Not Quite Ready to Say Goodbye?

Arriving in Galena

Arriving in Galena

I don’t know about you, but I’m still not quite ready to say goodbye to this year’s race or the trail…. and my kids aren’t really yet either.  The Iditarod still comes up routinely in conversation, we’re still unpacking all of my goodies from all the boxes I shipped home, we are still Skyping with some of the schools I met discussing the race, and we are still getting letters from some of the schools I visited on the trail.  We are also still planning and wrapping up some lessons and projects that we will share with you as the year winds down.

If you are looking for a way to get a first-hand account of this year’s race, Ken Anderson has let me know that he is scheduling his Cyber-Visits for the spring!  Using Go-To Meeting, he talks about the race and his life in rural Alaska and then even takes his computer down into the dog yard so that he can introduce the kids to his dogs!  We have usually participated in this virtual field trip in the fall as an introduction to the race, but this year we are doing ours in a few weeks. I’m really excited to get the chance to chat with him and get his take and stories from the trail!  You can get more information about scheduling your own virtual trip here:  LINK

If you are looking for a way to take your Iditarod teaching to the next level, youshould plan to join us in June for the 2014 Summer Camp for Teachers.  This nine day conference is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in everything that is Iditarod!  We will live at the Dream a Dream Dog Farm for three days where Iditarod finisher Vern Halter will help us learn about raising, training, and racing sled dogs!  We’ll get to go out and visit the kennel and help with chores, take the puppies for walks, and even get to take a cart ride!  It is the most amazing experience and the perfect way to get a taste of what life is like for a long-distance musher and his faithful athlete companions.  During the rest of the conference we will hear from many speakers that will tell us not only about the ins and outs of the race, but will share many ways to integrate the race into our daily curriculum.  We will get to visit the kennel and studio of official Iditarod artist Jon Van Zyle (my favorite place on earth), visit Iditarod Headquarters where we can take a cart ride with Raymie Redington, and even have the chance to search for moose and take a glacier hike!  To wrap up our time, we will be at headquarters for the Volunteer Picnic and the first day of sign-ups for the 2015 Iditarod!  You’ll get a chance to get autographs and see first-hand who signs up for next year’s race!  It is really one of the most inspiring professional development experiences of my career.  You can learn more about the camp here:  LINK

I hope you’ll stay with us as we continue to travel the trail through the spring.  If your kids have done any great Iditarod writing, I hope you’ll share it with me – I’d love to add it to the Tales from the Trail section of the blog!

Thanking the Volunteers

One last event tonight, the Volunteer Pot Luck Dinner, was a chance for the volunteers to get together one last time and for the Iditarod staff to share their appreciation for all of the volunteers’ hard work.

A couple hundred of the nearly 1,500 volunteers for this year’s race gathered for one more time at the Millennium Hotel.  It was  a neat chance to reconnect and say goodbye to each other one last time for this race season.  After being on the trail and watching the volunteers in action, I am more convinced than ever that race could never happen with out them.  The volunteers come from all over the world and it seems like the majority of them have volunteered for many, many years.  They give their time, energy, and efforts to help make sure the dogs and mushers make it to Nome.  The next time the volunteers will gather as a group will be at the 2015 Musher Sign-Up Picnic in June.

The highlight of the evening was getting to see Jeff Schultz’s slide show of nearly 300 photos from this year’s race.  He also narrated and told some of the stories behind the photos, and as you know, I love stories!  If you haven’t seen Jeff’s photos from this year’s race, be sure to check them out here.

And so ends the Alaska portion of my Teacher on the Trail experience. I’m leaving in a few hours to begin my journey home.  It’s been an amazing experience which I haven’t fully digested yet.  Everyone told me that this experience would change my life.  I’m not sure how I’ve changed quite yet, but I’m not sure you can go through an experience like this and remain exactly the same person you were when you started. I will continue to blog until I pass the torch on to the 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail in June, so keep watching.

Thanks for sharing this amazing journey with me!


Recognizing the Accomplishments

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The Nome Recreation Center was packed to the brim last night to celebrate the accomplishments of the 2014 Iditarod Mushers.  For every single musher in attendance feelings of relief, satisfaction, and pride had to be filling their hearts.  I am sure in the days to come there will be the “what-ifs” and “if only I hads” and “next year I’lls” but last night was for recognizing the accomplishments of a race well done.

I have held my composure pretty well for the last few weeks. I’ve tried not to show how star-struck I am or how much I’ve felt like a kid in 2014-03-16 23.09.26a candy shop.  But I did buy my tourist souvenir trail mail packets that Nathan Schroeder and Monica Zappa carried down the trail.  I tried to convince myself they were to show the kids at school, but I doubt they will make it there.  I did get a little weepy when they got announced and recognized onstage.  I know, I’m a sap.  I know how much it meant to them and how hard they worked,  and I am so very thankful to both of them for sharing a small part of their journey with me and my students.  I was so very proud of them and of each and every musher who made it to Nome.

The food was wonderful, and the stories are true.  There really are sleds full of chocolate covered strawberries on each buffet line.  I can’t even begin to imagine how you get fresh strawberries to Nome in March.  Hobo Jim played, and played, and played.  He played the “Iditarod Trail Song” I think three times with the crowd joining in every time.  He even sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” for Curt Perano’s child who has shown more than once this week that guitars and music are very interesting by crawling up onto stages.

The special awards were given.  Most we knew about already as they had been presented on the trail and were presented here again at a location where the mushers could properly thank people for them and carry them away.  Some of them are rather large, and I’m sure wouldn’t fit in the sleds if the mushers were expected to carry them away from the various checkpoints where they were originally presented!

2014-03-16 22.29.34 (2)Nathan Schroeder was presented with the Jerry Austin Rookie of the Year Award for being the highest placing rookie.  He received a beautiful trophy and a check for $2,000. New this year, he also received a piece of native artwork.  James Pete of Stebbins, Alaksa created a beautiful drawing on sealskin.  It’s a drawing of a dog team and is stretched on a wooden frame.  It’s a wonderful keepsake.  Nathan told the crowd that when he finished the race he said it would be his last, “but I lied” he added.  The crowed laughed and cheered.  I knew he’d be back!  He’s been telling me that all along!  The award is named for Jerry Austin, a member of the Iditarod Hall of Fame.  You can learn more about him here and here.

Jessie Royer and Ray Redington, Jr. tied for the Fastest Time Safety to Nome Award.  That seems to fit perfectly with this crazy race doesn’t it?  They were both all smiles as they accepted their awards and joked about being tied.  This award is presented by the Nome Kennel Club and is a $500 award.

The most improved musher this year is Richie Diehl.  He finished in 36th place in 2013 as a rookie and in 14th place this year.  He accepted his award, gave his thanks, and then said, “Sorry Matt Failor!”  So I had to go look – looks like he beat Matt by one spot to earn this award!  He also beat Matt to the finish line by about seven minutes this year!  So another close race to add to our collection of close races within the close race!  This award is presented by Horizon Lines and includes a trophy and $2,000.

One of the most coveted awards, the Sportsmanship Award, is voted on by the mushers.  On Saturday, the mushers had a closed meeting where they discussed the race and voted on several things.  (Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall at that meeting?)  In presenting the award, Aaron Burmeister, President of the Iditarod Finishers’ Club, said that there were many, many times on this race that mushers had to help others out.  But that it seemed like Mike Williams, Jr. was always there when you needed someone to help you out and he never failed to do what he could.  Mike is a very quiet and humble guy, and I have no doubt in my mind that this award was well deserved.    Mike received $1,049 and a plaque.

The ExxonMobil Mushers’ Choice Award is given to the musher that the finishing mushers vote on as being the most inspirational musher on the trail.  This year the mushers chose to give the award to Aaron Burmeister who completed the race despite wrenching in knee in the early stages of the race.  He is still having a hard time walking – especially having to climb up and down the stairs to the stage!  His young son however, had the time of his life and followed his dad everywhere!  Aaron received a special gold coin valued at $3,900.

The Northern Air Cargo Herbie Nayokpuk Award is chosen by the checkers in the checkpoints along the trail.  It is given to the musher who most demonstrates the spirit of the Iditarod along the trail.  It is named after Herbie Nayokpuk who is also known as the “Shishmaref Cannon Ball.”  You can read more about him here.  This year the award was presented to a clearly moved Newton Marshall to the resounding cheers of the crowd.  This may be the most quiet I’ve ever seen Newton. He was clearly moved and didn’t really know what to say.  I know that he’s been struggling to raise the funds needed to run this race and a little birdie told me they were raising funds to get him out of Nome right up to the very last minute, so I know this award will help.  He was given free freight on Northern Air Cargo, a trophy, and a jacket with $1,049 in one dollar bills stuffed into the pockets.  I have heard Newton say time and again that he loves people and he loves meeting people, so I’m sure the fact that his award was voted on by the volunteers in the checkpoints will make it all that much more special to him.

The Golden Clipboard Award is given by the finishers to a checkpoint each year. This year, the finishers chose to recognize the town and checkpoint of Galena.  The town was devastated by floods about nine months ago an is still putting their town back together.  In presenting the award, Mark Nordman the Race Director, recalled a conversation he had with the mayor of the town.  “Are you sure you are ready for the Iditarod to descend on you?”  “We need the Iditarod to come,” was the response.  I know that thought was echoed by the people I met and talked to in that town. Having the Iditarod come gave them back a sense of normalcy and something to look forward to.  The race needed Galena and Galena needed the race. It was a perfect match.

The mushers traditionally award one vet with the Golden Stethoscope Award each year. This year they decided they couldn’t choose just one explained Aily Zirkle and Karin Hendrickson. Instead, Jeff Schultz, the official Iditarod photographer, donated a print that will be given to each and every vet as a memento.

For the fifth time in his career, Martin Buser was awarded the Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award.  This award is given to a musher who is competitive (finishing in the top 20) whom the vets have determined has given outstanding care to his dogs.  Each vet on the trail turns in votes for first, second, and third place.  At the finish, each dog is scored after being given a physical. They also look at their gait.  The scores are added together to determine a winner.  Martin, in accepting this award, was obviously moved. He reiterated that it was he who let down his dogs. That the two-legged person couldn’t keep up with the four-legged ones.  I’m not sure I agree with that.  He clearly took exceptional care of them on the trail, and that is an admirable thing.

The City of Nome Lolly Medley Golden Harness Award is given to an outstanding lead dog selected by the mushers.  Lolly Medley was a 2014-03-16 22.57.56 (2)harness maker from the town of Wasilla and one of the first two women to compete in the Iditarod in 1974.  The golden harness was awarded to Beatle, one of Dallas’ lead dogs.  Beatle came in to get his award and Dallas joked, “This is the hardest part of the Iditarod for him!” and in fact he did look a little stunned by the crowd of people and the flashbulbs going off!  Dallas also talked about his other lead dog Reef.  Reef had been training all year with Christian Turner, who was running Dallas’ puppy team.  At the last minute Reef graduated from the puppy team to the A-Team and ended up hitting the trail with Dallas! Imagine being called up to the major leagues and then going on to win the World Series!  Wow!

Once the special awards were presented, the finishers were called to the stage one at a time in reverse finishing order to receive their recognition.  Most mushers thanked their dogs, sponsors, friends, and families.  Many thanked their host families in Nome.  A few talked about how bad the trail was.  Some mentioned trying again next year.  And several shared trail stories.  The theme that seemed to run through many of the stories was how much the mushers helped each other out on the trail.  They offered each other words of encouragement, for example Allen Moore told Travis Beals to “put his big boy pants on and get zesty!”  They helped each other out with equipment and supplies.  They worked together to get through storms and wind.  They were competitors, but they also cared tremendously for each other and each others’ teams.   They accepted their awards, and then were off to the autograph chute again.

Finishing in third, Mitch Seavey talked about the trials at the beginning of the race.  Travelling through the Gorge and getting bumped and bruised along that section of the trail.  His parting shot?  “I’ll never get used to being beaten by girls and kids,” as he looked at Aily Zirkle and his son Dallas standing off stage right.

Aily, for her part discussed the storm that pinned her into Safety.  She said she never realized she passed Jeff King and when she got to Safety was terrified for him. She says her race ended there.  “I don’t really know Jeff King, I’d never sit down and have a coffee with him, but I was scared. I thought he was dead.”  When he showed up half an hour later, she said she gave him a big hug, “I’m so glad you are here and safe.”  “But without my dogs,” was the response.  She praised the Insider Team who went off on their snowmachines with Jeff to get the dogs.  And then she says she fell asleep from sheer emotional exhaustion.  She was awoken later by the checkers saying they saw headlights.  And she was relieved.  That meant Dallas was coming and he was safe too.  Then she looked out and he was signing out of Safety and the wind was gently flapping his dog jackets.  Gently flapping.  Not blowing like crazy.  “So we can go!” she thought and the race was on.  She said that was the most fun part of her race!  She saw his headlight, he kept turning around to check on her.  She finally thought she had caught him right where they turn to come off the sea ice onto Front Street… she was getting closer and closer to that headlight.  And then she realized it was’t his headlight, it was a guy standing stationary directing her her where to turn.  She has no regrets she says.

The other story she shared was of a young girl in Unalakleet who shyly asked if she could take a picture with Aliy which of course Aliy agreed to.  The girl told Aliy that her boyfriend thought all girls were sissies and that when Aliy won the race she was going to show this picture to her boyfriend and tell him that he was wrong.  Aliy had all of the women who had finished the race stand.  “I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like a sissy!” she said.

2014-03-16 20.06.32Dallas them come up to receive his winner’s check and the key to his new truck to a standing ovation from the crowd. He said his dad had covered the early parts of the trail in his story, Aliy had covered the last storm in hers, and so he guessed he’d talk about the question of did he really not know he had won the race.  And in fact he really did not know.  He says he pulled into Safety, saw Aliy’s name on the clipboard and figured she was long gone.  “Who actually looks to see if they are signed in AND out?”  He noticed Jeff’s name wasn’t there, but just assumed Jeff had slipped by and was missed by the checkers.  So he took off.  He wasn’t going to slouch, he was going to give it all he and his team had to finish the race up strong.  At some point he looked back and saw a headlight in the distance.  He was shocked, and tried to figure out how his dad had made up so much time on him. He was NOT going to let his dad beat him, he was sure he’d never hear the end of it!  So off he went and started running with the team.  He said, yes, he kept looking back but he thought he was covering up his headlight with his hand, but obviously his “little, skinny hand” didn’t do the job so well since Aliy said she kept seeing him!  He was surprised there were some many people at the finish line for the third place team, but maybe they had come to see his dad beat him.  He really didn’t realize it until a cameraman told him he had won.

And so the Awards Banquet came and end.  And in what I have come to realize is just part of the Iditarod surrealism, I was swept into a truck, driven to the airport, and put on a charter plane back to Anchorage along with Hobo Jim and Jeff Schultz…. two more people who make me star-struck!

A Race for the Red Lantern

It was a race for first place:  Dallas Seavey edged by Aily Zirkle and won the 2014 Iditarod by 2 minutes and 22 seconds.

It was a race for Rookie of the Year:  Nathan Schroeder edged by Abbie West and won the 2014 Rookie of the Year by about 6 minutes.

It somehow seems fitting then that there was a race for the Red Lantern!  

We’d been watching tracker pretty intensely all day.  When would the trio of ladies leave White Mountain? How long would it take them to get to Safety?  Would they stop in Safety or blow through?  When would they reach Front Street?

Who would make it in first?  Who would be the Red Lantern?

Monica Zappa arrived first from the trio.  She said that Lisbet Norris should be half an hour behind her.  She explained that Lisbet was always half an hour behind her.  The two have been travelling together for several days now.  Monica said that Lisbet always left the checkpoint first because she always took a bit longer to get herself together to leave.  Monica’s team was a bit faster, so she’d end up passing Lisbet, arriving at the next checkpoint half an hour before Lisbet.  She also mentioned being very glad that she and Lisbet were travelling together.  She says Lisbet saved her a few times.

Lisbet joked that they were afraid Marcelle Fressineau was going to pull a “Dallas Seavey” on them.  She actually arrived at Safety while Monica and Lisbet were resting and left before them!  We knew that Moncia had arrived, but when the next siren wailed, we just weren’t sure who we were expecting.

Deja vu….

Would it be Dallas or Aily?

Would it be Nathan or Abbie?

Would it be Lisbet or Marcelle?

2014-03-15 23.48.26And then, the siren wailed again.  And they were both on Front Street, practically side by side!

Lisbet said she had asked Marcelle if she was going to try to pass and Marcelle said no, so the order was set.

Finishing in the 48th spot:  Lisbet Norris, with her amazingly strong and beautiful registered Siberian Huskies.  Monica made it back from the Dog Lot in time to share a huge hug with her.

And winning the red lantern:  Marcelle Fressineau.  In addition to the typical end of 2014-03-15 19.50.17the trail hoopla of checking the mandatory gear, Marcelle was presented with the Red Lantern trophy and the Widow’s Lantern was blown out.  In the end, Lisbet edged out Marcelle by thirty-five seconds!

And just like that, another race is over.  Everyone has made it to Nome: the dogs who are still here are bedded down, the mushers are celebrating their accomplishments, and the volunteers have started to clean out the Convention Center and take down the banners and the arch.

Only two events remain, the Awards Banquet tomorrow and the Volunteer’s Dinner on Wednesday.

And then there are the stories still to be heard…..

I predict we will be hearing the stories of the 2014 Iditarod for years and years to come.

Team Zappa: Under the Arch!

2014-03-15 23.15.52-1Team Zappa made it into Nome! She arrived in 47th place after quite a race to the finish!

You couldn’t miss her coming down Front Street in her uber bright Posh House Parka!  Her team seemed a little overwhelmed by the traffic, crowds, and people in Nome. Her team tried to make a right hand turn up a side street pretty shortly after coming up the hill onto the street.  Fellow racer Karin Hendrickson was nearby and lent a hand getting them back on track.   What a smile Monica had on her face!  She was met under the arch by her mom and her partner Tim.

She and Tim talked about the dogs almost right away!  A lot of the talk revolved Blue Steel who 2014-03-15 23.21.45-1became an immediate crowd favorite as he rolled around on the snow, presented his belly for belly rubs and then closed his eyes for a nap right under the arch (while still on his back!).  But, was he really napping? Nope!  He’d sneak an eye open every once in a while to make sure people were still watching him. “He seems to think he’s on this race to be a super model dog. He’s always posing!” Monica joked.  Apparently, he was quite a rascal on the race… wouldn’t run in lead, chewed several lines, got into fights.  She didn’t drop him because he worked hard.  You could see the affection in her smile and eyes and hear it in her voice as she teased him for being a “bad dog.”

“Can you help me now?” she asked Tim as the siren sounded for the next musher.  She’s had to do it all for herself for so long… I’m sure it’s going to be a huge relief to lean on someone else for a bit.  I can just imagine how much it warmed her heart to see Tim and her mom under the arch waiting for her, and how sweet it’s going to be to have a hot shower and sink into a warm bed and just relax for awhile.

2014-03-15 23.30.02Monica said it took her a lot longer to get here then she expected.  The run from Elim to Safety took her fifteen hours!  So she rested for a bit in Safety before making her final run into Nome.  No matter how long it took, she made it to Nome and that’s all that matters!  Her goal all along was to get her young team to Nome still feeling happy and healthy…. looks like she did that and much more! Congratulations Monica!

Catching Up with Martin Buser

The Nome Library hosted a Meet and Greet with Martin Buser today.  He took questions from the fans and was pretty open and honest with his answers. 2014-03-14 18.20.50 It was clearly a tough race for Martin and the rest of the mushers.  It has given them lots to think about.

Martin said that his biggest obstacle in the race was his own physical disabilities.  About a week prior to the race he dislocated his pinky finger.  He didn’t really think much about it at the time.  He went to the doctor had it taped up and everyone agreed that it wouldn’t affect his race and so he went on and finished his final preparations for the 2014 Iditarod.  Once on the trail however, the finger started acting up and kept slipping out of socket.  At first he was able to put it back in himself, but the further he got down the trail, the more he needed the vets’ assistance.  They had to put it back in the socket for him and then tape it to his ring finger.  This would seem to work at first, but then he’d get halfway on the next run and it would start to really hurt where the tape was.  He’d stop and cut the tape, and then by the time he was at the next checkpoint he’d have to find the vets to help him and start the process all over again.  Then of course, he also hurt his ankle.  He says he caught his foot under his sled two or three times and really wrenched his ankle.  He said it hurt so bad and got to the point that he would start to cry when he knew he’d have to put weight on it.  He’d pre-cry in anticipation of the pain that was going to shoot up his leg from putting weight on it.  His finger and his ankle were warring with each other, “I’m going to hurt more.”  “No, I’m going to hurt more!”  “No, I am!”  They are still apparently worried about his ankle.  He may have a stress fracture.  I got the feeling he’d be visiting his doctor when he returns home to Big Lake.

What was his biggest joy in the race?  “Finishing it.”  Did you expect to hear something different?

Martin explains that some people have years that are based on calendar years.  Their year starts on January first and runs to the next January first.  Some people run their years on tax years. Their year runs from April fifteenth to April fifteenth.  I know that as a teacher, my natural year runs from September to September, from one school year to the next.  For Martin, his year is based on the Iditarod.  He breeds, plans, trains, practices for his end of the year test, the Iditarod.  The Iditarod is his final exam.  This is how he knows how successful his program has been.  He runs the Iditarod to test his program.  He doesn’t always like the Iditarod, but he loves his dogs, he loves the lifestyle, he loves the history and culture of dogsledding and that’s why he does what he does.  He feels like this year he let his dogs down.  They were perfectly capable of being the top team, but he was the weakest link.

As for checkpoints, the only thing Martin said he’d change about the checkpoints it that it would be nice to have water at each checkpoint. It wouldn’t even have to be hot water, just water so that he could take care of the dogs faster.  That’s all they really need, a place to lay down and some water.

What I thought was the most telling was that Martin admitted that if he could go back in time to March 2nd, knowing what he knows now about how the trail would be he would still do it.  He would do it again.  Now, if March 2nd was tomorrow, would he do it? No.  Because physically he couldn’t do it, but give him a few days and he’d go.  When I talked to Nathan Schroeder later about what Martin said, he echoed the same sentiment.  As bad is it was, he’d do it again too.  It seems like a few days has given them the distance to look back and gain a little perspective.  


Mushin’ Mon

2014-03-14 20.10.54Newton Marshall made it to the Burled Arch with his typical huge smile and unfailing good spirits!

I walked down to watch him come up off the sea ice. He was poling away and waving and smiling to the gathered crowds.  It seems like crowds gather wherever Newton is!  The scene in chute was the liveliest I’ve seen…. reggae music, tons of music, and Jamaican flags.  By the time I made it up to the chute from the sea ice they “chute party” was in full swing!  Newton posed for picture after picture and even signed autographs.

One kindergartner was there with a Jamaican flag she had colored.  I was so impressed with how Newton came to the fence to speak with her and then lifted her up to the fence so they could take a picture.  She was in love!  She will remember that moment for a very long time!

Scott Janssen was there to welcome Newton to Nome.  I bet those two have a lot to talk about.  If you remember, Newton was instrumental in assisting Scott when he had his injury earlier in the race.  Scott and his family and fans have been very vocal in their support of Newton and I can only imagine what the two were thinking when they laid eyes on each other this evening.  I would love to be a fly on the wall when the two of them get some time to talk.

In the meantime – welcome to Nome Mushin’ Mon!