Checkpoint Checkup – Skwentna to Finger Lake

 . 68 68 "We're on a journey here, and we don't have a road map." — Ralph Brennan

“We’re on a journey here, and we don’t have a road map.” — Ralph Brennan


If you are following our journey of checkpoints, you know we were just at Yentna Station.  Our journey will take us up the trail 30 miles to Skwentna.

Welcome to Skwentna Checkpoint.  Most of the trail to Skwentna is on the Yentna River.  The population in 2010, the latest census, was 37.  Skwentna is another checkpoint at which the teams are coming in very close to each other. All volunteers involved at this checkpoint have their job down to a science. This checkpoint is so organized, some volunteers compare it to a factory. There are four major jobs at the Skwentna checkpoint: veterinarians, comms (communications), the Darlings, and the Sweeties.

The Comms team is always progressing with technology. The volunteers on the Comms team do a fantastic job of getting information back to headquarters. The veterinarians must check each team that comes through Swkentna. The teams come and leave Skwentna very fast. To keep things running smoothly the vets need to be on top of their game when checking the dogs. The mushers, of course, are going to be in a hurry, but the vets need to do their jobs in checking the health of the dogs.

The Darlings run the river part of the checkpoint. This group takes care of setting up the area of the checkpoint where the teams come in, parking the teams, and they act as the checkers. Many of the Darlings have worked this checkpoint for years. Several of them worked directly along side of Joe Delia who hosted the checkpoint for many years.

The Sweeties, as they are affectionately known, are the cabin crew. Their job is all about food. The Sweeties take care of all the cooking. They cook for all the volunteers as well as the mushers. There is always food and a hot, damp cloth for mushers as soon as they enter Skwentna. In addition to cooking, the Sweeties take care of the dropped dogs. Who else would you want taking care of your dog than someone with the nickname “Sweetie?”

After a quick stop in Skwentna we continue our journey up the trail 40 more miles to Finger Lake, population 2.

This checkpoint is also operated by Carl and Kristen Dixon.  Kristen makes free meals for all the mushers passing through.  Finger Lake Checkpoint is actually on Winter Lake. Old timers call it Finger Lake because the lake is shaped like a finger.

The next part of our journey will take us through the infamous Happy River steps.  I hope you are excited. 852 miles to Nome.

Next checkpoint checkup: Rainy Pass to Rohn.

Alaska vs. The World

"Sometimes a [life] journey can take you to a place that is not on any map."  - Cold Fever (movie)

“Sometimes a [life] journey can take you to a place that is not on any map.”
- Cold Fever (movie)

Alaska is our largest state.  In fact, it is ten times larger than Iowa (my state).  Since my class learns a lot about Alaska, I think it is important for them to see just how large of a state Alaska is.

We study many different countries in my classroom.  Each time we get to a new country we will compare the size to Alaska.  We just finished studying the Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations.  We decided to compare Alaska to Mexico, Peru, and Guatemala.  These are a few of the countries where these civilizations were located.

Photo Sep 16, 9 18 33 AMThe task for the students was to find out how much larger or smaller Alaska is than the three countries.  The students used the website  Using this website students are able to compare any city, state, country, or continent.  It is very easy to navigate.  All you need to do is type the two places you are comparing.  The site gives you the comparison. For example, Alaska is 15% larger than Peru.  It also has an outline of each state/country that you are able to move around and over top of each other.  In addition, off to the side there are facts about the places listed.

The students took their information and wrote it on a blank outline map, which we posted in the classroom (actually it was a competition and the best one was hung up).

Students that finished early were excited to compare Alaska to cities in our state as well as other countries around the world.

Our results:

Photo Sep 17, 2 24 35 PMAlaska is 10 times larger than Iowa

Alaska is 15% larger than Peru

Alaska is 14 times larger than Guatemala

Mexico is 33% larger than Alaska

View the lesson here – Alaska vs. the World Lesson Plan

Here are three great websites you can use to compare Alaska to another country or state.

Trivia Question: What are checkpoints?


Have your class research the number of checkpoints that are on the Iditarod Trail.  There are two routes on the Iditarod Trail, the Northern Route and the Southern Route.  On even years, the trail takes the Northern Route and on odd years the trail goes the Southern Route.  

Click here for the answer.

Checkpoint Checkup – Willow to Yentna Station

"Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."  - Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

The “Restart,” the official start of the Iditarod.  The Iditarod officially begins on Willow Lake in Willow, Alaska.  At 2:00 p.m. on the first Sunday after the first Saturday in March, dogs and mushers begin their journey to Nome.  It is hard to fathom that just 8 months earlier this lake was a peaceful lake with ducks swimming quietly and now is a sports arena filled with trucks, dogs, people, snow machines, and much more.

Willow, Alaska was settled when miners discovered gold back in 1897.  By the 1950’s it was the largest mining district in all of Alaska.  In the 1970’s, there was talk of even moving the capital to Willow. However, due to funding this was unable to happen.

Every two minutes mushers and dogs depart the starting line in Willow.  Destination: Yentna Station, 42 miles down the trail.

Yentna Station is a “roadhouse” only accessible by boat, plane, or of course, dog sled.  Yentna Station is a family owned roadhouse that is open 24-hours a day, 365-days a year.  During the winter months it serves as a checkpoint for many winter sports.  In the summer, they offer a variety of salmon fish excursion packages.  Yentna Station Roadhouse, the official name, is only accessible by boat, plane, snowmachine, or of course, dog sled. Yentna is the only checkpoint that hosts both the Jr. Iditarod and the Iditarod. This checkpoint is hosted by the Gabryszak family. The Gabryszak’s arrived in Alaska in 1981 with the dream of building a lodge on the Yentna River.

The Yentna Station Roadhouse is a very organized and intense checkpoint. It is hard to describe in words what this checkpoint is like. According to Jen Reiter, 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, “There is no place like Yentna.” To really capture what it feels like one must go there themselves. Inside the roadhouse is like a museum of Iditarod memorabilia. Outside, the checkpoint is operated like a well oiled machine. There are five lanes set up for mushers and dogs to check through. Being the first checkpoint, teams are coming in very close together.

The Gabryszak’s are a very gracious family. On top of the six children they have of their own, they have fostered at least 30 children throughout the years. During the Iditarod, the Gabryszak’s are very hospitable to both the mushers and the volunteers. You can always get something to eat no matter what time of the day. The Iditarod depends on hosts like the Gabryszak family to help run checkpoints.

922 miles left to Nome.

Next checkpoint checkup – Skwentna to Finger Lake

Glogster – The Iditarod, Machu Picchu, and Denali

"To travel is to take a journey into yourself."     - Danny Kaye

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.”
– Danny Kaye

Many teachers always comment that they want to incorporate the Iditarod all year, but they don’t know how.  As a result, the Iditarod makes it into their classroom for a small amount of time.  It is very possible to teach the Iditarod year round while still teaching your other curriculum.

My students are currently studying the Maya, Aztec, and Inca civilizations.  During this unit we take a look at the history of Machu Picchu in Peru.  Many hike the 26 mile Inca Trail to the highest point, 4200 meters, Machu Picchu.  My class did some comparing and contrasting of Machu Picchu and the Iditarod.  We also added a third adventure, climbing Denali.

This lesson was done using the online tool, Glogster.  Glogster is a type of social networking site in which you create and share Glogs.  A Glog is an interactive poster that includes text, images, audio, video, etc.  Glogster can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom.  A couple different ways to use Glogs are having students create an interactive poster as a unit project or a teacher generated lesson.  For this topic, I created a lesson for the students to complete in groups.

Photo Sep 08, 8 31 38 AMAt the top of the Glog the assignment is posted clearly for the students.  The assignment is to view the Glog, making sure to click on all the links, images, and view all video clips.  When they are finished they are to individually answer two writing questions; 1. What do you feel all three adventures have in common?  Defend your answer with facts from the Glog.  2. Which adventure do you feel is the most challenging?  Defend your answer with facts from the Glog.

Check out the Glog here.

Photo Sep 08, 8 31 54 AM

With some glitches here and there with Internet connections, this lesson took three days.  We will then have a class discussion over the three adventures.  Our final task will be to get the perspective of someone who has climbed a mountain and has done the Iditarod.  Our class rookie musher, Cindy Abbott has summited Mt. Everest and has attempted the Iditarod twice.  We will ask her which was more challenging for her and why.

Glogster is a great way to incorporate technology into your lessons.  You are able to add so much more to your lessons.  My students are looking forward to creating their own Glogs.

Trivia Question: Who is the “Father of the Iditarod”?


Joe Redington, Sr.

Have your students research the “Father of the Iditarod.”  Who is he?  When did he start the race?  Why did he start the race?  Did he ever race in the Iditarod himself?  Does he have family members still racing?  

Click here for the answer.

Visit the Online Iditarod Museum for additional information on the Father of the Iditarod.

The Journey of a Volunteer

“We are to help one another along life’s journey.”  - William J. Bennett

“We are to help one another along life’s journey.” – William J. Bennett

The definition of volunteer is a person who performs a service willingly and without pay.  There are thousands of people who volunteer each year for the Iditarod.  Without these many volunteers, there is absolutely no way this race could happen.  The journey of a volunteer does not just take place during the few weeks of the race.  An Iditarod volunteer can be a year long journey.

GailI spoke with Gail Somerville about her role as an Iditarod volunteer.  Gail has been volunteering for the Iditarod since 1978!  Gail’s journey as an Iditarod volunteer is not just during March; she does many things throughout the year.

Gail retired from teaching at the end of last school year.  She had been a teacher for 46 years!  Gail has always volunteered her time with many different organizations and events.  Now that she is retired, she is looking forward to volunteer even more of her time.

Even though most people only see “Iditarod” in March, it is a year long event.  One job Gail helps with is selling raffle tickets at the Alaska State Fair in August.  The raffle tickets are another way the Iditarod raises money to put this event on.  Another job Gail helps with in the summer is providing transportation for the teachers during the summer camp for educators.DSC_0799

Gail’s primary volunteer job is to write homework questions for elementary students.  She then emails these questions to all the elementary school teachers in Anchorage.  With this project she also gets middle school students scheduled to volunteer at headquarters in the phone room each school day to help answer the questions from the elementary students that they phone in.  Just writing about this task makes me tired.  That is a lot of time and effort Gail puts into that project.  Shout out to Gail for helping the Iditarod and incorporating it into education.

Let’s get our students to understand the importance of volunteering and helping others.  If it were not for volunteers like Gail, this race could not happen.
What can you do in your classroom?

Discuss what a volunteer is.
Discuss the importance of helping others.
Discuss the different volunteer jobs there are for the Iditarod.
Is there something your class can do to help the Iditarod?

Movie Preview – Musher Profile

"The main thing that you have to remember on this journey is, just be nice to everyone and always smile." - Ed Sheeran

“The main thing that you have to remember on this journey is, just be nice to everyone and always smile.” – Ed Sheeran

As part of the Iditarod Summer Camp for Educators, we are given the opportunity to hook up with a rookie musher and follow them throughout the year.  My class is working with Cindy Abbott.  The students are very excited to have the opportunity to follow and communicate with her this year.

Our first task was to get to know Cindy.  Our final goal was to create a movie preview for each class period.   With students working in small groups, they used a question sheet to find out information about Cindy.  Their task was to use Cindy’s website, and the Iditarod website,  During this portion of the lesson the students learned a lot of interesting information about Cindy.

cindyAfter we discussed their information and checked out a few pictures and video clips, each class chose a theme they would focus on for their preview.  Each class had a different focus; the Iditarod, Cindy’s accomplishments while having a disease, and the disease she has.  The groups then chose what their written statement in the preview would be, which would help them design their video clip.  For example, “A story about a woman and her dogs.”

Now the fun part.  It’s time to design and film our small clips of video.  Students had great ideas on how to represent their specific part of the preview.  Time to edit.  After learning and discussing how to import video into the program we were using, we began creating our preview.  Video clips, pictures, titles, text, and credits were all edited and turned into a final movie preview.

The movie previews turned out fantastic, in my opinion.  The students had a great time designing, creating, and editing them.  Our final step was to upload the movie previews to our YouTube page and share them to Twitter and our class website.  We tagged Cindy so she could watch them, she loved them.  View all three previews below.

Movie previews are a great way to give information in a quick way.  Think about having your students research a musher and design a movie preview.  Use the lesson plan and worksheet below as a guide to researching and creating a movie about a musher of your choice. Another great idea would be after reading a book, create a preview about the book being made into a movie.

Worksheet used to discover:  Who is Cindy Abbott

Lesson Plan:  Making a Classroom Movie 

All video in trailers filmed at Camanche Middle School by students.  Any pictures used provided by Erin Montgomery and Cindy Abbott (with permission).

Trivia Question: What is the name of the intersection in Anchorage where the Ceremonial Start begins?

Corner of Cordova

Have your students estimate how much snow must be brought into Anchorage for the Ceremonial Start?  Where does this snow come from?  How many streets are used in Anchorage for the Ceremonial Start?

Click here for the answer to the trivia question.

Checkpoint Checkup – Anchorage to Campbell Airstrip


Trivia Question:  What is the name of the intersection in Anchorage where the Ceremonial Start begins?

Periodically I will post trivia questions for you to use in the classroom.  You can use the trivia in a variety of ways.  Challenge your students to find the answer to the questions before I post the answer, which will be within two days.  Use the trivia as a discussion starter in class.  Post the different trivia throughout your room.


This week’s checkpoint focus will be Anchorage to Campbell Airstrip.  The Iditarod starts on the first Saturday in March.  This year it will be March 7.  March 7 will be a day filled filled with excitement, spectators, mushers, reindeer sausage, and of course, dogs.  Dogs lining the streets of downtown Anchorage.  Friday night, workers will bring large amounts of snow to fill the city streets.  March 7, the ceremonial start, is like a parade of mushers and dogs.  This day does not get recorded on the musher’s time.  That will start in Willow on restart day.  Each musher will have 12 dogs, a whip sled, and an Iditarider.

10170774_10152046993652405_8989262751585810982_nOn restart day mushers can start with 16 dogs.  They are only able to use 12 on Saturday because 16 would be very powerful and we don’t want anyone to get hurt, dog or musher.  Some mushers will save their best dogs for restart day and not even use them during the ceremonial start.  The whip sled will also help control and slow down the team through the city.  The Iditarider is a person who has bid to ride with a specific musher.  Mushers are auctioned off prior to the race to raise money for the Iditarod.  What an exciting way to experience the Iditarod; actually riding the first part of the trail with your favorite musher.  The ceremonial start is an 11-mile adventure ending at the Campbell Airstrip.


Anchorage Fast Facts:

-Anchorage has the largest population in Alaska

-They have attempted to move the capital from Juneau to Anchorage several times

-Average temperature in the summer 55-78 degrees

-Averages temperature in the winter 5-30 degrees

-Home of the Fur Rendezvous (World Championship Sled Dog Races)

-Average gas price in Anchorage (as of today) $3.92

-Average gas price in Iowa $3.37

Compare these Anchorage fast facts with the same facts from your city/town.

If you have read the post about the Iditarod trail map my students are making on my classroom wall, we are posting fast facts next to each checkpoint.

Next checkpoint checkup – Willow (Restart) and Yentna Station

The Camanche Middle School Trail

Life is a journey, not a destination; there are no mistakes, just chances we've taken. -India Arie

Life is a journey, not a destination; there are no mistakes, just chances we’ve taken. -India Arie

I teach at the Camanche Middle School in Camanche, Iowa.  Our class is on a journey, thus, the Camanche Middle School Trail.  This article will provide you with ideas on how to create your own trail.

I have wanted a trail map on my wall for a while now.  This year it is happening.  My last class of the day is MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support).  This class is designed to enhance student learning.  The project we are currently working on in this class is creating a map of the Iditarod trail on one of the walls in my classroom while documenting our journey via social media.

Photo Aug 19, 2 58 29 PMWe started measuring the distance in miles of the trail.  We used this year’s route, the southern route.  After we determined the mileage, 1093 miles, we measured the wall we would be using, 29 feet.  Our next step was to figure out how many miles would represent an inch on the wall.  The class agreed that 1 inch would represent 3 miles.  I took their word for it.  That would work if the trail was just east to west, but the trail goes north at some points.  The kids didn’t realize our mistake until about Rainy Pass and the ceiling got in the way.  We used this as a great opportunity to learn from our mistakes.  We talked about what we did wrong and what we should have done.  We decided to keep going from where we were and just modify the trail a little and make it unique to our classroom.

The students have been put in groups with specific jobs to work on each day.  Below are the jobs and their descriptions.

Photo Aug 19, 2 54 49 PMMeasurer – this group finds out the distance between checkpoints.  They figure how many inches to measure on the wall and then mark a dot on the wall.

Wall writer – this group writes the checkpoint name on the wall and connects each checkpoint.

Designers – this group comes up with ideas on how to decorate our wall map when finished.

Photo Aug 19, 3 00 57 PMBlog – this group writes journal entries on our blog about what we are working on that specific day.  Follow our blog.

Twitter – this group keeps a live feed going about how the map is coming along on our Twitter page.  Follow us.

Instagram – this group takes pictures of all the groups working and posts them to our Instagram page.  Follow us.

Facts – this group looks up facts about each checkpoint and keeps a notebook.

The groups are rotated each day so the students have an opportunity to work on each job.  We are currently still working on our map.  Follow our journey of creating this map on our different sites.  I will post a final picture when the map is completed.

Here is the completed lesson plan. Use this as a guideline for your own Trail.  Camanche Middle School Trail Lesson

The Journey to Your Starting Line

The hardest part of starting a new journey is the leap of faith at the beginning.  -Unknown

The hardest part of starting a new journey is the leap of faith at the beginning. -Unknown

Don’t let your journey to the starting line begin in late February/early March. Start as soon as you can. Yesterday was my first day with students here at Camanche Middle School. I love the beginning of the year. It is always exciting to decorate my classroom and start a new year with fresh ideas. Of course, my classroom is going to have an Iditarod theme throughout. As you start preparing to start your year, think about what you can do to begin your journey to the starting line.

Photo Aug 08, 12 50 52 PM In my room I have designated a specific area to Iditarod books and treasures. Last school year the wood shop class made my classroom a sled. Our goal this year is to have the art class decorate the sled. Currently the sled is our bookshelf for books and other Iditarod items. Would you love your own sled in your classroom? Take a look at the plans our shop class used. It is a very simple model.  Dog Sled plans

Get your hands on as many posters as you can. Hang the posters in your room, spark interest with your students. Would you like lots of posters for free? Come to the winter conference or the summer camp for educators.

Photo Aug 08, 12 46 52 PMThis year I am going to assign jobs to my students. The idea for my classroom jobs came from Jen Reiter, last years Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. I tweeked it a little to fit more to middle school students. “Jobs on the trail” is a great way to introduce your students to some of the volunteer jobs along the trail.

Jobs on the trail

Dog Handler – Take Dixon outside (Dixon is our therapy dog)

Volunteer pilot – Water any plants and keep Dixon’s water dish full

Chief Veterinarian – Help new students get the information they need for class

Checker – Check the extra copy folder and make sure class agenda is filled out

Race Comms – In charge of Twitter (student will create a tweet at the end of class)

Race Stats – Update board (date, homework, Today in history, Iditarod trivia)

Musher (mail carrier) – Pass out newspapers at the beginning of class

Start your journey immediately.  You do not have to do something every day, but slowly introduce the Iditarod to your students to generate interest.  I’m excited for this journey and I want my students to be as well.

The Journey Ahead

"When the journey ahead seems bleak, don't forget to look behind you and see all you have survived already." -Andee Jaide

“When the journey ahead seems bleak, don’t forget to look behind you and see all you have survived already.” -Andee Jaide


As the school year approaches, August 7 for me, I want to share with you what you can look forward to this year.

If you read my blog entries from summer camp, then you may have picked up on my theme, “Journey through the Iditarod.”  I plan on using this theme in a variety of ways.  I will be sharing with you the journey a musher takes to get to Nome.  This journey does not start in Anchorage, it most likely started several years ago.  You will also experience the journey a dog takes from puppyhood to his or her training schedule to travel to Nome.  Several other journeys will be shared as well; pilots, veterinarians, volunteers, etc.

DSC_9875Another topic I am excited to share with you is the checkpoints.  I want you and your students to be familiar with each checkpoint prior to the race.  You will also notice Iditarod trivia questions to use with the students.  This would be great to post on the board in your class or even in the hallway for the entire school to view.  As a whole class your students can work to find the answer to the question.  Another option is to see how many students can find the answer by the next day.  The answer will be posted the following day.  Take time to discuss the answer with your students.

I am most looking forward to sharing with you a variety of technology ideas through Iditarod themed lessons.  I will be introducing you to many new and exciting ways to incorporate technology in your Iditarod lessons.

My class is very “social.”  Meaning, we use social media a great deal in my classroom.  We would love for you to follow our journey as a class this year.

Follow us on Twitter @DixonsClass1

Follow us on Instagram @dixonsclass1

Follow us on YouTube

Check out our website

Journey to the Top


“The journey to the top is going to be the most exciting and rewarding trip you’ll ever take.” Zig Zigler


20,237 feet above sea level – Denali
1,150 miles in distance – Iditarod

21,182 climbers have summated Denali
731 Iditarod finishers
1 dog team summit of Denali

Last night I went to a presentation in my hotel discussing Denali, or Mt. McKinley. Denali means, “The High One,” in Athabascan. An Alaska Nature Guide delivered our presentation.

As I was sitting, taking notes, and soaking in the information, I couldn’t help but mentally compare climbing Denali to running the Iditarod. Both demand extensive training. Both require a high mental and physical state. Both have treacherous and rugged ground to cover. Both involve extreme weather. Most important, both require you to be able to care for yourself, and sometimes others, under extreme conditions.

Cindy AbbottCindy Abbott, Iditarod rookie musher, has summated Mount Everest. Now Denali’s peak isn’t as high as Everest (29,029 ft.), however, it is a taller mountain. This is because tall is measured from the base and Everest’s base starts much higher, making Denali about one mile taller. Both mountains require a ton of focus and are very difficult to climb. It is very impressive for anyone to summit either of these mountains. My students asked Cindy which is harder, climbing Everest or running the Iditarod. Her answer shocked the students. She told us that the Iditarod is much more difficult. Her reason is because in the Iditarod, not only are you caring for yourself, but you are responsible for the care of your 16 best friends. Cindy recently signed up for the 2015 Iditarod. This will be her third attempt. Talk about perseverance.

Father of the Iditarod, Joe Redington Sr., had a goal of climbing Denali with his dog team. Many said it couldn’t be done. Just like everything he did, he set his mind to accomplish his goal and never gave up on his goal. In 1979, Joe Redington Sr., Susan Butcher, and the dogs summated Mt. McKinley. Read more about Joe’s dream of climbing Mt. McKinley in Katie Mangelsdorf’s book, Champion of Alaskan Huskies.Joe Redington Sr.

For Cindy, Joe, Susan, the dogs, and the many more that have achieved their goal of summating or finishing the Iditarod, they have reached the top and I can only imagine how exciting and rewarding their journeys were.

This school year I will be doing lessons comparing/contrasting on these two amazing feats. Keep you eye on the blog.


The Incredible Quilt


“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers.  The mind can never break off from the journey.”  - Pat Conroy

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends, but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy

Today was the last day of camp for the teachers. Most of the teachers will travel home later tonight or early in the morning. Kerry, Jen, and I are traveling some more, separately.

I spoke yesterday of the letters each camper was given to create a quilt square and how they were to connect them with yesterday’s adventure. This morning we shared our quilts and connections.


I – Melissa chose the word inspiring. Melissa spoke about how our hike on the glacier yesterday very much inspired her. She was inspired how none of us had ever put on a pair of crampons, but did this very well. She was inspired by the fact that none of us have hiked on a glacier before, but did this amazing, with no one complaining once.

Picture taken by Don Distell

Picture taken by Don Distell

D – Don chose the word determined. Don was determined to get beautiful pictures of wildlife. Don and his wife, Jan, took a glacier cruise yesterday in Portage. On their way back they stopped at the wildlife preserve. Here, Don had the opportunity to photograph outstanding pictures of wildlife.

I – Martin chose the word incredible. If you look close at his square you will see it appears to represent the Incredible Hulk, I love it. Martin stated that the definition of the word incredible is “too unusual to believe.” He said when he gets home to share his stories and pictures with his family; he will have a hard time. Pictures and stories cannot do his trip justice. It is just simply incredible.

DSC_1029T – Nicole chose the word teamwork. Nicole admitted she is not a hiker. She loved how the entire group that went to the glacier was always looking out for her. That is teamwork. In my opinion, she did an excellent job. Our guide, Ben, said we went out on the glacier further than any other group. That requires teamwork. We all made sure we were always together and keeping up with the group.

A – Jan chose the word achievement. Jan felt a sense of achievement on this trip to Alaska. She reached a tremendous goal on her journey to Alaska. Jan received a grant, she worked very hard to get, to attend this summer camp. Jan did some things on this trip she never has done before nor ever thought she would do.

R – Jen chose the word respect. On her square, Jen included the quote, “Leave everything a little better than you found it.” Jen related this with how much we had to respect the glacier when we hiked it. Also, think about how much Jen had to respect the many villages she visited last winter on the trail.

O – Jamie chose the word overcome. Jamie thought it was amazing how many obstacles we had to overcome yesterday in hiking the glacier. Some of us had to step out of our comfort zone to complete the hike.

D – I chose the word dream. Yesterday in my entry I explained how while standing on the glacier I realized my dream was coming true.

The teachers with their quilt squares

I’m very excited to see what the quilt turns out looking like. I am also excited to share this quilt with my school and begin working on the many lessons that can be created.

I’m glad I had the pleasure to make new friends at camp and reconnect with friends made last summer. We all came on this journey to make ourselves better teachers and create an unforgettable experience in the classroom for our students. Now that we have traveled to Alaska, our minds will constantly be wandering on how we can use our experience in the classroom.

Like the quote says, “once you have traveled, your voyage never ends.” Many of these campers will find this experience has changed them. Their voyage will never end. They will find many ways to better themselves as an educator. They will use new ideas learned at camp in their class about the Iditarod. Some of them may apply for Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. Maybe, this has sparked an interest in coming back to visit this great state. Even though this traveling experience is over, their journey has just begun.


“I know 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 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 (picture taken by Terrie Hanke)


One task the campers are given at the beginning of camp is to create a quilt square. Terrie Hanke will make the squares that the campers make into a quilt. They will then be shipped to each camper’s school for a month to be used for lessons in the classroom and displaying purposes.  Look into the traveling quilt project for your classroom.

 This year each camper was given a letter from the word “Iditarod,” to create his or her square.   The camper was to come up with a word from their letter that can be turned into a lesson in the classroom. It has been very inspiring to watch the campers create their squares all week. They worked very hard on their squares, going through rough drafts, looking through thesauruses, and collaborating with each other. You could really tell they wanted this quilt to be the best.

DSC_1038I received the letter “D.” There were several words that came to mind for the letter “D.” Discipline, desire, determination, driven, dedicated, and many more. I thought of how students could use this in the classroom and connect it to the Iditarod as well as how I could connect with the word. I chose the word, “Dream.”

In my mind there are many that dream to run the Iditarod, dream to live in Alaska, and dream to live the best life possible. One can use this word in the classroom an endless amount of ways. Students can discuss their dreams and how scary them may seem, but they can reach them. The discussion can turn to how we reach goals. This can lead to how to set goals and writing these goals with the students. I am excited to see the other words the other campers chose tomorrow morning. I am planning on using these words throughout the year; plan to see lesson plans on this topic.

DSC_1007Today was a free day for the campers. Several of us went to the Matanuska Glacier and did a guided hike. Our task for the day was to somehow connect our word with what we did on our adventure. I connected my word and quote with my adventure today. I had a dream to be the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.  I had a dream to come to Alaska and experience first hand the culture of a native village. I had a dream to bring true Alaska experiences back to my classroom. I had a dream of representing my school, my community, and other teachers around the world as Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.  Out on that glacier today I realized my dream was coming true and I was living it.  It was a surreal experience.  It was and is very scary.  But, as the quote states, I am ready to take every step along the way.

The First Step

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


The journey to that 1049-mile race began today for many mushers. They took that first step to reaching Nome.

Father and son signing up, sisters signing up, and even boyfriend and girlfriend signing up. Jeff Schultz autographing his new book and taking photos.   Camera crews, junior mushers, rookies, veterans, even some old-timers, and many volunteers are enjoying a beautiful summer Alaska day.

Today the campers had the opportunity to go to the annual Iditarod volunteer picnic and musher sign up day at headquarters. The event began promptly at 9:30 with the first musher signing up at 9:32. Rohn Buser, son of veteran musher Martin Buser, was the first to sign up. Shortly after were Ray Redington Jr. and Martin Buser. Strange bit of information about the first three to sign up, they were all left-handed. Talking with Rohn, there are many mushers that are left-handed. As we watched several mushers sign up today, we indeed saw many lefties.

DSC_0907Starting at around noon, everyone enjoyed a wonderful lunch catered by Golden Corral. Lunch consisted of pulled pork or chicken, potato salad, Cole slaw, Cajun sausage, homemade BBQ chips, and a cookie or brownie. It was delicious.

After lunch many mushers continued to stroll in to sign up for the 2015 race. A huge treat was to see fan favorite, Aliy Zirkle. Mushers had until 2:30 today to sign up to be entered into the drawing to win back their entry fee, $3000. The winning mushers must be present to win. The first musher drawn was, Jan Steves. The second musher drawn was rookie, Ben Harper. Both mushers were overjoyed to win their entry fee back. Running the Iditarod is a very expensive sport, and anything can help.

 The last part of the day was to determine the order of the bib draw. The bib draw takes place at the Mushers Banquet the Thursday before the race in Anchorage. There were 60 mushers that signed up today that were drawn. You can find the order that these mushers will draw for bib numbers on the Iditarod website.

The deadline to register for the race is December 1. Any musher that registers from now until then will be placed after the first 60 mushers for the bib drawing.

I was able to officially take my first step in my journey today as well. At the picnic Jen Reiter officially handed over Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ to me. This is done through the handing over of the sleeping bag used on the trail. Jen did an incredible job this past year. I know I learned a ton through her posts and from just talking with her. I have big shoes to fill, but I look forward to the challenge.

It was very exciting to see all the mushers and volunteers sharing their stories from the 2014 race. You can see it in their eyes how much passion they have for this race and for what they do. I am very blessed to have been part of seeing people take their first steps. It’s very exciting for me to be able to say I will watch many of their journeys along the trail.

Man’s Best Friend

 “The gift of friendship is that it takes us by the hand and reminds us we are not alone in the journey of life…”  Unknown

“The gift of friendship is that it takes us by the hand and reminds us we are not alone in the journey of life.” Unknown

You are driving your family over 1000 miles this summer on vacation. I’m sure you want your family to arrive safely; after all, they are the most important people in your life. With that in mind, you probably have been checking your car inside and out to make sure it is safe to travel. On the trip you constantly check the oil, put the best gas in it, check the tires, and keep it in tiptop shape.

Mushers do the same with their dogs. These dogs that are taking them over 1000 miles across the state of Alaska are their very best friends. They make sure these dogs are well taken care of.

Dr. Stu NelsonToday we listened to Iditarod chief veterinarian, Dr. Stu Nelson. This past race was Dr. Nelson’s 19th year as chief vet. The 9 years prior to that he was an Iditarod trail vet volunteer. It is safe to say that Stu has quite a bit of experience dealing with sled dogs.

These mushers take better care of their dogs than most people take care of themselves. To journey to the Iditarod the process for taking care of a dog is ongoing. Training formally starts in September, however, many dogs will condition in the summer with little runs here and there. In February, screening the dogs for the Iditarod takes place. During this process dogs will be given a microchip or get their current one updated. In most dogs, microchips are placed between the shoulder blades. In sled dogs, the microchip is placed behind the ears. This is done so the harness isn’t rubbing back and forth on the chip. The dogs are also given an EKG. This is to make sure the dog does not have any underlying abnormalities in his or her heart. Finally, the dogs are given a general health check-up. Dr. Nelson reads all the results to these check-ups and uses it as an opportunity to call each musher.

Two weeks prior to the race up to the Wednesday before the race is the physical vet exam. Mushers can choose to have a private vet conduct this exam or take their dogs to headquarters and have the exam done there. Mushers also must give their dog a de-wormer about 2 weeks prior to the race that Iditarod sends to them.

DSC_0773DSC_0775During the race dogs are given booties, straw to sleep on, blankets to cover up with, jackets to keep them warm. They are also given the best food concoction a dog could ever want. Out on the trail there are 40-45 vets that move up the trail. Mushers must carry a dog team diary that the vets communicate with each other through. At each checkpoint the dogs are checked out as well. This exam is a hands-on exam. The vets use the acronym HAW/L (haw means left, L means left) for the exam. H – heart and hydration. The vets will check out the dogs’ heart to see how it is doing. They will also check the hydration of each dog. This can be done through the gums or a skin fold test. A – appetite and attitude. The vet will talk with the musher about how the dog is eating. The vet will also check out how the dog’s attitude appears and discuss with the musher about the attitude on the tail. W – weight (bodyweight). This can be the most challenging test. It can be very hard to tell if a dog is too skinny or just a thin dog. The average weight for a sled dog is 50-55 pounds. Some can be in the 40’s and some can be up in the 60’s. L – lungs. Vets will listen to the lungs. It is very important to catch pneumonia very early on because this can be a fatal illness.

Iditarod sled dogs are known as marathoners. I can tell you that I ran a marathon last year and I didn’t have a single test done on me to make sure that I was healthy enough to do the run. I do know, however, if my best buds, Dixon and Chili, were to do that, they would definitely be getting tested.

DSC_0685Dr. Nelson stated that awareness is extremely important to mushers. He really makes it a point to educate both his vets and mushers on how to pick up on the early signs of an abnormality in their dog. There is constant research and studies going on to learn as much as they can about the care of these dogs.

For a musher, their sled dog is their best friend, their life, and their companion. They would never do anything to harm their buddy. The amount of care that goes into these dogs shows you just how much they care for their best bud. To make a journey this long and treacherous, you must make sure your companion is well taken care of.

Lost and Found

“I am no longer afraid of becoming lost, because the journey back always reveals something new.”  Billy Joel

“I am no longer afraid of becoming lost, because the journey back always reveals something new.” Billy Joel


What do you do when you get lost on your journey?

People get lost on their journeys all of the time. What you do when you get lost says a lot about you as a person. Many mushers get lost along the trail.  Getting lost doesn’t always mean you fail, it teaches you many new things.  Today I met five siblings who were recently lost and eventually found. Their story is incredible.

On May 19, a fire started on the Kenai Peninsula near Funny River road. The fire spread very quickly. The damage was well over 150,000 acres of land.  Read about the fire in this article from the Anchorage Daily News.  This is another article from Anchorage Daily News.

Many people were evacuated as a result of this fire. The five siblings I met today were victims of this fire. These five victims, 3 brothers and 2 sisters, were 2 week old wolf pups. Firefighters rescued these pups when they came across their den. The firefighters immediately went in the den to bring the pups out. When found, they had been injured by a porcupine, severely dehydrated, and extremely hungry. However, they were alive. These pups were alone, away from mom and dad, and lost on their new journey of life. Everyone, including the pups, was bound and determined that they survive.

DSC_0638The pups were taken to Anchorage to be taken care of, and currently are living at the Alaska Zoo. All five are healthy, cuddly young pups. We were able to see the pups today during playtime. They are so adorable and loveable that you just want to take one home. However, this is impossible. Even though these pups will be raised completely by humans, they will never be able to be domesticated. They will always have the wild instinct within them.

These pups are a reminder that we can overcome obstacles in our journey.  They were 2 weeks old when they lost their mom and dad.  They were 2 weeks old when their home was burning up all around them.  It would have been very easy for these little guys and gals to give up.  They chose to live, and with that they now have a new exciting journey ahead of them at the Minnesota Zoo.

Check out this exciting article from the Huffington Post about the pups’ rescue.

Music provided free by iMovie service.

Building Character

“Character is a journey, not a destination.” William J. Clinton


As young mushers evolve into seasoned veterans, they build a lot of character along the way.

barbToday our group made a visit to Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla. While there, we were able to listen to Barbara Redington speak. Barb is the wife of Raymie Redington, son of Joe Redington, Sr. (“Father of the Iditarod”). Barb spoke to us about the Jr. Iditarod. Barb has the honor of being a board member of the Jr. Iditarod and has also run the race.

The Jr. Iditarod started in 1977. Four young men came up with the idea and spoke with Joe Redington, Sr. about it, and he loved the idea. Prior to the Jr., races for young mushers were mostly sprint races lasting 10-15 miles. These guys wanted a longer race. The Jr. Iditarod is a 175-mile trail that starts on the Knik Lake and heads out to Yentna Station. In Yentna, the halfway point, the mushers have a mandatory 10-hour stop. After their rest, they head back to Knik Lake to finish. Many of the same rules that are used in the Iditarod are used in the Jr. For instance, no outside help can be used.

Lynden, a family construction and logistics company, has sponsored the race for years. The Lynden family used to be sponsors of Susan Butcher when she was racing. They provide sponsorship in many ways from taking pictures at the race, being a M.C. at the banquet, to providing scholarships to the mushers. Last year $28,000 in scholarships were awarded. The winning mushers, Conway Seavey, came in first and won a $6000 scholarship. The rest are split amongst top finishers. The city of Wasilla also chips in money towards expenses for the race and prizes for the mushers. The race cost about $10,000-15,000. At the banquet the scholarships are awarded to top finishers. On top of that, all mushers receive some prizes. This past year $15,000-17,000 in prizes were past out. There were prizes from hamburgers to a beaver hat. Libby Riddles, first woman Iditarod winner, makes a hat each year for the first female Jr. finisher. The winner of the Jr. also receives 2 round trip tickets to Nome to the Iditarod finishers banquet to receive his/her award.

jrpicThe Jr. board is very proud of the scholarships awarded to the mushers. The scholarships cannot be exchanged for cash. The mushers must use them at any learning facility. This can be a college, vocational school, etc. One musher used the scholarship to get her pilot’s license. Barb stressed how important it is for these young kids to further their education. She is happy to be able to give these young kids this opportunity.

jrpatch1To run the Jr. Iditarod you must be between the ages of 14-17. This race does a great job of promoting punctuality among the young kids. When they get to the halfway point, they really have to manage their time well so they are able to leave when scheduled. Remember, they are not just taking care of themselves; they are taking care of 10 dogs. They also promote sportsmanship. This year the sportsmanship award was given to Kevin Harper. Kevin was in 3rd place when leaving Yentna. All of a sudden he realized there were 2 white dogs behind him. Kevin found out they were Jimmy Lanier’s dogs by looking at the tags. Kevin grabbed the dogs and did a 180 with his dog team and sled, which is tremendously difficult. He headed back towards Yentna looking for Jimmy. He found him. Turns out Jimmy’s swing dogs chewed the gangline and the lead dogs got loose. After Kevin returned the dogs, he did another 180 and headed back towards the finish. Kevin finished the race in 3rd place and was awarded the sportsmanship award for helping Jimmy out on the trail. This was such a selfless act. Knowing he was in 3rd place, competing against others, Kevin went out of his way to help a fellow competitor out. That is the great part about mushing. The integrity they have on the trail.

Many of these veterans can attest to the fact that a lot of character is built out on this 175 miles worth of trail.

Visit the Jr. Iditarod website.

The Jr. Iditarod also has a FaceBook page – Junior Iditarod

"You have 175 mile trail to complete, but you have a life of trail ahead of you." Barb Redington

“You have 175 mile of trails to complete, but you have a life of trails ahead of you.” Barb Redington

Remember the Journey

"Others might remember winning or losing; I remember the journey."

“Others might remember winning or losing; I remember the journey.” – Apolo Anton Ohno


The Iditarod is the “Last Great Race.”  We must remember the history and journeys of this last great race.

Joe MayToday we had the pleasure of listening to Joe May, 4-time Iditarod finisher and 1980 Iditarod champion.  This man is incredible and shared many exciting stories with us.  One aspect of the race that Joe is adamant about is saving the history of the race.  As a matter of fact, Joe and many others associated with the Iditarod are compiling a book about the history of the race.  There is so much history in this race that they are including the best of the best.  The project has been ongoing for about four and a half years and is scheduled to be finished in December.  The title of the book is, Iditarod: The first 10 years.  An Anthology.

Since this race started in 1973, it has evolved tremendously.  Technology and money has really become a big part of the race.  Joe stated today, “that when a new idea comes along, you have to throw out the old one.”  However, he did mention that it is important to preserve the history.  Early on when the race started, many mushers, including Joe, decided to do the race as an adventure.  These early mushers knew how to make their own trail, were exceptional at training their dogs, and knew how to survive out on the trail.

Working with dogs years ago, mushers didn’t have the large kennels that they have today.  Joe had just enough dogs to run a team, 12-13.  He paid very close attention to these dogs.  He had their discipline under the utmost control.  As a trapper, Joe would have to leave his team to check the line, so when he said “stay,”  those dogs had to stay.  Back then, mushers did not have a run/rest schedule when running their dogs.  The mushers would run their dogs until the dogs told them they were tired or it was time to eat.  Their dogs were always enthusiastic about running.  Joe changed later to having a run/rest schedule. This allowed his dogs to always stay fresh.  You don’t want to run your dogs until they are tired, you want to stop running them before they get tired.

Not only has the way mushers work with dogs changed, food has changed, for dog and human.  In Joe’s first race in 1976, his sponsor’s wife packed him a sack for each checkpoint with a burger and a chocolate bar.  Joe found that he became very hungry on the trail.  Joe had 2000 pounds of beaver meat sent out on the trail for his dogs.  Today mushers use a mixture of dry dog food, meat, fish, water to feed their dogs.  People have done intense research on the amount of calories a dog burns on the trail and what type of food will work best.  A dog burns approximately 10,000 calories on the trail.

What the dogs sleep on has evolved since the start.  In the early races the dogs slept directly on the ice or snow.  This caused the dogs to lose a lot of the calories they consumed and caused them to tire sooner.  Think about what you would be doing if sleeping on ice or snow; shivering, losing calories.  Some mushers started using spruce bows, this saved calories in the dogs.  However, you couldn’t find spruce bows everywhere and it took a lot of time to gather.  In 1979, Joe had sandbags, perhaps more lie a sand mat, shipped to each checkpoint.  He used one for each dog to sleep on.  A couple of years later someone started using straw.  After that, Iditarod starting shipping straw to each checkpoint for the mushers.  Joe believes this was the most significant game changer in the race.

The trail has changed.  In the beginning, there were no trail markers.  Mushers had to find their way.  There were many times when mushers got lost or found themselves turned around.  Today there are about 20,000 trail markers used in this 1000 mile race.  Eventually, GPS trackers were added.  These were a positive addition for the public.  Joe said that early on in the race mushers took a responsibility for their own life in the Iditarod, it was a risk.  Today, there is almost this expectation that someone will help or save you.

Everything changes, that is part of life.  Everything also has a history.  It is crucial that we preserve our history so that it is not lost.  Remember others’ journeys.  Without their journeys we may not have the opportunity to take our own journey.

Joe May’s 1980 Iditarod winning time was 14 days, 7 hours, 11 minutes, 51 seconds

Charles’ Last Run

"It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end."

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end.”


What do mushers do with their sled dog when he/she retires? Just as they had the best life before their journey through the Iditarod, they have the best life still, but more relaxing. Our best bud here at Vern’s, Charles, retired as a sled dog on March 1, 2014.

CharlesCharles is a 10-year old Alaskan Husky. Charles was not born at the Dream a Dream Dog Farm. Vern acquired him from Jeff King. Charles has quite the sled dog resume. Charles has finished many sled dog races in the state of Alaska. What is most impressive is he has finished five Iditarod races.

Unbeknownst to Charles, this season would be his last. Charles took his last pre-race truck ride down to 4th street in Anchorage. He jumped up and down anxiously in his harness, in lead, under the starting line in Anchorage for the last time. He heard the announcer call, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1….GO,” for the last time. He charged out of the starting chute one final time. This one last run for Charles was the Ceremonial start of the 2014 Iditarod. He led Cindy Abbott, her “Iditarider”, and his best friend Vern, down 4th street around Cordova and out to the Campbell Airstrip. He was unharnessed and unhooked one last time. He took one final post-race truck ride to the kennel.

When Charles was taken out of the truck after they arrived at the kennel he was not hooked up. Instead Vern said, “You are free!” Free to roam the kennel. Free to sit on any kennel he wants. Free to sleep anywhere he wants. Free to be “King of the Kennel.” Charles just stood there. He didn’t know what to do. His journey through the Iditarod had come to an end. Nobody asked him. I think if Vern had given Charles a choice, he would continue to work as a sled dog for the rest of his life. That is how much he loves it, and how much all sled dogs love their job.

CharlesWatching Charles around the yard now that he is retired is awesome. He comes right up to us wanting love and attention. He sticks his paw out as to say, “Pet me. Love me.” So, what do we do? We pet him. We love him. He struts around that yard as if he owns the place. He sits up top of Aspen’s house like it is his. It is, of course, exactly where his house used to sit. Charles still thinks he is a working sled dog. He will forever be an extraordinary lead dog.

Charles is now a pet. Most sled dogs become musher pets when they retire. Some dogs will sell their retired dogs to select homes that will take extra good care of their special friends. All sled dogs will miss their job tremendously. But, just as humans enjoy their retirement, sled dogs will enjoy the relaxing and love and attention they receive with retirement.

The Scientists Litter

“A journey is so much sweeter when traveled with a dog.”

“A journey is so much sweeter when traveled with a dog.”


The journey to the Iditarod does not begin two years before the race for a puppy.  The journey to the Iditarod for a puppy begins pretty much at birth.

pileAt Vern Halter’s Dream a Dream Dog Farm there is an eight-week-old puppy litter.  The “Scientist litter”, as they are affectionately called, were born April 18.  They are the sweet children of Rugby (mom) and Mickey (dad).  They are known as the “Scientist litter” because they all will be named after a scientist.  Vern gives his litters a theme when he names them, as many mushers do.  Susan, Vern’s wife, came up with the idea of the scientists.  Susan is a science major.  Each individual dog doesn’t have his/her name yet, but the names are chosen.  There are two females in the litter.  They will be named Tesla and Madam Curie.  The six boys will be named Einstein, Newton, Galileo, Copernicus, Kipler, Darwin, and Hubble.  Vern has had some great themes for his dogs’ names.  Boats, meats, school supplies, and airplanes are among some of the themes.  I think it would be fun and challenging to come up with different themes and names for each litter.

Puppy HomeLet’s talk about the journey of a puppy.  The ultimate goal would be to run the Iditarod.  Here at Vern’s kennel the pups begin training immediately.  They have their own home just down from the dog yard where they live with their mom.  Just after birth they begin that bond with momma.  After about three weeks, or sooner if they are ready, Vern will carry the pups out about 20 feet on the trail and have them run back to the kennel on their own.  Seems like not much, but to a three-week-old pup it is a lot.  The next step would be to run both out and back the 20 feet.  Now, these pups are not leashed, they are free.  The reason he does this is to get the pups used to just running and being free.  He is also building trust with the pups.  Trust is very important between dog and human, especially when running over 1000 miles across the state.   Vern and the pups continue to build up distance each day.  At about six weeks Vern is taking the pups on the entire loop.  I would say this is about 1-mile.  This trail is right on Vern’s Can I get some help?property and goes through the wilderness.  The dogs have to work their way over a bridge about two-thirds of the way through.  Early on the pups will need assistance getting on the bridge.  After they get used to it, they are up and over that bridge quite quickly.

This early on stage of the pup’s life they are learning critical skills to become a sled dog.  They are bonding with their mother.  In addition, their mom is helping them through the trail.  They are learning to just go.  With Vern having a tour business in the summer, the pups are getting all the attention a puppy could ever want.  This skill they are improving daily is socialization.  This skill is very important.

Our little loveable puppy age can be compared to the elementary student.  Middle school age comes next.  Vern said he plans on bringing the pups up to the dog yard in the fall.  He will start off little by little collaring them up, getting used to the collar.  He will then move to hooking them up next to their new doghouse.  Along the way other dogs are helping them out.  During this middle school age puppy walks are getting a lot longer.  Vern may have to get on a four-wheeler to keep up with them.

Middle school goes fast; before you know it your little ones will be in high school.  In April Vern plans to start harnessing the dogs up.  The “Scientists” are going to have to get used to that harness.  Before long they will be going on runs.  Vern will hook them up with some stronger leaders who will help teach along the way.  Remember what I said about leaders yesterday, they are bossy and will make sure you are doing the correct thing.

Where did all that time go?  The puppies are now yearlings.  Just like that you go from having a litter of cute, cuddly puppies that you have trained and worked so hard with to having some hyped up, still loving, eager to run yearlings.

Mickey the dad

Momma Rugby

Momma Rugby

Check out the video below of the puppy walk.





Music provided free through YouTube.

Musical Musher

"Sometimes it's the journey that teaches you about your destination."

“Sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you about your destination.”

Camp has officially started.

DoryIf you know me, you know that I probably love dogs more than most humans.  I know that I am not alone, especially here in musher country.  Today in camp we met Philip Walters, he feels the same exact way as I do about dogs.  We have another element in common, we are both teachers.  Philip is a middle school band teacher in the Anchorage School District.  What I immediately discovered about Philip is he is young, energetic, loves dogs, and best, compares his students to dogs.  The quote I loved best that he said about this was, “You know how much I love dogs, so if I compare you to a dog you must be pretty special.”

Philip has been wanting to run the Iditarod for quite some time now.  He has been training with sled dogs since 2007.  What has been holding him back is his full-time job as a teacher.  This year he was finally able to secure time off during the race to be able to run.  We now have a full-time teacher, and full-time training Iditarod musher signing up for the race next Saturday.  How exciting!  Not only does he do all that, he has a wife and a 5-month old son.

BreveYou may be wondering how exactly he can compare his students to dogs, well it fits perfect.  Philip teaches band, which is a team of students working together and training together to perform their musical selections.  Sled dogs are a team working together and training to get to Nome.  He even broke it down further.  Every classroom has those 2-3 students that know everything and are a tad bit bossy to the rest of the class.  Your lead dogs (the first 2 dogs) have to be these bossy dogs, know everything, make sure everyone is doing the correct thing.  Swing dogs (directly behind the lead dogs), they are almost up there, but not quite.  We all have those students who are almost there, work hard, just not the top of the class.  Next, the team dogs (dogs between swing and wheel).  All these dogs want to do is run.  Philip stated it best when he said these students come to band every day and just want to play songs.  They may not go home and practice or go above and beyond to get better, they just play.  Team dogs just run.  Finally the wheel dogs (directly in front of the sled).  These dogs work so hard, are very important to the team, but just are never going to get it.  We all have students that work their butts off, are enthusiastic, but just will always get that C.  That is o.k.  These students are an important part of the classroom.  They show us how hard work is so important in life.  The wheel dogs are very important or the sled is not going to make that turn.

AstroI thought Philip’s comparison of students to sled dogs was remarkable.  It makes perfect sense.  I even started thinking about this in my coaching eyes.  Every single person (dog) on the team is equally important.  We all have different roles on whatever team we belong to.  I don’t think one is more important than the other.  Without the wheel dogs, the sled doesn’t turn.  Without the team dogs, we aren’t going to be as strong.  Without the swing dogs, turning will be tough.  And without the lead dogs, we may never find the trail.  Remind your students, and yourself, that whatever role you play, you are very important to the team.

Follow Philip’s journey to the Iditarod on his Facebook page Running Toward Iditarod.

Teacher turned Dog Handler


“Life is an interesting journey, you never know where it will take you.”

My journey today was quite interesting, however, it was awesome.  This morning Terrie Hanke, author of the Eye on the Trail blog for the Iditarod, and I went to breakfast before beginning our shopping list for camp.  When we got back to Vern’s Dream a Dream Dog Farm we started helping Linda prepare sandwiches for the 9:00 tour group, no big deal.  After making sandwiches it was time to turn our attention to that shopping list….or not.  After about a minute upstairs Linda shouted up the steps, “Terrie, Erin, get out here and help harness up the dog teams!”  We looked at each other and headed down.  My thought was how in the heck am I going to do this.  I have harnessed a dog before, once.  That was exactly one year ago when Vern taught us at summer camp.  I quickly asked Terrie, “how do I do this again?”  Terrie is a seasoned veteran at harnessing dogs as she has her own sled dogs back home in Wisconsin.  She reminded me and off we went.

"Aspen, put your leg through there."

"Aspen, first put your head through here."

So, Linda, Serene, Cindy Abbott, and Terrie and I harnessed and hooked up two 16 dog teams.  Ten minutes of noise and controlled chaos was followed by complete silence and peace.  After the two teams took off, I took a deep breath and looked around and said to myself, “Wow!”  Terrie and I proceeded to high-five after a job well done.

We attempted to start that shopping list again while we waited.  As soon as the teams arrived back at the kennel we headed back down to water the dogs.  After earning their water and a fish snack, it was time to unhook and unharness the teams and take them back to their kennel.  Not quite as crazy, but this time muddy and wet.  During the dog ride the dogs splash through a mud pit.

Remember that shopping list?  We finally got to it.

This day provided me with a thrilling adventure and a great deal of thought.  So many different journeys taking place.  Serene, Vern’s handler, to her this is just a normal day.  She is working for Vern during the summer handling sled dogs.  Linda, Vern’s employee, again, to her this is just another day setting up and taking down for a tour.  The dogs, this is their summer Iditarod training schedule.  Cindy Abbott, she is here to sign up for the 2015 Iditarod and this is normal to her too.  For Terrie and me, this was an awesome new experience.

My Journey Begins

One year ago I began my dream journey.  I came to Alaska to the Iditarod summer teacher camp with a dream to be the 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.  Today my dream became a reality.  This morning, upon arrival at Iditarod Headquarters, I was introduced to several people who deal with the ins and outs of the race.  As I sit at this desk writing my first entry, it is really starting to sink in that I am beginning this journey.  All around headquarters I hear talking of Iditarod business in the background.  I see many Iditarod books.  I view countless pictures of sled dogs.  I watch Barb Redington talking with tourists outside.  I talk Iditarod with Raymie Redington.  Also, amusingly enough, I hear a chocolate lab named Jack snoring in the next room, obviously sleeping on the job. These sights and sounds are making me feel part of the Iditarod family.  I know this journey is only going to get better and more exciting.  I look forward taking this journey and bringing all of you with me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ Erin Montgomery

erin2I am a 7th and 8th grade social studies teacher in Camanche, Iowa. I have been teaching in Camanche for 8 years. Along with teaching, I coach multiple sports in Camanche. I coach 7th grade volleyball, 8th grade basketball, and varsity tennis. My tennis teams have been very successful. We have won the state tournament 3 out of the last 6 years, with 2 runner-ups and 3rd place the other years. In the summer, I run our community’s summer tennis program, age’s 4-high school.erin

I love to travel. I have been to Spain, Germany, Norway, France, Luxembourg, Jamaica, Mexico, Belgium, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and Austria. I have been fortunate to travel to many of these places because my grandma loves to travel and loves to take me with her. I have learned so much history and culture traveling that I knew I had to bring this to my classroom. For the last five years I have taken my 8th grade students on a trip to Philadelphia, Gettysburg, and Washington, D.C. We visit many sites that we study during the school year. We hold fundraisers throughout the year to help students earn money for this trip. Being able to experience history and culture firsthand is very influential in these students’ lives.

In my free time I like to stay busy. I started taking piano lessons about a year ago. I love being active. I run, bike, play tennis, and play with my dogs, Dixon and Chili. This summer I trained for a sprint triathlon that I do every summer, a couple 5K’s, and a marathon. I am proud to say I ran and finished my first marathon September 22, 2013.


I Guess It’s Finally Time…

This is my last post at the 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail.  Today I’m headed back to Alaska for the Summer Camp for Teachers.  I’ve got a last few bucket items I will check off my list on this trip – visiting the Seavey kennel in Seward, visiting Jeff King’s kennel and horseback riding in Denali, visiting Kenai Fjords National Park, meeting Denali’s sled dogs, sightseeing in Fairbanks, and flying over the Arctic Circle.  But, I know the highlight will be talking Iditarod with a whole new group of teachers at the conference!

As a part of the conference, at the Volunteer Picnic, I will officially turn over the sleeping bag to Erin Montgomery.  She’ll be taking over the blog in the next week or so.  I had a chance to get to know Erin at last year’s Summer Camp.  She is a middle school teacher from Iowa.  She’s in for an amazing journey, and the best part?  We all get to go along for the ride!  I’m expecting wonderful things from her!

So thanks for following along with me this year.  It’s been an amazing year.  I hope that I gave you some lessons you could use and some new insights into the race.  It has been my honor to represent you as the 2014 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail.

My summary of my experiences can be found in the latest e-Runner which can be found here:  LINK

If you want to follow my further adventures, you can check out my personal blog here:  LINK

Behind the Scenes

Part of me lives at the Smithsonian now…

And my students’ artwork is there too…

Talk about being honored and proud!

2014-05-14 13.04.10

I recently had the honor of visiting the Smithsonian’s American History Museum and taking a “backstage” tour with Jane Rogers, curator of sports.  You may remember that I first met Jane two years ago when she attended the Winter Iditarod Conference for Teachers (LINK).  She was there to learn more about the race and to begin to collect artifacts for a possible exhibit about the sport of dog mushing and the Iditarod.  The race is such an integral part of Alaska’s history and culture; it’s not just a sporting event!

The whole journey started for Jane when someone donated Libby Riddle’s sled to the museum (LINK).  By setting out into a storm that held must mushers up in the checkpoint, Libby became the first woman to win the Iditarod.  She is still a presence at race time… she greeted team after team under the Burled Arch and provides specially made hats for the highest placing female Junior Iditarod mushers.

But one object doesn’t make an exhibit, and the sled needed to be put into context, so Jane set about learning about mushing and gathering other Iditarod items.  This is one of my favorite conversations to have with kids.  What if you needed to create a museum exhibit about the Iditarod but you could only include ten items?  What would you include?  From whom would you collect them?  What part of the Iditarod story would you tell?  It’s fascinating, because from speaking with Jane and visiting the Anchorage Museum with her, I’ve come to realize that the Smithsonian isn’t just about collecting “stuff.”  The stories that the “stuff” tells and represents are the key!  And as you know… the stories are what drew me to the race in the first place!

So, while I was on the trail this year, Jane asked me to help her acquire a few things to represent the race.  I headed down to the Smithsonian to donate the artifacts I had collected for the museum.  Here is the list of items if you want to challenge your kids to think about what part of the Iditarod story these items tell:

  1.  Used Drop Bags from Martin Buser and Jeff King
  2. A No Pebble Mine Flag carried on the trail by Monica Zappa
  3. An unused dog urine sample collecting bottle
  4. A program from the Junior Iditarod Banquet
  5. A program from the Iditarod Finishers’ Banquet
  6. An Iditarider badge

Now… here’s the really amazing part of the list:

  1.  My Iditarod Teacher on the Trail patch designed by three of my students
  2. My Iditarod Teacher on the Trail name badge with the pins I collected

Yes, you read that correctly… the Teacher on the Trail program is represented in the Smithsonian American History Museum!  Jane realized that education is such a huge part of the Iditarod story that it needed to be represented in the collection.  I am so honored to represent all of the amazing teachers who have realized the value of using the race and as you can imagine my kids are over the moon to know their art work is there!

So I took a day off from school and took the train down to DC with my bag of artifacts.  Jane met me in the lobby and took me up to the storage area and opened cabinet after cabinet after cabinet to let me see all of the Smithsonian goodies in storage.  The sports are in the Division of Culture and the Arts, so the storage room I got to poke around I was amazing….  I got to see skateboards and snowboards, Lance Armstrong’s bike, Olympic uniforms, tennis rackets, ice skates, trophies, professional wrestling costumes, sports balls of all sizes, and more.  The cool thing is that not just professional athletes are represented… part of the American sports story is the millions of kids who play sports too! So there are kids’ trophies in cases right next to trophies won by people like Tiger Woods.  This room was also where all of the TV and Movie memorabilia is stored as well!  So I got peeks at Fonzie’s leather coat, Klinger’s dresses, Batman’s masks, Edith Bunker’s chair, the typewriter from Murder She Wrote, Ginger Rogers’ gown, the Muppets, and so much more!  It was really amazing… like exploring America’s attic!

But, of course, I wanted to see the rest of what Jane had been gathering for the Iditarod collection.  What a treasure trove she has…. DeeDee Jonrowe’s Humanitarian Award, her pink parka, and the full set of dog tags from her team…  Lance Mackey donated his parka, hat, boots, and bibs…  Ken Anderson gave dog coats and booties…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And there sits my little patch in the middle of all of it.


We Want You!

We Want You…


To be the next Iditarod Teacher on the Trail!

As my time starts to wind down, I want to take a minute to encourage anyone and everyone who has ever thought about applying to be the Teacher on the Trail to go for it!

It honestly has beenthe most rewarding professional experience of my life.  Going through the application process really made me analyze my teaching and think about the reasons behind why I do what I do in my classroom.  Being chosen as a finalist was amazing.  Being able to get behind the scenes of the race and experience it as a volunteer and insider made my teaching of the race so much richer.

To actually be chosen as the 2014 Teacher on the Trail was unbelievable.  To experience the race from as close as you can get without being on a sled was something you actually have to do to truly appreciate it.  My teaching and my life will never be the same again.  The friendships I’ve made, the self-confidence I’ve found, and the experiences I have had will never be forgotten.

And you could be the 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail!  You could be getting the next Iditarod Teacher on the Trail Coat.  You could be hanging out with the Junior Iditarod racers on their half-way lay over. You could be riding in a sled at the Ceremonial Start.  You could be watching the teams arrive and depart in Takotna or Unalakleet or White Mountain or anywhere in between. You could be standing under the Burled Arch and welcoming them to Nome.

All you have to do to get the ball rolling is to apply.  You can find all the information you need here:  LINK

Summing it All Up

We summed up our year of Iditarod fun the same way we started it… with the Quilt.  If you remember, our class hosted one of the Iditarod Travelling Quits.  You can read that original post here:  LINK

To summarize our experiences, we decided to create our own quilt square to be added to a new Iditarod Travelling Quilt.  First, each boy designed his own square. They included symbols, words, and pictures that showed what they thought the “message” behind the race is.  We also talked about the idea that our final quilt square would need to give information about where the square came from.

After we assembled our quilt, we spent some time looking at it and looking for similarities between the squares.  We figured if something appeared on many squares that must mean it’s important to us and should probably appear on our final square.

We came up with a game plan of what we wanted our final square to be.  We decided to divide it into two sections – one for Alaska and one for Maryland.  Each side features a map of the state colored like the state’s flag and is surrounded by symbols of things that the state is known.  For Maryland there is afootball to represent the Ravens, a baseball for the Orioles, a lacrosse stick to show our state team sport, and a steamed crab.  The Alaska side shows a gold pan, mail for the mail trail, a dog, and cross country skies.  Then there is a dog sled running the Iditarod across the bottom and horses running the Preakness across the top.  The center features the quote that the boy think best represents the race:  “Dream. Try. Win.” ~ John Baker.

The boys are excited to see their final design featured in a new quilt next year.  To get your class involved in the Travelling Iditarod Quilt Project, check out this site: LINK and contact Diane Johnson at djohnson@


So this year everything I’ve touched has gone to the dogs… and that includes my Robotics Club!

I work with a group of fourteen fourth and fifth graders once a week after school using Lego Mindstorms to begin to explore programing and basic robotics.  We usually spend the fall semester learning how to program and use the various sensors we can add  to the robot and then in the spring semester we compete in a series of challenges… a Summo Tournament, a Triathalon, and this year the Robitarod!

The boys were presented with seven Iditarod themed challenges and then given six weeks to earn as many points at they could.  Everyone started by building their sleds.  They first needed to determine if the robot itself was going to be the dog or the sled.  Then they needed to create the sled.  The official Iditarod Race Rules have this to say about the sleds:

Rule 15 — Sled: A musher has a choice of sled subject to the requirement that some type of sled or toboggan must be drawn. The sled or toboggan must be capable of hauling any injured or fatigued dogs under cover, plus equipment and food. Braking devices must be constructed to fit between the runners and not to extend beyond the tails of the runners.

Therefore, we asked the boys to accommodate for the following in their sleds:

  1. There must be space in the sled for a dog to fit.
  2. There must be an allocated place for the musher to stand.
  3. There must be allowances for where equipment and food would be carried.
  4. There must be evidence of a braking device between the runners of the sled.

From there, they got to determine which of the remaining six events to attempt and in what order.   The challenges required them to take what they had learned in programing, using sensors, and from the earlier challenges and use them in new and unique ways… and all while pulling a sled!  Some teams quickly learned that attaching a sled to their robot really changed the game.  It seemed to affect the drivability and maneuverability of the sled.

It was also a great exercise in strategy.  There just wasn’t enough time to do all of the challenges.  So, the question becomes do you do the ones you perceive as being the easiest first?  Or the ones that are worth the most points first?  And then somewhere near the end, one team started going for partial points at several stations and that proved to be a game changer too!

We had a great time with our robotic dog teams!  You can read descriptions of all of the challenges here: Robitarod

Giving a Hero His Due

I was recently sent a copy of a book to preview, and just today ordered a class set of them for my classroom for next year!

Dog Diaries #4: Togo by Kate Klimo is a fantastic story of Togo who, according to many historians, should get the mostdownload credit for the success of the 1925 Serum Run into Nome.  Balto was the lead dog who carried the serum into town, but Togo was the lead for the longest leg of the relay, almost double the length of any other team!  The story is told from Togo’s point of view, which honestly usually rubs me the wrong way, but this one is really well done!  Togo has a lot of spunk, energy, and determination.  I think the book will be great for talking about visualization with readers… it’s easy to see many of Togo’s pre-serum run antics in your mind!  The appendixes are full of extra information too.  I was thrilled to see that the appendix talks about the Iditarod without claiming the race commemorates the Serum Run!  Instead, it makes the connection between the two via the history of the trail, which to me is the perfect way to do it!  The book is recommended for grades two to five.  I think it will be a fairly easy read for my third graders, so perfect for the beginning of the year.

I’m thinking that I will pair this book with my unit on Stone Fox (LINK) next year.  I think there will be many good connections made between the two books.  Throw Mush! Sled Dogs of the Iditarod (LINK) in there as a non-fiction text and I think I will have the perfect little trilogy of sled dog stories to start my year and set the tone and ignite the passion for following the race!

If you have a couple of weeks of school left, grab Dog Diaries #4: Togo as a quick read aloud.  Or, grab a copy for yourself to preview for next year.  Later this summer, keep an eye on the Iditarod Education Portal. I will post my unit plans there for anyone who is interested!

Coming Full Circle

Earlier in this school year as a part of our study of National Parks and as a wonderful tie it to the dog sledding theme that runs throughout my school year, my students and I did a Distance Learning Field Trip with Denali National Park.  [LINK] This is a wonderful program that is presented by the rangers in Denai via Skype. Through pictures, videos, discussions, and hands on activities, the ranger introduces the kids to the sled dogs who help patrol the park in the winter to access areas that are not opened to motorized vehicles.

One of the questions which came up was, “What happened to the dogs when they were too old to work at the park?”  We learned that the retired dogs are adopted by families all over the United States.

While I was on the trail this year, I was contacted by Sharon Winter, with the exciting news that she and her husband Dan were lucky enough to be adopting a retired Denali sled dog!  She was wondering if there was a way to keep the kids involved in the sled dogs’ lives and for them to learn what it means to be “retired” to a sled dog.

It will not surprise you to hear that my answer was “YES!”

Sharon and Aurora on retirement day!  Check out Denali in the background!

Sharon and Aurora on retirement day! Check out Denali in the background!

This week, my class had the chance to meet Sharon and Dan and their newest family member Aurora, via Skype from their home in Eagle River, Alaska.  Aurora’s full name is Princess Aurora Sparklepants!  She wasn’t born at Denali, but was given to the park when she was young.  She is now nine years old and has been living with the Winters for just about a month now.  They also have two other dogs, Amos and Snoopy.  Snoopy is a tripod dog, but he gets around just fine!

We learned that going through the process to adopt a retired Denali sled dog can take years!  There is a long application process that prospective families have to go through, including providing references.  The park looks at where the dog will live (both in terms of climate and kennel space at the home), if the families are active and can provide enough exercise, and if the families have experience with dogs.  It’s really nice to learn that the park works so hard to ensure that their dogs are well cared for in their retirement.

Sharon reports that Aurora’s retired life is pretty different then her working life, but still pretty different then a pet dog’s life!  She has a dog house outside of the house and has her own fenced in area. The fence both keeps her in and any wildlife in the area out.  She goes for several long runs and walks a day, and spends a lot of time with the family outside during the day.  They are trying to get Aurora used to being inside the house too.  She has really never been inside before!  When they first brought her in she wasn’t used to anything in the house!  She was scared of the ceiling fan.  She doesn’t like the noise of the TV either.  She really prefers to be outside.

We had a really wonderful time talking with the Winters and their dogs.  We learned a lot about how sled dogs live their lives when they are retired and it was a great way to wrap up our sled dog filled year!

The Ultimate Volunteers

The May issue of the Iditarod ERunner was recently published and features a great article by Dr. Stu Nelson, the Iditarod Head Vet.  You can read the article and magazine here [LINK]. In the article, Dr. Stu talks about the reasons why this year’s race was “G.R.E.A.T. “  (You’ll have to read the article for the meaning behind the acronym!)

I can tell you that part of what makes this race so great is Dr. Stu and his team of amazing vets. This year there were fifty-five vets and twelve vet techs who volunteered their time and services for the race.  Of those, forty-three were on the trail.  The professionalism and dedication to the four legged athletes shown by these medical professionals was second to none.

Every team was welcomed and watched coming into the checkpoint by a team of vets.  The vets started assessing the dogs as soon as they were in sight, watching their gaits coming in and their behaviors when the sled was stopped.  Mushers who were parking at the checkpoint to rest for a while were interviewed by the vets.  The conversations between the two always showed mutual respect as they both had the same goal in mind…. happy and healthy dogs.  Vets would then go through the team giving thorough, hands on exams to each dog.  They use the acronym HAW-L to assess the dog.  They look at the heart and hydration, appetite and attitude, weight, and lungs. The dogs’ legs, paws, and temperature are also checked.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Even when mushers seem to “breeze” through checkpoints they really don’t!  Every musher is required to stop at every checkpoint and the vets examine the dogs while the musher takes care of signing in and out, gathering their drop bag supplies, and getting a quick update on trial conditions.  This idea of breezing through a checkpoint is something that I really had to talk to my students about. They really need to understand this concept to understand how to interpret all of the data that comes out of the race. Mushers who pass through a checkpoint with little or no rest usually move down the trail just a bit before stopping and camping. Some mushers choose to stay in checkpoints to have easy access to the amenities offered, some mushers prefer to camp outside the checkpoints in order to provide their dogs with a quieter place to sleep.  It’s a great thing to get your kids to reflect on in a journal entry. If they were running the race where would they plan to stop? In checkpoints or out on the trail and why?

The vets are able to communicate with each other via the yellow Vet Log Books.  Most mushers carry them attached to their sled handle in some fashion for easy access. The vets are able to leave comments about the dogs for each other via this book.  It’s a great system that works well for everyone involved.

So, along with everything else that is so great about this race, be sure to add the vets and their dedication to the dogs to the top of the list!

Remembering Joe

The Iditarod family met at race headquarters today to remember Joe Delia.  Joe has helped the race out in so many ways, not the least of which is offering his home as the Skwentna Checkpoint from the very beginning of the race.  You can learn more about Joe and his dedication to the race here.

Even the students here in Baltimore know the name Joe Delia and the story of the Skwentna Checkpoint.  This year our first graders decorated their door as the Skwentna Checkpoint with Joe and his wife Norma watching the race out the window!

2014-03-25 07.34.08 2014-03-25 07.34.29

Happy trails Joe. You will be missed!

What Makes a Hero?

Teachers at this year’s Winter Conference for Educators had the fortune to hear Shelley Gill share some of her amazing stories of Alaska, her 1978 Iditarod run, and her work as a humpback whale researcher in Prince William Sound.  Shelley is an engaging speaker, and I have always shared her book Kiana’s Iditarod with my students when we first start talking about the race.

Shelley recently published a new book, Alaska’s Dog Heroes:  True Stories of Remarkable Canines which I have been sharing with my students in small snippets since I’ve been back from the race.  This book is a collection of stories of dogs who have demonstrated their intelligence, loyalty, and heroism in the most demanding of environments – Alaska’s frontier.  There are lot of stories that could be used for a variety of character development lessons – these dogs possess all the qualities that I wish I could find in a best friend!

Of particular interest to my students are the stories of Tekla, Hotfoot, and Dugan – the lead dogs of Iditarod mushers Susan Butcher, Dick Wilmarth, and Libby Riddles!  I’ve been looking forward to next year (one of my strategies for saving my sanity at this time of year!) and have been thinking that featuring these three dogs and discussing what makes a good leader may be a great way to jump start character development lessons in the fall.  Having the students identify what makes great lead dog and then discussing the qualities that make a great leader, the foundation is set for further discussions and lessons of what they can do as leaders in the classroom.

Here’s a worksheet that you can use to compare these Iditarod heroes and to begin to look at their character traits:  Dog Heroes Worksheet

You can learn more about Shelley Gill here:  LINK

Another Surprise Connection

I’ve said repeatedly that I can make an Iditarod connection to ANY topic.

I’m ready to prove it yet again.

Today we connect the Iditarod to our study of Lewis and Clark.  And not because of the obvious fact that the Lewis and Clark Trail is a historic trail just like the Iditarod Trail.

It’s because of the beads.

Yes, you read that correctly. The beads.

See, Lewis and Clark carried beads, lots and lots of beads on their travels.  According  to the documents left behind, they carried “20 pounds of assorted beads, mostly blue and 5 pounds of small, white, glass beads” as goods to trade with the Native Americans they came in contact with (

Beads Packed up and Ready to Hit the Trail!

Beads Packed up and Ready to Hit the Trail!

Iditarod mushers also carry beads on the trail, but very special beads. They carry beads that are a part of the Beads of Courage program.  Beads of Courage is an organization that gives kids with cancer or other serious conditions a way to tell their stories and commemorate milestones they have achieved during their treatment.  When they join the program they are given a strand of beads that spells out their name.  Each time they have a procedure done they are given a special bead that represents that procedure.  It’s a way for them to encourage the kids to talk about their procedures.  It’s a hands on way for the kids to show others what they have gone through.

Artists donate the beads that are then packaged and carried down the trail by mushers and others on the trail.  I was honored to be included in the program this year.  I carried a beautiful orange and blue bead and three husky head shaped beads.  The husky beads are called team beads and are given to the children in the program along with cards of encouragement that are filled out by the carrier of the beads.  The handmade beads are auctioned off to raise money for the Beads of Courage program.  It’s really an amazing program that you can learn more about here:  Beads of Courage

An activity that you could do with your students is to get them to select a few events that had a strong impact on their life.  Encourage them to think about turning points.  Provide them with clay and have them make a bead that represents each event.  They can then string their beads and use them as a tool to help them tell their stories.  It might be a great tie in to writing personal narratives in Writing Workshop.  They could use the beads as a way to rehearse their personal stories before they write them.

As for the Lewis and Clark tie in?  Maybe I could have the kids make beads that commemorate the major events in the Lewis and Clark Expedition!

Virtual Fieldtrip

We had a chance to take a virtual fieldtrip to Windy Creek Kennel, home and kennel of Ken Anderson.  Ken completed his rookie race in 1999 and has run consecutively since 2002.  He’s had five top ten finishes and has finished twelfth in the last two races.  He has always finished in the top twenty since his rookie year!  Ken offers a wonderful virtual fieldtrip to his kennel using GoTo Meeting.  He typically shows a slide show where he discusses sled dog racing, the Iditarod, and his life in rural Alaska.  He also has the capabilities to take the kids right into the dog yard and introduce them to the athletes.  I have participated in this virtual trip with my classes for the past three years and it is always one of the highlights of our year!


Since it was after the race, and our time was limited, we changed things up a bit for our visit this year.  Ken showed the kids the scenery around his home.  He pointed out where Fairbanks and Denali were and gave us a quick glimpse at the dog yard as a tease of what was to come later!  Then we just started asking questions!  It was really interesting to have a conversation with a competitive musher after wrapping up with Monica Zappa, who as a rookie, had  totally different goal for this year’s race.

Ken reports, as most other mushers have, that yes indeed, this year’s race was hard.    He said that he felt it was especially hard coming out of Elim. There were steep hills and no snow and it was downright scary.  “I used to think the Yukon Quest was tough, but this was terrifying,” he said.  He feels successful because he didn’t seriously hurt himself and his sled held up well.  Concerns about the rookie and less experienced mushers really worried Ken however.  He said he was always confident that he is a good sled driver and would make it, but he was very worried about many of the other mushers.

The boys wanted to know if the dogs slipped on the ice when it was really windy and slippery.  Ken told us that the mushers sometimes take the booties off on ice to give the dogs a little better traction with their claws. This isn’t a foolproof strategy though.  The dogs nails are intentionally clipped short to save wear and tear on booties, so they don’t really have long nails to grab the ice.  He said that were places on the trail this year where the dogs actually blew sideways on the trail!

“Was there someone on the race you really hoped to beat?” was another question presented to Ken.  He kind of laughed and said, “Yeah, all of them!”  As a competitive veteran, Ken is in it to win it!  He always goes into every race with the goal to win.  And he’s been very successful with that strategy!  He says that he gets along with the other mushers, but they are competition.  He has beaten them all in one race or another at some time in his career… except Jeff King! He says he has never finished ahead of King in a race.

Summer training was another popular question.  Ken says he has tried different things over the years to keep the dogs in shape during the summer.  In years past, he has taken the dogs to glaciers to work in the summer.  Cruise ship passengers on vacation can take an excursion in a helicopter to the glacier to take a dog sled ride. This is a good way to keep the dogs running and to keep them socialized when there is not a lot of snow in the rest of the state.  One year he offered summer cart rides at his home kennel.  He feels, however, that the dogs aren’t really made to do hot summers.  He will run them on the trails around his home only if the trails have water on them.

This summer he has a new strategy to try.  He is planning “swim” the dogs. He is putting in a pool and is going to let the dogs “run” in the pool, or swim, to keep their strength up.  The boys suggested that he might want to join the dogs in swimming laps to keep himself in shape as well!

The highlight of the trip was getting to go to the dog yard and meet the dogs!  Many of the boys saw and heard about dogs who they have drafted for their own fantasy teams, which was just amazing!  Ken explained that the dogs were lethargic at the time of day we were talking (early afternoon). He said it is just part of their biorhythms, and if we looked at the team’s run times during the race, we would see that they often rested on the trail during this time of day.  The boys were tickled to meet the dogs of the Thomas the Tank Engine litter – I think they relived their childhoods for a few minutes remembering all of their old train friends!

Ken says it definitely the plan to run the Iditarod again next year.  He doesn’t think he will do the Yukon Quest though.  This year it was pretty tough on the team to do both and he needs to work carefully to balance his family and his dogs!  He does have five year old twins and a three year old!

I’m so glad we had the chance to visit Ken and his dogs at Windy Creek Kennel. If you’d like to schedule a virtual visit, you can get more information here: Windy Creek Kennel

Catching Up with Monica

2014-04-17 13.48.17

We had the chance to catch up with Monica Zappa via Skype last week!  She joined us from her home to tell us about “life after Iditarod!”  The boys were so excited to talk to her and had some great questions for her.  She even introduced us to Dweezil, the superstar puppy!  Dweezil has become somewhat of a rockstar on social media sites, and my own son met (and instantly fell in love with) him at the Ceremonial Start in Anchorage, but the boys hadn’t heard his story so that was as good a place as any to start!

2014-03-01 13.57.42

When Monica left to go out on the race, Dweezil started to get sick, really sick.  No one could seem to figure out what was wrong with him.  When Tim left home to head to Nome to meet Monica, he got even worse.  He was super weak and got to the point where he couldn’t even walk!  No one has ever really figured out what was wrong with him, but since Monica and Tim have been home, he’s been getting stronger and stronger every day and is walking a bit further every day!   The boys and Monica discussed just how much dogs are in tune with what is going on in their surroundings and how much they need the companionship of their fellow dogs and their humans.  The boys seemed pretty convinced that Dweezil was depressed being left behind and that may be why he got so sick.  It reminded me of being in Nikolai with the dropped dogs and sitting with them while they howled and howled and howled.  They clearly did not like being left behind while their teams moved down the trail without them.  As pack animals, they long to be with their clans.

The boys asked Monica about the race and how she felt about it. She is deservedly proud of herself and the team for getting to Nome. That was her original, ultimate goal after all!  She said she took her time at the beginning because she was concerned about the lack of training they were able to do and with such young dogs she didn’t want to push it to hard too fast.  She felt that had she had the chance to do more training in better conditions, the team would have been able to move faster.   But, she also pointed out; there is always the risk of training too much.  Training too much means that the dogs are bored of running and they don’t have the excitement or the drive to get down the trail and see what is around the next bend.

Our socks were a hit!  If you remember, we had a fundraiser to buy warm wool socks to help Monica keep her feet warm!  She says it wasn’t as cold as she expected it to be, but the socks and warmers were definitely used.  What she really appreciated the most though was the encouragement notes we sent for her to include in her drop bags!  She even sent them all home in her return bags so she would have them!  The most amazing story was that when she reached Unalakleet, she heard that Dallas Seavey had won the race.  The note in her drop bag for that checkpoint said “You have done it; you have reached the three-quarter mark.  You only have one more quarter of the race to go.  I hope you have utilized Dallas Seavey’s strategy – sit back early and attack later.”  Pretty amazing timing, right?

As for her summer plans, she and Tim plan to keep training.  In the summer they will use wheeled carts and give rides to passengers. This will help keep the dogs in shape physically and mentally.  Mentally it will keep them used to listening to commands and working with people.

Looking into the future and future races, Monica’s biggest wish for next year is for the snow to be better than it was this year!  She is planning to run more races next year and is already looking forward to the Tustumena 200 which will be held in February in the Caribou Hills which is right in her backyard!  She even mentioned that she’d like to do the Yukon Quest someday!  Iditarod 2015?  Well, she’s not committing yet, but she may, or maybe Tim will make another run!  She says she’s a little intimidated by the southern route.  Apparently, running the Yukon River on the Southern Route is a little harder because the winds become headwinds instead of tailwinds.   We pointed out that we are pretty sure that if she could handle this year’s Iditarod she could handle any year’s Iditarod.

We are so grateful to Monica for allowing us to be a part of her race.  She was amazingly generous with her time and we are so very proud of her for all that she has accomplished!

Happy National Poem in Your Pocket Day!

The boys and I wish you all a Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day!  We are celebrating by carrying poems in our pockets to share.  We are also going to create Tellagamis (animated videos) with our poems so we can share them with family and friends near and far!

Here’s the poem I’m carrying today (I bet you are not surprised by the topic!):

Mr. Seward’s Folly

Alaska?  I ask ya, who wants such a place?

So cold it freezes the nose off your face.

Tons of ice and miles of snow,

A place where no one wants to go.

What’s that you say?  It might have gold?

Quick, Mr. Seward, mark it as “SOLD!”

from American History Fresh Squeezed by Carol Diggory Shields

Scaling Up the Trail

Several years ago, we realized that we were never getting to the Geometry Unit that inevitably occurred at the end of the math book and therefore at the end of the school year. We decided to break up the unit into pieces and teach it periodically throughout the year. Inspired by the book Mathematical Art-O- Facts: Activities to Introduce, Reinforce, or Assess Geometry & Measurement Skills by Catherine Johns Kuhns, we decided to accomplish this by using art to create monthly geometry projects. This allowed us to teach the geometry skills throughout the year in a hands-on way that require the students to use the new geometry skills immediately to create something.

When I returned to my school from my Alaskan adventure, the boys were returning from Spring Break and the time was prime for a hands-on Iditarod related geometry project. We spent a week enlarging Jon Van Zyle’s print A Nod to the Past to six times the original size! We had a wonderful discussion about the piece of art, the feelings it evoked, and the Iditarod memorabilia it featured. We worked as a full class to compete the project. While each boy was responsible for completing one square of the enlargement, the nature of the project was such that they naturally checked in with each other to see if their measurements were matching up. There were wonderful discussions and coaching between boys about how they were solving the problems. When it came time to color their masterpiece, leaders naturally rose to the top as they discussed shading and combining colors to achieve the desired results. It was nice to see the artistic boys have a chance to be the leaders. The finished product in the hallway is a show stopper and visitors often stop by to admire it and ask questions! Attached is a lesson plan to explain how we completed the project.

2014-04-22 09.33.19

Scaling Up the Trail Lesson Plan

Not Quite Ready to Say Goodbye?

Arriving in Galena

Arriving in Galena

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

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

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

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

Thanking the Volunteers

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

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

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

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

Thanks for sharing this amazing journey with me!


Recognizing the Accomplishments

2014-03-16 20.04.57

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Race for the Red Lantern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deja vu….

Would it be Dallas or Aily?

Would it be Nathan or Abbie?

Would it be Lisbet or Marcelle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Zappa: Under the Arch!

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

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

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

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

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

Catching Up with Martin Buser

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mushin’ Mon

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

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

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

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

In the meantime – welcome to Nome Mushin’ Mon!