Hatcher Pass & Musher Signup for 2011 Race

The Little Su, as it's nicknamed, in Hatcher Pass

 Before going to the musher picnic and signup for the 2011 race, I had the chance to go on the Hatcher Pass road. This road leads to the Independence Gold Mine which is closed, but you can visit it. The day was overcast and we ended up driving through the clouds, but it was beautiful. The Little Susitna river is glacier fed, so the water has a green/blue cast to it.    

At the picnic, mushers paid their race entry fees, turned in paperwork, and race fans had a chance to get autographs and photos of the mushers. Bob Story of New Zealand is a rookie training with veteran musher Vern Halter. A rookie is a person who hasn’t finished the Iditarod. Bob will have several long distance races under his belt by the time Iditarod 2011 begins in March. 

Bob Story, rookie, pays the race entry fee.

Check the photos for a few other mushers who signed up for the 2011 race. I’ll be seeing them on the trail! 

Kristie Berington, veteran, & Angie Taggart, 2nd grade teacher and rookie, sign up.





Paul Gebhardt signs for a fan.


Hugh Neff worked with the Alaska NEA to promote reading in the 2010 race.

Exploring Native Alaskan Cultures

Native Alaskan cultures fascinated us on Thursday.  Native Alaskan cultures are the people first found in  Alaska who have the same language and customs. There are four Native cultures in Alaska, the Aleut, the Athabascan, the Tlingit, and the Eskimos.   At the Native Alaska Heritage Center in Anchorage, Native Alaskans told us about these four groups, demonstrated native games of skill, told a story of a grandfather and growing up, and performed dances in Aleut regalia. I didn’t move for an hour and a half except to lift the camera to shoot pictures. An outdoor walking trail provides the oppportunity to see and go inside replicas of living spaces of the various cultures. Craftsmen carve totem poles, sew fur parkas (or parkys, as it may be pronounced), and explain the daily household items of the cultures.  On the dancer’s dress, the swinging tails whisk rain off the clothing as the Aleut live in a rainy area. The man drilling walrus ivory bites an ivory mouthpiece against which the drill is held, then uses the small bow to spin the drill, drilling into another piece of ivory.

Dogs, Dogs, Dogs

Enjoy the dog pictures! These super athletes live at Dream a Dream Dog Farm or the Van Zyle’s kennel. Mouse over the picture for more information. I met Aurora three years ago when she was a pup. Now, she’s running as a wheel dog. Answer this question–where is Aurora in the team lineup, if she’s a wheel dog?

What an Adventure!

Today on the first ATV run behind the 16 dog team, the gangline separated from the harness on the ATV and, since sled dogs love to run, that’s what they did. They ran all the way to the turnaround where we, the second group of riders, were waiting to ride the ATV home. They surprised us because we were turned looking down the hill, cameras ready to shoot photos as they came running up. Instead, the team appeared running around the curve behind us. Everybody scattered like startled birds to get out of the way, and the team stopped to Vern’s cries of “Whoa! Whoa!”

The first rule of mushing is, “Don’t let go of the sled.” It’s also the second and third rules of mushing. We experienced firsthand the dogs running, regardless of whether the sled is attached or if the musher is on the runners.

Here is what a run behind 16 dogs looks like. ATVs are the sleds when there’s no snow. The driver maintains the right speed to keep the gangline taut. 

16 dog team through the mudhole


Iditarod 101

Rest stop on the puppy walk

First day of summer camp for teachers, and there were lots of firsts for us. First puppy walk, first ride behind a 16 dog team, first day of dog chores. We learned the basics of the Iditarod from Vern Halter, and Bob, who plans to run the 2011 race, told us about the race from a rookie’s viewpoint.  From Vern and Bob, I got some great quotes about the dogs which we can take to the classroom. “Form good habits early, you’ll do well” and  “Everything you do in the environment gets them ready to move forward” (Vern). Bob, explaining training the dogs to run long, steep hills, said,  “After the run to the top of the hill, a little further on, stop, rest, snack them, and praise them.” It struck me that “resting, ‘snacking’, and praising” our students after struggling with the hard work or skill they’re learning would go a long way to encourage them to continue for the long haul throughout their year. Forming good habits and preparing the students’ environment are two more things for teachers to keep in mind in getting students down their trail to the finish, their learning goals.

Beautiful day in Alaska! Sunny, warm, 22 hours of daylight! Start making plans now to come next summer!

Iditarod as a Teaching Tool

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race™ as a teaching tool in the classroom captures students’ interest and maintains that interest so that the teacher has the opportunity to teach skills and objectives to engaged students. Teachers know that engaged students are easier to motivate, are more focused, and absorb the skills taught. The professional article here provides information regarding using the race as a tool in the classroom.  Iditarod in the Classroom

The Beginning

Iditarod Trail Race Headquarters

I titled this message The Beginning, although it isn’t the true beginning of my journey to this point. The very beginning of my journey was six or seven years ago. Today is The Beginning of the next section of my trail that I’m blazing as the Target® 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.

This trail is going to be new experiences for me, and it’s going to be a trail for teachers and students to travel with me. On this trail I intend to post photographs and messages to make you feel you’re right here with me; I plan to give you lesson plans that address standards and objectives that you use in your classrooms; I will give you information  to use the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race™ as a teaching tool to engage your students in learning, and I hope you will catch my passion for the race and Alaska.

We begin the weeklong Summer Educators’ Conference tomorrow, and teachers from across the United States will collaborate to share ideas, techniques, and experiences using the race in their classrooms, schools, and communities.

Follow me, and the Iditarod Education Department, here this year as I post messages, lessons plans, and activity ideas. Watch for sled dog race artwork to be posted that you may use in your classrooms.

Martha Dobson, Target® 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

Martha DobsonMartha Dobson of Mount Pleasant, North Carolina is a lifelong North Carolinian, a sixth grade middle school teacher and the second North Carolina teacher to hold the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail position. Living all around North Carolina while growing up, she has resided in her small town near Charlotte, NC for 27 years with her husband, Allen, and three children, Robert, 25, Elizabeth, 22,  and Sara, 18.  Allen is a family physician. Robert and Elizabeth graduated college in the past year, and Sara begins her college career in the fall. A longtime Girl Scout , Martha has volunteered with her daughters’ troops since 1993 and worked as a freelance writer for a local newspaper.


A graduate of Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, Martha holds a bachelor of arts in psychology and a teaching certificate in elementary and middle grades education with concentrations in language arts and social studies. She enjoys horseback riding, being outdoors, travel, and reading. Her family has numerous cats and a rescued Siberian husky named Morgan.


Martha returned to the classroom at Mount Pleasant Middle School eight years ago to teach English/language arts. Immediately, she was drawn to the Iditarod by her prophetic choice of a Gary Paulsen novel to teach her students. In 2005, she traveled to the Iditarod race start to be an Idita-Rider in Phil Morgan’s sled, sure that she’d never have a chance to return to The Last Frontier. That experience was the “coolest thing” she’s ever done, she says, and the Iditarod bug bit her, hard. Now she’s been to four race starts, four Iditarod teachers’ conferences, and enjoyed a summer vacation.


Martha says that the Iditarod appeals to her sense of adventure and her appreciation of the unique and challenging event. Her students are intrigued by its uniqueness, too, and Martha has incorporated Iditarod in her classroom and school through lessons not only for her English classes, but classes in other grade levels and subject areas, including math, science, and technology.


As well as being a highly motivating teaching tool, Martha says the Iditarod and her efforts to become the Target® 2011 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ set the example of taking advantage of opportunities in life and perseverance. “I believe that you work hard, and get what you work hard for,” she says. Never dreaming that teaching would get her to Alaska, Martha believes it’s important for everyone to “go for it” in life, whatever their dream or opportunity might be.


Join Martha in her dream, crossing Alaska from Anchorage to Nome, bringing it to classrooms around the world through her lessons and messages posted here.

Target® is the official sponsor for Iditarod Teacher on the Trail.™  Please visit their website and learn about their dedication to education and communities.    Discover information about grants and how Target® helps children, families, schools, and communities to be more successful.