Photo of the Day – Tales From the IAF


Veteran IAF pilot Joe Pendergrass holds a cap with the official IAF logo he designed.

The Iditarod race has many great stories to tell by the many men and women who help plan it, and travel the trail to help make it successful.  Joe Pendergrass is one of the many people who make The Last Great Race on Earth® what it is.  Joe is a member of a very special family; he is a veteran pilot volunteer for the Iditarod Air Force.  Within the inner workings of the race are the 28- 30 volunteer pilots that are essential to its success.

Joe and a volunteer at Finger Lake

They are a quiet group of folks who prefer to work inconspicuously in the background delivering the food bags in pre-race set up, flying dogs safely back to Anchorage during the race, and delivering veterinarians and volunteers to the different checkpoints along with anything else that can fit into their 4-seater airplanes with specially adapted skis.

Joe is a reserved, quiet man, unassuming and remarkable. He talked to me a little about how it always amazes him that strangers will sit in his airplane with complete trust for him.  He felt that was a huge responsibility.  He wears his IAF cap with a lot of pride, and I asked him about the husky logo.  To my surprise he told me that he had designed it himself!  I asked him if the logo was available on other memorabilia. He told me the fascinating story behind the patch and why it’s reserved just for the family of pilots who risk a lot and give up a lot to support the Iditarod behind the scenes.  Each IAF volunteer pilot is given the logo to use and a decal for their plane and even a special commemorative pilot handbook with a picture of their personal airplane on the cover.  It’s a special tradition.

Below is Joe’s accounting of the history of the design of the patch for the IAF:

IAF logo – husky by Jon VanZyle Photo courtesy of

“The patch, which is now the official logo for the Iditarod Air Force, was originally the brain child of IAF pilot John Norris. It began as a design for a lapel pin in 2001. John and I were Co Chief Pilots at the time for the IAF. He explained to me what he had in mind and I designed and sketched it out on paper. After drawing the first draft, with the circle along with the words inscribed around it and the wings protruding from each side, it was obvious that I needed help in drawing the husky. I took it to Artist John Van Zyle who agreed to draw what we wanted on the condition that it would be for our own use and that we didn’t “sell” any of the pins. He drew the husky, with the goggles and scarf, which were common for pilots to wear in the early days of flying in an open cockpit airplane. I then gave it to my nine year old Grand daughter, Jessica Parker, who filled in the appropriate colors. We then sent it to a pin maker in New York. After a couple of proofs were sent back and forth, we got our pins and gave one to each pilot. They were an instant hit.

A former I.A.F. Pilot, the late Bert Novak took the design to a sign shop and had some “peel and stick” decals made. They were also an immediate hit and they too were distributed to each of the pilots for identifying the planes that are part of the Iditarod Air Force.At some point later, Chief Pilot Bert Hanson had the design transferred to a cloth patch to be placed on the hats and jackets of the members of the I.A.F. It was at that time it became the new official logo for the Iditarod Air Force.”
51DWHsqdvEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Want to know more?  Check out the wonderful book, Adventures of the Iditarod Air Force; True Stories About the Pilots Who Fly For Alaska’s Famous Sled Dog Race by Ted Mattson.
Its 29 chapters are full of the sometimes famously funny and sometimes daring acts of courage by the IAF pilots from its first year to the early 1990s.
I asked Joe about giving the Iditarod Air Force more attention for all the hard work  they put into The Last Great Race on Earth® to recognize their dedication.  He simply shrugged it off and said, “Nope, it’s about the mushers and the dogs.”  The Iditarod Air Force is a close-knit family that prefers to work behind-the-scenes, and they like it that way.

Photo of the Day – The Sisterhood of the Traveling Sleeping Bag


The Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ sleeping bag was handed over to me in a public ceremony at Iditarod headquarters Saturday.  It is a special and longstanding tradition, with 17 teachers before me using it on the trail all the way to Nome.  Erin Montgomery, the 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, left for home this morning, but she took a moment to connect with me and share some stories with me.  Erin has great integrity and has done a remarkable job this year sharing her lessons and passion for the race with teachers around the world.  I took some time to look at the patches on the sleeping bag that had been lovingly created by all the past teachers.  It made me reflect upon my year and my expectations for myself as the 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.  I have big shoes to fill, and I look forward to this amazing challenge!

Photo of the Day – The Rookie and the Veteran

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Dr. Larry Daugherty, rookie musher, and Mitch Seavey, veteran and champion musher, sat down for a visit during the Iditarod Volunteer Picnic today at headquarters.  One can only imagine the conversation.  There is something genuine and giving about the mushing community. The passing on of history and knowledge is a gift that veterans and mentors like Mitch embrace, which will ultimately help the Iditarod continue to be The Last Great Race on Earth® for generations to come.

Video of the Day – Rookie Musher Gwenn Bogart – “From Home to Nome”

“It’s never too late to live your dream,” reads the banner heading on Gwenn Bogart’s musher web site.  I can’t think of a better expression to describe Gwenn.  She is vivacious, uplifting and positive, and this year she is determined to make it “from home to Nome” as she tries a second run as a rookie musher in the upcoming Iditarod 2016.  The teachers from the Iditarod Teacher Summer Camp had the great fortune of hearing Gwenn talk about her life and her deep desire to mush in Alaska.  For the next year, she will be under the care and training of Vern Halter, veteran Iditarod musher, at his Dream a Dream Dog Farm.  Vern worked with the great Cindy Abbott, the 2015 Red Lantern winner, and under his mentorship this year, Gwenn will be prepared for the challenges ahead.  As the Iditarod 2016 teacher on the Trailˇ I have chosen to follow Gwen as our rookie musher this year.  She is going to share her preparation for The Last Great Race with teachers and students around the world, so they can all better understand the hard work and perseverance that it takes to bring your sled and dogs to the starting line on 4th Avenue in March.


Gwenn at the annual Iditarod Volunteer Picnic, signing up for Iditarod 2016

Gwen’s bio from the Iditarod site:

Gwenn Bogart, 58, was born and raised in Vermont. She has B.S. and B.A. degrees from Colorado Technical University. Gwenn has had professional careers in horsemanship and fly fishing. She co-founded Casting for Recovery (CFR),, an international breast cancer support group headquartered in Manchester, Vermont, that uses fly fishing for mental and physical healing. Gwenn also has a private pilot’s license and flew a Cessna 150 from the Green Mountain State of Vermont to the Last Frontier in 2011. Gwenn’s two grown daughters, Hannah and Molly, make their homes in Oregon and Vermont. Gwenn moved to Alaska when she and Dave Bogart, a former member of the Iditarod Air Force, were married in June of 2012. She began mushing in 2012 and has run the Sheep Mountain 200, the Copper Basin 300 and the Northern Lights 300. This will be Gwenn’s second attempt to finish the Iditarod and she humbly refers to herself as a rookie’s rookie. She lives in Wasilla with her husband, two border collies and one wiener dog named Frank. She enjoys fishing, flying airplanes, skiing, hiking, riding her road bike and perusing her artistic skills.


Gwenn Bogart and Laura Wright, Iditarod 2016 Teacher on the Trailˇ

Check out Gwenn’s web site here

Follow Gwenn on Facebook here

Photo of the Day – A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed


“Tip me for Willow fire!” read the hand-written note clipped to Barb Redington’s jacket at the Iditarod Volunteer Picnic today.  Barb has a big heart and a passionate dedication for the Iditarod and everyone involved from volunteers to mushers.  She is married to Raymie Redington, the son of Joe Redington Sr., the founder of The Last Great Race.  Barb was the 1977 Red Lantern champion in the Junior Iditarod, and now dedicates herself to the organization helping mentor the young athletes all year to prepare.  She and her husband offer sled dog rides at Iditarod headquarters 7 days a week, but today, their earnings were donated to the mushers who lost their homes in the Sockeye fire.

Photo of the Day – Training Native Olympians


Two young athletes sat respectfully on the stage as we entered and sat in “The Gathering Place” inside the beautiful Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.  A small tethered ball covered in seal skin and fur hung conspicuously from a tall wooden pole.  Our group from the Iditarod Summer Teacher Conference waited with quiet excitement to see some examples of the Native Olympic games.  Our star athletes on stage shared with us not only many remarkable athletic moves this day, but also the history and traditions of their people.  Why are these games important to them?  What are they learning from this experience that draws them closer to a connection with their culture?  The mission of the Alaska Native Heritage Center states that its organization: “preserves and strengthens the traditions, languages, and art of Alaska’s Native People through statewide collaboration, celebration, and education.”  The specific moves in the games come from the moves needed to survive in the wild long ago, such as jumping from ice float to ice float.  Judging by the dedication and passion of these two remarkable young people, the ANHC is meeting its mission to preserve and nurture the history of the native people of Alaska.

Alaska Native Heritage Center

Video of the Day – Puppy Power

Puppies are the future for any kennel.  They require special nurturing and training from the day they are born to prepare them for the possibility of one day becoming a champion.  The teachers at the Iditarod Summer Camp had the opportunity to spend time with Vern Halter’s newest litter during our stay, and we enjoyed every minute of it.  Vern’s puppies were born three months ago and were given unique names in honor of Cindy Abbott’s red lantern year; a special tradition within the mushing community.  Early risers were lucky enough to enjoy a puppy walk through the Dream a Dream Dog Farm woodland trails, and it was fascinating for all of us to see the puppies already developing into a close-knit pack.  They chased each other along winding pathways surrounded by ferns and wildflowers, around trees, and over their gnarled roots with the instinct of exactly where to go.  They ran far ahead of the group of teachers; scampering past us all the way back home.  One morning, after chores, we were bound and determined to capture this puppy spectacle on video, so a small group of us waited anxiously by the puppy kennel for their return.  With Mickey, the family border collie and famed stick retriever as their guide, they emerged from the woods with yelps and howls.  We heard them coming before we saw them.  To our delight, they bypassed the food bowl to join us with lots of licks and love.  Yet another great reason for teachers to journey to Alaska for the Iditarod Teacher Summer Camp!

Iditarod Teacher Wintry Conference & Summer Camp Information