life. With that in mind, you probably have been checking your car inside and out to make sure it is safe to travel. On the trip you constantly check the oil, put the best gas in it, check the tires, and keep it in tiptop shape.

Mushers do the same with their dogs. These dogs that are taking them over 1000 miles across the state of Alaska are their very best friends. They make sure these dogs are well taken care of.

Dr. Stu NelsonToday we listened to Iditarod chief veterinarian, Dr. Stu Nelson. This past race was Dr. Nelson’s 19th year as chief vet. The 9 years prior to that he was an Iditarod trail vet volunteer. It is safe to say that Stu has quite a bit of experience dealing with sled dogs.

These mushers take better care of their dogs than most people take care of themselves. To journey to the Iditarod the process for taking care of a dog is ongoing. Training formally starts in September, however, many dogs will condition in the summer with little runs here and there. In February, screening the dogs for the Iditarod takes place. During this process dogs will be given a microchip or get their current one updated. In most dogs, microchips are placed between the shoulder blades. In sled dogs, the microchip is placed behind the ears. This is done so the harness isn’t rubbing back and forth on the chip. The dogs are also given an EKG. This is to make sure the dog does not have any underlying abnormalities in his or her heart. Finally, the dogs are given a general health check-up. Dr. Nelson reads all the results to these check-ups and uses it as an opportunity to call each musher.

Two weeks prior to the race up to the Wednesday before the race is the physical vet exam. Mushers can choose to have a private vet conduct this exam or take their dogs to headquarters and have the exam done there. Mushers also must give their dog a de-wormer about 2 weeks prior to the race that Iditarod sends to them.

DSC_0773DSC_0775During the race dogs are given booties, straw to sleep on, blankets to cover up with, jackets to keep them warm. They are also given the best food concoction a dog could ever want. Out on the trail there are 40-45 vets that move up the trail. Mushers must carry a dog team diary that the vets communicate with each other through. At each checkpoint the dogs are checked out as well. This exam is a hands-on exam. The vets use the acronym HAW/L (haw means left, L means left) for the exam. H – heart and hydration. The vets will check out the dogs’ heart to see how it is doing. They will also check the hydration of each dog. This can be done through the gums or a skin fold test. A – appetite and attitude. The vet will talk with the musher about how the dog is eating. The vet will also check out how the dog’s attitude appears and discuss with the musher about the attitude on the tail. W – weight (bodyweight). This can be the most challenging test. It can be very hard to tell if a dog is too skinny or just a thin dog. The average weight for a sled dog is 50-55 pounds. Some can be in the 40’s and some can be up in the 60’s. L – lungs. Vets will listen to the lungs. It is very important to catch pneumonia very early on because this can be a fatal illness.

Iditarod sled dogs are known as marathoners. I can tell you that I ran a marathon last year and I didn’t have a single test done on me to make sure that I was healthy enough to do the run. I do know, however, if my best buds, Dixon and Chili, were to do that, they would definitely be getting tested.

DSC_0685Dr. Nelson stated that awareness is extremely important to mushers. He really makes it a point to educate both his vets and mushers on how to pick up on the early signs of an abnormality in their dog. There is constant research and studies going on to learn as much as they can about the care of these dogs.

For a musher, their sled dog is their best friend, their life, and their companion. They would never do anything to harm their buddy. The amount of care that goes into these dogs shows you just how much they care for their best bud. To make a journey this long and treacherous, you must make sure your companion is well taken care of.

Lost and Found

“I am no longer afraid of becoming lost, because the journey back always reveals something new.”  Billy Joel

“I am no longer afraid of becoming lost, because the journey back always reveals something new.” Billy Joel


What do you do when you get lost on your journey?

People get lost on their journeys all of the time. What you do when you get lost says a lot about you as a person. Many mushers get lost along the trail.  Getting lost doesn’t always mean you fail, it teaches you many new things.  Today I met five siblings who were recently lost and eventually found. Their story is incredible.

On May 19, a fire started on the Kenai Peninsula near Funny River road. The fire spread very quickly. The damage was well over 150,000 acres of land.  Read about the fire in this article from the Anchorage Daily News.  This is another article from Anchorage Daily News.

Many people were evacuated as a result of this fire. The five siblings I met today were victims of this fire. These five victims, 3 brothers and 2 sisters, were 2 week old wolf pups. Firefighters rescued these pups when they came across their den. The firefighters immediately went in the den to bring the pups out. When found, they had been injured by a porcupine, severely dehydrated, and extremely hungry. However, they were alive. These pups were alone, away from mom and dad, and lost on their new journey of life. Everyone, including the pups, was bound and determined that they survive.

DSC_0638The pups were taken to Anchorage to be taken care of, and currently are living at the Alaska Zoo. All five are healthy, cuddly young pups. We were able to see the pups today during playtime. They are so adorable and loveable that you just want to take one home. However, this is impossible. Even though these pups will be raised completely by humans, they will never be able to be domesticated. They will always have the wild instinct within them.

These pups are a reminder that we can overcome obstacles in our journey.  They were 2 weeks old when they lost their mom and dad.  They were 2 weeks old when their home was burning up all around them.  It would have been very easy for these little guys and gals to give up.  They chose to live, and with that they now have a new exciting journey ahead of them at the Minnesota Zoo.

Check out this exciting article from the Huffington Post about the pups’ rescue.

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Building Character

“Character is a journey, not a destination.” William J. Clinton


As young mushers evolve into seasoned veterans, they build a lot of character along the way.

barbToday our group made a visit to Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla. While there, we were able to listen to Barbara Redington speak. Barb is the wife of Raymie Redington, son of Joe Redington, Sr. (“Father of the Iditarod”). Barb spoke to us about the Jr. Iditarod. Barb has the honor of being a board member of the Jr. Iditarod and has also run the race.

The Jr. Iditarod started in 1977. Four young men came up with the idea and spoke with Joe Redington, Sr. about it, and he loved the idea. Prior to the Jr., races for young mushers were mostly sprint races lasting 10-15 miles. These guys wanted a longer race. The Jr. Iditarod is a 175-mile trail that starts on the Knik Lake and heads out to Yentna Station. In Yentna, the halfway point, the mushers have a mandatory 10-hour stop. After their rest, they head back to Knik Lake to finish. Many of the same rules that are used in the Iditarod are used in the Jr. For instance, no outside help can be used.

Lynden, a family construction and logistics company, has sponsored the race for years. The Lynden family used to be sponsors of Susan Butcher when she was racing. They provide sponsorship in many ways from taking pictures at the race, being a M.C. at the banquet, to providing scholarships to the mushers. Last year $28,000 in scholarships were awarded. The winning mushers, Conway Seavey, came in first and won a $6000 scholarship. The rest are split amongst top finishers. The city of Wasilla also chips in money towards expenses for the race and prizes for the mushers. The race cost about $10,000-15,000. At the banquet the scholarships are awarded to top finishers. On top of that, all mushers receive some prizes. This past year $15,000-17,000 in prizes were past out. There were prizes from hamburgers to a beaver hat. Libby Riddles, first woman Iditarod winner, makes a hat each year for the first female Jr. finisher. The winner of the Jr. also receives 2 round trip tickets to Nome to the Iditarod finishers banquet to receive his/her award.

jrpicThe Jr. board is very proud of the scholarships awarded to the mushers. The scholarships cannot be exchanged for cash. The mushers must use them at any learning facility. This can be a college, vocational school, etc. One musher used the scholarship to get her pilot’s license. Barb stressed how important it is for these young kids to further their education. She is happy to be able to give these young kids this opportunity.

jrpatch1To run the Jr. Iditarod you must be between the ages of 14-17. This race does a great job of promoting punctuality among the young kids. When they get to the halfway point, they really have to manage their time well so they are able to leave when scheduled. Remember, they are not just taking care of themselves; they are taking care of 10 dogs. They also promote sportsmanship. This year the sportsmanship award was given to Kevin Harper. Kevin was in 3rd place when leaving Yentna. All of a sudden he realized there were 2 white dogs behind him. Kevin found out they were Jimmy Lanier’s dogs by looking at the tags. Kevin grabbed the dogs and did a 180 with his dog team and sled, which is tremendously difficult. He headed back towards Yentna looking for Jimmy. He found him. Turns out Jimmy’s swing dogs chewed the gangline and the lead dogs got loose. After Kevin returned the dogs, he did another 180 and headed back towards the finish. Kevin finished the race in 3rd place and was awarded the sportsmanship award for helping Jimmy out on the trail. This was such a selfless act. Knowing he was in 3rd place, competing against others, Kevin went out of his way to help a fellow competitor out. That is the great part about mushing. The integrity they have on the trail.

Many of these veterans can attest to the fact that a lot of character is built out on this 175 miles worth of trail.

Visit the Jr. Iditarod website.

The Jr. Iditarod also has a FaceBook page – Junior Iditarod

"You have 175 mile trail to complete, but you have a life of trail ahead of you." Barb Redington

“You have 175 mile of trails to complete, but you have a life of trails ahead of you.” Barb Redington

Remember the Journey

"Others might remember winning or losing; I remember the journey."

“Others might remember winning or losing; I remember the journey.” – Apolo Anton Ohno


The Iditarod is the “Last Great Race.”  We must remember the history and journeys of this last great race.

Joe MayToday we had the pleasure of listening to Joe May, 4-time Iditarod finisher and 1980 Iditarod champion.  This man is incredible and shared many exciting stories with us.  One aspect of the race that Joe is adamant about is saving the history of the race.  As a matter of fact, Joe and many others associated with the Iditarod are compiling a book about the history of the race.  There is so much history in this race that they are including the best of the best.  The project has been ongoing for about four and a half years and is scheduled to be finished in December.  The title of the book is, Iditarod: The first 10 years.  An Anthology.

Since this race started in 1973, it has evolved tremendously.  Technology and money has really become a big part of the race.  Joe stated today, “that when a new idea comes along, you have to throw out the old one.”  However, he did mention that it is important to preserve the history.  Early on when the race started, many mushers, including Joe, decided to do the race as an adventure.  These early mushers knew how to make their own trail, were exceptional at training their dogs, and knew how to survive out on the trail.

Working with dogs years ago, mushers didn’t have the large kennels that they have today.  Joe had just enough dogs to run a team, 12-13.  He paid very close attention to these dogs.  He had their discipline under the utmost control.  As a trapper, Joe would have to leave his team to check the line, so when he said “stay,”  those dogs had to stay.  Back then, mushers did not have a run/rest schedule when running their dogs.  The mushers would run their dogs until the dogs told them they were tired or it was time to eat.  Their dogs were always enthusiastic about running.  Joe changed later to having a run/rest schedule. This allowed his dogs to always stay fresh.  You don’t want to run your dogs until they are tired, you want to stop running them before they get tired.

Not only has the way mushers work with dogs changed, food has changed, for dog and human.  In Joe’s first race in 1976, his sponsor’s wife packed him a sack for each checkpoint with a burger and a chocolate bar.  Joe found that he became very hungry on the trail.  Joe had 2000 pounds of beaver meat sent out on the trail for his dogs.  Today mushers use a mixture of dry dog food, meat, fish, water to feed their dogs.  People have done intense research on the amount of calories a dog burns on the trail and what type of food will work best.  A dog burns approximately 10,000 calories on the trail.

What the dogs sleep on has evolved since the start.  In the early races the dogs slept directly on the ice or snow.  This caused the dogs to lose a lot of the calories they consumed and caused them to tire sooner.  Think about what you would be doing if sleeping on ice or snow; shivering, losing calories.  Some mushers started using spruce bows, this saved calories in the dogs.  However, you couldn’t find spruce bows everywhere and it took a lot of time to gather.  In 1979, Joe had sandbags, perhaps more lie a sand mat, shipped to each checkpoint.  He used one for each dog to sleep on.  A couple of years later someone started using straw.  After that, Iditarod starting shipping straw to each checkpoint for the mushers.  Joe believes this was the most significant game changer in the race.

The trail has changed.  In the beginning, there were no trail markers.  Mushers had to find their way.  There were many times when mushers got lost or found themselves turned around.  Today there are about 20,000 trail markers used in this 1000 mile race.  Eventually, GPS trackers were added.  These were a positive addition for the public.  Joe said that early on in the race mushers took a responsibility for their own life in the Iditarod, it was a risk.  Today, there is almost this expectation that someone will help or save you.

Everything changes, that is part of life.  Everything also has a history.  It is crucial that we preserve our history so that it is not lost.  Remember others’ journeys.  Without their journeys we may not have the opportunity to take our own journey.

Joe May’s 1980 Iditarod winning time was 14 days, 7 hours, 11 minutes, 51 seconds

Charles’ Last Run

"It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end."

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.”


What do mushers do with their sled dog when he/she retires? Just as they had the best life before their journey through the Iditarod, they have the best life still, but more relaxing. Our best bud here at Vern’s, Charles, retired as a sled dog on March 1, 2014.

CharlesCharles is a 10-year old Alaskan Husky. Charles was not born at the Dream a Dream Dog Farm. Vern acquired him from Jeff King. Charles has quite the sled dog resume. Charles has finished many sled dog races in the state of Alaska. What is most impressive is he has finished five Iditarod races.

Unbeknownst to Charles, this season would be his last. Charles took his last pre-race truck ride down to 4th street in Anchorage. He jumped up and down anxiously in his harness, in lead, under the starting line in Anchorage for the last time. He heard the announcer call, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1….GO,” for the last time. He charged out of the starting chute one final time. This one last run for Charles was the Ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod. He led Cindy Abbott, her “Iditarider”, and his best friend Vern, down 4th street around Cordova and out to the Campbell Airstrip. He was unharnessed and unhooked one last time. He took one final post-race truck ride to the kennel.

When Charles was taken out of the truck after they arrived at the kennel he was not hooked up. Instead Vern said, “You are free!” Free to roam the kennel. Free to sit on any kennel he wants. Free to sleep anywhere he wants. Free to be “King of the Kennel.” Charles just stood there. He didn’t know what to do. His journey through the Iditarod had come to an end. Nobody asked him. I think if Vern had given Charles a choice, he would continue to work as a sled dog for the rest of his life. That is how much he loves it, and how much all sled dogs love their job.

CharlesWatching Charles around the yard now that he is retired is awesome. He comes right up to us wanting love and attention. He sticks his paw out as to say, “Pet me. Love me.” So, what do we do? We pet him. We love him. He struts around that yard as if he owns the place. He sits up top of Aspen’s house like it is his. It is, of course, exactly where his house used to sit. Charles still thinks he is a working sled dog. He will forever be an extraordinary lead dog.

Charles is now a pet. Most sled dogs become musher pets when they retire. Some dogs will sell their retired dogs to select homes that will take extra good care of their special friends. All sled dogs will miss their job tremendously. But, just as humans enjoy their retirement, sled dogs will enjoy the relaxing and love and attention they receive with retirement.

The Scientists Litter

“A journey is so much sweeter when traveled with a dog.”

“A journey is so much sweeter when traveled with a dog.”


The journey to the Iditarod does not begin two years before the race for a puppy.  The journey to the Iditarod for a puppy begins pretty much at birth.

pileAt Vern Halter’s Dream a Dream Dog Farm there is an eight-week-old puppy litter.  The “Scientist litter”, as they are affectionately called, were born April 18.  They are the sweet children of Rugby (mom) and Mickey (dad).  They are known as the “Scientist litter” because they all will be named after a scientist.  Vern gives his litters a theme when he names them, as many mushers do.  Susan, Vern’s wife, came up with the idea of the scientists.  Susan is a science major.  Each individual dog doesn’t have his/her name yet, but the names are chosen.  There are two females in the litter.  They will be named Tesla and Madam Curie.  The six boys will be named Einstein, Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, Kipler, Darwin, and Hubble.  Vern has had some great themes for his dogs’ names.  Boats, meats, school supplies, and airplanes are among some of the themes.  I think it would be fun and challenging to come up with different themes and names for each litter.

Puppy HomeLet’s talk about the journey of a puppy.  The ultimate goal would be to run the Iditarod.  Here at Vern’s kennel the pups begin training immediately.  They have their own home just down from the dog yard where they live with their mom.  Just after birth they begin that bond with momma.  After about three weeks, or sooner if they are ready, Vern will carry the pups out about 20 feet on the trail and have them run back to the kennel on their own.  Seems like not much, but to a three-week-old pup it is a lot.  The next step would be to run both out and back the 20 feet.  Now, these pups are not leashed, they are free.  The reason he does this is to get the pups used to just running and being free.  He is also building trust with the pups.  Trust is very important between dog and human, especially when running over 1000 miles across the state.   Vern and the pups continue to build up distance each day.  At about six weeks Vern is taking the pups on the entire loop.  I would say this is about 1-mile.  This trail is right on Vern’s Can I get some help?property and goes through the wilderness.  The dogs have to work their way over a bridge about two-thirds of the way through.  Early on the pups will need assistance getting on the bridge.  After they get used to it, they are up and over that bridge quite quickly.

This early on stage of the pup’s life they are learning critical skills to become a sled dog.  They are bonding with their mother.  In addition, their mom is helping them through the trail.  They are learning to just go.  With Vern having a tour business in the summer, the pups are getting all the attention a puppy could ever want.  This skill they are improving daily is socialization.  This skill is very important.

Our little loveable puppy age can be compared to the elementary student.  Middle school age comes next.  Vern said he plans on bringing the pups up to the dog yard in the fall.  He will start off little by little collaring them up, getting used to the collar.  He will then move to hooking them up next to their new doghouse.  Along the way other dogs are helping them out.  During this middle school age puppy walks are getting a lot longer.  Vern may have to get on a four-wheeler to keep up with them.

Middle school goes fast; before you know it your little ones will be in high school.  In April Vern plans to start harnessing the dogs up.  The “Scientists” are going to have to get used to that harness.  Before long they will be going on runs.  Vern will hook them up with some stronger leaders who will help teach along the way.  Remember what I said about leaders yesterday, they are bossy and will make sure you are doing the correct thing.

Where did all that time go?  The puppies are now yearlings.  Just like that you go from having a litter of cute, cuddly puppies that you have trained and worked so hard with to having some hyped up, still loving, eager to run yearlings.

Mickey the dad

Momma Rugby

Momma Rugby

Check out the video below of the puppy walk.





Music provided free through YouTube.

Musical Musher

"Sometimes it's the journey that teaches you about your destination."

“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you about your destination.”

Camp has officially started.

DoryIf you know me, you know that I probably love dogs more than most humans.  I know that I am not alone, especially here in musher country.  Today in camp we met Philip Walters, he feels the same exact way as I do about dogs.  We have another element in common, we are both teachers.  Philip is a middle school band teacher in the Anchorage School District.  What I immediately discovered about Philip is he is young, energetic, loves dogs, and best, compares his students to dogs.  The quote I loved best that he said about this was, “You know how much I love dogs, so if I compare you to a dog you must be pretty special.”

Philip has been wanting to run the Iditarod for quite some time now.  He has been training with sled dogs since 2007.  What has been holding him back is his full-time job as a teacher.  This year he was finally able to secure time off during the race to be able to run.  We now have a full-time teacher, and full-time training Iditarod musher signing up for the race next Saturday.  How exciting!  Not only does he do all that, he has a wife and a 5-month old son.

BreveYou may be wondering how exactly he can compare his students to dogs, well it fits perfect.  Philip teaches band, which is a team of students working together and training together to perform their musical selections.  Sled dogs are a team working together and training to get to Nome.  He even broke it down further.  Every classroom has those 2-3 students that know everything and are a tad bit bossy to the rest of the class.  Your lead dogs (the first 2 dogs) have to be these bossy dogs, know everything, make sure everyone is doing the correct thing.  Swing dogs (directly behind the lead dogs), they are almost up there, but not quite.  We all have those students who are almost there, work hard, just not the top of the class.  Next, the team dogs (dogs between swing and wheel).  All these dogs want to do is run.  Philip stated it best when he said these students come to band every day and just want to play songs.  They may not go home and practice or go above and beyond to get better, they just play.  Team dogs just run.  Finally the wheel dogs (directly in front of the sled).  These dogs work so hard, are very important to the team, but just are never going to get it.  We all have students that work their butts off, are enthusiastic, but just will always get that C.  That is o.k.  These students are an important part of the classroom.  They show us how hard work is so important in life.  The wheel dogs are very important or the sled is not going to make that turn.

AstroI thought Philip’s comparison of students to sled dogs was remarkable.  It makes perfect sense.  I even started thinking about this in my coaching eyes.  Every single person (dog) on the team is equally important.  We all have different roles on whatever team we belong to.  I don’t think one is more important than the other.  Without the wheel dogs, the sled doesn’t turn.  Without the team dogs, we aren’t going to be as strong.  Without the swing dogs, turning will be tough.  And without the lead dogs, we may never find the trail.  Remind your students, and yourself, that whatever role you play, you are very important to the team.

Follow Philip’s journey to the Iditarod on his Facebook page Running Toward Iditarod.

Teacher turned Dog Handler


“Life is an interesting journey, you never know where it will take you.”

My journey today was quite interesting, however, it was awesome.  This morning Terrie Hanke, author of the Eye on the Trail blog for the Iditarod, and I went to breakfast before beginning our shopping list for camp.  When we got back to Vern’s Dream a Dream Dog Farm we started helping Linda prepare sandwiches for the 9:00 tour group, no big deal.  After making sandwiches it was time to turn our attention to that shopping list….or not.  After about a minute upstairs Linda shouted up the steps, “Terrie, Erin, get out here and help harness up the dog teams!”  We looked at each other and headed down.  My thought was how in the heck am I going to do this.  I have harnessed a dog before, once.  That was exactly one year ago when Vern taught us at summer camp.  I quickly asked Terrie, “how do I do this again?”  Terrie is a seasoned veteran at harnessing dogs as she has her own sled dogs back home in Wisconsin.  She reminded me and off we went.

"Aspen, put your leg through there."

"Aspen, first put your head through here."

So, Linda, Serene, Cindy Abbott, and Terrie and I harnessed and hooked up two 16 dog teams.  Ten minutes of noise and controlled chaos was followed by complete silence and peace.  After the two teams took off, I took a deep breath and looked around and said to myself, “Wow!”  Terrie and I proceeded to high-five after a job well done.

We attempted to start that shopping list again while we waited.  As soon as the teams arrived back at the kennel we headed back down to water the dogs.  After earning their water and a fish snack, it was time to unhook and unharness the teams and take them back to their kennel.  Not quite as crazy, but this time muddy and wet.  During the dog ride the dogs splash through a mud pit.

Remember that shopping list?  We finally got to it.

This day provided me with a thrilling adventure and a great deal of thought.  So many different journeys taking place.  Serene, Vern’s handler, to her this is just a normal day.  She is working for Vern during the summer handling sled dogs.  Linda, Vern’s employee, again, to her this is just another day setting up and taking down for a tour.  The dogs, this is their summer Iditarod training schedule.  Cindy Abbott, she is here to sign up for the 2015 Iditarod and this is normal to her too.  For Terrie and me, this was an awesome new experience.

My Journey Begins

One year ago I began my dream journey.  I came to Alaska to the Iditarod summer teacher camp with a dream to be the 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.  Today my dream became a reality.  This morning, upon arrival at Iditarod Headquarters, I was introduced to several people who deal with the ins and outs of the race.  As I sit at this desk writing my first entry, it is really starting to sink in that I am beginning this journey.  All around headquarters I hear talking of Iditarod business in the background.  I see many Iditarod books.  I view countless pictures of sled dogs.  I watch Barb Redington talking with tourists outside.  I talk Iditarod with Raymie Redington.  Also, amusingly enough, I hear a chocolate lab named Jack snoring in the next room, obviously sleeping on the job. These sights and sounds are making me feel part of the Iditarod family.  I know this journey is only going to get better and more exciting.  I look forward taking this journey and bringing all of you with me.

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