Dr. Larry Daugherty, rookie musher, and Mitch Seavey, veteran and champion musher, sat down for a visit during the Iditarod Volunteer Picnic today at headquarters. One can only imagine the conversation. There is something genuine and giving about the mushing community. The passing on of history and knowledge is a gift that veterans and mentors like Mitch embrace, which will ultimately help the Iditarod continue to be The Last Great Race on Earth® for generations to come.
“It’s never too late to live your dream,” reads the banner heading on Gwenn Bogart’s musher web site. I can’t think of a better expression to describe Gwenn. She is vivacious, uplifting and positive, and this year she is determined to make it “from home to Nome” as she tries a second run as a rookie musher in the upcoming Iditarod 2016. The teachers from the Iditarod Teacher Summer Camp had the great fortune of hearing Gwenn talk about her life and her deep desire to mush in Alaska. For the next year, she will be under the care and training of Vern Halter, veteran Iditarod musher, at his Dream a Dream Dog Farm. Vern worked with the great Cindy Abbott, the 2015 Red Lantern winner, and under his mentorship this year, Gwenn will be prepared for the challenges ahead. As the 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trailˇ I have chosen to follow Gwen as our rookie musher this year. She is going to share her preparation for The Last Great Race with teachers and students around the world, so they can all better understand the hard work and perseverance that it takes to bring your sled and dogs to the starting line on 4th Avenue in March.
Gwen’s bio from the Iditarod site:
Gwenn Bogart, 58, was born and raised in Vermont. She has B.S. and B.A. degrees from Colorado Technical University. Gwenn has had professional careers in horsemanship and fly fishing. She co-founded Casting for Recovery (CFR), www.castingforrecovery.org, an international breast cancer support group headquartered in Manchester, Vermont, that uses fly fishing for mental and physical healing. Gwenn also has a private pilot’s license and flew a Cessna 150 from the Green Mountain State of Vermont to the Last Frontier in 2011. Gwenn’s two grown daughters, Hannah and Molly, make their homes in Oregon and Vermont. Gwenn moved to Alaska when she and Dave Bogart, a former member of the Iditarod Air Force, were married in June of 2012. She began mushing in 2012 and has run the Sheep Mountain 200, the Copper Basin 300 and the Northern Lights 300. This will be Gwenn’s second attempt to finish the Iditarod and she humbly refers to herself as a rookie’s rookie. She lives in Wasilla with her husband, two border collies and one wiener dog named Frank. She enjoys fishing, flying airplanes, skiing, hiking, riding her road bike and perusing her artistic skills.
“Tip me for Willow fire!” read the hand-written note clipped to Barb Redington’s jacket at the Iditarod Volunteer Picnic today. Barb has a big heart and a passionate dedication for the Iditarod and everyone involved from volunteers to mushers. She is married to Raymie Redington, the son of Joe Redington Sr., the founder of The Last Great Race. Barb was the 1977 Red Lantern champion in the Junior Iditarod, and now dedicates herself to the organization helping mentor the young athletes all year to prepare. She and her husband offer sled dog rides at Iditarod headquarters 7 days a week, but today, their earnings were donated to the mushers who lost their homes in the Sockeye fire.
Two young athletes sat respectfully on the stage as we entered and sat in “The Gathering Place” inside the beautiful Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage. A small tethered ball covered in seal skin and fur hung conspicuously from a tall wooden pole. Our group from the Iditarod Summer Teacher Conference waited with quiet excitement to see some examples of the Native Olympic games. Our star athletes on stage shared with us not only many remarkable athletic moves this day, but also the history and traditions of their people. Why are these games important to them? What are they learning from this experience that draws them closer to a connection with their culture? The mission of the Alaska Native Heritage Center states that its organization: “preserves and strengthens the traditions, languages, and art of Alaska’s Native People through statewide collaboration, celebration, and education.” The specific moves in the games come from the moves needed to survive in the wild long ago, such as jumping from ice float to ice float. Judging by the dedication and passion of these two remarkable young people, the ANHC is meeting its mission to preserve and nurture the history of the native people of Alaska.
Puppies are the future for any kennel. They require special nurturing and training from the day they are born to prepare them for the possibility of one day becoming a champion. The teachers at the Iditarod Summer Camp had the opportunity to spend time with Vern Halter’s newest litter during our stay, and we enjoyed every minute of it. Vern’s puppies were born three months ago and were given unique names in honor of Cindy Abbott’s Red Lantern year; a special tradition within the mushing community. Early risers were lucky enough to enjoy a puppy walk through the Dream a Dream Dog Farm woodland trails, and it was fascinating for all of us to see the puppies already developing into a close-knit pack. They chased each other along winding pathways surrounded by ferns and wildflowers, around trees, and over their gnarled roots with the instinct of exactly where to go. They ran far ahead of the group of teachers, scampering past us all the way back home. One morning, after chores, we were bound and determined to capture this puppy spectacle on video, so a small group of us waited anxiously by the puppy kennel for their return. With Mickey, the family border collie and famed stick retriever as their guide, they emerged from the woods with yelps and howls. We heard them coming before we saw them. To our delight, they bypassed the food bowl to join us with lots of licks and love. Yet another great reason for teachers to journey to Alaska for the Iditarod Teacher Summer Camp!
“Dogs laugh, but they laugh with their tails.” – Max Eastman
Howls, licks and love abound at the Dream a Dream Dog Farm for all of the teachers at the Iditarod Summer Teacher Conference. We all pitch in for dog yard chores and puppy walks several times a day, and there is plenty of husky happiness to go around.
“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!” – John Muir
On a map, the Palmer Hay Flats encompass about 45,000 miles of freshwater streams, marshes, bogs and silty glacial rivers. In person, its wild beauty is inspiring. The refuge is the stop for thousands and thousands of migratory birds, and many stay and nest and raise their young. Ducks, geese, swans, and other shorebirds are drawn to these wetlands as they migrate to and from the north. I spent the afternoon on a one mile hike around Reflections Lake with Sara Lamont, an Iditarod Education Committee member, long-time Iditarod race volunteer and our designated “moose whisperer” as she has the talent for spotting moose. Sara loves sharing her passion for Alaska’s wildlife with others, and our walk inspired me to continue to spend time in the beauty of nature, not only during my time here in Alaska, but when I return home to Texas.