Next Dream: Run the Iditarod

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." - Lao-Tzu

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

My first half Ironman

My first half Ironman

A few years ago I was watching an Ironman Kona special on T.V. I was amazed by the commitment, dedication, and inspiring stories of these athletes. Each time someone would cross the finish line and Mike Reilly would announce, “[insert name] YOU are an Ironman,” chills went up and down my spine. I started imagining my name being announced. Immediately after the show I started looking for a half-Ironman close to home. In August of 2014 I completed my first half-Ironman with my eyes set on a full Ironman. I am currently training for Ironman Wisconsin in September. Had it not been for a T.V. special, inspiring stories, and a dream, I would  have never imagined doing an Ironman.

In Nome under the Burled Arch

In Nome under the Burled Arch

As I was standing in Nome, the feeling I had when watching the Ironman special came rushing back. I was standing there listening to the announcer call the names of the mushers as they crossed under the Burled Arch. You can’t help but feel extremely happy for those mushers who put so much time, effort, and commitment into making their dream a reality. I kept wondering how they felt during that moment or what they were thinking. I started imagining them calling my name.


At Vern’s Dream a Dream Dog Farm

Two summers ago I made my first trip to Alaska. One of the many amazing places I visited was Vern’s Dream and Dream Dog Farm. Here I had the opportunity to play with puppies, take them on hikes, harness sled dogs, and take my first sled dog ride in the back of an ATV. I remember thinking to myself, “I want to do this.” Just as most of us do, I shoved the thought aside and it became a dream. There is no way I could be a musher, I live in Iowa. There is no way I could afford to be a musher on a teacher’s salary. There is no way I could be a musher without quitting my job; a job I love.

During my journey as Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, I continued to read about, write about, and witness incredible Iditarod adventures. Each book I read, blog I wrote, or other person’s adventure I witnessed, something kept nagging at me; I want to do this. Out on the trail, my journey was indescribable, but I could feel it was not quite complete. There is something I still feel I need to do; I want to do this.

When I arrived home, still more reading of Iditarod books and looking at pictures some mushers were posting on Facebook; something still missing. My journey is incomplete; I want to do the Iditarod. I started pondering how I could run the Iditarod without quitting my job. I contacted Cindy Abbott who did just that; she ran the Iditarod and didn’t have to quit her job in California. We chatted back and forth a little and she pointed me in Vern Halter’s direction. My next step was to contact Vern. I have spent some time at Vern’s during the Iditarod Summer Teacher Camp, so we know each other. After getting a positive vibe from Vern I had to figure out what to do about school. After speaking with my principal, we determined extended leave would be the best plan. My principal has been very supportive knowing how passionate I am about my students, the school district, and the Iditarod. After waiting around for a month until the next school board meeting, my request for extended leave was approved. I am going to run the Iditarod.

Just as the inspirational stories of Ironman finishers moved me to attempt an Ironman, the inspiring stories I witnessed on the trail have moved me to attempt the Iditarod. Something I have learned over the last few years is if you have a dream, don’t let anything get in your way. I could have easily given up when I first thought that this was impossible. It is not impossible, with the support of many people, I found a way. I am excited to continue my Iditarod journey.

I will be spending this summer at Vern’s place working with the dogs, puppies, and tour groups. I will begin to develop a relationship with the dogs that will take me to Nome. I will head back up to Vern’s from October to the end of March training and qualifying for the Iditarod. According to the Iditarod rules, a musher must complete two 300-mile qualifiers and another approved qualifier for a total of 750 miles to be qualified.

I hope to again be in Nome, this time crossing under the Burled Arch with a team of dogs.

Dreams Can Come True

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

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

The most difficult posting I have had to write so far, has been this one. Ever since I arrived home I have been trying to figure out a way to put my experience in words and share it with the world; it is impossible. There are no words to describe the feelings or what I experienced out on the trail.

I was told by several former Iditarod Teachers on the Trail™ this will be a life-changing experience. After only being back for a month, I can honestly say it has been life changing. I have a completely different outlook on education, coaching, and life in general. I have noticed a change in how I teach in the classroom and interact with my students. Once I arrived home I started tennis season. My coaching style and highly competitive attitude changed immediately.

Since I have been back I have been busy writing articles and presenting to a variety of groups in the community. This too, has not been easy. I want people to fully understand the impact this journey has had on my life, but unless they’ve been there, they never will.


Jason Mackey

One thing, among many, that I enjoy sharing is that the Iditarod is much more than just a dog race. There were so many inspiring people, touching stories and dreams fulfilled.  Long-lasting relationships and memories were created that will last a lifetime. I take pride in being able to share the many compassionate stories I witnessed on my journey. These stories have inspired me to continue fulfilling my dreams.

One major impact this journey has had on my life is the importance of turning your dreams into reality. If nothing is done, they stay just that, dreams. Had I not made the decision to look at the application for Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, my life may be going a completely different way. Making that first step is what started my dream down the path of reality.

I encountered many people along the trail who did not let anything stand in the way of their dreams; money, illness, cancer, disease, and other heavy burdens. It is encouraging to see what some will put themselves through to achieve their ultimate dream.

This journey has helped me understand the importance of encouraging my students to dream and to attempt to make their dreams come true. You should never let anything stand in the way of your dreams. Life is too short to say it can’t be done or it’s too hard. If you want it, go after it and achieve your dreams.

Pictures Tell a Story – Family

Grandpa Phil and Rudy

Grandpa Phil and Rudy

Last night culminated the 2015 Iditarod with the annual Iditarod Volunteer Potluck at the Millennium Hotel. Several volunteers gathered together to enjoy conversation, stories, pictures, and fun for a final time before everyone packs up and heads home for another year. There is no mistake, though, the Iditarod is one massive family. There are approximately 2000 volunteers who make up this large family.

Several volunteers have been around since the beginning and several are rookies. Either way, everyone feels a part of this family. Without the many volunteers, this race definitely could not happen. The Iditarod is a year-round job, a job which relies on volunteers. Some volunteer year-round, some a couple of months, and some just during the race. No matter how long one volunteers, each is critical for the race.

A bulk of the volunteers only see each other once a year, during race time. Once reunited, the volunteers pick up right where they left off the year before, just like family. Wonderful, lifelong friendships are created because of the Iditarod. I experienced this myself before the race, along the trail, and after the race. I witnessed the many friendships and family like atmosphere along the trail. I was welcomed into the family immediately and will forever be part of this family.

Some awesome volunteers in Nome

Some awesome volunteers in Nome

It’s All About the Dogs

11067771_10203462228630990_1390238816516062187_nThe 2015 Iditarod is finished, the Willow Lantern has been extinguished, the Burled Arch has been put away until next year. The streets of Nome are back to normal. For the dogs, they are anxiously waiting for their next run. Many dogs got their wish as most mushers took their dogs on a short “stretch out the limbs” run. This race is truly about the love of and for dogs. Every single person on the trail cared for and treated the dogs with the utmost respect and love.

Dog handler bootying a dog before Restart in Fairbanks

Dog handler bootying a dog before Restart in Fairbanks

The dog handlers treat the dogs as if they are their own. As they cared for them at the start and restart it was obvious they would miss the dogs while they were out on the trail. Hugs and kisses were exchanged as the handlers fed, watered, and cared for the dogs one last time for a couple of weeks. Handlers proudly trotted the team they have worked and trained with all year to the starting line. Honored to be part of the team, the handlers waved good-bye as the dogs headed down the trail. After a couple of weeks of waiting and watching the tracker, many handlers made their way to Nome. You could see them anxiously waiting at the finish line for the dogs to come running down Front Street. Each and every dog received a huge hug from their handlers they have missed while out on the trail.

Vet checking a dog

Vet checking a dog

The veterinarians have volunteered to take 3-4 weeks off of work, probably unpaid, travel to Alaska at their own expense, to care for these amazing athletes. It is obvious their love for the sled dogs. Each vet is extremely concerned with the health of each and every dog out on the trail. They are constantly checking every aspect of the dogs; their paws, their heart, their gums, their hydration, their lungs, even their attitude. They even get the opportunity to sneak in some hugs from their new friends. Vets are moved up the trail during the race, so they run into the same dogs over and over again. While they may not become extremely attached, they do know their names and can certainly tell if something is wrong.

Drop dog volunteer loving on a dog

Drop dog volunteer loving on a dog

The dog lot and drop dog volunteers have one of the best jobs on the trail; they hang out with the dogs. If the description of the job doesn’t tell you they love dogs, watching them interact with the dogs sure will. When dogs get dropped along the trail, someone has to keep an eye out for them. These volunteers go above and beyond to make sure these dogs are loved while their musher and friends are still out on the trail. They will fluff up the straw to make sure they are as comfortable as possible. They will lay in the straw with the dogs if they are having trouble sleeping. They cuddle with them ensuring the dog they will see their musher and friends soon. They cover them with blankets, they feed, water, and care deeply for the dogs.

Monica Zappa hugging her lead dog after finishing the 2015 Iditarod

Monica Zappa hugging her lead dog after finishing the 2015 Iditarod

There is absolutely no question; the mushers love their dogs. The bond the mushers have with their dogs is a hard bond to explain. I have seen closer relationships between dogs and mushers than I have witnessed between husband and wife, brother and sister, and friendships. It is a bond you must witness or experience. The mushers spend more time with their dogs than they probably do with their family. Mushers will always do what is best for their dog. If they see their dog isn’t performing well or is injured, they will drop their dog. This doesn’t mean they don’t love their dog, in fact, it is quite the opposite. It is hard for them to leave their dog behind, but they love their dog and will do anything to keep them safe and healthy. The first and last thing mushers do when entering and exiting a checkpoint is make contact with their dogs. As each and every musher crossed the Burled Arch they first greeted their dogs and told them how proud they were of them before doing anything else. The bond between mushers and dogs is a bond of love, trust, and respect.

The dogs are the reason the mushers completed their journey to Nome. The dogs are the reason some found their way when lost on the trail. There are trail markers, but at times weather conditions make it impossible to see the markers. The dogs instinctively know exactly where they are going. Dogs may defy a command their musher has given, but it quite possibly saved all their lives. There are many stories on the trail in which a dog defied a command, went left instead of right, then the musher notices the open water or cliff their dogs avoided, in turn, possibly saving their life. These dogs are extremely smart, beautiful, strong, and loving athletes. The dogs love their musher just as much as the musher loves them.

An amazing race which shows the world just how close a person can be with a dog.



Third time’s a charm. Cindy Abbott officially put the finishing touches on the 2015 Iditarod last night when she extinguished the flame in the willow lantern. The crowd witnessing the monumental event was similar in size as it was last Wednesday morning for the champion. A reporter asked Cindy when she knew she was going to finish this year. Her response was perfect, “right at the start.”

I had my eye on the tracker all day following Cindy. Over the last two years I have become friends with Cindy and my class has been working with her and her quest to finish the Iditarod. As I was kneeling in front of the stage at the Finisher’s Banquet in Nome snapping photos, I heard my name. Vern Halter, Cindy’s trainer, and her husband, Larry, were going to be leaving the banquet; Cindy just went through Safety. We stopped at the hotel to pick up the meat snacks for the dogs and headed out to find Cindy. Vern drove us out to Cape Nome where we waited. Vern and I hiked about halfway up to greet her and the dogs. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we saw her head. We were probably the last thing she thought she would see when coming over the cape. I took some pictures and we were off. We continued to follow her and stop along the way for more videos and photos.

As we were waiting for her to come off the beach, the siren sounded one last time in Nome. The police cars were waiting to escort one last musher to the Burled Arch. One last time we jumped into the truck and sped to the chute. A little black dog tried to steal the limelight from Cindy as she was running down Front Street. He ran up the chute as the crowd cheered him on and race officials tried to snatch him up. Then it was Cindy’s turn. She and the dogs came through the chute towards the Burled Arch with the biggest smiles on their faces. As Cindy was officially signing off the trail, the dogs were given a celebratory snack.

The Red Lantern is the award given to the last musher to cross the Burled Arch in Nome. It stands for perseverance, hard work, determination, the will to not give up, and so much more. It is an honor to receive. It does not matter what place you finish in this incredible race; what matters is that you finish. The Red Lantern demonstrates to athletes across the world to not give up. I think Cindy was the perfect musher to earn the Red Lantern. It signifies her entire journey to the Burled Arch. She has persevered through many bumps in the road, but none  of them stopped her. Cindy has been fighting a rare disease for many years, Wegener’s Granulomatosis. One of the effects of this disease is it has left her blind in one eye and partially blind in her second. She has a very difficult time seeing, especially in certain types of light. Imagine running close to 1000 miles in pure white snow that blends in with the sky, struggling to see. While fighting this disease, Cindy also summited Mount Everest in 2010. What would she do next? The Iditarod.

DSC_5603Cindy first attempted the Iditarod in 2013. She was forced to scratch in Kaltag after running over 600 miles on a broken pelvis. In 2014 she scratched in Rohn after injuring her shoulder. Her dream to finish the Iditarod would not be halted. She set forth to run in the Last Great Race one more time in 2015. Nothing would stop her from achieving her goal. Nothing did stop her. Cindy encountered below -60 degree temperatures, frost bit toes, being secluded out on the trail with no other mushers, and she persevered and crossed the Burled Arch.

A true inspiration to athletes around. The perfect representative for the Red Lantern. She never let her disease get in the way of any of her dreams. She was determined, she was driven, she was tough, she was tenacious, and she was destined to be in Nome. On March 23, 2015, at 9:19 p.m. Cindy Abbott became the first woman to both summit Mount Everest and finish the Iditarod. What will we see her doing next? Whatever she does, she will do it well.

Pictures Tell a Story – Family in Nome


Becca Moore hugging her son

DSC_5293One of the moments I see at the finish that puts a big smile on my face, besides the dogs, is when families reunite. It is a rough couple of weeks for mothers, wives, husbands, and children while their family member is out on the treacherous Iditarod trail. There is absolutely no contact made during this long wait. All they can do is follow the green flag along the trail on the GPS tracker. It can be a long and stressful couple of weeks.

When the siren is sounded notifying us someone is almost to Front Street, family members anxiously stare down the chute waiting for the moment they can hug their husband, wife, mom, dad, or any family member. As their musher nears the Burled Arch you can see a smile so bright it lights the darkened sky. You can see in their eyes how proud they are of their family member.

The best is to watch young children greet their parents. Becca Moore’s children cheered for her and the dogs on the street as she mushed down Front Street. As her son saw her for the first time in 12 days, he shouted, “MOMMY!” with the biggest smile. Big hugs were shared and pictures were snapped. The kids rode with mom on the sled to the dog lot. It was such a touching moment to witness.



Jason and Lance Mackey hugging at the finish line.

Twenty-two seconds separated two brothers which suffered many highs and lows on this journey across Alaska. A large crowd of fans, including several 2015 Iditarod finishers gathered on Front Street and in the chute waiting to welcome the inspirational Jason and his 4-time Iditarod champion brother, Lance.


Jason Mackey

Jason arrived first and received a warm welcome by fans and friends acknowledging his support of his brother. Jason had a very emotional day out on the trail, crying at many points. The entire way to Nome the brothers were racing, playing a game of leapfrog with each other. This journey was one in which the brothers had several challenges to overcome.

Lance Mackey

Lance Mackey

“I owe him everything.” This is what Lance told reporters after crossing the Burled Arch. Lance had an extremely emotional race and his brother experienced it all with him. He tried to get Jason to go ahead back in Huslia, but they ended up back together. Jason changed his entire race schedule to “babysit me,” Lance said. Lance also stated he knows he would not have finished the race had it not been for his brother.

Jason is a hero in many people’s eyes, especially to his brother Lance. Sacrificing his own race time to stick with his weakened brother. Jason knew this quite possibly could be Lance’s last Iditarod and loyally supported him to Nome. After crossing the Burled Arch within twenty-two seconds, the two embraced.

Lance, too, can be considered a hero in many eyes. Lance came upon Scott Jansenn’s dog team near Koyuk, without Scott. Extremely worried about Scott, Lance hooked his team to Scott’s team and mushed them into Koyuk, a genuine act of sportsmanship. Lance was relieved when he arrived at the checkpoint to see Scott safe. Scott was waiting for Lance when he arrived in Nome, the two shared a hug.

This story demonstrates winning or placing high is not always the most important part of competition. People don’t necessarily remember what time everyone finished or what place, but they do remember the special stories along the way. Sharing a bond with a family member on the trail is a memory that will withstand a lifetime. A fellow musher helping out your dogs will never be forgotten. Entering the chute on Front Street filled with friends, family, and several other competitors gives you the feeling of chills that will leave you speechless. I experienced that feeling today as I watched Jason and Lance mush side by side down Front Street.

Pictures Tell a Story – Tradition in Nome

Louisa May touching the Burled Arch

Louisa May touching the Burled Arch

The dogs are the true athletes of the Iditarod and the mushers make sure their best friends know this. Justin Savidis has a tradition of lifting one of his dogs up to touch his paw to the Burled Arch. This year Louisa May had the prestigious honor of being lifted to tap the arch. Looking at these pictures one can truly appreciate how close the bond is between Justin and his dogs.


Martin Buser's dog team leaving Huslia

Martin Buser’s dog team leaving Huslia

This afternoon after watching Charley Bejna cross under the Burled Arch, I made my way to the library to catch Martin Buser speak about his journey across Alaska. The one topic which kept coming up in conversation were the connections made and the emotional highs and lows. No matter how many times you hear a musher speak about the trail, one cannot comprehend what a musher goes through on the Iditarod trail.

No matter if a musher finished 1st, 31st, or scratched, they all have one thing in common; they all have overcome a monumental challenge. The stories they have are incredibly personal to each musher. It takes many mushers a great deal of time to really process their journey and share some of the stories. Some will never share their stories as they want to keep each and every moment their own. Martin was kind enough to share some of his stories with us.

Martin explained while out on the trail we all experience the highest of highs and lowest of lows. Just as you are hitting that low, boom, you are struck with an unimaginable high. 18 years ago Martin met a women who asked for him to pose for a picture with her baby son. Martin being the friendly and thoughtful musher he is, posed for the picture. While he was in Shaktoolik this year this moment came full circle. He noticed a full-grown 18-year old man coming near him. He explained to Martin who he was and asked to recreate the picture. Martin was more than willing to recreate the picture exactly how it took place 18 years ago, this time Martin holding the original picture. These are the reasons mushers are so adored.

Martin was impressed with the Huslia checkpoint; he actually named the route through this checkpoint the Attla Loop. He went on and on about the friendliness of the all the people in the village. As he neared the checkpoint he started noticing cardboard signs made by school children. I remember seeing these, too, as I walked out the trail a ways. It was during this point of the trail Martin was feeling awfully down on himself. He came to one sign that read, “We teenagers look up to you.” This sign was so powerful to him, in fact, it brought tears to his eyes. He began thinking to himself, “I cannot let these kids down, they are our future.” Martin began to reevaluate his race strategy. When Martin started his own kennel, he thought long and hard about the name. With his philosophy being to have happy dogs, he decided on the name, Happy Trail Kennels. In Huslia, he began thinking if he truly had happy dogs at this moment. This is when he changed how he would run this year’s race; he was going to make sure he finished with happy dogs.

Martin continued to speak of the connections he has made along the trail. Sometimes you form these connections because you have the courage to engage them in conversation. There was a young man who kept hanging around and watching Martin do his chores during his 24-hour break. Finally, Martin decided to break the ice and ask the young man about his deformed face. He learned a great deal about this young man. They became very close as a result of this. All it took was a question.

Martin leaving Unalakleet

Martin leaving Unalakleet

Martin finished his talk by speaking about pride. We all have unique experiences which make us proud in our own ways. None of the things we feel proud about came easy, we all had to work for them. He also mentioned you are going to have to feel lows in order to feel this sense of pride. No matter what, we can all overcome these lows and become proud of what we do.

I was extremely proud to have witnessed Martin feel proud of what he does. I witnessed him sign autographs, interact with children, smile for pictures, and be a commendable representative of the Iditarod.

Erin Martin

Pictures Tell a Story – Still in Nome

"Almost there."

“Almost there.”

Along the trail mushers often have to drop dogs or give their dogs a ride in the sled. Mushers are so in tune with their dogs they know when their buddies are tired, hurt, sore, or just don’t want to run anymore. It is in the best interest of the dog and the team to drop the dog. Sometimes, they will give the dog a rest and let them ride in the sled. When Kristy Berington arrived in Nome she had a dog in her sled. Her dog appears to be having the ride of his life.

Ideas for students:

How many dogs started the Iditarod in Fairbanks? (Go to Checkpoints, then Fairbanks)

How many dogs have crossed the under the Burled Arch so far? (Use Race Standings)

How many dogs have been dropped?

Caption the pictures below. Hover over the picture to see my captions.


My Journey to Safety


My plan for this afternoon was to go the the Nome Elementary School with Martha and watch the screening of Spirit of the Wind: The Story of George Attla. My plans, however, changed. As I was working on my “P” Team story, my phone rang. It was Terrie Hanke calling to notify me that Stan Hooley, Executive Director of the Iditarod Trail Committee, had invited us on a snowmachine trip to Safety. I was more than thrilled with the invitation.

TRailAbout three weeks ago during the Junior Iditarod, I had my first ride on a snowmachine. Today I would be driving a snowmachine for the first time. We arrived behind the mini all bundled up and ready for our trip to Safety. Our caravan to Safety included Stan Hooley, Terrie Josie, and a couple of Donlin Gold sponsors. We departed the parking lot, headed out on the Bering Sea and joined up with the Iditarod trail. My initial thought was, “Wow, I am driving on the Bering Sea!” I then started to grasp the fact that I was driving on the exact trail that Dallas Seavey, Dee Dee Jonrowe, Jeff King, even Joe Redington, Sr. have traveled.

As we dashed up the rough trail, we passed many other snowmachines heading the opposite direction. Overhead we heard a few helicopters on their way to drop tourists off at the Safety checkpoint. The view was magnificent. I kept turning my head side to side glimpsing the sea on my right and mountains in the distance on my left. As I got more and more comfortable driving the Ski Doo, I increased my speed; it was such a thrill. The snowmachines are so high-tech, they have heated handle bars and even a heated throttle. My hands stayed plenty warm, they actually got a little hot.

DSC_448622 miles after the start of our journey, we arrived at the Safety Roadhouse, the last checkpoint. I walked into the checkpoint to see a familiar face, Nancy Yoshida. Nancy is working Comms in Safety. She checks in the mushers and sends the information to Anchorage Comms and Race Stats, who then relays the information to Nome. We spent a short time in the Roadhouse visiting with other fans and locals who have made the trip to the Roadhouse. We also had the pleasure of witnessing a Iditarider bike into Safety for a brief stop and then he continued on to Nome. The Iditarod Trail Invitational is a race in which participants either bike or run the Iditarod Trail. The race started one week prior to the start of the Iditarod.

SafetyAfter our short visit at the Roadhouse we began our trek back to Nome. On the way back we made a few picture stops, enjoying the fascinating views. We finally arrived back at the Mini parking lot and parked our machines. What an amazing experience. I am so thankful Stan thought of inviting us on the journey to Safety. To be able to drive a snowmachine itself is quite an exciting experience, but to drive a snowmachine on the Iditarod trail is an unforgettable experience.


The “P” Team

The "P" Team

The “P” Team

I am officially an honorary member of the 2015 P Team. Just as in every sport, athletes of the Last Great Race are also tested for drugs. Yesterday, I joined the Pee team as they tested many dogs for performance enhancing drugs. Every major event tests athletes for performance enhancing drugs. At the Ceremonial Start and out on the trail, teams are randomly selected to be tested. In Nome, at the finish, the top 20 teams are tested. The ladies of Pee team just finished testing the top 20 teams; they were up 30 straight hours.

You can’t actually hand a dog a cup and tell him or her to go to the restroom and “pee in a cup.” Instead, I had the opportunity to take several dogs for a walk and wait for them to pee. Typically, as soon as the dog stands up they have the urge to pee. If not, we walk them around until they have to go. When the dog did pee, I had to position a small baggie under the dog and collect his or her pee; boys were easier. I feel I did a pretty good job, except for once getting a little pee on my hand. The next step was to empty the pee into the evidence cup. Kindrin marked down which dogs were tested. The evidence cup is then set into a cooler which is kept under lock and key.

One set of evidence has already been flown away to begin testing with hopes of the results being completed by the finishers banquet on Sunday. Dr. Morrie Craig, head of the drug testing team, sends the evidence out-of-state. The results are usually completed within 24-hours.

The Pee team had been awaiting my arrival to Nome to help with the collection. It has been a tradition for the Teacher on the Trail to help with the collecting of the pee. I had a ton of fun helping the ladies. Anything that involves dogs, you can count me in. I had so much fun, I went back out later and helped some more.

DSC_4471After finishing 30 straight hours of testing, the pee team is sound asleep on the floor of the church. Since the top 20 teams have finished the Iditarod and the testing is complete, their job is officially over. They will be back at it again next year.

Like Father, Like Son


Some say dynasty, Dallas says competitors that happen to be related. For the first time in Iditarod history, son and father took 1st and 2nd in The Last Great Race. The last four years the race has seen a Seavey cross the Burled Arch in 1st place; 2012 was Dallas, 2013 was Mitch, and 2014 and 2015 also Dallas.


Family waiting for the arrival of Dallas.

Fans started lining up outside the chute around 3:00 a.m. to greet Dallas as he arrived to Nome. Around 4:07 a.m. the siren notified fans that Dallas was off the sea ice and would be on Front Street shortly. A Nome police car escorted Dallas down Front Street and soon we saw the glowing of the dogs’ eyes. Under the arch Dallas’ mom, grandma and grandpa, wife, daughter, brothers, and sponsors anxiously awaited his arrival. At 4:13 a.m. with a time of 8 days, 18 hours, 13 minutes, and 6 seconds, Dallas and his dogs crossed the Burled Arch winning his third Iditarod.


Before anything else took place, Dallas went to each of his dogs and gave them a “great job” pet on the head and they all received snacks. Then came the pictures, media, and interviews. Dallas spoke highly of his dogs, naming them all and telling fans the importance of each member of the team. As he spoke of his dogs you could hear the pride in his voice, like a proud parent. Dallas never said, “I,” it was always “we,” as in him and his dogs. He spoke of the trust he has in his dogs and the trust his dogs have in him. Trust is a critical aspect of sled dog mushing.


Proud grandpa, Dan Seavey, watching on.

Dallas is a third generation Iditarod musher. His grandfather, Dan Seavey, ran the very first Iditarod in 1973 and placed third. He continued on to run a total of five Iditarods. His father, Mitch Seavey, just finished his 21st Iditarod. He has won twice and had several top ten finishes. A fourth generation is in the making, Dallas’ daughter has begun mushing as well. Dallas and his father have a great relationship, one which revolves around dog mushing. They don’t, however, share their best strategies with each other. During race time, they are competitors. Dallas mentioned no father wants to get beat by their son and no son wants to get beat by their father. This year it was Dallas who got the best of his father.

About 8:10 a.m. the siren sounded again, this time notifying fans Mitch Seavey was off the sea ice. Again, the same family members awaited the arrival of another Seavey. Proud family members witnessing a making in history, son and father finishing 1st and 2nd. Mitch and his dogs crossed the Burled Arch at 8:22 a.m. with a time of 8 days, 22 hours, 22 minutes, and 56 seconds. He hugged his wife and acknowledged his dogs. Mitch recognized his pride for his son, but of course, said he wished it would have been him. You can tell how competitive the duo is with each other.


Mitch Seavey with his wife looking on.

The race is far from over. This race is not over until the last musher crosses under the Burled Arch. There are mushers still out on the trail battling frostbite, sleep deprivation, stress, and other exhausting struggles determined to achieve personal victory and making it to Nome. Continue to follow and watch these mushers and they reach their goals.

Pictures Tell A Story – Unalakleet

DSC_3679I just love to walk around the checkpoint and look at the dogs. Their expressions put an enormous smile on my face. I always imagine to myself what they are saying or thinking. These two Jeff King dogs just arrived with their team in Unalakleet and were waiting for their straw and warm meal. If dogs could talk, and I think they do, what do you think they would be saying to each other?

DSC_3671“Hey buddy, do you think I could sit behind you out of the wind while we wait for dinner?”

“Of course, you can, little buddy. I will protect you from anything, you are my best friend.”

DSC_3681“Here comes Jeff with dinner.”

Ideas for students:

Who do you turn to for protection?

Who do you protect?

Nome is Ready

The famous Burled Arch

The famous Burled Arch

The first musher is in White Mountain, Dallas Seavey. About 4 hours later, his dad, Mitch Seavey arrived with a 30-minute lead on Aaron Burmeister. In White Mountain mushers must take their last 8-hour mandatory stop. After that, it’s on to the finish. I am hearing people say we are looking at about a 4:00 a.m. Alaska time finish.

A couple of weeks ago I was writing about Anchorage and Fairbanks preparing for the start of the race, now Nome is preparing for the finish. Front street is turning into Iditarod central. Sunday, crew worked to erect the famous Burled Arch. Monday they added the finish banner and the finish chute. After I arrived today I walked up and down Front street to check out what was going on. The podium the winner and his dogs pose for pictures on was being moved into the chute. Cameras are stationed for media as well as the live finish.

In Iditarod Headquarters, also known as the Mini, community members can sign up for several different volunteer positions. Students are selling food and drinks as a fundraiser. Signs are hung from the ceiling with each musher’s name. Comms and the vets are also positioned out of the Mini. The dog lot is housed in the parking lot outside the Mini. Right now the lot is waiting for finishers to occupy it, but currently the dropped dogs are residing in the lot.

Nome is hosting many events during the week of the Iditarod. Among the events are; Craft fair, Bering Ice Sea Golf Classic, book signings, Dog Pull, Snow Cat tours, Sled Dog rides, many meals, and much more. Many sporting events are taking place as well; a basketball tournament, a 5K fun run, and a snowmachine race.


Behind the Mini a crew was gearing up to head back to the Safety checkpoint. The Comms and vets crew have a 22-mile snowmachine ride to Safety. This crew will ready the checkpoint and wait for teams to check-in and most likely blow right on through.

Some of the volunteers in Nome

Some of the volunteers in Nome

At the Community United Methodist Church of Nome, other volunteers are resting for their shift to work. Dinner was served Deb and Gracie cooked a wonderful meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, and a delicious dessert of berry cobbler. After visiting and some games of Mexican Train Dominoes, most will rest up in the church sanctuary before heading out to the finish.

As soon as a musher comes off the ice and onto the street, the siren will sound in Nome. This notifies residents that a musher is about 5-minutes from the finish line. As I write this, Dallas has left White Mountain and on his way to Safety, then Nome. Set your alarm so you can watch the finish of the Last Great Race online. You can enjoy the finish by being an Insider member and stream the entire finish all the way to the Red Lantern winner.

A Role Model

Kids watching Jeff King

Kids watching Jeff King

Iditarod is an exciting time of year for the villages along the trail. These remote, normally quiet, and peaceful villages turn into the crowded, place to be during the Iditarod. Droves of children huddle around the mushers and their dogs to observe anything and everything they can. To see their role model.

Martin Buser on a walk with his dogs and some kids

Martin Buser on a walk with his dogs and some kids

Iditarod mushers are heroes to these young children. They look up to them; they want to be just like them. The children adore the dogs. They get as close as they can. In Huslia, Martin Buser even invited some youngsters to help him take his dogs on a walk. Most mushers pause and take the time to pose for pictures and sign autographs. Not many other sports, in mid-competition, can you see athletes stop to visit with fans. A role model.

Sleep deprived, freezing cold, most likely cranky, they still come into the checkpoint smiling and waving to the welcoming fans.  The mushers are incredibly polite to their fans, they are positive and upbeat, no matter what situation they are currently in. A role model.

After a 6-10 hour run in 50 below zero temperatures with blowing wind, their first task is to take care of their best friends. They don’t even take the time to get themselves a drink or go in to warm up, their dogs come first. The youngsters looking on are watching the most loving and caring people take care of their dogs. The children are seeing their heroes tell their dogs how great of a job they did, how proud they are of them, how much they love them, and even giving hugs. That is a role model.

The Iditarod is an event which teaches children how to love and care for others. It teaches kids sacrificing for others. The race teaches people not to give up. The Iditarod teaches children what a true role model is.

Pictures Tell a Story – Unalakleet

I'm trying to stay awake

“I’m trying to stay awake.”

There has been a lot of action in and out of Unalakleet the last couple of days. This morning I walked past Paul Gebhardt’s team that was resting, all except one little guy. One of Paul’s dogs was doing his best to stay awake. He kept nodding off while sitting up, but was bound and determined to not lie down. As he would close his eyes and almost fall asleep, his body would jerk back awake, acting as if he has been awake the entire time. We all know that feeling.

Idea for students:

Think of a time when you tried hard to stay awake. Write a short story about this time.

What Time Is It?

Sunset in Unalakleet

Sunset in Unalakleet


William’s snowmachine

I have lost all concept of time since I have been out on the trail. As I was speaking with William, my snowmachine taxi to and from the airport, neither of us could remember what day I came in. William then made a comment that makes so much sense. He said, “we don’t really worry about time out here, but in the city everything is so fast.” On my flight to Unalakleet I thought about William’s comment.

Back home it seems people are always concerned about what time it is. Everyone is always in a hurry to get to the next place. People are in a hurry to get to appointments, practices, movies, events, dinners, work, anywhere. It seems we worry about getting to the next appointment rather than savor the moment we are in. As I am in each checkpoint enjoying and soaking in the new friendships, I am forgetting there is even a race going on. I have said many times in postings this year, this is more than a race. I am really starting to understand this race is about relationships. It is like a big family on the trail. The mushers have their own family, they care more about each other than they care for themselves. I have heard many mushers asking about others that are behind them, asking if they are doing ok. The volunteers haven’t seen each other since last year and they pick up right where they left off. The pilots, vets, villagers, anyone involved in the race share a sense of family.

When I am home following the race I am constantly refreshing the GPS tracker and checking the race standings. Now I am in the middle of the race and I honestly don’t know who is leading. I am reveling in the conversations I am having with villagers, students, teachers, and other volunteers. The stories they have to tell are incredible. Time seems to stand still during these grand stories.

A team arriving in Kaltag

A team arriving in Kaltag

When I arrived in Unalakleet there was another conversation about time. Brittany Hansen, Iditarod AirForce Load Coordinator, simply said, “time is time.” She went on to say that the sun is a major factor in many things in Alaska. When the sun rises and sets effects the temperature, it effects what you can do, when you sleep, where you go. When the sun sets, the Iditarod Air Force comes to a halt, no flying in the dark. When the sun sets, the temperature drops significantly. When the sun sets, the streets become ghostly quiet. The sun tells villagers a change in weather may be coming. Parts of the year witness the sun the entire day and other parts of the year experience darkness the entire day.

Before time gets away from you, slow down. Test yourself, see if you can not schedule so many things in your life. Enjoy the small things, enjoy your friends, enjoy your family, enjoy the time you are in. Try not to hurry up to the next appointment on your schedule. Before you know it, time will be gone.

Pictures Tell a Story – Kaltag

Wade Marrs bottying his dog

Wade Marrs bottying his dog

As I was watching Wade Marrs booty up his dogs while preparing to leave Kaltag, I swear one of his dogs smiled and winked at me. This dog sat just like a little person while Wade put a booty on each paw. It appears to me that he is thinking to himself, “yep, I’ll just relax and you do all the work, Wade.” When you look at the picture of Wade and his dog, what do you think?


Ideas for students:
How long do you think it takes Wade to booty one dog?

Look at Race Standings, find out how many dogs Wade currently has. How long do you think it will take just to booty his dogs?

A Brother’s Love

Lance and Jason Mackey

Lance and Jason Mackey

What would you do for your sibling? Jason Mackey is willing to slow his Iditarod race down and help his brother, Lance. Lance Mackey, four time Iditarod champion, is one tough man. He hasn’t been dealt the best hand of cards, but he has fought through what he has been given. Lance is a survivor of cancer, but the effects are lingering. Due to chemotherapy and radiation treatments, he now has a disease that causes poor circulation in his hands. Very little blood flow plus extremely cold temperatures does not fare well for anyone.

Dog mushers have many chores that require them to take their gloves off and expose their fingers to the bitter temperatures. At one point early on in the trail Lance left his unprotected hands out in the chilled air a little too long. Ever since then he cannot feel his fingers. He is having an extremely hard time doing simple chores such as, bootying his dogs. His brother, Jason, arrived in Tanana with Lance still at the checkpoint. Concerned with his brother’s condition, they spoke about his options. With no doubt in his mind, Lance is finishing this race. Jason, with his number one priority showing through, chose family over his own success. Jason told Lance he was going to stay with him in Tanana for their 24-hour break and continue on with him to provide help and support. Mushers cannot accept any outside assistance, however, mushers may help other mushers.

While at the checkpoint Lance gave an interview with the Iditarod Insider crew. Noticeably choked up, Lance barely got out of his mouth, “this is it for me.” This will be Lance’s last Iditarod race. A champion that has had one tough life, is determined to finish the race and sport he loves. His brother, knowing how much this means to Lance, is sacrificing so his brother can finish one last time.

Lance (red) watching on as Jason prepares to leave Huslia.

Lance (red) watching on as Jason prepares to leave Huslia.

Moving ahead to Huslia, the brothers are still together. The tides will now turn. Lance is telling Jason to go ahead without him. Lance wants Jason to get out there and do what he can. I watched Jason prepare to leave with Lance watching and encouraging him on. Lance cheered on the dogs and Jason as they headed out the village. He led them and watched them the entire way out. A proud brother.

Lance leading Jason out of Huslia.

Lance leading Jason out of Huslia.

These two brothers have shown fans of the Iditarod that this is more than just a race. I have seen so many different types of relationships out here on the trail. Lance and Jason are both willing to do anything for each other. They both want the other to succeed. Each of them know how important this is to the other. Jason early on willing to sacrifice his success to help his brother in time of need. Lance willing to sacrifice help to push his brother ahead. They are both true inspirations.

What would you sacrifice for a family member?

Pictures Tell a Story – Huslia

Dee Dee Jonrowe hugging one of her dogs.

Dee Dee Jonrowe hugging one of her dogs.

One of my favorite things to witness in the checkpoints is the relationships between the mushers and their best friends. When entering the checkpoint the first things most of the mushers do is pet their dogs and give them recognition for the run. The last thing they do upon leaving the checkpoint is pet their dogs as sort of “good luck and let’s have fun.” As the mushers are running on the trail you can hear them acknowledging the dogs’ hard work by telling them “good dog” or “good job, guys.” While taking their breaks at the checkpoint their center of attention is their dogs. Snacking, feeding, caring, stretching, loving, and cuddling their dogs. The dog and musher relationship is a tremendous bond. You can see in the pictures that Dee Dee Jonrowe has a terrific relationship with her dogs. You can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their dogs. What kind of relationship do you have with your pet?

Ideas for students:

What do you think Dee Dee is saying to her dogs in the pictures?

What do you think her dogs are thinking?

Huskies in Huslia

Huslia from the air

Huslia from the air

Proud. The word many of the villagers feel about having the Iditarod come through for the first time in history. Walking around the checkpoint you can see many children playing basketball, looking for mushers to sign their Huslia pennant, villagers volunteering, and snowmachines driving around. Inside there are tables overflowing with food for anyone to enjoy. There are also tables with villagers selling hand-made crafts, students selling t-shirts, and a group raising money for the Frank Attla Youth and Sled Dog Care Mushing Program.

In 2012, legendary sprint sled dog musher, George Attla, started a mushing program in memory of his late son, Frank. The program was started to give the youth of Huslia hands-on experience and guidance by the Elders of the community as well as experienced dog mushers. Many local kennels use their dogs to teach the youngsters about dog care. The program has become part of the curriculum at the school in Huslia, Jimmy Huntington School. The mushers and the staff of JHS work together to plan the classes and help the students plan their own junior sled dog races. The program teaches literacy and numerical skills as well as dog care which includes feeding, maintaining a dog yard, and overall health care. All students are in training to be able to race their own team by learning dog handling and mushing skills. The program works with students from Headstart up through 6th grade. The program has been quite positive for all involved. Students are more engaged in class and grades are increasing. George Attla believed young people feel more at ease with themselves around dog and in a dog yard because a dog accepts anyone without judgment. What a remarkable program to help students learn leadership, discipline, and life skills.

Meanwhile in the food and gathering building, villagers are enjoying the excitement of the Iditarod. People are sharing stories of the past and reminiscing about old times. Everyone has a smile on their face. Suddenly the door flies open and someone shouts, “Dog team coming!” Instantly everyone grabs their gear and bolts out the door. The only ones left in the building are a few sleep deprived mushers eating their dinner. We all head out and see Jessie Royer has just checked in to Huslia. All the villagers are cheering her one, what a welcome. Once again, we hear “Dog team coming!” Down the trail we see Aliy Zirkle and her team of dogs.

Aliy, too, is given a memorable welcome. She is greeted by villagers, their children, familiar faces, vets, and volunteers. She still has that warming smile on her face. She snacks her dogs while sharing memories with some villagers. Aliy even takes a little time to sign a few autographs before taking off down the trail.

As I write this the dog lot is filled with about 11 dog teams. Some are taking their 24-hour break here in Huslia, while others will be heading back out on the trail. Checkers are expecting a rush of teams late tonight who are all bunched together about 20 miles out.

Pictures Tell a Story – Galena

Aliy Zirkle and a young fan

Aliy Zirkle and a young fan

One thing I really admire about Aliy Zirkle is she appreciates her fans. Aliy is taking her 24-hour break here in Galena. She has been in and out all day feeding, stretching, and caring for her dogs. She has also found some time to sleep a little. Additionally, Aliy found time to pose for a few pictures with some young fans. As tired as she is, she always displays a glowing smile and positive attitude. Aliy is a phenomenal role model for young kids.

Ideas for students:

If you could take a picture with any musher, who would it be? Why?

What do you think Aliy and the young boy are pointing at?

Tell a story about this picture from Aliy and the young boy’s point of view.

GILA Boarding School


The dogs in Galena taking their naps


Jeff King

Jeff King

I arrived in Galena this afternoon. There were already mushers that have checked in and some that have even checked out. A lot of teams have decided to take their mandatory 24-hour stop in Galena. Jeff King was the first musher into Galena winning the Millennium First to the Yukon Award. Jeff was awarded a 5-course meal cooked by a Millennium chef and $3500. Since Jeff came in at 4:37 a.m., he opted to take his meal later in the evening. With the checkpoint building itself very full and busy, the dinner was served at the school cafeteria a couple of blocks away.

DSC_3333I headed over to the cafeteria a little early to see what I could find out about the school. I arrived during the perfect time, dinner. GILA, Galena Interior Learning Academy, is a public boarding school. When I think boarding school, I think expensive tuition. That is not the case at GILA. GILA is a public school that is funded by the state. They also receive a stipend per student since they are a boarding school. The only fee parents have to pay is $150 per semester, and if they can’t afford it, they are helped out. Students do have to apply to attend GILA and only about 50% of applicants are accepted. GILA’s goal is to provide the highest quality education to the families of Alaska. This school is a remarkable option for families be able to provide their children with a high quality education. GILA offers classes that just aren’t available to students in small villages.

DSC_3314Since I arrived early to the cafeteria I sat down with some students while they enjoyed their dinner. They were more than willing to talk with me about their school. The four students sitting around the table were from all different villages across Alaska. The students explained to me the many different classes that are offered at GILA. The kids at GILA have the opportunity to take classes that specialize in certain trade skills; aviation, automotive, carpentry, electricity, welding, culinary arts, and cosmetology. As we were talking I noticed the delicious looking meal they were all eating. I asked them if they have to pay for a meal plan. All meals are free, room and board is free, books are free, the only fee is a $150 per semester fee per family.

GILA also offers many extra curricular activities for students. Some of the sports are; basketball, cross country, wrestling, swimming, cross country skiing, and volleyball. GILA also has a high quality music and arts program. Music and arts is not offered during the school day, instead it is provided for the students in the evening. Students have the convenience to be involved in theater, improv, speech, drumming, and even their own bands. In the evening students can hang out at the student union, which gives students options to watch movies, play pool, play air hockey, shop at the store, and even hosts dances.

DSC_3323The students were overjoyed that the Iditarod was coming through their village. For a couple of students this was their first year at GILA, so this was the first time they have seen the Iditarod. Another thrilling moment for the students is Jeff King coming to their school to enjoy his winning meal. The kids gathered around to watch and take pictures. One student was more excited to watch the chef cook as she is interested in culinary arts.

GILA is a fabulous opportunity for kids in Alaska. So many kids do not have access to many classes and GILA is providing this for so many families. An administrator told me there is talk about possibly expanding the school to provide education for junior high ages students. GILA is incredible for the fact that students will be prepared for a career right out of high school. Many of these students will not go to college, definitely not for lack of intelligence because GILA prides itself on high academics. Many will not go to college because they will return home to their village and continue the lifestyle their family has lived for years. After attending GILA and earning an outstanding education, they are now ready to begin their life with the skills to take them far.

Pictures Tell a Story – Anchorage


Idea for students: What is the dog that is sitting in the picture above thinking?

Here is what I think:

I am very confused. What is going on right now? I don’t understand why the team left Manley without me and they put me on a plane. I don’t fly, I run. Now I’m stuck here to just “rest” with the rest of these guys. I don’t think so, I will not lay down. How can Fuzz, over there, just sleep like this is no big deal. I miss my team and my musher. I just want to run the Iditarod with my friends. Maybe it was a mistake and they will be back for me. I will just sit here and keep lookout for the team to come back.

Where Do The Dogs Go?


Preparing for the dropped dogs

Preparing for the dropped dogs

I had to spend the day in Anchorage today in order to catch a flight to Galena. Once I get to Galena I will move along the trail. Back in Anchorage at the Millennium Hotel, Iditarod action is still proceeding as normal. Late this morning I looked out back and noticed some people milling around with shovels and buckets. This made me think that dropped dogs would be arriving soon, I was correct.

A lot of students always ask what happens to the dogs after a musher drops them at a checkpoint. The dogs get a flight either back to Anchorage or ahead to Nome. Depending on what part of the trail they are on determines whether they get flown to Anchorage or Nome. Normally when the dogs get flown back to the Millennium, the planes land on the lake out back. Due to the unusually warm weather this winter, the lake isn’t frozen solid enough for the landing, so the dogs landed at the airport nearby. From there dropped dog volunteers drive a dog truck over to the airport, pick them up, and drive them back to the Millennium.

When they arrive at the Millennium the volunteers check their microchip to make sure they have the correct dog and correct paperwork. The veterinarians will come out and check them over. One of the volunteers outside likes to call it a “100 point check.” After the vets check them over, straw is laid down for the dogs to be able to get comfortable. The reason the straw isn’t laid out immediately is because they would focus on the straw rather than be accessible for a vet check. Food is set out for the dogs to eat as well. The dogs will also receive warm, fleece blankets which have been made and donated by students across the country.

Giving out some dog love and attention

Giving out some dog love and attention

Now it’s just wait time for the dogs. They will wait for their handlers to drive over, pick them up, and take them home. While I was standing out there, Newton Marshall came over to pick up one of Karin Hendrickson’s dogs so she didn’t have to drive over. Bryan Bearss is running Karin’s dogs since she was injured after being struck by a car in a training run early this season. While the dogs are waiting, they are given all the love and attention they could want by the loving volunteers.

The dogs that are hanging out back today don’t have serious injuries. Some just have a sore wrist or soldier, or just aren’t eating out their on the trail. Mushers love their dogs like their children and if their dog is sore, the best thing for the dog and the team is to drop them. Sometimes the dogs are confused because they want to continue with their team, but they will run again.

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Bib 71

The definition of integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. Brent Sass displayed true integrity last night when interviewed about his recent disqualification from Iditarod 43. In case you missed the news, Brent Sass was disqualified last night from the race for possessing a device capable of two-way communication. According to rule 35, no two-way communication devices shall be used or carried unless provided by the Iditarod Trail Committee. Such a violation is disqualification from the race.

Brent Sass

Brent Sass

Race Marshal, Mark Nordman, notified Brent last night in Tanana of his disqualification. Brent made no argument and was obviously upset with himself. In an interview with Iditarod Insider he explained he had no intention of using his iPod touch for anything other than listening to music and watching movies. With tears in his eyes he talked about letting his dogs down. A true sportsman, he took responsibility for his mistake and displayed class when encountered by race officials and media.

Throughout the night I read many social media comments bashing the ITC for their decision to disqualify Brent. As a teacher, I am very proud of their decision to adhere to the rules. Many people commented, “why not give him a penalty, check his history in his iPod, what about the other people who have those devices?” The fact of the matter is, he broke a rule that was made clear in many musher meetings. There quite possibly could be many other mushers with this same device out on the trail, but Brent got caught. It’s a bummer for Brent, but no one should be exempt from the rules. I completely believe he was not going to use the device in any other way then listening to his favorite music and watch movies, however, the minute you overlook one rule, a chain reaction of overlooking rules can happen. Then, what is the point of having rules at all?

What a great learning opportunity and discussion topic for classrooms.

How would you have reacted if you were Brent? I have seen many athletes react in negative ways when faced with violations, Brent did the opposite. He owned up to his mistake and let his fans know he made a mistake with no intention of cheating. An excellent display of integrity.

If you were a musher on the trail and saw Brent using this device, what would you do? There are many answers to this question. As a musher you could go to Brent and remind him of the rule and tell him he should get rid of the device immediately. You could tell a race official you witnessed another musher breaking a rule. You could sit back and do nothing. This is a tough decision. Many times young students are faced with tough decisions such as this; watching friends cheat on a test, watching friends bully another student, watching friends steal, all tough decisions that would show your integrity as a person.

Here is a very tough scenario; you are a musher standing close by as Brent is disqualified and you are carrying and using the same device, what would you do? The honorable thing to do, obviously, would be to turn yourself in, thus, disqualifying yourself. Maybe you ditch your iPod immediately. Perhaps you do absolutely, nothing. Would you be able to face your fans or even Brent with your decision? This is a tremendous test of your integrity.

As I read the many comments people are flooding ITC with, I am saddened by the lack of integrity I see in some race fans, the opposite of Brent Sass’ and the opposite of what he would like to see from his fans. It’s OK to feel upset and angry with decisions, but we all must respect the rules and outcomes. Brent Sass broke a rule, but his reaction makes him an excellent ambassador to the sport and a great role model for young kids.

Please, as a teacher or coach, share this story with your students and spark a discussion on what students and athletes should do when faced with the questions above. You will be doing a service to your students and athletes and teaching them a life long lesson of integrity.

Pictures Tell a Story – Nenana


Last night as I was wondering around the Nenana dog lot I saw the cutest interaction between a couple of Dee Dee Jonrowe’s dogs. I sat on the ground and watched the two interact like brother and sister. One sibling was just trying to relax and enjoy the rest while the other just wanted some attention.

Idea for students:

View the pictures below and tell a short story from the dogs’ point of view.

My story:


Black and brown dog: “Hey Ermin, what ya doin over there?”

Ermin the white dog: “I’m trying to relax and watch over the dog lot, don’t talk to me.”



Black and brown dog: “Come on buddy, let’s play, I’m bored. Come onnnnn!”

Ermin: “Don’t bother me, I’m trying to relax!”



Black and brown dog: “Come on. Take a break, just for a little bit. Please?”


Black and brown dog: “Ok, ok. Geez, you don’t have to yell. I just wanted to play with you.”

And So It Begins…


Google Earth cameras

Google Earth cameras

At 10:00 a.m., Rob Cooke pulled his hook at the starting the line and the 2015 Iditarod was officially underway. Every 2-minutes mushers and their dogs began their long journey to Nome. The last team to leave Fairbanks was an unofficial team. Dean Osmar, 1984 Iditarod champion, is escorting a Google Earth representative along part of the trail. The Google Earth rep will drive a tag sled behind Dean along the trail.

Bright and early this morning mushers began pulling their dog trucks and filling the dog lot. Mushers began prepping their teams for the long journey across Alaska. Checking and double checking sleds to make sure everything is in place. Every musher and every dog does their own thing while they are waiting for their starting time. Some mushers just relax, sit and wait. Others spend time loving on their dogs. I even saw one musher, Matthew Failor, brushing his teeth. There are dogs that spend time relaxing in the truck or relaxing outside. Some dogs are taking last-minute naps before heading down the trail. Most dogs are energetically screaming, howling, and jumping up and down trying to pull the sled from the truck.

Alan Stevens leaving Fairbanks

Alan Stevens leaving Fairbanks

As their starting time neared, teams started hooking up and were directed to the chute. The announcer was introducing the mushers and giving a countdown; 1-minute, 30-seconds, 10 seconds, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Go! Off they went to Nenana. Nenana is the first checkpoint on the trail, a 60-mile run, and about a 5-7 hour run. Nenana is an unusual checkpoint for the Iditarod. There are no checkpoints on the road system on the original trail. Due to lack of snow and poor trail conditions, the trail was moved to start in Fairbanks for the second time in 43 years. Since Nenana is on the road system, drop bags weren’t sent here. Instead, handlers were able to drive out and deliver supplies to the mushers. Another effect of being on the road system was more family and friends of the mushers made the trip to cheer them on.

Martin Buser was the first musher to arrive in Nenana at 3:03 p.m. He parked for about 20 minutes. Teams continued to arrive through the late evening. Some teams went through the checkpoint because they camped out or took long breaks along the way. Other teams took their break at the checkpoint. When teams started arriving in Nenana they reported to the checker and recorded their time in. Teams were then led to a spot to park their teams. Now began the process of doing their chores. Straw was put down for the dogs, booties were taken off, food was cooked for the dogs, and the vets made their rounds.

Dee Dee Jonrowe's dogs sleeping

Dee Dee Jonrowe’s dogs sleeping

Inside the checkpoint mushers found spots to dry their clothes and boots next to a warm and toasty fire. They also worked their way to the food table. A delicious spread of spaghetti, soup, hot dogs, fresh salads, chips, and drinks were available to mushers and volunteers. Along the walls of the community center were benches covered with a carpet material. After doing their chores and eating a warm meal, most mushers took advantage of a the benches and took a nap. About an hour or so before they plan to leave they will wake and head back outside to do more chores before they leave. They will need to put their cold weather gear back on, put booties on the dogs, and hook their dogs up. Oh yeah, most will be doing this in the dark with their headlamps.

Next checkpoint for the mushers is Manly Hot Springs.

My Idita-Picks


On February 25, I posted a contest titled Idita-Picks. Idita-Picks is a contest for participants to make predictions on which mushers will make it to certain checkpoints first. We will review the checkpoints. 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. I set a deadline for my school as Friday, March 6, for the game cards to be turned in.

Here are my picks:

  1. First to Huslia – Martin Buser
  2. First to Unalakleet – Jeff King
  3. First to Nome – Brent Sass
  4. The Red Lantern – Chuck Schaeffer
  5. Rookie of the Year – Jason Campeau

For up to date information, access to follow mushers via GPS trackers, videos from the trail, and live streaming of the finish, make sure you have your Educational Iditarod Insider Subscription.

Mushers and their dogs, volunteers, and fans have been making their way to Fairbanks since yesterday. I arrived this evening along with some others. We arrived at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge to a parking lot full of cars and dog trucks. You can see the starting banner from the parking lot and crews are setting up temporary fencing for the starting chute. We walked into a lobby that was jammed with people. Mushers are walking in and out of the hotel with buckets of salmon, beef, lamb, to feed their dogs. T.V. crews are already on site to capture any footage of Iditarod mania they can. Less than 20 hours until the start of the 2015 Iditarod.

11 Miles

_MG_613611 thrilling miles of slush covered roads and trails. 11 miles of the sound of dog paws striking the ground. 11 miles of trails lined with excited Iditarod fans cheering on their favorite mushers. 11 miles listening to sled runners gliding across slush, snow, mud, and concrete. 11 miles I will never forget.

This morning 4th Avenue was lined with dog trucks, dogs, mushers, IditaRiders, fans, and many volunteers. The excitement has been building for months. Today was the day fans have been waiting a year for. Fans had the opportunity to walk the streets and snap pictures of their favorite mushers and enthusiastic dogs.

The Ceremonial Start began at 10:00 a.m. with mushers heading out every 2-minutes. Wade, my musher, was bib number 65 and was scheduled to depart at 12:18. What did we do for approximately 2 hours? What else, but enjoy watching the many mushers head down 4th avenue up close and personal. We were feet from the teams. Many times they stopped right in front of Wade’s truck and we were able to enjoy the awesome sound of excited howling dogs ready to get out on the trail. As it got closer and closer to noon, Wade and his handlers began to get the team ready. Dogs came out of the truck, bootied up, harnessed up, and were attached to the gangline. I took my spot on the sled and Wade helped walk the team to the starting line. After being interviewed all morning, Wade did one final interview before stepping on to the back of his sled. We listened to the announcer introduce Wade, and then it was “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!”

Off we went down the trail. Fans lined the streets cheering Wade on. He tried hi-fiving as many people as he could. He even got off his sled and ran along side of it to reach out and hi-five some youngsters. We rode past a few stops that were passing out hot dogs, Wade grabbed one. A group of college kids lined part of the trail screaming and cheering mushers on. A little farther up the trail people dressed up as pirates and were cheering on teams. A few parts of the tail were peaceful and quiet. We curved around trees, barely made it past a telephone pole, and snuck through tunnels. We exited the wooded trails and were suddenly on the airstrip. A burst of wind came out of nowhere. Wade laughed and said, “this is what it feels like on the coast.” A short ways down the airstrip we finished our ride of a lifetime.

My ride was definitely a ride of a lifetime. I am honored to have been given the opportunity to ride in Wade’s sled. Last year he finished 16th in the Iditarod and is looking forward to improving last year’s finish. I am looking forward to seeing him out on the trail and cheering him on.

Next up, “the trail.” My flight leaves for Fairbanks tomorrow (Sunday) at 4:00 p.m. Many mushers began their drive to Fairbanks immediately after the Ceremonial Start while others will head up in the morning. Follow the mushers along the trail using the Iditarod Insider GPS tracking system to follow the mushers and me.

Bringing in the Snow


DSC_2708It is here! The Ceremonial Start begins tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m. on 4th Avenue in Anchorage, Alaska. Walking home from dinner tonight the streets are being prepped for the 78 dog teams. The streets are being lined with temporary fences. Tents are being erected for vendors and race officials. The Iditarod start banner has been draped across the street. Snow is being dumped along the city route. City workers and volunteers are working tirelessly through the night to make sure the Ceremonial Start kickoffs without a flaw.

City streets that have been cleared of snow for day-to-day traffic are being transformed into snowy white trails. Truck loads of snow that has been stockpiled throughout the winter is transported and dumped on the streets. End loaders and road graders are then used to level off the mounds of snow. Tomorrow morning when fans step out of hotels and cars they will be greeted by roads converted into a system of dog trails.

The Ceremonial Start will begin tomorrow (Saturday) morning at 10:00 a.m. Every two minutes mushers and IditaRiders will begin their journey down the 11-mile trail to the Campbell Airpstrip. Fans will line the trail the entire route. This is an opportunity for fans to cheer their favorite mushers down the trail. Mushers, IditaRiders, and dogs can just relax and enjoy the trail.


Ally’s Make A Wish


“A wish experience can be a game-changer for a child with a life-threatening medical condition.” This quote is part of the mission statement of the Make A Wish Foundation. Just one wish, one dream, can turn into one miracle for a young life. Today while at the IditaRider lunch I met a young child that is living her wish here in Alaska.

Ally, from Utah, is in love with the story of Balto and Togo. The stories of these dogs is what generated an intense love for sled dog mushing. So much love, she dreams of moving to Alaska some day to possibly have her own team. Ally is 14 years old and is fighting cystic fibrosis. Her wish was to experience the Iditarod first hand. There is no better way to experience the Iditarod as a fan then to ride in the sled of a musher 11 miles. Ally’s wish will be coming true this Saturday morning thanks to Make A Wish and ExxonMobil. She will be riding in the sled of Heidi Sutter.

Heidi is a special education teacher working with children with autism and severe behavioral issues. A musher that works with children day in and day out; a connection was formed quickly. While I watched from afar, it appeared they were becoming friends right away. Heidi is honored to be able to have Ally in her sled.

_MG_5698This experience has been an overwhelming experience so far for Ally. Photographers, T.V. cameras, interviews, and convention center full of thousands of people have been of few of the things Ally has experienced so far. She has been meeting so many of the mushers she has been following. Already a life changing journey since she has been in Alaska and she has not even been on the sled yet. All of the noise and chaos will be there again Saturday morning on 4th Avenue as Ally and Heidi wait for the announcer to call their names and count down “5, 4, 3, 2, 1…Go!” Ally will have the opportunity of a lifetime and just be able to enjoy 11 peaceful miles of the ride of her life.

_MG_5789The Iditarod is so much more than a dog race. It is a race that changes people’s lives in many ways. This race will change Ally’s life and she probably doesn’t even realize it yet. It is a race that teaches perseverance, love, determination, care, compassion and much more. These are lessons that young Ally definitely needs in her life. It opens a whole new world to anyone involved in the race.

I talked with Ally and am amazed by her spirit and positive attitude. It is people like Ally that make you look at life in a whole new light. When I walked into the room for lunch I already knew I am inspired by so many of these mushers. After talking with Ally and her mom, I am inspired by Ally. This opportunity that the Iditarod, Make A Wish, ExxonMobil, and Heidi Sutter are providing Ally will stay with her for the rest of her life. They are truly changing her life and her family’s life.

IditaRider Experience

"2 more days."

“2 more days.”

As 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ I have the privilege of being an IditaRider. The IditaRider program is an online auction in which bidders have the opportunity to bid to ride in a Iditarod musher’s sled during the Ceremonial Start in Anchorage. The IditaRider is a major fundraiser for the Iditarod.

Wade Marrs and his Junior musher

Wade Marrs and his Junior musher

My musher is 24-year-old, Wade Marrs. Wade races out of Stump Jumpin Kennel in Knik, Alaska. He has been racing since a very young age and knew when he was 5 that he wanted to race competitively. His biggest influence, his uncle, helped this dream come true by helping him learn about the sport and help him begin training.

Wade ran his first Junior Iditarod in 2007 and finished 4th in the Junior in 2008. In 2009, Wade ran his rookie Iditarod, finishing 47th. He finished again in 2013 and 2014 with his best finish last year at 16th place. Finishing in the top 20 has given Wade and his team determination to finish even higher. His ultimate goal is to win the Iditarod. Wade’s comments about this challenging goal is, “it is an interesting challenge that tests me mentally and physically but more so, it is amazing to watch my friends perform with me.”

I met Wade on Sunday at the start of the Junior Iditarod. He has two Juniors that have been training with him this year; Andrew Nolan and Marianna Mallory. Andrew placed 3rd in the Junior and received the Sportsmanship award. Marianna came in 6th place and received the Humanitarian award. Wade was very proud of his young mushers. Wade is looking forward to running the Iditarod this year. He is very happy with his dogs and feels confident to get out there and compete.

As part of the IditaRider experience riders will enjoy a meet and greet lunch with all the mushers tomorrow afternoon at the Millennium Hotel. Riders will also receive a couple VIP badges that will allow them access to VIP areas at the Ceremonial Start in Anchorage and the Restart in Fairbanks.

I am thrilled to have this opportunity to ride 11 miles with Wade and his dogs. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I am looking forward to. I am planning on wearing a GoPro camera and videotaping my experience as well as taking many pictures. Be on the lookout Saturday for my posting on my experience. Another heads-up, the The Sportsman Channel will be broadcasting the Ceremonial Start live on Saturday.

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 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?