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

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

Photo of the Day – The Rookie and the Veteran

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

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

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

Photo of the Day – Training Native Olympians

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

Alaska Native Heritage Center

Photo of the Day – One Happy Husky

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“Dogs laugh, but they laugh with their tails.” – Max Eastman

Howls, licks and love abound at the Dream a Dream Dog Farm for all of the teachers at the Iditarod Summer Teacher Conference.  We all pitch in for dog yard chores and puppy walks several times a day, and there is plenty of husky happiness to go around.

Photo of the Day – Reflections Lake

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“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!” – John Muir

On a map, the Palmer Hay Flats encompass about 45,000 miles of freshwater streams, marshes, bogs and silty glacial rivers.  In person, its wild beauty is inspiring.  The refuge is the stop for thousands and thousands of migratory birds, and many stay and nest and raise their young. Ducks, geese, swans, and other shorebirds are drawn to these wetlands as they migrate to and from the north.  I spent the afternoon on a one mile hike around Reflections Lake with Sara Lamont, an Iditarod Education Committee member, long-time Iditarod race volunteer and our designated “moose whisperer” as she has the talent for spotting moose.  Sara loves sharing her passion for Alaska’s wildlife with others, and our walk inspired me to continue to spend time in the beauty of nature, not only during my time here in Alaska, but when I return home to Texas.

Map and Wildlife Trail Guide for Reflections Lake

Dream A Dream

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Driving through Willow, Alaska to Vern Halter’s Dream a Dream Dog Farm, I reflected upon the ongoing situation with the Sockeye wildfire. As of this posting, the fire was not totally contained in the thousands of acres affected, but the hard work and dedication of many people continues. Driving to the kennel to meet the other teachers attending the Iditarod Summer Conference for 2015, we couldn’t help but notice the burnt fir trees on either side of the road. We saw many homemade signs along the highway thanking firefighters for their brave efforts to save homes, many belonging to Iditarod mushers. It was touching and thoughtful and reflected well upon the community of Willow and the people of Alaska.

As our car pulled into the Dream a Dream Dog Farm, we were greeted by dozens of happy husky dogs and 19 eager teachers from around the country ready to learn and share lessons, ideas and give a little inspiration to one another as we camped out together in this special place.

DSC00133In 1983, our host, Vern Halter, ran his first Iditarod, and for 21 years he raced the Iditarod or Yukon Quest. He placed in the top 5 of the Iditarod three times and the top 10 eight times. Vern is the 1990 Yukon Quest Champion and the 1989 Yukon Quest runner-up.  Now he is dedicated to raising, training and racing the Alaskan Husky and guiding rookie mushers who live and train with him such as Cindy Abbott, the 2015 Iditarod Red Lantern winner.  I had the honor of meeting Cindy at the Winter Teacher Conference when I attended with a group of teachers from my school. We all felt drawn to her strong spirit and “can do” attitude.  Vern prepared her well.

Vern’s musher conference room is a treasure trove of Iditarod history and memorabilia. His experience and memories are on display for all to see, and every single teacher was inspired and excited to learn more from this veteran musher mentor. We laid out our camping gear on our beds in the loft and came downstairs for a meet & greet.  DSC00158

The teachers at the conference are from all over the country, and flew in from thousands of miles away from states such as Florida, Minnesota, and Texas. We all became fast friends. For some teachers it has been a lifelong dream to make the trek to Alaska, and we all felt privileged to be here. We gathered our group and quickly made our way out to the dog yard and greeted dozens of happy huskies with hugs and kisses. It was “dog heaven.” For the majority of the teachers present this was their very first experience in a dog kennel, and their faces said it all. Dogs jumped and howled with excitement as we made our way around to each dog house petting and hugging each and every husky. There was a whole lot of joy at the dog farm this evening!

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Speaking of veterans, Terrie Hanke, the 2006 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ was our camp cook this week. Terrie is dedicated to the Teacher on the Trail™ program, and during the Iditarod she will visit checkpoints at the back of the pack and share her adventures and report on the site. She is a real treasure to the program, and I consider her a mentor as I travel the trail this year. After supper it wDSC00208as time for some puppy love! Right now Vern has six 3 month old puppies from his spring litter, and he gave them all names that reflect Cindy Abbott’s journey to the Red Lantern this year. This continues a long tradition in the mushing community, and is a great testament to the respect and admiration that the Dream a Dream Dog Farm has for Cindy.

Bounding through the wild trail behind the kennel, we tried to keep up with the rowdy pups as they made their way over tree stumps and roots all the way to the wooden bridge over the babbling brook. This took a little coaxing from the teachers, but they stumbled their way to the other side. It was simply adorable to watch. They are young huskies in training for the future, and under the care of Vern Halter and his team, we may see them in The Last Great Race® one day.