Dog Lovers Lane

Welcome to the Van Zyle's

Welcome to the Van Zyle’s

The Iditarod Winter Educator’s Conference is underway. After a day filled with breakfast, presentations, lunch, and Skype visits, the teachers enjoyed an excursion to Jon and Jona Van Zyle’s Dog Kennel and Art Gallery. The first time I visited their kennel I fell in love with the dogs and the Van Zyles. They are so gracious and welcome guests into their home as if they were family. Once you get to know them, you feel as if you are now family. I witnessed this firsthand today.

When we first arrived at the kennel, we were greeted by both Jon and Jona. They introduced themselves to the teachers and spoke a little about their dogs. Both Jon and Jona have had dogs since as long as they both can remember. The currently have eight Siberian sled dogs in their fenced in doggy heaven. Jon completed the Iditarod in 1976 and 1979. Since 1977, Jon has been creating the official Iditarod poster. All through the house you can see the love the two of these wonderful people have for dogs and the Iditarod.

Dog exercise wheel

Dog exercise wheel

DSC_2410As we walked into “doggy heaven,” one of the dogs quickly jumped on the exercise wheel as if to show off his skills. All eight dogs were then unleashed and allowed to run free. The teachers enthusiastically took pictures of the beautiful dogs. A couple of the younger pups dashed around the lot as fast as lightning. Sky, especially, never stopped long enough for a quick picture. There is an excellent spot for guests to sit up with the dogs and have their pictures taken. The dogs have been through this many times and it was as if they knew they were to pose for pictures. Throughout the lot you could see a pile of leftover bones, tennis balls, and a pile of toys that could keep the dogs busy for days. When it was time for us to go in and the dogs to leash back up, Jon and Jona just said, “go to your room,” and the dogs hopped up on their house. Jon then walked around to each dog and fed them a snack.

We continued our tour of the kennel by checking out Jon’s “old school” dog sled. “They don’t make them like this anymore”, Jon told us. He and Jona still use the old sleds when they go on their fun runs and camping trips. He opened the bag up and showed us some of the things he keeps in his bag and on his sled; snowshoes, cooker, snow hook, ax, and sleeping pads for the dogs.

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The teachers were then invited inside their home to enjoy some snacks and check out some exquisite artwork. Many teachers purchased books, prints, posters, and received personal autographs from Jon. It was towards the end of the evening when I witnessed just how gracious and loving the Van Zyles are. As Martha Dobson, 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail, was wandering around, she saw a stone coaster that had painted on top a Siberian Husky. Martha immediately thought of her dog Morgan who unexpectedly passed away last year. She had mentioned to Jona that the painting would look exactly like Morgan with blue eyes. Jona replied to Martha, “tell Jon to paint them blue.” Thinking maybe she wasn’t serious or maybe she would have to pick the coaster back up some other time, Martha was in for a surprise. Jon not only fixed the eyes right then and there, but he studied a picture of Morgan and fixed all the attributes to match that of Morgan. All the while, Martha could not believe her eyes. I don’t think words can describe her thanks she had for the thought and love Jon showed to her. She will treasure that coaster and think of Morgan and the Van Zyles for many years.

DSC_2513That is the loving type of people Jon and Jona are. They invite you into their home and treat you like family. Every time I see them I always receive a warm hug. These are great ambassadors to the sport of sled dog racing and the Iditarod.

Kevin Harper Wins Junior Iditarod

We did it!

We did it!

Kevin Harper at the start

Kevin Harper at the start

Kevin Harper got a little sleep last night after doing his chores and feeding his dogs. He woke up at approximately 1:00 a.m. to begin his preparations to depart Alpine Creek Lodge at 4:18 a.m. Jimmy Lanier was doing the same preparations for his departure at 4:10 a.m. Eight minutes will separate the two Junior mushers looking for a Junior Iditarod win. The rest of the teams are completing their chores in preparation to make their journey back towards Cantwell. The last musher to leave the lodge was Jordan Seager at 7:16 a.m.

John and I loaded up the sled hooked to the back of his snowmachine and began our 65 mile journey back to the finish. Another gorgeous trip back to Cantwell with views I cannot begin to describe. We passed the mushers one by one. I knew we must be getting close to the leaders because we were only about 5-10 miles away. We passed Andrew Nolan, so I assumed Jimmy and Kevin would be just ahead. The next thing I know, I see the finish line. At some point in the run Kevin made up those eight minutes and passed Jimmy. Kevin crossed the finish line at 9:46 a.m as the 2015 Junior Iditarod Champion. With Kevin not even out of the finishing chute, Jimmy came in at 9:48 a.m. Two minutes separated the Kevin and Jimmy in the race to the finish.

Approximately a half an hour later Andrew Nolan rolled in with Iditarod veteran Wade Marrs looking as proud as ever. Wade has been training and helping out Andrew this season as well as another Junior musher, Marianna Mallory. Marianna came in sixth place. The Red Lantern winner, the musher that crosses the finish line last, was Joan Klejka from Bethel. Joan crossed the finish at 4:27 p.m.

The awards banquet was held this evening at the school in Cantwell. A few of the awards given out at the banquet were the Sportsmanship award, the Humanitarian award, and the Blue Harness award. The Sportsmanship award was given to Andrew Nolan. What an honor for this young man. The Humanitarian award is given out by the veterinarians by the musher that displays the best care for their dogs. Marianna Mallory was awarded this honor. Marianna and Andrew’s trainer put it best, “to our kennel, that’s just as rewarding as winning.” That is such a true statement. It shows young athletes that sometimes there is more than winning. The Blue Harness award is voted on by the mushers themselves to the best lead dog. This award was given to Jimmy Lanier and his dog Alpha. Another award was handed out tonight. At the rookie meeting Thursday night, Danny Seavey challenged the young mushers to have consistent run times on the way out and the way back. Marianna took home this award as well. For this award she won a $50 Cabela’s gift card.

I truly enjoyed being able to witness these young kids complete their journey of finishing the Junior Iditarod. They all displayed such respect and care for one another. It is more than a competition, it is a life long journey complete with many life lessons. These Junior mushers showed courage, responsibility, endurance, willpower, determination, and so much more over the course of their race and training.

The Juniors Are Out

And they're off

And they’re off

This weekend reminds me of being home. A small community coming together in time of need. The Junior Iditarod needed a place to move the trail due to extremely icy conditions. Cantwell did not bat an eye when the start and finish was moved to their community. They offered up their homes, their church, and their school for places of refuge the night before the race. The school held a delicious pancake breakfast this morning for volunteers, mushers, and community members. The banquet will also be held at the school Monday night. The halfway point, Alpine Creek Lodge, has been just as helpful. Without question, the lodge offered its place up for the race. Places to crash, free wifi, an excellent meal, cake, and a spectacular view. Both Cantwell and the Alpine Creek Lodge stepping up and helping out in time of need; what gracious people.

DSC_2091About three miles away from the school out the Denali Highway, the highway closes in the winter. During the winter months the highway is frequented by sled dog teams and snowmachines. The highway will now also be traveled by eleven junior mushers teams. Promptly at noon, the first musher, Dakota Schlesser, pulled his hook and began heading down the trail. Exactly two minutes apart, the rest of the teams began their journey to Alpine Creek Lodge. Lining the chute you could see photographers, family members, volunteers, friends, and community members cheering the juniors on their way.

Now began my journey to the lodge. John Nunnes and I boarded his snowmachine for our 65 mile journey to Alpine Creek Lodge. Last night we had the opportunity to view the beauty of the northern lights. Today, breathtaking views on the way to the lodge. I have never before been on a snowmachine and today my first ride left me speechless. I cannot describe the magnificent scenes we were blessed to observe. We passed many Iditarod mushers still in training on the highway. A lot of mushers have been training on the Denali Highway this year due to lack of snow in the south. Most of the mushers we passed are actually staying at the lodge as well. It’s a busy place tonight.

Approximately 6:20 p.m., the first junior musher arrived at the lodge, Kevin Harper. Following closely to Kevin was Jimmy Lanier and then Dakota Schlosser. The young mushers began to take the booties off their dogs. Some mushers began by snacking their dogs, others massaged their dogs, still others began cooking their dogs their meal. Other chores going on around the checkpoint were locating the straw to lay down for their dogs, Heet for their cooker, putting coats on their dogs, and checking in with the Race Marshal. One thing was very consistent at the checkpoint, these kids all have great sportsmanship. They were offering each other straw, their leftover water, and Heet. I heard Kevin telling Jimmy how great of a run he had. As a coach, I love seeing this interaction between young athletes.

As I write this, the northern lights are out and the dog lot below is getting peacefully quiet. The dogs are asleep and the kids are either sitting around the fire or taking a nap in their sleds. The volunteers are visiting up in the lodge and enjoying some spaghetti and hot drinks. After the kids take their 10-hour mandatory layover plus their 2-minute time differential, they will head back towards Cantwell. With the way they came in, it appears we will have a close race; however, anything can happen.

Fantasy Iditarod Draft

Start your Fantasy Teams this week

Tori says, “Start your Fantasy Teams this week.”

If you enjoy following the Iditarod, you will enjoy it more by following the race with a Fantasy Iditarod Team. Just before I left my students in Iowa, we held our own draft for Iditarod mushers. With their team names created and their teams selected, my students are geared up for the race to begin.

Before draft day the students did a little research and used critical thinking skills to help them form their teams. Each group in my classroom had to choose a name for their team. Some creative team names were, The Lead Dogs, No Place Like Nome, The Mush Potatoes, Team Pawsome. Each team in the class would be drafting five total mushers; 3 main mushers, 1 female musher, and 1 rookie musher.

The main mushers on the team can be any type of musher; veteran, rookie, female, it’s their choice. The female musher obviously has to be a female musher. If one of their main mushers is a female musher, they need to choose a different female musher. It is the same concept with the rookie musher, if one of their main mushers is a rookie, they need a different rookie. In the end, each team will have five different mushers.

Along the trail teams will earn points for arriving at checkpoints. We are using three checkpoints and the finish as places to earn points. Our first checkpoint to earn points in Tanana. If one of your mushers arrives first in Tanana you earn 10 points, second will earn 9 points, third will earn 8 points, and so on. Our second checkpoint is the halfway point, Huslia. The same scoring system applies in Huslia. The third checkpoint is Unalakleet. The same scoring system will apply in Unalakleet. The point system will change when the mushers finish in Nome. View the point system below:

Main Musher

1st place – 50 points

2nd place – 44 points

3rd place – 37 points

4th place – 29 points

5th place – 21 pointsDSC_2009

6th place – 20 points

7th place – 19 points


Female Musher

1st female – 30 points

2nd female – 25 points

3rd female – 15 points

4th female – 5 points

Rookie Musher

1st rookie – 30 points

2nd rookie – 25 points

3rd rookie – 15 points

4th rookie – 5 points

Red Lantern winner will earn 70 points. The Red Lantern winner is the musher who crosses the finish line last. When discussing this winner with your students talk about the importance of just finishing such a challenging race and persevering through obstacles faced along the way.

My students took about a day and a half to research and make their lists of choices with back up choices in case their musher was already picked. On draft day to determine which team drew first we drew team names out of a hat. There are seven groups in each of my classes and we had five rounds in the draft. The first pick in first hour was Aliy Zirkle. The first pick in second hour was also Aliy Zirkle. Fifth hour picked Jeff King as their first pick.

As students were deciding on their picks I heard them strategizing. A few teams were trying to get a couple of top 10 finishers as well as someone they think would win the Red Lantern. Teams were coming up with strategies that would give them the most points, not necessarily their favorite mushers. Keep this in mind when picking your teams.

We created charts for each class to keep track of our points which we hung outside of the classroom. Each day during the race students will be tracking the mushers and when points are earned they will update the charts. I am bringing back prizes from Alaska for the winning teams.

In addition to playing Fantasy Iditarod in your class with your students, you may want to hold a draft with some friends. It is an exciting way to follow the race. The countdown is on, one week until the race. Get started with Fantasy Iditarod this week. You may want to think about holding off on your draft day until Friday of this week. Thursday, March 5, is the Musher Drawing Banquet. At the banquet the mushers will draw their starting order. If your class chooses to keep track of points at early checkpoints, starting order may make a difference.

 Fantasy Iditarod Lesson Plan

 Fantasy Iditarod Form

The Junior Champion – “Will it be a boy or a girl?”

2015 Junior Iditarod Mushers

2015 Junior Iditarod Mushers

“Will it be a boy or a girl this year?” This is the question Barb Redington asked the junior mushers last night at the Junior Iditarod Mandatory Meeting. There are eleven juniors racing this year, six girls and five boys. Ten out of the eleven young mushers sat in the front row at Iditarod Headquarters listening to Barb introduce the many volunteers of the race and thank the gracious sponsors.

After thanking the countless sponsors and volunteers it was time for the youngsters to draw the start order, their bib number. The juniors will draw in the order they signed up for the race. Bib number one is traditionally granted to the honorary musher. Longtime Junior Iditarod veterinarian, Dr. Jayne Hempstead, is the 2015 Junior Iditarod honorary musher. Below is the order the mushers will embark on the trail. Read their biographies at the Junior Iditarod website.

Bib #1: Honorary Musher Dr. Jayne Hempstead

Bib #2: Dakota Schlosser (Rookie) Sophomore in H.S

Bib #3: Kevin Harper (Veteran) Junior in H.S.

Bib #4: Jordan Seager (Rookie) 8th gradeDSC_2031

Bib #5: Andrew Nolan (Veteran) Sophomore in H.S.

Bib #6: Katie Deits (Rookie) Sophomore in H.S.

Bib #7: Nicole Forto (Veteran) Senior in H.S.

Bib #8: Marianna Mallory (Rookie) Junior in H.S.

Bib #9: Rose Capistrant (Rookie) Freshman in H.S.

Bib #10: Joan Klejka (Rookie) Sophomore in H.S.

Bib #11: Jannelle Trowbridge (Veteran) Senior in H.S.

Bib #12: Jimmy Lanier (Veteran) Junior in H.S.

The trail will begin three miles from Cantwell.  The young mushers will start in 2-minute increments. They will mush 65 miles until they reach the Alpine Creek Lodge. Here they will take their mandatory 10-hour layover. When they arrive the mushers will lay straw down for their dogs, take their booties off, feed their dogs, and any other necessary chores. The junior mushers have a tradition of sitting around a campfire getting to know each other during the 10-hour layover. Mushers will make up the 2-minute time differential when they depart the lodge and head back. Jimmy, bib #12, will be able to leave exactly 10 hours after he arrives. Jannelle, bib #11, will leave 10 hours and 2 minutes after she arrives at the lodge, and so on.

2015 Junior Iditarod Trail Map - Cantwell to Alpine Creek Lodge and back. (photo from Jeff King Facebook page)

2015 Junior Iditarod Trail Map – Cantwell to Alpine Creek Lodge and back.                               (photo from Jeff King Facebook page)

The champion of the Junior Iditarod will be the lead musher in the Iditarod Ceremonial Start on Saturday, March 7, in Anchorage. The winner will also be flown to Nome to attend the Iditarod Finisher’s Banquet.

Preparing for the Junior Iditarod

2015 Junior Rookies and Rookie Meeting Speakers

2015 Junior Rookies and Rookie Meeting Speakers

The Junior Iditarod is 3 days from starting and preparations are starting to be made. Last night four eager Junior rookies sat in the front row at the annual Junior Iditarod rookie meeting held at Iditarod Headquarters. The night was filled with speakers providing advice, information, and guidance as they begin their journey as a Junior Iditarod musher. The rookies heard from Dr. Jayne Hempstead, Danny Seavey, Larissa Myers-Mccoin, Jim Uhl, Marilyn Mapes, Meredith Mapes, and Richard Plack.

Dr. Jayne Hempstead

Dr. Jayne Hempstead

Dr. Jayne is one of the veterinarians that will be checking out the teams before and during the race.  She also happens to be this year’s Junior Iditarod honorary musher. One topic Dr. Jayne stressed to the young mushers was foot care for their dogs. This is her favorite subject and something she truly feels can make or break a team. She expressed to mushers when they show up to vet checks tomorrow if their dog nails are not trimmed, she will be handing them clippers and telling them to clip away. Going along with foot care she spoke about the importance of effective bootying; no holes, correct size, and when to change them. Besides foot care, Dr. Jayne spoke with the rookies about overall care of the dogs out on the trail. She left them with telling them if they take excellent care of their dogs they will get to the finish.

Danny Seavey using a jacket to resemble a dog coat

Danny Seavey using a jacket to resemble a dog coat

Attempting to persuade the rookies to enjoy some of the chili and cookies, Danny sat along side of the rookies and talked with them about the importance of racing how you have been training. Danny comes from a family with a long, rich, history of mushing. Danny told the kids right away, “most of your decisions have already been made.” He is speaking of all the decisions the rookies have prepared for during the training they have been doing. Danny stressed time and time again that they should not worry about the other teams and do whatever they have been doing in training. The dogs are used to this; don’t change how and when you snack, don’t change your speed limit, don’t change your interaction with the dogs, just stay calm and have fun. Danny also left the kids with a contest. The team that has a time in the first half of the race closest to the time in the second half of the race will win a $50 Cabela’s card donated by him. This encourages the teams to stick to their speed limit and not get out too fast.

Larissa spoke next with the rookies about snacking their dogs. She showed the kids some of the snacks she gives to her dogs. She talked about fish, chicken, and beef. She said fish is a great snack because it also provides the dog with water. It is important to keep the dogs hydrated. She did leave the kids with the message that they should not start using snacks that their dogs are not used to in the race, again use what you have been using in your training.

Jim explaining items in sled repair kit

Jim explaining items in sled repair kit

Each rookie receives a sled repair kit to carry with them along the way. Jim Uhl spoke about what will be in the kit and other ways to use the items. He started by telling the kids it makes him proud that they are doing the Junior Iditarod, “you guys really got your act together.” Some items in the repair kit are zip ties, garbage bags, mini hacksaw, pliers, toothbrush, floss, and much more.

Marilyn Mapes spoke with the young mushers about the importance of having a well stocked first aid kit. As a nurse, Marilyn’s daughter always had a well stocked kit. She also talked with the kids about cold weather gear. She stressed the importance of not wearing anything made of cotton, it will not keep you warm. Along with cold weather gear, she told them to make sure to include as much reflective material on their gear as they can. She said her daughter was always lit up like a Christmas tree. She ended with telling the kids to have good boots and good socks. It is no fun mushing with cold feet.

Meredith, Marilyn’s daughter, is a former Jr. Iditarod musher. She came up to talk with the rookies about the new trail this year, the Denali highway. Due to icy conditions out on the trail this year, the Jr. Iditarod was moved to Cantwell. Mushers will start in Cantwell and mush out 65 miles to the Alpine Creek Lodge where they will take their 10-hour mandatory rest. They then head back to Cantwell after their rest. She let them know the trail is not flat, it starts out flat, but don’t let it fool you. There are a lot of big hills going out that seem to never end, but coming back you will be going down those hills, so use your break often.

Richard Plack talking about trail markers

Richard Plack talking about trail markers

The evening ended with Richard Plack talking with the rookies about the trail markers. There will be many trail markers with reflective tape out on the trail. If the mushers see just one stick, they just stay right on the trail. Two sticks on the right side of the trail means they will turn right and two sticks on the left side means they turn left. Sticks that form an X equals do not go this way. Mushers also may see sticks that form what looks like an asterisk made with tree sticks.


Patiently waiting for the vet

This morning the Junior  mushers made their way back to headquarters for vet checks. Vets will do a thorough examination of the dogs. They will check their heart, their lungs, their feet, feel their weight, and talk with the mushers. Terrie and I made our way to vet checks after a school presentation just in time to see the last vet check. Jordan Seager, rookie, was getting his dogs checked out by the vets.

Tonight all the Junior mushers will be out at headquarters for the final mandatory musher meeting. Then, it is time to race. Everyone will head out to Cantwell and get ready for the Sunday afternoon start at 12:00 p.m. Good luck to all Junior. mushers.

Checkpoint Checkup: Unalakleet to Shaktoolik

Shaktoolik from the air

Shaktoolik from the air

As mushers leave “the place where the east wind blows,” they won’t be losing the blustery wind by any means. This next leg of the journey for mushers is approximately 38 miles to Shaktoolik, another village along the coast. Depending on weather it should take teams 4-6 hours to complete.

As teams leave Unalakleet, the first part of the trail can be quite icy. For about 25 miles the mushers will be running through woods and wide open areas. The last 12 miles of their journey will be along the desolate coastline. The toughest part of the section of the trail is the weather. Even when the weather is “good,” the wind can be tenacious. With the wind chill, temperatures have dropped to almost 100 below zero Fahrenheit with gale force winds blasting teams along the coast.

When teams near Shaktoolik they will observe abandoned buildings from “Old Shaktoolik.” They will continue past the buildings a couple of miles until arriving at “New Shaktoolik.” The checkpoint is at the National Guard Armory. Mushers will park their teams on the south side of the building to protect their dogs from the gusty north wind. Most teams won’t stay in Shaktoolik long due to the hazardous winds.

The airstrip is about 2-miles from the checkpoint. With all of the gear, the bitter temperatures and wind, a 2-mile walk can be lengthy and frigid. Did you know they have a taxi in Shaktoolik? Of course they do, Pam’s Taxi Service. Pam will be waiting at the airstrip when flights are scheduled to arrive and shuttles people from the airstrip to the village. Her taxi is a yellow snowmachine with a covered sled hitched to the back properly fitted with comfortable bus seats.

The Red Throne

The Red Throne

Going to the restroom in remote villages in Alaska can be entertaining and tricky. If you need to relieve yourself while at the Armory in Shaktoolik, you will find yourself climbing the stairs to the “Red Throne.” You head up the stairs, turn yourself around, all while trying not to fall, and do your business. Then, you close the lid and exit. When the lid closes the “Red Throne” turns the waste into compost.

Looking out from Shaktoolik into Norton Sound, the natives can see Besboro Island, located 11 miles off the coast. A view of the island is shared by the natives of Unalakleet and Shaktoolik, and is used for subsistence and recreational activities as well as a safe harbor for ships in stormy weather. The shape, size, and color change by the minute. An explanation for this change is due to cold air trapped near the ice by warm air. Typically what happens is a mirage occurs. Imagine being a tired musher who has been out on the trail for hours and coming upon this image. Natives use Besboro Island as their weatherman, watching for changes to come.


We keep getting closer and closer. 171 miles to Nome. Next up, Koyuk.

Ideas for students:

1. Winds in Shaktoolik can reach hurricane speeds. How fast is the wind blowing in a 1.Tropical storm  2. Hurricane  3. Tornado

2. What is the most unique taxi you have seen?

3. What is the coldest your town’s temperature has reached?

CMS Idita-Picks


Picture taken February 25, 2015. Notice the lack of snow.

As Terrie and I were walking through The Sportsmans Warehouse today I spotted a contest going on with the Iditarod. The radio station, Country Legends 100.9 Wasilla, is sponsoring a contest for participants to make predictions on which mushers will make it to certain checkpoints first. Of course, we stopped and grabbed a couple of game cards, but we need to sit down and do our research before filling them out and returning them. The grand prize for a perfect card is $500 and all entries will be entered to win $250. I know I could put my winnings towards some serious Iditarod souvenirs.

As soon as we were back in the car, my first thought was, “my students can do something like this,” except for the $500 and $250 prizes. I went further in my thinking, “why not include all the staff in the building?” On our drive back to our cabin I started pondering ideas for prizes. I think I came up with a couple that anyone would enjoy receiving. The grand prize is an Iditarod poster signed by the 2015 Iditarod champion and an autographed Iditarod book. In addition, all entries will be entered to win a 2015 Iditarod race guide filled with musher biographies, an official map, a pull-out poster, and several fascinating Iditarod feature stories.

The Idita-pick game card is similar to the way weekly football pick cards work. There are four checkpoints participants will choose a musher they think will arrive at the checkpoint first. The checkpoints are: 1. First team to the halfway point – Huslia  2. First team to the coast – Unalakleet  3. First team to the finish – Nome  4. The Red Lantern – Official last place team  5. Rookie of the Year – First rookie to Nome. Each player will choose their five mushers and include their own name. I decided to set some rules for the contest so it does not get out of control with multiple entries.

Rule #1: Only 1 entry per person

Rule #2: All entries must be received by Friday, March 6, 3:15

Rule #3: Turn in all entries to (you fill in the blank)

On my game cards I included a link to find and research 2015 mushers:  Click on Race Center, then Musher Profiles. You may have some students or adults in your building wishing to participate that are not that familiar with mushers yet. This is a step in creating a new Iditarod race fan.

I have an easy way to gather prizes as I am experiencing the Iditarod first-hand. If you are struggling to come up with ideas for prizes here are a few ideas: First in line at lunch for a week, school apparel, free ticket to an event at school.

If you want to give your staff and students plenty of time to do their research on mushers, you will want to get your game cards out right away. Have your game cards located all throughout the building; the office, teacher classrooms, cafeteria, gymnasium, band room, choir room, posted on bulletin boards, make announcements over the intercom, make sure you spread the word.

As each checkpoint is reached by a musher keep track of winning mushers and winning participants in your building. This will keep the interest alive during the race. If your class or school has not purchased an Iditarod Educational Insider Subscription, hurry up and get one before it’s too late. You can view the live GPS tracker, watch live restart in Fairbanks, view Insider videos from out on the trail,and stream the finish in Nome.

Tonight while eating pizza, we had our Iditarod app open on both of our phones with much discussion as to who our picks would be.  Terrie and I finalized our Idita-picks. We will not be releasing our picks prior to the game card deadline. We will make our picks available to the public sometime after March 6, stay tuned.

CMS Idit-Pick Game Card

Change is in the Air

“You cannot change your journey if you are unwilling to move at all.” - Ally Condie

“You cannot change your journey if you are unwilling to move at all.” – Ally Condie

10 days remain until the start of the 2015 Iditarod. You can sense it, you can feel it, you can see it, and you can touch all things Iditarod here at the Millennium Hotel, Iditarod Headquarters.

Walking around the Millennium Hotel I can begin to sense a change. Tables are set up in different places, a mini Iditarod store has been constructed, and Iditarod volunteers are starting to crowd the hotel. As I walk around the hotel and observe the changes, I can sense something colossal is about to happen.

Sitting in the Flying Machine, the Millennium restaurant, listening to the many conversations developing I can feel a change. Discussions about upcoming meetings, logistics, volunteers, Fairbanks, and new checkpoints makes me feel something exciting is about to happen.



Talking with the many volunteers that are already setting up headquarters at the Millennium I can see the change. As you enter the hotel the first smiling faces you see are the ladies working the Iditarod volunteer registration desk. Anyone volunteering for the Iditarod must register with these ladies. On the other side of the lobby is a mini Iditarod store where fans can purchase official Iditarod souvenirs. Stu Nelson, chief veterinarian of the Iditarod, can be seen already walking the halls of the hotel preparing for the upcoming race. Volunteers doing jobs you may not even think of are working tirelessly in their hotel rooms. Did you know one job is to make official name badges for all those involved in the race? As you observe these changes you can see something immense is about to happen.

Photo Feb 24, 8 48 24 PMWandering through the Iditarod store I can touch the change. T-shirts, parkas, hats, scarves, baby clothes, books, pens, pins, all things Iditarod can be touched in the store. I even had the opportunity to share a hug with Iditarod veteran and official Iditarod artist Jon Van Zyle while waiting for my pizza in the restaurant. Handshakes and hugs are experienced as friends meet back up with each other after a year apart. These experiences present to onlookers something grand is about to happen.

Something incredible is going to happen indeed. The exciting change that we all are beginning to sense, feel, see, and even touch is The Last Great Race. It is surreal to me to be part of this experience. Seeing what goes on behind the scenes and actually being part of the behind the scenes is a dream come true. This change is going to evolve into the fantastic race we call The Iditarod.

Ideas for students:

1. Make a list of all the jobs you think people volunteer for each year for the Iditarod.

2. Think of something big that is about to happen at your school or in your community. Write an article for your newspaper using the words sense, feel, see, and touch as your main topics of the story.

3. Who is one person with the Iditarod that you would like to shake hands with?

4. If you could buy one thing from the Iditarod Store, what would it be?

Checkpoint and Trivia Tuesday: Kaltag to Unalakleet – What does Unalakleet mean?

"Stirring the winds of change is always an adventure. Where the adventure takes you is the journey that can determine who you are." - Faith Tilley Johnson

“Stirring the winds of change is always an adventure. Where the adventure takes you is the journey that can determine who you are.” – Faith Tilley Johnson

Last week we followed musher Cindy Abbott to Kaltag. This week our journey will take us about 82 miles to Unalakleet. Depending on if mushers decide to camp along the trail, this leg of the journey could take them 10-15 hours, and depending on the weather could even take up to 20 hours.

Old Woman Mountain

Old Woman Mountain

Weather conditions along this section of the trail can be quite treacherous; storms can brew up along the coast and the wind can be fierce. Thankfully, there are two comfortable cabins available to mushers. Tripod Flats cabin is about 15 miles away from Kaltag and the Old Woman cabin is 15 miles farther down the trail. According to legend, anyone that stays in the Old Woman cabin must leave food for the old woman or she will bring you bad luck for the rest of the trail. The section of the trail past the Old Woman cabin is known for gusty winds, drifts, and sudden snowstorms. The turbulent winds and storms can make it difficult for mushers to find their way to town. The last few miles to town will be on glare ice with the wind blasting mushers in the face, but they are almost to the next checkpoint.

As we arrive in Unalakleet we meet up with Terrie Hanke, 2006 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ and writer for Eye on the Trail, an Iditarod blog. Unalakleet means “where the east wind blows,” and it is true to its name. This is the only place Terrie has been where the wind was blowing so hard she could not walk into it, and she has been to many villages along the trail. She remembers being told the wind was blowing 40 mph with gusts as high as 60 mph. Unalakleet is the first village on the Bering Sea, and although this village is notorious for its perilous winds, the sunset here is breathtaking. Terrie likes to stand outside Peace on Earth Pizza, look west and visualize that just 200 miles out there somewhere is Nome.

Look for the wind chargers in the upper right of the picture,

Look for the wind chargers in the upper right of the picture

A village that is named for its boisterous winds has found a positive way to benefit the dangerous winds. A few years ago the village installed six wind chargers on top of a hill just outside of Unalakleet. The chargers will save the village approximately $80,000 a year in diesel fuel costs to produce electricity.

Unalakleet has three major points of operation as a checkpoint. Logistics and dog drop are located at the airport. Logistics coordinates flights for volunteers, supplies, and dogs. Dog drop is where the dropped dogs from the smaller, close by checkpoints are collected. Eventually, larger planes will come pick up the dogs and transport them to Nome. The dropped dogs are taken care of extremely well while in the hands of Iditarod volunteers.

The checkpoint is located in the community building behind the post office. The community building is a lively place as the race comes through the village. Comms, vets, volunteers, mushers, and community members cram into the community building. Middy Johnson, former mayor, cooks sourdough pancakes all day and night. Community members bring in plenty of food as well. Food is never in shortage for the volunteers and mushers in Unalakleet. In addition to tasty food, there are beds available for mushers to use to catch a few minutes of rest.

The third location of the village is the UNK Bunk. The Bunk is located at the Covenant Church Camp building and also has a Quonset hut gymnasium. Volunteers use the spacious gym to sleep. Upstairs is a common room where the volunteers and pilots can hang out and find some food to eat.

With a population of approximately 700, Unalakleet is the largest village between Anchorage and Nome. The village has two grocery stores, The Alaska Commercial Store and The Garage.  Earlier this year I posted a Trivia Tuesday informing you that Matthew Failor received a pizza from an avid fan when he arrives in Unalakleet. Peace on Earth Pizza is the restaurant this delicious pizza is delivered from. The village also has a state of the art medical facility. The school is part of the Bering Strait School District and educates approximately 180 students in grades PreK-12.

As the Iditarod comes through Unalakleet each year the village comes together and hosts a few social events. Terrie shared a couple of her favorites with me. One event is a local ski race organized by ski coach, Nancy Persons. Nancy organizes a ski school for all the children of the village. The ski race typically falls on the Monday the Iditarod is coming through the village. All the children that have been taking ski lessons participate in the race as well as members of the ski/biathlon team. The race showcases many levels of skills, from those who just barely get around on the skis to those on the teams that have mastered the skills. The race involves the whole community, as members come out and cheer the youngsters on.

Another event Terrie enjoys is the Covenant Church Iditarod Pie Social. Many members of the community bake pies for the church fundraiser. Terrie finds it difficult to choose out of the many pies, so her advice is to skip dinner and go with two pieces of pie. Her favorite all-time piece she has had is spicy raisin pecan. It’s a good thing there is a pie social in Unalakleet since the race will not be going through Takotna this year. Takotna is the checkpoint I mentioned earlier this year as to having some of the best pies around. As you can see, the Iditarod brings this village together annually.

When mushers leave Unalakleet they will stay on the coast and head to Shaktoolik.

We are getting closer. 221 miles to Nome! Next stop Shaktoolik, 40 miles.

Ideas for the classroom:

1. What does Unalakleet mean?

2. Take a look and study the cover picture. Write a detailed description from the musher’s point of view.

3, Just for fun: What would your kind of pie to eat at the Iditarod Pie Social?

4. Locate a recipe for Sourdough Pancakes. What ingredients would Middy need to make the pancakes?

Hello from warm, sunny, 42 degrees Alaska!

"Let your mind start a journey through a strange new world. Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before." - Erich Fromm

“Let your mind start a journey through a strange new world. Leave all thoughts of the world you knew before.” – Erich Fromm

It is a beautiful spring day outside today. The only problems with the unseasonably warm temperatures are, I am in Alaska, it is still February, and the Iditarod starts in 11 days. Yesterday as I finished packing my bags in Iowa, it was well below zero with the windchill and there was still snow on the ground. In the wee hours of the morning as I was shuttled to the Millennium Hotel I saw no snow on the ground. It felt as though I traveled south instead of north.

I started packing for my journey north last week. As I brought out the suitcases, my dog Dixon kept giving me the look of death. He would walk in and stare at the suitcase and then lay back down on his bed and stuff a pillow in his mouth; his security blanket. That’s when I knew it was time for a break. Dixon’s 6th birthday is today, so we had a birthday party for him before I left.

Packing was a tough project. I had to pack for school presentations, the Winter Educator’s Conference, and the trail. After laying clothes all over the floor, I ended up with two large bags and a backpack. If you read my blog titled The Coat, you can read about the clothes I have packed for the trail.

My trip north consisted of three flights. I started my journey in Moline, Illinois with a short jaunt to Chicago. After about an hour and a half layover I departed Chicago for Seattle. Another short layover and I was finally heading to Anchorage. My day started at 4:00 p.m. Central Standard Time and ended 12 ½ hours later when I landed in Anchorage at 1:30 a.m. Alaska Time.

Sitting at lunch today I could not believe I was looking at the same lake I was looking at this time last year. Last year the lake was completely frozen solid. This year the same lake appears to be melting as if the winter is over. If you notice in the picture, there is a fence to keep people from walking on the dangerous melting lake.

I look forward to sharing more of my journey through the Iditarod with you.

Ideas for students:

1. I live in Clinton, Iowa. How many total miles did I travel yesterday?

2. If I were to drive to Alaska, what would my route look like? How long would it take me to drive to Alaska?

3. Compare the temperature in Alaska to the temperature where you live.

4. I think my dog Dixon is going to miss me the most while I am away for 5 weeks. Who would you miss and who would miss you the most if you were away for 5 weeks?

The Coat

“The journey of success can be a lonely long walk, blurry and stormy on every side but learn to enjoy the journey anyway.” ~ Bernard Kelvin Clive

“The journey of success can be a lonely long walk, blurry and stormy on every side but learn to enjoy the journey anyway.” ~ Bernard Kelvin Clive

One of the most asked questions I hear from people is, “What are you going to wear to stay warm?” I have to laugh a little bit, because it has been colder here in Iowa than it has been in Alaska. Yesterday morning, February 19, my school had a 2-hour late start due to cold weather. The temperature was approximately 25 degrees below zero Fahrenheit with the wind chill. The temperature yesterday in Fairbanks got up to 22 degrees Fahrenheit. Iowa also had a big snowstorm a couple weeks ago blanketing us with close to a foot of snow. Many parts of the original Iditarod trail are feeling the absence of snow, and now the absence of the Iditarod. Due to lack of snow and poor trail conditions race officials have moved the race restart up north to Fairbanks.

Regardless of the recent warmer temperatures, I am prepared for bitter temperatures.

1. Feet: It is critical that your feet stay warm. While out on the trail I will be wearing a pair of well insulated Baffin boots. These boots are perfect for arctic temperatures as they are rated to 148 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Along with my warm boots, I will be wearing comfy, cozy, wool socks. There is nothing like a pair of wool socks to keep your feet warm and dry.

2. Legs: My main pair of pants are The North Face waterproof, insulated ski pants. I will have to beef up my pants with some baselayers and possibly some fleece pants.

3. Upper body: Just like my legs, I’m going to be using baselayers to start off. I am bringing along some Dri-Fit  tops and a couple fleeces. My “undercoat” will be a Patagonia down jacket. Last, but certainly not least, is “The Coat.” A goose-down parka with several pockets and a fur-ruff hood. Terrie Hanke, 2006 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, sewed several patches and reflectors on the coat. After the coat arrived at my house, I had my 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ patched sewed on.

4. Head, neck, hands: On my hands I will start with a pair of liner gloves followed by the biggest mittens I have ever seen. I’m sure my hands will stay warm. My neck will stay warm with a gator which I can pull up over my face, too. I will not likely be stepping outside without my stocking hat.

5. Sleepy time: The infamous traveling sleeping bag will be my bed while out on the trail. Each year the Teacher on the Trail creates a patch to be sewed on to the official teacher sleeping bag. I’ve already zipped myself up in it a few times, seems warm and comfortable. There are countless stories the sleeping bag could tell us all. The amount of history and people this sleeping bag has met is remarkable. I look forward to adding to the rich history.

Photo Feb 19, 9 02 30 PM6. The Patch: When deciding on my patch I knew I wanted it to incorporate both the Iditarod and my school. I came up with an idea, but I am the farthest thing from an artist. I have a friend that works with me at school that just so happens to be an artist/designer. I showed her what I wanted and she ran with the idea. Everything I wanted she included, and then some. Staring at each other are my middle school’s logo and a husky. Our middle school logo is an Indian head, we are the Camanche Indians, with CMSPRIDE and two pencils in the place of feathers. If you concentrate on the black part of the husky you can see blended in his hair is the word Iditarod. Also included is a musher with his dogs and a mountainous background. I love it. After Liesl finished the final design, I went to my friend Colin at Adcraft Printwear. They turned Liesl’s unique design into an incredible patch.

Classroom Ideas:

1. You are going to the Ceremonial Start in Anchorage on March, 7. Make a list of everything you will wear. Plan on being outside for about 4 hours or more. Check the extended forecast for Anchorage.

2. You are heading up to Fairbanks for the Restart on March 9. Make a list of everything you will wear. Plan on being outside for about 4 hours or more. Check the extended forecast for Fairbanks.

3. Your teacher has been selected as the next Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. Design him/her a patch that can be added to the sleeping bag.

Checkpoint Checkup: On to Kaltag




We have had to make a change in our journey. Due to lack of snow and poor trail conditions on several sections of the Southern route, the Iditarod Trail Committee has decided to move the restart to Fairbanks. This was a tough decision, but it is what is best for the mushers and dogs. A map of the new route can be found at the bottom of this page. A new list of materials to use for the new route can be found here. Additional information can be found here.

According to the new trail, mushers will leave Nulato and travel approximately 47 miles to Kaltag. Mushers can plan on a 3-5 hour journey. We will be following rookie musher Cindy Abbott to Kaltag.

The 2015 Iditarod will be Cindy’s third attempt to cross under the Burled Arch in Nome. Her first attempt came in 2013 when she was forced to scratch due to a broken pelvis. Her second attempt was last year when she scratched in Rohn due to poor trail conditions and the safety of her dogs. As an avid fan and friend of Cindy’s, I feel this is the year we will see her in Nome.

Cindy is a true inspiration to anyone with a dream. She was diagnosed with a very rare disease, Wegener’s Granulomatosis, but this has not stopped her from achieving her dreams. In 2010, while fighting this disease, Cindy made it to the top of the world as she summited Mt. Everest. My class has spoken to Cindy about this climb and she stated running the Iditarod is more challenging than climbing Mt. Everest. She has to take care of 16 dogs and herself out on the treacherous trail.

652 miles into the 2013 Iditarod, Cindy and her dogs depart Eagle Island for a long and painful run to Kaltag. Since day one, Cindy has felt an agonizing pain in her pelvis. Determined to make it to Nome, she continued on. For the first 30-35 miles the trail was flat, but had solid, crusty drifts. This was tough running for her dogs and even worse for Cindy. Every single bump along the way sent a wave of excruciating pain through her body.

As she gets closer and closer to Kaltag, she will see it up high on the bank on the west side of the river. Before she arrives she will continue to bounce down the trail before she must make a short climb up the riverbank.

When Cindy and the dogs arrived in Kaltag, her pelvis had collapsed to the point that she could not stand anymore. Before taking care of herself, Cindy’s number one priority was the dogs. She did all of her chores of taking care of the dogs on her hands and knees, she could not walk. At this point, she knew she would be scratching in Kaltag, it was what would be best for both her and the dogs.

Cindy did not see much of Kaltag. She was taken to their new medical clinic where she was examined. The next morning she was flown out of Kaltag to a hospital. Cindy was heartbroken to leave her dogs. The relationship between humans and dogs is beyond words. The result of her injuries was a broken pelvis. Cindy had been running close to 700 miles on a broken pelvis.

Cindy and her dogs will be back in Kaltag this year. The Fairbanks trail hooks back up with the original Iditarod trail in Nulato, just north of Kaltag. Determination, perseverance, hard-work, and a positive attitude will guide Cindy along the trail this year. Her journey to Nome began over three years ago. No matter how long it takes, she will cross under the Burled Arch.

2015-iditarod-route1Read more about the village of Kaltag in Virtual Trail Journey.

Read more about the trail between Nulato and Kaltag in Don Bowers Trail Notes.

Writing Prompt

Think of a time when you quit something because it was too hard. Rewrite the ending to that story so you did not quit and finished.

Alaska Culture Virtual Museum

"Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home." - Matsuo Basho

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

After studying the history of Alaska, my students focused on the culture of Alaska. Alaska is full of unique and interesting cultures. There are many native Alaskans that have participated and still participate in the Iditarod each year. The Iditarod and sled dogs are a big part of Alaska’s culture.

The students in my class recently created a virtual museum showcasing the different cultures of Alaska. Their project began with researching the different cultures and choosing four they would like to learn additional information about. After gathering information, the students had to choose which items they would like to display as exhibits in their museum.

Each group received a template of the virtual museum in their Google Drive folder. They immediately shared the museum with each member of the group. Now, students were able to work on the museum at the exact same time while anywhere. Students were also able to message each other while working on the museum, an excellent Google Drive feature.

Essentially, the virtual museum is a Google Slides presentation, an enhanced presentation. The first page of the slideshow makes you feel like you are looking into the lobby of a museum. There are arrows directing visitors to certain rooms in the museum. When the viewer clicks on one of the arrows or rooms, it changes the screen to the specific room. When the viewer is in the room, they will see the inside of a room in a museum. While in this room the viewer will have the option to click on an exhibit. After clicking on the exhibit, the presentation will direct the viewer farther in the room to read about the exhibit and view an image or video. In each room viewers will have the option to return to the Museum Lobby or the room they came from.

I required each group to include four rooms in their museum. Within each museum they had to include two or three exhibits. Farther in the exhibit room is where the students included a detailed description and an image or video showcasing their featured item. The template provided to the students is very easy to work with. All students have to do is replace their information in the boxes.

If you would like to use the student sample presentation template, click File and scroll down to Make a Copy. It is now yours to do with what you want. Click here to view the student sample Virtual Museum. To begin your tour of the museum click Present in the top right of the screen. Once you are in the lobby, click a room to get started. Enjoy your tour.

Alaska Culture Lesson Plan

Alaska Culture Rubric

Checkpoint and Trivia Tuesday: Grayling to Eagle Island – Why do mushers put coats on their dogs?

"We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey." - Kenji Miyazawa

“We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” – Kenji Miyazawa

It is time to say good-bye to our young students of Grayling and head up the Yukon river to Eagle Island. This leg of our journey will be approximately 62 miles and will take mushers between 6-9 hours to complete. This section of the trail can be pretty wretched with the blustery wind and bitter temperatures. With the wind, temperatures can drop as low as 40 below zero.

This section of the trail is virtually nothing but river, wide open frozen river.  It will be very peaceful and quiet, to the point of being almost boring, except for the sound of the talkative trees and the beauty of the night sky. It is very critical for the mushers to stay on the marked trail as there are big sections of open water and thin ice. Another danger mushers may encounter is overflow from the side streams and possibly the river itself.

Eagle Island is a very remote checkpoint. The checkpoint is below Ken Chase’s summer fishing cabin. Ken is an Iditarod veteran who has volunteered the use of his land as a checkpoint. The checkpoint itself is actually a weatherport tent and facilities are minimal.

Eagle Island was settled in 1975 when the family of Ralph Conaster arrived at this spot on the Yukon River. Their way of life was commercial fishing and trapping. The checkpoint at Eagle Island used to be Ralph’s large cabin until it burned down. That’s when the checkpoint started using the large tent on Ken Chase’s land. Try to think of a luxurious tent, if you would like to call it that. The tent is heated and there is straw for the mushers and volunteers to sleep on.

Earlier I mentioned this section of the trail can be very windy. With this in mind it will be important for mushers to dress properly for this section to stay protected from the elements, especially their face. The dogs will need to be dressed properly as well. Coats, t-shirts, and fleeces are among the gear the dogs will need. Watch this video clip of Aliy Zirkle explaining how she gears up her dogs.

When the mushers leave Eagle Island they will journey north about 60 miles to Kaltag.

346 miles to Nome! Next stop, Kaltag.

Ideas for the classroom:

Why do mushers put coats on their dogs?

Why do mushers put t-shirts on their dogs?

Why do some dogs wear coats and others do not?

List all the gear you would wear if the temperature was -45 degrees Fahrenheit.

Several Iditarod mushers are currently running the Yukon Quest (another 1000 mile race) this week. Compare and contrast the rules of each race.

Which 2015 Iditarod mushers are racing the Yukon Quest?

Alaska HSTRY Timeline

"Who owns history? Everyone and no one - which is why the study of the past is a constant evolving, never-ending journey of discovery." - Eric Foner

“Who owns history? Everyone and no one – which is why the study of the past is a constant evolving, never-ending journey of discovery.” – Eric Foner

Alaska has a rich history, starting when it was settled by the Russians to the beginning of the Iditarod sled dog race. My students just finished studying the history of Alaska. After class discussion and additional research the students were assigned to create an interactive timeline. We used a new, free learning tool called HSTRY. It is a free tool for teachers and students to use to create timelines. The timeline is set up very similar to a Facebook profile. When entering an event to the timeline students are able to choose to enter the event as an image, a “Did You Know” fact, a quiz question, a YouTube link, an audio clip, or just text.

The activity started with a class discussion about what the students already know about the history of Alaska. We listed on the board several events; when Alaska became a state, the capital, when the Iditarod started, and the gold rush. The students then turned their attention with their small groups on researching the many events in Alaska’s history. When researching, the groups had required information for their timeline as well as finding events in history which were interesting to them. This ensured all groups not having the exact same timeline when finished.

In order to begin creating their timeline, students had to join the class I created on the HSTRY website. This was very easy to do; students came up with a username and password, and entered a code to enter the classroom. They were now in the classroom and free to begin creating their timeline. When the timeline is finished, they will publish their timeline and I will be able to access it very easily through my account.

When all the timelines were finished the students had the opportunity to view another group’s timeline. While they viewed the other timelines, they were to focus on the writing assignment they received; What event in history do you feel has impacted Alaska the most. Defend your response with factual evidence.

After viewing other timelines and completing the writing assignment we came back as a whole class. We discussed the events the students felt had the biggest impact on Alaska. We also discussed the many events of Alaska’s history. This technology tool is a new and interesting way to create and share timelines. Teachers are able to create their own timelines to share with class as well.

To view a finished Alaska HSTRY timeline, click here. You will need to register to view the timeline. It is free.

Alaska HSTRY Lesson Plan

Alaska HSTRY Timeline Sheet

Alaska History Writing Assignment

Checkpoint Checkup: Anvik to Grayling


“Life is a journey that gives you the liberty to draw your own map, and choose your own route.” – Dennis E Adonis

Last week Regret, Ken Anderson’s lead dog, led us to Anvik, the first checkpoint on the Yukon. This week we will have a short 18-mile journey to Grayling where we will find out what it is like to be a student at the David Louis School.

Students of GraylingWe are finally on the Yukon River, known for strong winds and bitter cold temperatures. Even though this is a short trip, those harsh winds and extremely cold temperatures can make this section seem like a long trip. The mushers and dogs will run on the Yukon for about an hour and a half to two and a half hours before arriving in Grayling.

The checkpoint is located in the community center near the school. I had the opportunity to speak with one of the teachers at the David Louis School. Rose teaches 2nd-4th grades at the K-12 building in Grayling. Since the Iditarod only comes to Grayling every other year, they are getting very excited. Rose’s class has been watching videos, reading books, following musher profiles, and preparing their classroom map for the race.

Rose and the students shared some of the activities their school has been up to this year. The kindergarten and first grade students have been out in the village collecting leaves as part of a leaf unit. They learned to identify leaves and created artwork using their leaves they collected. Second through fifth grades use iPads and computers to work on geography and math skills. The sixth grade through seniors have been very busy. Early in the year they hiked up Blueberry Hill and harvested blueberries while enjoying a beautiful view of Grayling. Next they took an adventure to Fish Camp in Holy Cross. Fish Camp is where students have an opportunity to learn the traditional methods of harvesting and preparing fish for food. At the end of their first quarter the students were involved in the Tanana Chiefs Conference. At the conference students were exposed to protocols and procedures of the Tribal Government. Wow, what an adventurous first quarter.

After talking with Rose, I realized that we take a lot of things for granted here in the lower 48. The fuel that the village uses must be delivered to Grayling by boat. If we want a pizza delivered, we typically have to wait only about 30 minutes. Imagine having your pizza delivered by bush plane.

After spending some time in Grayling the mushers will have a 62-mile journey to Eagle Island. They are getting closer and closer to Nome.

406 miles to Nome! Next stop, Eagle Island.

To read more about Anvik to Grayling read Don Bowers Trail Notes and Virtual Trail Journey.

Ideas for the classroom:

If your school was an adventure learning school that teaches the traditions of your town, what would students learn?

What is the temperature in Grayling today in both Fahrenheit and Celsius. Compare Grayling’s temperature to your temperature.

What is the state fish of Alaska? What waters can this fish be found in?

Research more about fish of Alaska.

All pictures courtesy of Miss Rose, teacher at David Louis School.

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March to Nome with TodaysMeet

“You cannot change your journey if you are unwilling to move at all.” - Ally Condie

“You cannot change your journey if you are unwilling to move at all.” – Ally Condie

My students are excited the race is getting so close. To get them even more excited, I decided it was time to show last year’s documentary, Iditarod 42: The March to Nome. This lesson has much more going on than just watching a video.

TodaysMeet is a backchannel that was created for classrooms. Essentially, it is a chat room the teacher creates for a specific class to keep students engaged in class by answering questions, making comments, and asking questions in live time. What I appreciate about this tool is the quiet students that don’t ever participate will now involve themselves in the class discussion.

Photo Jan 28, 11 29 34 AMMy students were paired up and given a computer while we watched the video as a whole class. Prior to the video starting, the students went to the class chat room and entered their names to get started. As we watched the video, I prompted the discussion with questions relating to the video. The only rule I had for answering questions was each response had to be different. Once students got comfortable, they started commenting and asking their own questions.

Feedback from students was positive in using this tool. It kept them engaged while watching a video. They paid close attention to smaller details since they were being asked questions. Students had the opportunity to ask and receive answers immediately during the video rather than waiting and possibly forgetting their questions.

Another useful option is teachers are able to print the transcript of the entire conversation. The video took us three class periods to watch; we had a great deal of discussion. I wanted my students to be able to reflect on the discussion as well as use it when answering the writing assignment.

Using the transcript from TodaysMeet, students had to complete a writing assignment of the video. The writing prompt: What do you feel has been the biggest change the Iditarod has seen through the years? Defend your answer with at least 3 supporting details from the movie. There were a variety of ideas in the student responses. Some examples were technology, women, equipment, dog care, other countries entering, and safety. Watching The March to Nome is a great way to give the students a taste of what the trail entails.

Browse through the transcript of our class discussion.

Purchase Iditarod 42: The March to Nome for your classroom by clicking here.

TodaysMeet Lesson Plan

Video Writing Assignment

Student response example

Checkpoint and Trivia Tuesday: Shageluk to Anvik: What does the first musher to the Yukon River win?

"The journey of life is sweeter when you are traveling with a dog." - Unknown

“The journey of life is sweeter when you are traveling with a dog.” – Unknown

Ken Anderson

Ken Anderson

As we get closer to the race start I will be doing the Checkpoint Checkups every Tuesday to get all the checkpoints referenced. I will still incorporate the Trivia Tuesdays every other Tuesday with the Checkpoint Checkup. This week I have a guest writer, Regret Anderson. Regret is the lead dog of Iditarod veteran, Ken Anderson. Regret was named after a famous racehorse named “Risk or Regret.” I hope you enjoy his input on the trail.

My name is Regret and my human’s name is Ken Anderson. This will be Ken’s 15th year running the Iditarod with his best finish in 2008 and 2010 when he finished fourth.

We have a short run from Shageluk to Anvik. My human, Ken, tells me that this part of the trail is completely flat; I like flat, we can go so much faster. We also will be running on some sloughs, rivers, and portages, and then we will drop onto the Yukon River. This flat journey is about 25 miles and will take me and the guys about 2-3 hours.

When Ken wakes us up in Shageluk, he puts those comfy booties on our feet and hooks us all up. Since I’m a lead dog, I’m up front. I have the best view of all the dogs. When we leave Shageluk we head past this building that Ken calls a school and get back on the Innoko River. We don’t stay on the river very long before we get back on the flat land.

The next 15 miles is quite enjoyable for us dogs. We run across some swamps, lakes, and tundra while every once in a while we run through some wooded areas. Sometimes we get to run through some narrow sections in the woods. My buddies and I think the narrow sections are exciting, but Ken would prefer we not run him into any trees.

Wheel dogs

Wheel dogs

As we get closer to Anvik we start to see a great deal of timber. Just before the Yukon River we have to do some weaving in the woods. This is when my boys in the back, the wheel dogs, are critical to the team. We then come upon it, the Yukon River. I think it looks enormous. Ken tells me and the boys it is about a mile wide here. We are going to bend around a bluff and enter a slough. Once we exit the slough we will head into Anvik.

While we were checking in, I heard the checker say there is water available at this checkpoint which makes Ken happy. I hear Ken say we aren’t staying long because the next checkpoint is only 18 miles ahead. That kind of news makes me and my buddies ecstatic; we love to run. Since we aren’t staying long, I decide to lie down while Ken takes care of business with the checkers and vet. I heard some interesting information that made my ears perk up. The first musher to the Yukon wins an award called the Millennium Alaskan Hotel First Musher to the Yukon Award. The musher who wins this is awarded a five-course meal prepared by the Millennium Alaskan Hotel chef. He or she will also receive $3500 on an Alaskan Gold Pan. I told my teammates what I had heard; we were all jealous. Maybe the human of the dog team that arrived here first shared his meal with his team.  I know Ken would share with us.

The moment I think I smell a hint of steak, Ken stands on the sled and shouts, “Hike!” Time to leave Anvik and make a short 18-mile run to Grayling.

468 miles to Nome.  Next stop, Grayling.

Ideas for the classroom:

1. What does the first musher to the Yukon River win?

2. Regret says he will be running on “tundra.” What is tundra? Describe what it would look like to Regret and what it would feel like to him and his teammates.

3. Before Regret leaves Shageluk, Ken puts booties on his paws. What is the purpose of putting booties on the dogs’ paws?

4. Regret is a lead dog. What are the characteristics of a good lead dog?

5. Regret mentioned that the wheel dogs are a critical part of the team. What are the responsibilities and characteristics of a wheel dog?

6. If you got to choose anything for a five-course meal, what would you choose?

7. Who won the “First to the Yukon” the last time the Iditarod went through Anvik, in 2013? What was this musher’s meal?

Click here for the answers

Jr. Insider Crew

“We are so often caught up in our destination that we forget to appreciate the journey, especially the goodness of the people we meet on the way. Appreciation is a wonderful feeling, don't overlook it.”  - Unknown

“We are so often caught up in our destination that we forget to appreciate the journey, especially the goodness of the people we meet on the way. Appreciation is a wonderful feeling, don’t overlook it.” – Unknown

If you do not have an Iditarod Insider subscription yet, now is the time for you to subscribe. You and your class will have the opportunity to view videos, follow mushers through GPS tracking, watch live broadcasts, and view the live finish in Nome. Having an Insider subscription is not required for this lesson, but it will allow students to access an extensive amount of information. During the race my class will be taking on the role of the Jr. Insider Crew. This lesson keeps students involved in the race while producing quality writing, videos, and social media posts.

The Jr. Insider lesson will be continuous throughout the race. There are seven jobs for our Jr. Insider Crew to complete. Each day the groups will rotate to a new job. Every day we will begin by watching the featured video clip of the day on the Iditarod website. Each group will then be assigned their Jr. Insider job for the day which include; Blogger, Twitter, Video, Leaderboard, and Temperature. The students will then explore the website for updates on the race. In their groups they will be able to view video clips, check out the live GPS trackers, analyze the leaderboard, and read the various blogs on different race topics.

The Bloggers will be posting a blog updating our audience on the race. They will focus on the previous day’s news updates. They have the option of writing a story about a musher, a checkpoint, the leaders, the red lantern musher, or any topic they feel is newsworthy. Kidblog is a safe and easy blog site for your students to use in class. An excellent feature of this blog is that the teacher must approve the blog before it can actually go live.

If you don’t have access to any blog sites, create a homemade blog wall outside your classroom. Students can handwrite their blogs and post them to your “wall.” You could keep Post-it notes nearby for other students or teachers to comment on their posts.

The Twitter group will be posting live race updates in the form of tweets. The group must share at least six tweets using #iditarod15. They are able to post updates on the leaders and any important race news. If you are unable to use Twitter in your district, create a Twitter “wall” in your classroom. Make a wall in your classroom replicate that of a Twitter wall. Students can post their handwritten tweets to the “wall.”

There will be three groups creating video clips. One group will create a short video clip on the leaders of the race. Another group will create a video clip on the current checkpoint the leaders are going through. The third group will create a video clip on the mushers near the back of the standings. My students will edit their videos using WeVideo. In their video clips they will need to provide race information to our audience. An enhancement for your video clips could be to shoot your video in front of a “green screen” and edit the video to make it appear the students are actually reporting from the Iditarod trail.

The Leaderboard group is in charge of updating the leaderboard. They will need to update the place each musher is in, the checkpoint they have most recently checked through, and the number of dogs each musher is running. You can have your students create a leaderboard using Google Drive and then share the link to Twitter. Another option is to create a large leaderboard poster to hang in the classroom.

The Temperature group will be finding temperatures for different places along the trail. One location students will find is temperatures for the nearest checkpoint to the leader. Students will also find the temperature for the nearest checkpoint to the Red Lantern musher. Finally, they will find the temperature for the nearest checkpoint to our class musher, Cindy Abbott. The students will provide both Fahrenheit and Celsius for their temperatures. An option is to also include your hometown’s temperature to discuss the difference in temperatures.

This lesson is another way to keep your students engaged in the race while still working on their reading, writing, speaking, and technology skills. Even if you don’t have access to some of the social media from this lesson, there are different options for you to still complete this activity. Again, I highly recommend subscribing to Iditarod Insider. It will enhance this lesson as well as provide you with quality race coverage.

Jr. Insider Lesson Plan

Jr. Insider Activity Worksheet

Checkpoint Checkup: Iditarod to Shageluk

"Everyone's journey is completely different." - Jeremy Piven

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

We last left Lance Mackey with his dogs in Iditarod. This week we will be continuing our journey and meeting up with 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, Martha Dobson, in Shageluk. Before we meet up with Martha we have about 65 miles of hilly ground to cover. This journey will take mushers between 7-10 hours to complete. Much like the trail from Ophir to Iditarod, it will be very lonely and quiet; no people, no cabins, very ghost like.

When the trail leaves Iditarod, mushers will head north on the Iditarod River for a little while. This section of the trail isn’t all that difficult, only hilly. Some of the hills climb about 500-1000 feet, which can make the downhill pretty tricky. Many sections of the trail can be tight, but the closer the mushers get to Shageluk, the wider it gets. Mushers will cross several rivers along the way, two of them being the Little Yetna and the Big Yetna Rivers. As the mushers close in on Shageluk they will be climbing out of a deep slough. They will see Shageluk sitting up high overlooking the Innoko River. Once they arrive on Main Street, they will be at the checkpoint.

Martha Dobson, 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

Martha Dobson, 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

Martha Dobson volunteered as a Comms (Communications) volunteer in 2013. Martha flew into Shageluk with one other Comms volunteer and a vet just before the weather turned bad. They landed on the Innoko River and had a short walk up to the community center. Besides Martha, there are two other Comms volunteers, three vets, and a race judge that man the checkpoint in Shageluk. The Comms volunteers in Shageluk work as checkers, park dog teams, cook food, check teams out, provide weather reports, send reports to headquarters, and complete other communications responsibilities as they come up.

The first thing Martha and the other Comms volunteers do is establish communication with headquarters at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage. This is quite the interesting process. They have to connect a rural broadband modem for Internet service. They use LAN cables and power cords. They zip tie the modem to a pole and stand outside holding and rotating the pole while trying to find a connection. Once the connection is established, the pole is stuck in a snow bank next to the community center. Now they are ready to communicate through email. At one point in 2013 they lost their Internet connection for about 6 hours. When this happens there is a phone available at the community center and all check in/out times are called in the old school way.

Village kids helping out

Village kids helping out

After establishing their Internet connection they met with the villagers to begin sorting the musher drop bags. The drop bags had been delivered earlier by air. One of the village elders was in charge of the organization of the bags and two of his grandchildren helped out. Martha’s next job was to take a toboggan sled to an elder’s home where the frozen food was being stored for the volunteers. She brought some food back to the community center for a few meals. She would return as needed. The volunteers would take turns cooking the meals, sleeping on the floor, checking teams in and out, and manning the computer. According to Martha, there is not a lot of time for sleep. The checkpoint in Shageluk was open for 4 ½ days in 2013.

After the last musher goes through, the checkpoint closes down. The volunteers clean up the building, rake the used straw, and pack the remaining food. The remaining food is given to the village elders to distribute to the people of the village. In addition to the people food, the leftover dog food is given to the village. Finally, once notification has been emailed that the last volunteers’ flight is on its way, they take down their broadband modem.

Martha’s highlight of working in Shageluk was meeting Mikhail Telpin of Russia. She thought his Chukchi dog team was beautiful. Since he doesn’t speak English, they communicated with him through sign language and drawing pictures in the snow.

Martha and the last vet rode five miles behind a snowmachine to the airstrip to catch their flight. They are heading to Unalakleet to volunteer at this checkpoint. The mushers will leave Shageluk and head to Anvik. Maybe we will run into Martha in Unalakleet.

486 miles to Nome! Next stop, Anvik.

Read more about the village of Shageluk in Virtual Trail Journey.

Read more about the trail from Iditarod to Shageluk in Don Bowers Trail Notes.

Pictures in Shageluk courtesy of Martha Dobson

Ideas for the classroom:

1. Look at the picture above of the volunteer with the dropped dogs. What do you think the dog laying on the volunteer’s lap is thinking? Write a short paragraph from the perspective of the dog.

2. How many checkpoints are between Shageluk and Unalakleet (Martha’s next stop)? Name the checkpoints.

3. According to Don Bowers, as the mushers head into Shageluk they will be climbing out of a deep slough. “Shageluk is on the far side of the slough, perched on high ground overlooking a wide curve in the southward-flowing Innoko River climb up out of the slough.” Draw a picture of what you feel this scene looks like.

Musher Mount Rushmore

"Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome." - Arthur Ashe

“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.”                         – Arthur Ashe

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. Those names are among the most impressive presidents our country has witnessed. They also are the four faces on Mount Rushmore. My class recently created their own Mount Rushmore dedicated to mushers, Musher Mount Rushmore.

The lesson started with a short discussion about Mount Rushmore; what it is, where it is located, and who are the famous faces of the mountain. The majority of my classes did their Musher Mount Rushmore using 2015 Iditarod mushers. I had a high group in each class create their mountain using all current and past Iditarod mushers.

The students used the Musher Profiles and the Race Archives on the Iditarod website to help them research and determine their four deserving mushers. We discussed as a class what some qualifications they feel would be necessary for a musher to make the mountain. The students decided that finishing first is not necessarily a qualification. They also looked into the amount of times a musher has finished the race, top ten finishes, and top five finishes. Some made it a requirement that the musher had to finish a certain number of years before they even qualified for their mountain. After choosing each musher for their mountain, students must defend their choice. When defending their mushers they must use factual evidence from the website.

The groups will then get to actually create their Musher Mount Rushmore. A website called Face in Hole is designed for kids to upload a picture and place it in a famous scene. The groups will upload their four mushers and place them in Mount Rushmore. Reminder: when looking for images, search for images labeled for reuse. This can be done on Google Images under Search Tools, then Usage Rights. The website gives kids four options to share their image; Twitter, Facebook, print, or save to a computer. Since my class uses Twitter, each group will share their image to Twitter.


Student sample of 2015 Iditarod mushers: Lance Mackey, Dee Dee Jonrowe, Martin Buser, Jeff King

The groups will then share their Musher Mount Rushmore with the rest of the class defending each of their choices. I mentioned above that I had a high group in each class create their mountain using all Iditarod mushers. Another option to enhance this lesson is to create their mountains using mushers from the Jr. Iditarod. A modification to using the Face in Hole website is to have your students draw Mount Rushmore and draw their mushers faces into the mountain.

Student sample

Student sample using all Iditarod mushers: Jeff King, Rick Swenson, Joe Redington, Sr., Susan Butcher

This common core aligned lesson is another opportunity for students to learn about current and past Iditarod mushers. Just prior to this lesson I had my students complete the Iditarod Trivia Tuesday Meet the Mushers. This trivia lesson made the students more familiar with the mushers and helped them when choosing their four mushers for their mountain. Soon after the Musher Mount Rushmore lesson, my students will be choosing a musher to follow during the race.

Musher Mount Rushmore Lesson Plan

Musher Mount Rushmore Worksheet

Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: Which 2015 Iditarod musher is a former Jr. Iditarod champion?

"Do not give up, the beginning is always the hardest." - Unknown

“Do not give up, the beginning is always the hardest.” – Unknown

The Jr. Iditarod was started in 1978 to give young mushers an opportunity to race a longer distance. The first race in 1978 had two divisions, the junior division, ages 11-4, and the senior division, ages 15-17. Today there is only one division for kids ages 14-17. The Jr. is a 150-mile race that usually starts at Knik Lake and end at Willow Lake. The turn around, or halfway point, is at Yentna Station, an Iditarod checkpoint. At Yentna the junior mushers have a mandatory 10-hour stop, or layover. The winner serves as the leader, the first sled, of the ceremonial start for the Iditarod the next weekend.  Either the Honorary Musher or a representative of the Honorary Musher rides in the Junior Champion’s sled for 11 miles from 4th & D in downtown Anchorage to Campbell Air Strip. In addition to a Lynden Scholarship, the winner of the Jr. receives a new sled and two airline tickets to Nome to attend the Iditarod Finishers Banquet.

The Jr. Iditarod is traditionally held the weekend prior to the Iditarod. Not only do kids from Alaska participate in the Jr. Iditarod, but there are many kids that come from the lower 48, Canada, and even as far away as Spain. Many of the mushers go on to participate in the Iditarod.

To help you answer the trivia questions read Building Character and visit Jr. Iditarod.

Trivia Questions:

1. Which 2015 Iditarod musher is a former Jr. Iditarod champion?

2. Who won the 2014 Jr. Iditarod?

3. Who won the junior division of the 1978 Jr. Iditarod?

4. Who won the senior division of the 1978 Jr. Iditarod?

5. Who has won the Jr. Iditarod the most times?

6. How many 2015 Iditarod mushers have run the Jr. Iditarod?

7. Scholarships are awarded to the top 5 finishers. After reading Building Character, how are mushers able to spend their scholarships?

8. How many dogs are the junior mushers able to start the race with?

9. What year had the most finishers?

10. How many mushers are signed up for the 2015 Jr. Iditarod?

Click here for the answers.

“Jamaica, We Have a Dogsled Team!”

"It all has to do with the individual journey." - Ziggy Marley

“It all has to do with the individual journey.” – Ziggy Marley

The Iditarod has an impressive historic value that it brings to the state of Alaska. Not only does it have historic value, but it also shares rich culture among all the countries that participate in the race each year. Including the United States, there are 8 countries represented in this year’s Iditarod. One country not represented this year that has been represented in the past is Jamaica. Most people probably think this is strange due to the differences in climate, but to Jamaica, they are adding to their own culture and bringing their unique culture to Alaska.

My class just finished studying the Caribbean Islands, another great opportunity to tie in the Iditarod. This common core aligned lesson gives students the opportunity to determine how culture in Jamaica and Alaska are affected by having a Jamaican dogsled team. We started the lesson by reviewing the components of culture; language, religion, music, sports, etc. The focus for our lesson on culture is sports, so we listed the sports that the students know are a part of Jamaica. Two sports were missing from our list; bobsledding and dogsledding. The kids’ response was obvious; the climate is not fit for this type of sport. After discussing this, the students read an article and watched a video clip about Jamaica’s first bobsled team. After discussing what the students read and saw on the video, they were assigned a writing assignment to defend how they feel the first bobsled team affected the culture of Jamaica.

We discussed the writings the next day and the students were put into groups for the next part of the lesson. In their groups students read about Newton Marshall, the Jamaican musher. The next task involves the students displaying the information they learned about Newton. The groups will create an interactive image using a free web tool called Thinglink. Using Thinglink students are able to choose an image to represent a specific topic, Newton Marshall. They are then able to add additional images, videos, sounds, and web links to the image in the form of an icon on the image, making the main image interactive. Remember when using images from the Internet to remind your students of copyright infringement. An easy way to make sure your students are using free images is to use Google Images. There is a tab titled Search Tools, click this, then click on Usage Rights. This will allow you to choose labeled for reuse. Now you can use images and not break any copyright infringement laws.

When the groups are finished with their Thinglink, they will share their interactive image with me and with one other group in the class.  Thinglink allows students to share their image with a variety of social media sites, but  they can also just share the link with their teacher. Each group will view another group’s Thinklink about Newton Marshall. After viewing an image, the students will complete another writing about culture. Check out the student example below.

If your class does not have access to computers to work on Thinglink, think about creating an interactive image by hand. Students can draw a picture that represents Newton Marshall. Where an icon would be on Thinglink taking the audience to an image or video, have students create a flip book. When a viewer flips up a piece of construction paper, another drawing is presented. If you have students that work faster than others, have them create an additional Thinglink on the first Jamaican bobsled team.

Since my class just finished studying the Caribbean Islands, it was a perfect fit. However, it is not necessary to study the Caribbean Islands to complete this activity with your class. The students in my class loved the connection between the Iditarod and Jamaica as well as working with a new web tool. As the Iditarod nears, consider looking into the other countries that are involved in The Last Great Race.

Jamaica Lesson Plan

Cool Runnings Reading

Jamaica Culture Writing Part 1

Newton Marshall Reading

Newton Marshall Thinglink

Jamaica Culture Writing Part 2

Checkpoint Checkup: Ophir to Iditarod

“When you have completed 95 percent of your journey, you are only halfway there.” – Japanese Proverb

Lance Mackey signing up for the 2015 Iditarod

Lance Mackey signing up for the 2015 Iditarod


We left Charley Bejna behind in Ophir, and we are picking up our journey with Lance Mackey. This 90 mile trek will take Lance between 12-18 hours to complete. In fact, in 2013 it took him 14 hours and 51 minutes. Included in this journey, Lance will most likely take a long rest somewhere along the way.

Desolate. This is the word Lance used to describe the trail between Ophir and Iditarod. He stated the hardest part of this portion of the trail is the isolation and lack of local traffic. With no local traffic the trail is quite soft and slow going, hence a 12-18 hour-long run. After running along the Innoko River, Lance and his dogs will climb up about 800 feet through the Beaver Mountain Pass. From here, he will be about 20 miles from Don’s Cabin. Don’s Cabin is a place many mushers will stop for a break. It’s not much, but it does have a stove.

After the Beaver Mountain Pass, Lance will descend back to the Beaver Flats. Lance mentioned there is no tree cover along the trail and it is usually pretty cold. After a lengthy amount of time Lance will come upon Don’s Cabin, otherwise known as a plywood shack. There are still 54 miles of lonely, rolling hills until Iditarod. (Pictures courtesy of Kim Slade, 2007 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™)

Iditarod is virtually a ghost town. Back in 1910, though, the population was approximately 10,000 people. When gold was discovered in 1908, Iditarod became a gold-mining boomtown. No longer a large, bustling mining town, Iditarod is merely a checkpoint every other year. There are a few cabins still left standing in this ghost town, but it is still very isolated and quiet. When Lance and his dogs arrive, he is able to get water via a hole in the ice or melting snow. Not as luxurious as some of the checkpoints that have the accommodations to provide mushers with hot water. If Lance is hungry, he must fend for himself. He knows this, so he will be prepared. The tremendous volunteers and veterinarians are very loyal to the Iditarod checkpoint. Many of the volunteers have been manning this checkpoint for more than 20 years. Lance mentioned a volunteer by the name of Jasper as one of those wonderful long time volunteers. (Pictures courtesy of Kim Slade, 2007 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™)

During odd-numbered years Iditarod is the official halfway point in the race. In even-numbered years, when the trail heads north, the halfway point is Cripple. There is a northern and southern route to involve more villages in Alaska. The first musher to arrive in Iditarod receives the GCI Dorothy Page Halfway Award. In 2013, Lance Mackey was the first to Iditarod and received the award of a trophy and $3000 in gold nuggets. Check out this video of Lance receiving the award.

After receiving the award in 2013, Lance decided to take his 24-hour mandatory stop in Iditarod. Iditarod is one of Lance’s favorite checkpoints on the trail. He appreciates the checkpoint because of its peaceful atmosphere, the old, dilapidated buildings, and the overall history of the town. After 26 hours and 4 minutes (including differential), Lance and his dogs were on on their way to Shageluk.

511 miles to Nome! Next stop, Shageluk.

To read more about the journey to Iditarod read Virtual Trail Journey or Don Bowers Trail Notes

Questions for the classroom

1. Define the word desolate.

2. Write a journal entry describing a place that you have been that is desolate. Be specific and make your readers feel like they are actually there, too.

3. How many years has Lance Mackey run the Iditarod? Finished the Iditarod?

4. How many years has Lance Mackey won the Iditarod? Placed in the top 10?

5. Lance has won several awards besides the GCI Dorothy Page Halfway Award. Look in his career summary and find out what other awards he has won.

6.  How many years has there been a Mackey in the Iditarod?

Exercise Across Alaska

"Every New Year allows you to start a new phase of life's journey with optimism and confidence." - Michael Josephson

“Every New Year allows you to start a new phase of life’s journey with optimism and confidence.”                      – Michael Josephson

Happy New Year! What does everyone do at the start of a new year?  Traditionally, people will establish a New Year’s Resolution. Every year I always hear people say their New Year’s Resolution is to exercise more. Now is the time to start, and why not involve your students and exercise across Alaska.

Exercise Across Alaska is a cross curricular activity as well as Common Core aligned. When your students arrive back from break, have them share their resolutions. The importance of setting fitness goals is a perfect topic for P.E. This class is where the activity will begin. Students will be challenged to exercise 1049 minutes outside of P.E. class. Each minute will equal 1-mile, with the goal of reaching Nome. It is important to remind students that mushers have to stay fit to run the Iditarod. They are not just riding on the back of a sled for 1000-plus miles. They, too, will be running, pushing, and breaking trail. It is critical for them to stay physically fit.DSC_0285

In language arts students will record their journey of exercising across Alaska. Journal entries can be written in a hand-made journal or using technology such as Google Drive. Allow students about 5-10 minutes each day to record their progress using the following prompts: 1. I exercised for ______ minutes yesterday. I did the following exercises…  2. This is important to my health because…  3. That is important because…

In social studies students are able to map their movement along the trail. There are many interactive maps online to choose from, but I like the simplicity of Google My Maps. If your students wish, they can add pictures of themselves working out to their map. Check out my example map.

DSC_8619Students will be finding the amount of calories they are burning as they exercise in science. Using the calorie burn calculator students are able to input their height, weight, age, and the minutes of their activity to calculate the amount of calories they burned. Sled dogs burn about 10,000 calories per day on the Iditarod. It will be fun for the students to see how long it will take them to burn 10,000 calories.

In math students will work with their minutes. Every couple of weeks the students will calculate the average amount of time they are working out each day.  They will also keep track of how many more miles (minutes) they have to work out until they will reach Nome.

Having an end goal in place makes working out that much easier. Participating in a challenge that many others are participating in also makes working out that much easier. The students can encourage each other to work out, encourage each other if they are down about their numbers, and they can work out with each other. Happy exercising.

Exercise Across Alaska Lesson Plan

Calories Burned Worksheet

How Long Until Nome Worksheet

Iditarod Trivia Tuesday: Meet the Mushers

"Every journey starts with fear." - Jake Gyllenhaal

“Every journey starts with fear.” – Jake Gyllenhaal

Can you believe there are only 67 days left until the start of the 2015 Iditarod race? The last Iditarod Trivia Tuesday led you on a scavenger hunt of the rule book. This week you will use the Iditarod website to familiarize yourself with the 2015 mushers. This is a great time for you and your students to get to know the mushers of the Iditarod.

There are 80 mushers signed up for the race from all over the world. Familiar names, unfamiliar names, new names, and big names are among the list of names to make the over 1000-mile journey across Alaska. There are sisters, brothers, fathers, sons, husbands, and wives, too, that are on this impressive list of names. I can’t think of many other sports where you have 18-year old kids competing side-by-side with 70-year old veterans, or men competing side-by-side with women. The Last Great Race is a nondiscriminatory event where the rules are the same for everyone.

Below are a list of questions and a writing prompt to help familiarize your students with this long list of names. While you are getting familiar with the names, explore the website. To locate the list of mushers, go to After you are there, click on the Race Center tab and scroll down to 2015 Musher Profiles. You can view this list in alphabetical order with pictures or by list in the order in which they’ll draw their bib numbers.  The mushers’ entrant numbers on this list determine the order in which they draw.  To find out more about the musher, click on the musher’s name. You will be able to view a small biography about the musher.  Another link that will be useful for the questions below is view full career in the archives.

Good Luck!

Trivia Questions:

1. Out of the 80 mushers signed up for the 2015 Iditarod, which musher has finished the Iditarod the most years?

2. Which of the current mushers has the fastest time in finishing an Iditarod?

3. Which of the current mushers has the slowest time in finishing an Iditarod?

4. How many father/son mushers are signed up for the 2015 Iditarod?

5. How many 2015 rookies have attempted the Iditarod before?

6. Which 2015 Iditarod musher is the oldest?

7. Which 2015 Iditarod musher is the youngest?

8. Which musher has won the most amount of prize money racing the Iditarod?

9. Take a look at the Race Archives. How many mushers signed up have a relative that has won the Iditarod?

10. Look at the career summaries of the mushers. Which musher do you feel has the best chance of winning the 2015 Iditarod?

11. Writing prompt: Defend your answer to number 10 with factual evidence from the website. Include at least 2 facts cited from the website. You must also include your opinion.

Click here for the answers

Printer friendly questions

Checkpoint Checkup: Takotna to Ophir


“Your journey never ends. Life has a way of changing things in incredible ways.” – Alexander Volkov

Charley with his dog Charley

Charley with his dog Charley – courtesy of Terrie Hanke

The last leg of our journey took us from McGrath to Takotna. This week we will ride with Charley Bejna and his team 23 miles to Ophir. When Charley arrived in Takotna with 14 dogs on the line and 1 in the bag, he planned on taking his 24-hour mandatory stop there but for a variety of reasons, he changed his mind.  After leaving his dog, Bernie, in the good care of the Takotna vets and volunteers, Charley left for Ophir.

Takotna to Ophir - courtesy of Charley Bejna

Takotna to Ophir – courtesy of Charley Bejna

Immediately out of Takotna the trail is pretty steep. Charley and the dogs kept climbing and winding up the hillside. The highest elevation on this part of the trail is 1200 feet. The dogs were making excellent time, but the day began to grow darker and colder. Along the run they passed fellow musher, Anna Berington, and the dogs kept picking up speed from there.

This section of the trail that heads into Ophir is actually an old mining road that was built in the 1920’s. As he ran along the south side of the Innoko River he passed some old cabins and an old mining camp. Charley recalls some of the old and very interesting mining equipment and abandoned vehicles along the trail. At about this point on the trail you will know you are getting close to Ophir.

Ophir was a gold mining town that once had a population of 1,000 people, but today the population is zero. Only a few permanent structures remain in the ghost town. This checkpoint itself is located at Dick and Audra Forsgren’s cabin along the river. Since the checkpoint is along the river, the volunteers had water available for Charley to heat up and water his dogs.

Charley parked his team and started to care for his dogs. He gave them a snack and then put down straw for the dogs to take a rest. While the dogs were resting he prepared a big meal and checked on his dogs for any injuries. It was about -20 degrees Fahrenheit, so he put coats on all the dogs and then put blankets on the dogs. After a couple of hours of chores and vet checks for the dogs, Charley was finally able to eat and get some rest himself. He was very thankful to see that the volunteers had food available for the mushers in the cabin.

Since Charley took his 24-hour break in Ophir, he was able to get some much needed sleep. The sleeping quarters for the mushers are canvas walled structures with a stove for heat and bunks for sleeping. During the long break in Ophir, Charley fed the dogs every 4-6 hours. On the run in from Takotna, his dog Tundra wasn’t able to keep up with the speed of the rest of the team, so he decided to leave him behind in Ophir. Charley knew Tundra was in good hands with the vets and volunteers in Ophir. After lots of rest, food, and care, Charley and the dogs were anxious to get on the trail for the 73 mile journey to Cripple. For the next Checkpoint Checkup we’ll head in a different direction and continue on to another ghost town, Iditarod. Remember, in odd years the Iditarod takes the southern route.

Next stop, Iditarod. 566 miles to Nome.

Ideas for the classroom:

Charley took his 24-hour mandatory stop in Ophir. Since Charley was bib number 26, how long will he have to stay in Ophir to make up the 2-minute starting differential? There were 69 mushers who started the race.  There is no bib number 1 as it’s designated for the honorary musher. Click here for the answer.

What percentage of the trail has Charley covered?

What percentage of the trail does Charley have left?

Pretend you are Tundra the dog. Write a journal entry about your stay in Ophir.

Write a journal entry from the perspective of the dogs as they were running past the abandoned vehicles and mining equipment (picture above).

To read more about the journey to Ophir check out Don Bowers Trail Notes and Virtual Trail Journey – Ophir.

Aurora Borealis PowToon

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


Amongst the natural beauty of Alaska, the Aurora Borealis stands out as perhaps the most breathtaking sight a musher can experience along the Iditarod trail. One can be mesmerized by the brilliance of the Northern Lights. The Aurora Borealis is a very engaging topic for students to study. My students enjoyed learning about this fascinating subject and using technology to present their data.

This activity will give your students the opportunity to imagine they are scientists. They will make observations, collect data, and find evidence to prove their hypotheses. My class uses Google Classroom; therefore, all of their materials (pictures, videos, readings, worksheets) will be sent to them via the Classroom. All of the materials are attached at the bottom of this post. The activity is split into tasks for the students to complete in groups. The students start out by strictly viewing some pictures of the Aurora Borealis. As they are viewing the pictures, they will make a couple of prediction statements about where and when they think this is taking place. The groups will move on to the next task in which they will view a short video clip taken by Iditarod volunteer, Jansen Cardy. Students will make some more prediction statements as they view the video clip, such as, what makes this experience occur? Before moving on to collecting evidence, students will make a hypothesis about the Aurora Borealis (What do you think is occurring in the pictures and video and how does it occur?).

After observing and making predictions, the students will now prove or deny their predictions. Attached to their assignment is a reading article about the Aurora Borealis. The students will gather evidence supporting their predictions. This data will be recorded on the data chart. Whether the student prediction was spot on or way off, they are going to find specific evidence giving them the correct information. The class will have a discussion on their findings and results of their predictions.

The next task is for the students to share their data. Students will use the free technology tool called PowToon. PowToon allows students to create animated videos and presentations. It is free, fun, and very easy to use. My students enjoy using PowToon as an alternative for creating presentations. After presenting the PowToon to the class, the students will share the link with our class YouTube page and Twitter. This allows students to continue to view the presentations at home and share with their families. The final task is to write a statement proving or denying their original hypothesis.

Aurora Borealis Lesson Plan

Aurora PowToon Task Worksheet

Aurora Reading

Aurora Data Chart

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