Mushin’ Mon

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

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

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

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

In the meantime – welcome to Nome Mushin’ Mon!

As the Trail Turns

Meanwhile Back at School:

Rule Number 6 deals with timing on the race:

Rule 6 — Race Timing: For elapsed time purposes, the race will be a common start event. Each

musher’s total elapsed time will be calculated using 2:00 p.m., Sunday March 2, 2014, as the starting

time. Teams will leave the start and the re-start in intervals of not less than two minutes, and the time

differential will be adjusted during the twenty-four (24) hour mandatory layover. No time will be kept

at the Saturday event.

2013-03-02 16.36.50-2

And, a lot of the data generated by the race deals with time – time on the trail, time in the checkpoints, required resting times, starting times, differential times, and so on.

So we are all about time, military time, and elapsed time these days in math class.  We started the week by reviewing telling time.  We talked a lot about how accurate the checkers have to be in recording the in and out times of the mushers because every minute counts!  I gave each student a sticky note to keep on their desk and periodically throughout the day I rang a bell and yelled out things like “Monica Zappa just checked in to Unakaleet.  What time is it?”  “Ken Anderson is pulling out of Safety.  What time is it?”  “Dallas Seavey just arrived at Shaktoolik.  What time is it? He wants to stay ten minutes.  What time is he leaving?”  The students recorded the answers on their sticky notes and later in the day we checked their results.

Something you will need to teach your students about time in order for them analyze the timing information they find on the Iditarod paperwork is military time.  The time is reported on the official reports in military time to avoid confusion.  Here is an assignment you can use for converting military time to conventional time:  Time on the Trail CW

We also delve into calculating elapsed time, which traditionally is a challenge for some of my third graders.  Here is an assignment for calculating elapsed time:  Passing Time at the Checkpoints Classwork

To wrap everything up, I challenge the students to calculate their musher’s average time on the trail for the first seven legs of the race. This requires them to convert military time to standard time, calculate the elapsed time, and find the average.  We compare our results and discuss whether this information is helpful in predicating the outcome of the race.  After the first seven legs it is really tough to tell what is going to happen!  As the Trail Turns Lesson Plan

And finally, here is a homework assignment to review elapsed time.  Ken Anderson Homework

A Rookie No More!

Congratulations to Charley Bejina who made to Nome and earned his belt buckle on his second attempt!

After a long evening, and lots of tracker watching and refreshing because he seemed to be sitting still on the trail for quite awhile…. Charley made it to Nome on a picture perfect morning.  It snowed over night, they had actually been calling for a blizzard, so there were several inches of fresh snow on the ground and lots of fat flakes falling from the sky as he arrived under the arch!

About his stop on the way, Charley joked with reporters that his dogs knew they were getting close to the finish and they didn’t want it to end, so they camped out for awhile!

I can only imagine how sweet this accomplishment is after failing to make it last year. To make it through the challenges of this year is a major accomplishment!

Congratulations and welcome to Nome Charley!

Picture Perfect Spot

I found my perfect perch for taking photos of the end of the trail.  As much as I have enjoyed watching teams come into the chute – it’s a little crowded and hard to get good shots there.  The instant the musher is in the chute they are surrounded by well wishers and photographers and reporters and who knows who all those people really are.

But there’s something magical about being out on the edge of the sea ice watching the teams come in.  Watching them make the transition from the sea ice and the harshness of the trail to the city streets and the finish. It’s the last time the mushers will be alone with their dogs and the first time they can probably honestly believe it’s all finished.

And today it was really special… you could literally watch them come out of the mist and snow… it was pretty eerie and pretty magical….

Coming Through the Clouds

Coming Through the Clouds


And just for fun, here are my two favorite “in the chute” shots from today – Jason Mackey with a phone call home and one if his pups snoozing in the chute:

A Second Gold Rush!

They are still mining for gold on the shores of Nome!

One of my favorite gold rush mining stories out of Alaska has always been how the miners flooded to Nome only to find that all the claims had been staked.  One miner sitting on the beach waiting for a ship to take him out of here, was feeling a little bored. So he did a little panning right on the beach and lo and behold he came up with a pan full of gold!

That started a stampede, as you can imagine, and pretty soon the beach was full of people literally getting gold right of the beach!  You were allowed an area as wide as your shovel, so there were all of these miner working in circle shaped areas. One right next to the other.  And if you left your area, it would be immediately taken over by someone else.

I kind of assumed that was all in the past, but a visit to the Nome Visitor’s Center proved me wrong.  They are still mining for gold right off the coast of Nome. Only now they are dredging and working UNDER the water.  There is even a reality TV show about it, Bering Sea Gold.

It sounds like a really complicated process and the men themselves are under the water for an hour at a time. Essentially they have a giant vacuum and they suck it off the sea floor.  They are kept warm by a suit that continuously floods with hot water.

I’ve been told that the estimate is that there are still 10,000 ounces of gold in the area to be claimed.  The current price for gold is about $1,400 an ounce!  Here’s your problem of the day:  How much is all the gold still out there worth?  Enough to tempt you to go underwater off the coast of Nome to dredge it?

Listening to Stories

I spent the day listening to stories… one of my all time favorite things to do!

Earlier this year, I shared with you the story of how Aliy Zirkle and Martin Buser were carrying some vaccines down the trail this year to highlight the need for vaccinating children early enough to help with disease prevention.  If you missed it, you can find it here:  LINK

I’m pleased to report that the special packages have been delivered safely to Nome.  I had the chance today to go to a special presentation about the Serum Run and the Diphtheria Epidemic that took place in Nome in 1925. And I heard the most amazing story.

Near the end of the run, Gunnar Kaasen, takes delivery of the serum in a horrible storm in Bluff.  He decides to wait until 10:00pm for the storm to subside.  He realizes the storm is getting worse instead of letting up, so he heads out into the wind.  He travels through the night over Topkok Mountain. Visibility is so poor he can barely see the wheel dogs right in front of him.  He is supposed to stop at the town of Solomon to pass the serum to another musher, but he passes the town and doesn’t even realize it!  He decides to go on and the wind is horrible. The wind is so horrible it flips his sled and the serum is tossed from the sled.  Kaasen takes off his gloves to search for the serum in the deep snow, and he thankfully finds it!   Kaasen arrives at Safety to discover that the next musher is holed up in the cabin asleep. He has assumed that the relay has been delayed due to the storm. Kaasen decides not to wake him, and instead warms the serum and heads out again into the storm and makes it all the way to Nome.

As I’m hearing the story, I can’t help but make comparisons to this year’s race!  The wind, the weather, the holing up and staying safe, the come from behind musher…. it’s pretty amazing how the same areas of land can cause the same havoc on two different groups of mushers almost ninety years apart.

Speaking of telling stories, I know many of you have asked, and it looks like Jeff King finally gave an interview describing Monday night from his point of view.  Here it is if you haven’t seen it:

I also went to a presentation given by Howard Farley who was Joe Redington, Sr.’s right hand man in Nome.  He helped Joe decide the race needed to run all the way to Nome and not go just to Iditarod and back like Joe originally planned.  He sold the race to the entire Nome community and even competed in the first race. He finished in 31 days 11 hours and 59 minutes.  He was one spot away from the Red Lantern!  He had so many stories to share!  He was asked why he hasn’t written a book and he said he is a storyteller.  He likes TELLING stories. If he wrote them down he’d have to footnote them and prove them and that’s no fun in his opinion!

He and Joe came to work together because Howard, who was a butcher in Nome, made a phone call to Unalakleet to ask about having some salmon shipped to Nome.  Who answered the phone? Joe Redington, Sr.  The two had heard of each other and once they started getting talking (Howard admits they both have the gift of gab) things started happening fast.  Howard was tapped  to help with the race and has been involved ever since. He said that one night, during the initial planning stages while talking to Joe, he mentioned his extremely high phone bill – $700 – hoping that Joe would help him out with some of the costs.  Joe retorted that his own bill was $900, so there was no assistance there!

He also talked about the mail that the mushers carry as a way to memorialize the fact the the Iditarod Trail was originally a mail trail.  It is very important to Howard that mushers and fans know and understand the reason behind the carrying of the mail.  He retold the story of a musher who accidentally sent his trail mail home to his family with his dirty mail.  When he was gear checked it was discovered that the mail was missing.  He was informed that if didn’t come up with the mail, he would be forced to leave the race.  So what did he do?  Called his mom and she hired a charter plane to get the mail back to him on the trail!

2014-03-11 00.38.22One other story that sticks out in my mind is about the famed Burled Arch that marks the finish line for the race. For the first two years, there was no real finish line.  When Red “Fox” Olson finished the race the second year (in 29 days, 6 hours, and 36 minutes earning him the red lantern)  he was stunned when he came to the finish line.  There was no real finish line, so someone had made a line by pouring kool-aid into the snow.  “I traveled a thousand miles and this is all there is to commemorate the end of the race?  I’m going to do something about this.”  Howard said he probably said “Sure!” but never thought anything would come of it.  And then the call came, “I’ve got your finish line and it’s being shipped to you!”  Howard was surprised and had no idea what was coming.  The plane arrived and Howard watched them pull out the top of what is now know as the Burled Arch.  “Oh!” he thought “It’s amazing.  We’ll hang it over the street.” And then he watched as the tripods were unloaded and he couldn’t believe his eyes!  The most amazing thing he could have ever imagined!  A real finish line!  He was so excited and thanked the pilot profusely. And the the bomb dropped.  “There’s some freight due on that,” he was told.  Not just SOME freight, $1,300 in freight!  But Howard knew what to do… he headed to town and in about ten minutes had raised the money from the people of Nome who had already proven to be so supportive of the race.

The original arch was used until 2001 when it fell into disrepair from dry rot.  It is currently displayed where the Finishers’ Banquet is held, so hopefully I’ll get to see it!  The new arch is slightly different than the old one.

Catching Up With Nathan

Today Nome is what I always thought Nome would be like.  Cold, windy, snowing.  The snow is blowing.  They sky is gray. It’s pretty nasty.  It’s cold.  Really cold.  Especially when the wind blows.

I was lucky enough to catch up with Nathan Schroeder in the Mini Convention Center right before dinner time today.  He had taken a shower and tried to rest, but he said he couldn’t sleep in the nice inside bed his host family here in Nome has provided for him.  “I need a floor, my sleeping bag, and my parka as a pillow!” he joked.

It was so nice to sit and chat with him.  He is so proud of himself (as he should be) that he couldn’t wipe the smile from his face.  He’s hooked he admitted.  He’ll be back for sure – he’s a lifer now he says.  He’s already started thinking and planning and scheming for next year. This far cry from the guy who told me in Unalakleet that if his dog truck had been in Rohn he’d have gotten into it and not looked back! Not that he’s second guessing what he did this year.  He’s proud of his race. He accomplished what he set out to do.  He proved he belongs here.  But, he has started thinking of things he’d do differently next year.  He talked about the difference between running the race to win it and running the race to learn without pushing things too far.   He thinks he has a few years before he’s ready to run it to win it.  But there’s a gleam in his eye when he says it. One thing he’s thinking about is his sled.  He’s anxious to have a conversation with they guy who built his sled.  He wants to talk about the drag mat and putting spikes into it that will dig into the ice better.  Lisbet Norris had seventeen spikes embedded in her drag mat and she had said it was really effective coming down the rough parts of the trail, so maybe there is something to that!

He gave me a little insight into the end of the race – the dash to the finish for him and Abbie West.  She pulled into Safety about thirty seconds ahead of  him.  When they pulled in, there  was a building to the left.  Abbie’s team pulled in and her leaders tried to veer left around the building.  As Nathan pulled in behind her, his leaders tried to do the same. She asked a volunteer to pull his dogs over so she could get through.  When she was done, and went to leave, her dogs turned around the building instead of going straight out of the checkpoint and she took a bit of time to get them straightened out. In the meantime, Nathan signed in and out of Safety and pulled out, taking the lead.  Abbie was up on his heels pretty quickly.  Nathan, thinking she must have the faster team, pulled over and let her pass.  As he started up again, he saw black straps laying in the snow.  It was Abbie’s bib!

Nathan tried to scoop it up after his sled ran over it, but he missed.

He caught up to Abbie.  “Your bib! You dropped your bib!” he shouted to her over the wind.

“My mitts?  I have my mitts!”

“No!  Your race bib!  You dropped your race bib!” he replied.  He saw her frantically searching through her sled and realized he was correct.  She had to stop her team, set the snowhook, and run back to get her bib.

Nathan’s team passed and he never saw her again.

Until she showed up in the chute six minutes after he did!

And that’s how he came to finish in 17th place as Rookie of the Year! A top twenty finish!  What an amazing accomplishment.

While we were talking, the siren went off, so we went out to the chute to see Ralph Johannessen come in.  And get this -Nathan got cold!  “What?” I teased him.  “You just traveled a thousand miles across the the state of Alaska and you are cold on the streets of Nome?”  In his defense, he didn’t have his big parka – but it’s still pretty funny to think of him as being cold watching other mushers come in!  His cheeks are wind burned and he has a bit of frostbite on his nose, but other than that he is in good shape!

Ralph’s dogs were rolling in the snow and then hopping up and barking and jumping and lunging to go!  In fact, maybe a little too anxious to go.. they pulled out of the chute before his sled had been checked!  Ralph was shortly followed into the chute by Curt Perano and Cym Smyth.  Curt was met in the chute by his wife and baby and a New Zealand flag.  Cym was clapping and beaming as he came under the Burled Arch.  Paige Drobny was the twenty-fifth person to cross the line and now we are probably going to be quiet until morning.  The next eleven mushers are still working on their eight hour layover in White Mountain.  I’m now anxiously awaiting Monica Zappa’s arrival in Nome.  She’s currently out of Shaktoolik.  Her main goal this year was to finish the race with happy and healthy dogs.  She still has an impressive fourteen dogs on her team, so she is well on her way to achieving that goal!  Go Team Zappa!