Jeff King is on His Way to Nome!

Jeff King looked chipper while packing up his sled and getting things together. He gave his lead dogs a lot of attention, encouragement, and words of wisdom before heading out.  “On your feet” were the words he used to get the team up and ready to go.  They didn’t listen too well the first few times, maybe the realized he wasn’t really quite ready to go yet, because finally he said it as he stepped on the sled and they sprung to their feet.  The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, the kids must have just gotten out of school, because there were a bunch of kids there just in time to see Jeff off.  He finally pulled out, and with a wave back at the crowd he was off to Nome!

Aily Zirkle is getting her teamed prepped to go.  Dallas Seavey will be the next.  Mitch Seavey has asked for a wakeup call ten minutes before Dallas heads out.  The cycle of teams in and out and in and out will continue here for the next several days!

More Teams Arrive

Aily Zirkle came in about an hour after Jeff King.  She and Jeff are sleeping now after getting their dogs settled and having a quick snack for themselves.  It sounds like she had a rough run.  Someone chewed through two ganglines and Quito got loose and took off after Jeff’s team.  She obviously got Quito back, she arrived with all her dogs!   I didn’t quite hear the whole story, but I will see what I can find out later.

Dallas Seavey just pulled in.  His checkpoint routine was to get the dogs hay first and get them settled.  Then he set up his cooker to start heating water.  Here, the mushers are given a bucket of water from a hole cut in the river.  They have to use their cookers to heat the water.  Dallas started his cooker by poking holes in three bottles of Heet and pouring it in to the bottom of the cooker.  Then he grabbed some hay and lit it and went from there.

He says he has a young team and he’s pretty impressed with how they have done.  His current leader is just two years old, and the rest of the team is three.  He also spoke of the glare ice and how the dogs were slipping and sliding.  He even talked about doing 360’s with the team!  He seems to think the future with these dogs is bright.  He said he pushed them this last run because he didn’t want to have any regrets or be able to wonder, “What if?” as he tried to catch the leaders.  He asked after Christian Turner who is running his puppy team.  He says those dogs will be on his team next year, so he is anxious to learn if they are having a good run.  Dallas admits that he is tired, but there isn’t that much further to go.

At the White Mountain checkpoint, a few unique things happen.  This is a mandatory gear check location.  So when the teams are parked, the vets swarm in and check the dogs and then they and the musher sign off on the vet book.  The musher also has to sign in on the checker sheet and then the mandatory gear is checked.  Technically, if the musher is missing anything, they could have a fine or be withdrawn from the race.  The mushers can ask for a wake-up call on their way into the sleeping area.  Interestingly enough, Jeff did not ask for one and Aily did.  As the mushers leave the checkpoint after their mandatory eight hour stay, they will be given back their racing bibs.  They will put them in their sled for now and will put them on when they get to Safety as they have to have them on for the finish in Nome.

We have another lull in the action and then the next mushers will begin to roll in.  I’m hoping to get to Nome today so that I’m in time to see the winner cross the finish line!  Cross your fingers for me!

Jeff King Arrives in White Mountain

Jeff King has arrived in White Mountain, and Aily ZIrkle shouldn’t be too far behind.

Jeff’s checkpoint routine is precise.  He doesn’t waste much time or energy in taking care of his chores. I’ve often heard that races are won or lost in checkpoints, which I think may be true.  Someone told me the other day that their mentor told them if they could shave two minutes off their time in each checkpoint that would make a huge difference in their total time.  There’s your math problem for the day.  How much time could a musher save by shaving two minutes of of their time in each checkpoint?  Don’t forget – they can’t do that in their mandatory stop checkpoints… that would break the rules.

Here’s what Jeff did when he pulled in:
1.  Pulled out his cooler and dropped out food that had been in there cooking from the previous checkpoint.  The dogs ate this while they were still standing. He said later that the dogs have been eating best when they first pull in, so he’s been carrying food for them.

2. Opened his drop bags and got out his bags of kibble and passed that out to the dogs.

3. Got out buckets and gave each pair of dogs a bucket of water.

4.  Opened the straw and gave some to each set of dogs.  One of the dogs who was closest to the full bale just helped himself. He pulled some off the bale and made his own nest!

5.  Passed out fat snacks to the dogs.

6. More straw!   Jeff doesn’t just give them straw to lay on, he actually puts straw on top of them and makes them little cubbies of straw to cuddle down into.  When he ran out of extra straw for the top he put his sleeping bag on one pair and his parka on another pair.

7.  Then he grabbed a handful of straw and some Heet and started to get his cooker ready.

That’s when he stopped and started telling stories to the reporters!  He said the trail out the last checkpoint was really bad for the first ten miles – rocks and stumps.  He says he almost pushed his “Get me out of here” button.  But then the trail turned great and he had a wonderful run.  He says that when he got to the river his leaders were amazing.  They went right out onto the glare ice without any problems.  It was really slippery and the smallest gust of wind would send them sliding sideways. He thinks it’s been interesting to see the terrain with so little snow because now he know really knows what the land looks like. Usually everything is covered in snow and you can’t tell what is what.  He says he feels great, no aches or pains and he’s not that sleepy.  He credits his feelings of being awake to waiting until Ruby to take his twenty-four hour rest.  He says the dogs look great, they are perfectly gaited.

Oh – dogteam!  Aily is here! It’s going to be a close one!

Setting Up White Mountain

I left the beach town of Unalakleet and  arrived in White Mountain, flying in on a nine seat plane.  I really enjoyed Unalakleet.  I felt so comfortable there. Maybe it was the beach… maybe it was the people… maybe it was the pizza!  My only regret is that I didn’t have time to go back and get a Pizza on the Iditarod Trail t-shirt.  Should have gotten it when I first saw it!  I did get a hat that the school ski team was selling as a fundraiser though!   Flying to White Mountain was another amazing flight watching the land change again from sea ice and back inland a bit.

It’s a pretty interesting time to get here… the checkpoint is still in the process of being set up.  The comms people are working on getting all the communication set up and are, not surprisingly, having issues setting up internet and wi-fi here in rural Alaska.  The kitchen is being set up and down on the river the drop bags, straw, and Heet are being readied.  This checkpoint is the final mandatory eight hour layover for the race, so every musher will have to be parked and will stay at least eight hours before they make the final push to Nome.

I don’t have much to report from here yet.  None of the mushers are here, most people are working to set up the checkpoint.  I had a wonderful conversation with Joe Runyan about the Iditarod and education. He said that he has always heard from teachers that kids are so interested in the Iditarod, but he didn’t really understand how we used the race.  I told him about how amazing it is for kids especially who grew up watching the high-powered professional sports.  It’s neat for them to focus on a sport where the athletes are so approachable, where age and gender don’t matter.  It’s the thrill of the competition, the lure of Alaska, and the joy of the dogs.

The estimate from the Insider Guys and others who have been around for a while is that this race is on a record pace.  In Galena, the locals told me the mushers started arriving about twelve hours before they usually do.  In Unalakleet they told me the mushers have never arrived on Saturday before.  And now they are expecting the early mushers to arrive here tomorrow around five or six am.  They then think that the first person will cross the finish line in Nome around midnight tomorrow!

Nathan Schroeder told me today that the race is going faster than he can believe.  That he will blink and it will be over.  He’s exactly right!  Maybe this time tomorrow I’ll be in Nome waiting for the first person to come under the burled arch!  Wow!

Staying by the Sea

Last night three friends and I decided to take a walk to the local pizza place to have dinner and use the wifi – hence my two posts five minutes away from each other last night!  We were treated to an absolutely amazing sunset over the Bering Sea.  The sun was bright orange and the sky was streaked with red and orange.

The pizza place is called Peach on Earth and they have the greatest t-shirts that say “Peach on Earth – Pizza on the Iditarod Trail.”  I’ve always heard things are more expensive here in Alaska because everything needs to be shipped in.  So for a pizza and four drinks last the total was $55 with tip.  It was expensive – but it was super yummy!  And they had wi-fi which is a plus.  That has been hard to come by for several days now.

This morning I awoke to a symphony of snores.  We are all staying in the church gym, which is a interestingly shaped building.  The gym is like a long rectangle, but with a domed roof.  There must have been 25-30 people sleeping in there last night.  The snoring didn’t bother me during the night because I listened to my i-pod, but this morning it was quite something! There is talk of sending me to Koyuk, but nothing definite, so I had some time to wander around.  I decided to do some beach combing on the Bering Sea.  I knew I was a beach person, much more than a mountain or a lake person, so it’s no surprise that I ended up at the beach.  This beach however, is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.  It’s a beach where you can’t hear the waves…. It’s frozen!  It’s so surreal.  Mostly it is white but in some places you can see the deep blues and greens that I typically associate with the ocean.  There was lots and lots of driftwood on the beach.  Tons of it.  I did manage to find one shell!  It’s some sort of mussel shell I think.

When I got down to the checkpoint things were starting to hop.  Jesse Royer, John Baker, Michelle Phillips, Wade Marrs, and Pete Kaiser were here.  The parking by the berms makes a lot more sense to me now!  They literally parked the teams right next to the wall of snow.  They were snuggled up to the wall of snow in their hay. That way they could park four teams in the chute and still have a space in the middle to move teams out and about.  The berms help in the case of wind.  Apparently it can get really, really windy here.  Mark Nordman asked me if I realized how lucky I was to be here on this day – the weather is “perfect people weather.”  Not too windy.  It’s cold, but without the wind it’s not too bad.

They were expecting several other teams so there was lots of work to do.  The mushers’ drop bags are being stored up by the checkpoint.  When the mushers are on their way, they get moved down to the slough.  So I rolled up my parka sleeves and jumped in.  We pulled down the bags for the next several mushers. Now, these bags, there are two or three per musher and they weigh up to fifty pounds each.  They are HEAVY!  Once we had them down the hill, we decided where we were going to park each team and then dragged the bags to that spot.  Each parking spot also got a bale of hay and a box of Heet.

When Ken Anderson arrived, I got to park his team!  To park a team, your job is to lead the team to the spot where they are going to park.  Sometimes you can lead them by holding the necklines that connect the two leaders, but sometimes the mushers don’t like that.  They sometimes prefer you to just run in front of them and have the dogs follow you.  So that’s what I tried, I just called the dogs and ran along in front of them and encouraged them to follow me, and it worked quite well!  It’s a little nerve-wracking; you need to be so careful not step on the dogs toes!  Can you imagine how horrible that would be?

Nathan Shroeder arrived at about 2:20pm. His team looks good.  We got him parked easily and he gave the dogs some frozen salmon snacks which they munched on quite contentedly.  Some of them hold the snacks in their paws – it’s pretty darn cute!  Nathan says he’s still having fun, not so much the camp chores part, but the mushing part!  He camped last night on the trail.  He wanted to know how much further he had to go, and the answer is about the length of the John Beargrease Race which he has won three times!   He’s going to take a little nap.  The two things he most wants to do here are brush his teeth and take off his socks!

Leaving Unakaleet things aren’t going to get much better for the mushers trail wise it seems. When they leave the checkpoint they follow the trail out and go under the overpass.  It’s kind of cool to watch.  I talked with a woman who flew over the trail two days ago and said there was no snow.  And the locals are telling them to “stay off the ice” it’s not quite as solid as it should be.  They need to stay on the land.  Apparently one of the Iron Dog racers fell through the ice. The Iron Dog is a snowmachine race that follows the Iditarod Trail and started the week or so before the Iditarod.

So – surprise – just got the call I’m flying out – I’m off to White Mountain, not Koyuk.  More later!

On To Unalakleet!

I’m in the lead again! I’ve beaten everyone to Unalakleet and my average speed was about 150 miles an hour.

I actually got to cross two things off my Bucket List in one trip!

Flying in to Unalakleet was breathtaking.  There were trees- lots and lots of trees and then we ended up on the Bering Sea!  Out pilot Scott was amazing!  He flew us low so that we could actually follow the trail! Not only that, we got to see four or five teams on the trail!  Bucket List Check #1.  I’ve always seen Jeff Schultz’s photos of teams on the trail taken while flying over the trail.  It was so cool!!!  It really brought home just how small the teams when compared to the great vastness of Alaska.  The trail looks like a ribbon running through the land pointing the way to Nome.  We flew over the village and checkpoint of Kaltag and over Old Woman Cabin.  This cabin has a great role in the folklore of the Iditarod and is where mushers leave offerings of foods to the Spirit of the Old Woman so that she doesn’t follow them down the trail sending them bad luck.

We also flew with a dog! Bucket List Check #2. He really did well in the plane and really did fall right to sleep!

Unalakleet is like the big city compared to where I’ve been the last few days!  We landed on a paved runway and there is a stop sign!  The first think I did upon landing, was walk out to take a picture of the Bering Sea.  The oceans near me don’t freeze so it was sort of surreal to see the sea ice!  Unalakleet is a hub, so there are a lot of people in town for the race.  Some are volunteers here at Unalakleet and some are here on their way passing through to another checkpoint further up the trail.  A few people who were supposed to fly up toward Elim got grounded here due to weather in Elim.

The checkpoint is located in a building at the back of the post office.  The mushers come in on the slough (pronounced like “slew”) behind the buildings and on the opposite coast from the sea.  As the tracker showed the mushers getting closer and closer, the crowd grew and grew!  There are lots of special people here to greet the mushers!  Aliy’s dad and handlers are here.  Karin Hendrickson’s mom is here.  And Ben Harper, fresh off his second place Junior Iditarod run is here to cheer on Ray Redington, Jr.  Can you imagine how glad the mushers will be to see them?  It’s been a long race so far and I know it will be great to see a familiar face!  It’s pretty shocking to see so many people!  Especially after being in such small towns lately!  There must be close to a hundred people here!  It was really neat to see the native people dressed in their traditional parkas with all their fur ruffs and trims!  While I waited, I got to chat with several of the local teachers… it constantly amazes me how the teachers seem to gravitate towards each other!

We got to see Aliy Zirkle arrive first.  You could see her coming for a long way!  She made a sweeping turn into the checkpoint area where they had built up walls to help cut down the wind. The walls are called a berm.  By arriving first, Aily won the First to the Gold Coast award which is a trophy and some gold.  It was awarded to her at the checkpoint, but will be given to her again at the Finishers’ Banquet in Nome.

Since then three others have joined her and are hot on her heels.  Here’s a little tidbit for you…in sixteen of the last twenty races, the first musher to Unalakleet has gone on to win the race!  But get this – one of the four who hasn’t?  Aily Zirkle.  It’s going to be an interesting few days watching the strategies start to play out.  Now that the twenty-four and the Yukon River eight hour rests are finished, we can get a much better idea of who is actually winning! Be sure to keep watching those run times!

Overnight in Galena

The hospitality of Galena has been wonderfully amazing, especially given their recent history.  About nine months ago the worst flood in a hundred years severely damaged the town. I’ve talked to a few people about the rebuilding of the community and most seemed to say things are getting back to normal.  One thing that has happened as a result of the flood is that the school’s population has decreased.  Some families that were evacuated to Fairbanks are still in that area and haven’t returned yet.  No one seems to be certain when or if they will come back.  At least one local musher was able to save his dogs in a boat, but then decided it was more than he could handle and he passed his dogs on to other homes.  One woman told me that even now, you pull something out that you haven’t used in a while and you are surprised to find it filled with silt.  Things are still missing as well.  One woman hasn’t been able to find her parka yet and apparently many of the plastic buckets typically used around the checkpoint are nowhere to be found.

The checkpoint is in the community center.  This building was one of the few that did not flood. They have cots for the mushers and volunteers to sleep on if you are lucky enough to get here early enough to claim one for the night.  I was not, and spent a pretty uncomfortable night on a wooden bench.   The mushers can get hot water from the kitchen here to make their dog food “soup.”  This seems to be a pretty common thing to feed the dogs.  The mushers add frozen meat to the hot water, maybe add some fat and some kibble and stir it all up. They ladle it into the dog’s dishes with very long handled ladles.  Making the meal a soup consistency is a good way to help keep the dogs hydrated.  The community has brought in dish after dish of wonderful food and they seem to be enjoying gathering in and around the community center watching the mushers and dogs and helping out in any way they can.

Mushers and teams came and went pretty much all night.  The timing pattern is pretty interesting.  A group of two or three mushers would come in within an hour or so of each other, and then there would be a big lull.  Then there would be another few tight together, then another lull.  By this morning, Galena had seen 28 mushers come and go and another five were still here enjoying a nap – dogs on the straw, mushers on the cots.  So there are still many mushers to come. Things will still be hopping here for a while.

One of the things my students always have fun hearing about is how the mushers sometimes name puppy litters in themes.  In talking with Nathan Schroeder last night, I learned that he tries to name the litters with themes his kids can relate to.  So one of the dogs on his team is called Mater….  He’s from the Cars litter.  He also has a litter named Mickey, Goofy, and Donald.  And then one called Izzy, Jake, and Cubby – after the Playhouse Disney show Jake and the Neverland Pirates.

Rumor has it I am moving on to Unalakleet today… we’ll see what happens!  Ohhh – it’s true – I was just told to get my stuff together!  It’s on to the next adventure!

Glorious Galena

Flying to Galena with pilot Wes was a glorious adventure. It was my longest bush plane flight yet, forty-five minutes.  The land is just amazing. It’s so big – and there’s just nothing there… no buildings, no animals… just miles and miles of frozen rivers and mountains and hills.  It is so hard to believe that Alaska and Maryland are on the same planet, let alone the same country!

We landed in Galena and were met by two school kids with hand pulled sleds who helped pull our belongings up to the checkpoint which was literally right at the end of the runway.  The checkpoint is jam packed with volunteers and people from the community. The community members have taken it upon themselves to cook for everyone by bringing dish after dish after dish of food.  So far I’ve had moose stew made by a family and pizza made by the culinary students at the high school!

It’s kind of surreal to go from cleaning up a checkpoint where the feeling is that the race is ending to right back in the heat of things!  Martin Buser left Galena just as I arrived.  Aliy Zirkle and Aaron Burmeister were here.  I followed the trail markers behind the checkpoint for a bit and was rewarded with the most amazing view of the Mighty Yukon River!  Wow!  It is huge!  I totally understand why it is called “Mighty!”  I watched Sonny Linder and Robert Sorlie come across the river and up into town.  Like in Takotna, the mushers follow the road right into the checkpoint.  Unlike Takotna, there is actually car traffic here, and quite a bit of it.  They seem to have the road narrowed down to one lane so that the other lane can be used for the dog teams, but they do in fact have to cross the road to get to the checkpoint.  Once they have checked in, they go down a small hill and are parked or they just continue up the hill to the other side and back to the river to head out of town.  If they are planning to stay a bit, they are given straw and some kids bring them their dropbags on little sleds.  There are ton of kids running around and having fun. They are very good about not approaching the dogs.  I bet they are wishing and wishing they could pet every single one of them.  But they are working dogs and need to get all the rest they can!

I met the first and second grade teacher from the local school.  The school here is bigger than the last few, about 60 students. There is also a boarding school for high school students that has several hundred kids from the towns and villages throughout the area.  They are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Mike Williams, Jr. who is a graduate of the school.  The kids at the school can take one of several career paths in their studies at the school – earn their pilot’s license, study culinary arts, cosmetology or other things.

I’ve been wondering what the mushers are looking for when they study the standing sheets, and I may have gotten some insight.  Jeff King asked me to read some of the information to him off of the sheet. He’s running the race now with contacts in which he says is unusual for him.  He didn’t ask about placement or numbers of dogs or in and out times.  All he was interested in was the column that shows how long it took each musher to get to the current checkpoint (run times).  Nick Petit looked at the same thing when he sat down a few minutes later.  He compared his run times with the other mushers also in to the checkpoint.  He said that he had thought his team was sluggish, but when you compare his run time to others, they were doing really well.  I guess that gives them best idea of where they stand.  Were they faster or slower than the mushers around them?  So as you are analyzing the data, you may want to keep an eye on that column as well.  Is it a better indicator of where people stand then some of the other data? I know the checkers use the same column to estimate the time when mushers will arrive.  The look for the average time it’s been taking mushers to arrive at their checkpoint.  To predict when the next musher will arrive, they look at their out time from the previous checkpoint and add the average run time and come up with a general idea of when to expect them.

It seems like there will be a steady stream of teams in and out pretty much all night.  The mushers seem to be in pretty good spirits and the trail into Galena seems to have been good to them. Jeff King said it was beautiful but boring.  He had to work to control the speed of his team. He said once he put his biggest dog in the sled the team slowed down to the exact speed he wanted!  I always thought he carried dogs to rest them, but apparently carried dogs can serve as a type of brake too!  Nick Petit thought it was getting warm for the dogs, and seemed pleased that their team was traveling as fast as they were!

In my classroom we have an interesting, but useless fact on the board each morning. So in honor of that, here are some useless, but interesting facts I learned today!

  1.  Dallas Seavey can communicate in sign language. He was talking to a local man today.  He explained that one of his cousins is deaf, so as kids, all the cousins learned sign language.  He said he was surprised how much he remembered.  Speaking of sign language, Kathy Cappa, the interpreter for the Ceremonial Start is here!  She’s working in communications.
  2. Ray Redington, Jr. is wishing for sushi.  He was poking around the food table and not finding a lot to interest him.  He said he’s been thinking about sushi for a while!
  3. Nick Petit has a dog named PacMan on his team.  He is also carrying a stuffed dog on the front of his sled in memory of his pet dog, Ugly, who recently passed away.  The stuffed dog is wearing a helmet!
  4. There were two little girls here earlier selling maple bars. They were collecting donations to contribute to the Lance Mackey Medical Fund.  Lance Mackey is a four time Iditarod Champion who is also a cancer survivor.  He has recently had some additional medical problems related to his cancer treatment and his fans have been raising money to help with his astronomical medical bills.

I’m here in Galena for the night.  At least eight teams are currently on their way here, including Nathan Schroeder!  Using my new understanding of using run times, I predict he will be here around midnight!  There are seven more teams sitting in Ruby who may or may not make a run for it tonight!

What’s an Average Leg?

2013-03-03 20.38.15-1Meanwhile Back at School:  This week we have been exploring mean, median, mode, and range.  This skill have been removed from the elementary curriculum by the Common Core, but for me, it’s still a great way to review the basic operations and it’s pretty essential to understand some of the data that comes out of the Iditarod.

So, this week we have been analyzing data galore.  We have calculated the mean, median, mode, and range of the overall winnings of some of the top mushers, ages of the mushers, and numbers of Iditarods they have run.

Attached you will find our culminating activity for this section of the unit. The students will determine what an “average” leg on the Iditarod is.  Half of the class will find the average leg of the Northern Route, half will find the average leg on the Southern Route, and then they will compare their findings.  They will then use this information to determine which route they would rather run on.  My students are usually spit on this decision, but their reasoning is always fascinating to hear!

What’s An Average Leg Lesson Plan

Off Into the Sunrise

It’s 8:20 am here in Takotna.

The temperature is -28 degrees Fahrenheit.

The sunrise is incredible and the air is crisp.

And according to the tracker, I am now the Red Lantern!

Our last musher, Marcelle Fressineau, has come and gone.

2014-03-07 11.44.26Watching her arrive was unbelievably beautiful  Usually what happens is that someone comes into the checkpoint and says, “Musher on the river” and everyone gets on their coats and heads out in time to see the musher come down the road.  This time, I was outside taking pictures of the amazing sunrise, so I actually got to see her cross the river silhouetted by the sunrise.  It was perfect!  She crossed the river and came up onto the road and into town.

I even got to help this time! I held the leaders so that she could take care of business.  The leaders were a perfectly mismatched pair.  One had a black face with the most beautiful baby blue eyes and the other was all white.  They were so calm and just waited for Marcelle to do what she needed to do.  They looked back at her occasionally to check what she was doing, but they were perfectly content to be petted and loved on.  I was rubbing the black one behind both ears and his eyes started to close – I got a little worried I was putting him to sleep, so I went back to just rubbing his chin!

Marcelle went through her drop bags, gave each dog snack, changed out a few booties, had a cup of coffee and was on her way!  Her team got a little confused heading out of town like so many others have! There really must be something fascinating about that snowmachine trail to the right!  But they got it worked out and they are off.

So that’s pretty much it for Takotna.  The vets are going to do their clinic for the village dogs today.  Things will get packed up and people will wait for the planes to pick them up.  Most of us are headed up trail but for some, this is their last stop and they are headed home. I’ve come to realize there are a lot of goodbyes associated with this race.  People become your life for the time you are here – we are all connected by something so amazing and powerful.  We eat, work, and sleep together.  You learn people’s personalities and their mannerisms and their sense of humor… and then you are gone.  You may or may not see them up trail.  It’s kind of bittersweet.

We are leaving in our wake several things that the village will wrap up for us.  Actually more then several.  There are bunches and bunches of drop bags.  There are the bags of all the mushers who scratched, the bags of the mushers who blew through without looking at them, and the bags that the mushers opened and used some of but not all of.  The villagers will go through the bags and pull out the perishable things – the people food and the dog food –  and distribute it among the people who live here.  They will pack up the remaining items – sled runners, dog booties, dog coats, etc – into the musher’s return bags and will have them shipped back to the mushers.

Keep watching that tracker!  Hopefully I’m poised to jump back into the middle of the pack sometime today!

Students Supporting Iditarod

As you may have gathered from the tracker, I am spending another night in Takotna.  We aren’t expecting another musher to leave McGrath until at least nine pm which means an arrival time here around eleven pm. So I thought I’d take advantage of the press not using all the wifi and get some pictures posted!

The Blankets for the Dropped Dogs project was a very successful project in which school kids donated three by three feet fleece blankets to the race vets to be used with dogs who were dropped during the race.  You can read more about it here:  LINK

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Another project that lots of kids were involved in was creating centerpieces for the Musher Draw Banquet in Nome.  You can learn more about that here:  LINK  Here are some long overdue picture from that project:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sorry if I missed your school’s project!  I will keep looking for blankets!

Learning Something New Everyday!

Still hanging out here in Takotna… the press has moved on for the most part… the mushers and dogs have moved on.  It’s pretty quiet for the time being. Everyone who did their 24 hours here has moved on.  Danny Seavey and Eliot Anderson blew through a little while ago with their puppy teams.  Both stayed long enough to have their dogs checked, grab a few things from their drop bags, and kept right on going.  There are still several mushers who need to come through here, but they haven’t even left McGrath yet!

We’ve been talking about how much the Iditarod inspires people to help each other – whether it be mushers helping mushers, or the press helping each other… but today I learned of something really cool and special!  The vets who are here are going to have a clinic tomorrow for the villagers to have their pets checked out!  That’s pretty cool!

I’ve had lots and lots and lots of time to explore the community building and I found myself fascinated with two things. One is a map of the trail and the other is a poster about the values of the different groups of Alaskan Natives.

The map I saw here is similar to the map at this link:  I spent a long time talking to Kevin Keeler who is with the BLM and is the Iditarod National Historic Trail Administrator.  I don’t think I realized that the portion of the race that is taken on the northern and southern routes was so far off from the main historic trail. The main historic trail would actually go from Takotna to Flat to Iditarod to a town that no longer exists called Dishkakat.  That town was in the middle of the big circle made by the northern and southern routes.  From Dishkakat it  would run to Kaltag and then the race route follows it again.  Kevin explained that today the Dishkakat site is in national forest land and all that remains of it is ruins.

I also found a wonderful poster that talked about all of the values that the Alaskan Natives hold special to them. Since we are in Athabascan country here, I thought I’d share their list with you.  It might make a good discussion or journal entry to reflect on whether you value the same ideals, or which one you think is the most important:

“Athabascan Values:

  • Self – Effeciency
  • Hard work
  • Care and provision for the family
  • Family relations
  • Unity
  • Honor
  • Honesty
  • Love for children
  • Sharing
  • Caring
  • Village Cooperation
  • Responsibility to Village
  • Respect for Elders and otherO
  • Respect for knowledge
  • Wisdom from Life Experience
  • Respect for the Land
  • Respect for Nature
  • Practice of Traditions
  • Honoring Ancestors
  • Spirituality”

Still hoping for a flight out tonight.. cross you fingers for me!

Morning Sights in Takotna

I’ve been wandering around this morning and checking out what is going on.  Here are some snapshots of what I’ve seen to kind of give you an idea of what is happening.  The mushers who are here are doing their 24 hour layover and if they aren’t staying they pretty much just come and go. If they aren’t staying and therefore will miss their steak, the community has bagged lunches for them to take on their way! No one misses out on Takotna’s hospitality!

  • Karin Hendrickson is out walking her dogs.  She walks them two at a time to stretch their legs after a good sleep.  She later went in to get some breakfast. She remarked that she feel so much better today!  She got a great night’s sleep and is smiling!
  • Matthew Failor is also walking his dogs.  Or maybe running them. Or maybe it’s that they are walking him!  Anyway – for all my Ohio teachers and classes out there – I got a chance to talk to him and he seems to be doing great.  I told him that I knew a lot of Ohio kids were following him and rooting for him and he said it’s great to have that hometown connection and suppot.  He said the ride into Takotna was so much better then into Nikolai! He couldn’t believe how bad trail there was. But he seems to be in good spirits and is glad to be past that part.
  • Dan Kaduce and Allen Moore left pretty close together.  Finding the right trail out of the town seems to be a bit of a challenge for the dogs!  They leave right out of the main street that crosses right in front of the checkpoint, but there are all sorts of snowmachine trails leading off of it.  Those trails seem to be full of great smells that interest the dogs more than the musher shouting at them to “Haw” out of town!
  • I went with the vets to visit the dropped dogs and feed the breakfast.  They all had blankets from the blanket project that many schools participated in!  Well, I should say they were all given blankets, but most of them had shrugged them off and were happy to curl up in their straw!
  • The kids are out helping to rake up the used straw so that the parking spots can be used for teams still coming in.  Last time I checked, thirteen teams were still due to come through Takotna.
  • I’ve been using the downtime to catch up with some of my Skype in Education schools!  That’s been a lot of fun!  I’m hooked up with schools in Canada, the UK and all across the Lower 48.  It’s super quiet here in the school – the press is all here and are had at work on their computers writing stories or editing pictures.  Every time I start a Skype call they all turn around and look at me.  They are smiling – so I guess they don’t mind too much! A special hello to the students at South Borough School in the UK who are following the race as part of the study on the Arctic!  They have been asking great questions and are super excited to be following the race!
  • Any guesses to what the second most common language is in the checkpoints?  Norwegian.  Not only are there several Norwegian mushers here, but there are Norwegian press people, Norwegian volunteers, and Norwegian fans. They are all here to support all the Norwegian mushers, but especially Robert Sorlie. They tell me he has an incredible team as he has paired up with another highly successful Norwegian musher and has brought the best dogs from both teams!
  • I almost forgot to tell you about the cold.  It is cold. Someone told me it was -16 this morning. It’s so cold that it hurts to suck air into your lungs and when you sniffle it feels like the inside of your nose is freezing.  It’s so cold my camera took one picture before the battery froze up!

I’m packed up and waiting to hear where I’m headed next!

Nathan’s left Takotna!

Nathan left after his 24 hour break a little after 5:30 am.  When they leave from their 24 hour they have to sign out so it’s official!

Flying to Takotna

DSC_0745Late this afternoon I got news that I had a plane coming to fly me from Nikolai to Takotna.  Before I left, I had a chance to see Monica after her rest in Nikolai. She seemed in much better spirits after a good nap!  Apparently her sled did break in the tough trails from Rohn to Nikolai, but she didn’t even realize it until someone else pointed it out to her at the checkpoint.  She says it’s not too bad and she has another sled waiting for her at McGrath, so she planned to go ahead and keep going until she could get to McGrath.

I went up to the airport to wait for my plane and met my pilot for the trip, Udo.  Udo is originally from the Netherlands, but now lives in Anchorage and has been flying with the Iditarod Airforce for three years now.  The Iditarod Airforce is an amazing group of volunteers who not only donate their time to the race, but they donate the the wear and tear on their airplanes. Udo explained that he had been flying dogs all day…  and that for the most part they were very well behaved.  He said usually once they get in the plane, the motor starts humming, and the sun is shining on them they are perfectly content to take a nap!  Except on his last trip before picking me up.. he had one male dog who acted like a typical adolescent boy he said!

The arrival in Takotna was pretty amazing.  We got to see the checkpoint of McGrath from the air and then flew onto Takotna.  Apparently the planes usually land on the river but this year the river ice is rocky and rolly.  Maybe it froze and them melted some and then refroze?  But the point is, you can’t land on it, so the IAF is using the airport to make their landings.  Udo raidoed one of the other pilots to find out where he should take me.  The other pilot responded, “They are usually good about sending out a snowmachine to pick you up at the airport. But, a good pilot would buzz the checkpoint to let them know you are there.  A really good pilot would call ahead and tell them you are coming.”  When we were about ten minutes out, Udo had radioed them to let them know we were arriving so we seemed to be in good shape.  We landed at the airport, which Udo described as, “A really little place with a really big landing strip.”  When we stopped the plane and go off, you couldn’t see a thing moving anywhere. There was no sign of life at all.  And no clear idea as to which way the checkpoint was even if I wanted to walk!  Thankfully Udo decided he’d wait with me to make sure someone came for me.  So we waited… and waited… and waited.  Finally Udo used his amazing phone to call. Yes they knew we were coming.  Yes, someone was coming to get me.  So we waited… and waited.. and waited.  And as we waited the sun got lower and lower in the sky.  Now, you have to remember that the IAF planes are not allowed to fly at night.  And Udo was due back to McGrath because that’s the hub and that’s where he’ll fly from tomorrow.  So I’m starting to worry that he’s going to have to leave and I’m going to be out on this runway all night long!  Or I’m going to have to walk and try to find the checkpoint.  Or I’m going to have to go back to McGrath with him!  So he called again… and finally the schoolteacher’s husband came up in his pickup truck to get me!  Crisis adverted!

Once again I am sleeping in the school!  Takotna’s school is really neat!  It’s a wide open space with high ceiling and lots of natural light.  There are ten kids in the school and they run from elementary all the way to high school.  The teacher explained to me that the high school kids do a lot of their courses through distance learning and online types of classes.  But still, can you imagine having that many different levels of kids to teach at one time?  I met a young boy named Kai who came up to me in the community center and tapped me on the arm to thank me for sending the school the Goliath book!  It was such a perfect introduction to the community!  He said they read the book and he really liked it.  He was excited to learn that one of the first grade teachers at my school, Claudia Friddell, had written it.

Now each checkpoint has it’s own special touch to contribute to race lore.  Skwentna had the Skwentna Sweeties who cooked for the mushers and the Darlings who ran the river crew to park the teams in that fantastic herringbone formation that allowed everyone to get in and out easily.  And remember, they also had hot towels scented with lemon for the mushers to wipe their face and hands.  Nikolai had the wonderful school where the students cooked for the mushers and the amazing community support for the race!  The teams were parked on the bank of the river and had their drop bags brought to them on sleds.

Takotna has the pie.  Takotna is famous for its pies.  Oh, and did I mention the steaks?  I’ve always heard the story that the when the mushers arrive they are asked how long they are staying and how do they want their steak cooked.  I always wondered if it was a true story or not.  I didn’t have to wait long to find out.  I walked into the checkpoint, and there were the pies! I was just in time for a delicious dinner that was cooked for everyone who was in for the race. The village only has 48 people living in it, and there must be at least double that here at the moment!

Nathan Schroeder helped me answer the second question.  I ran into him as he came in from outside. He (along with many, many other mushers) have declared and are taking their 24 hour break here.  He said that indeed they did offer him steak when he arrived!  But, he saw they also had eggs and bacon and given the time of his arrival he thought that was better!  So he just got around to ordering his steak tonight – and he was pretty darn happy about it!  After his steak, but no pie (he doesn’t really like it), he spent quite a while studying the current standings sheet.  If rookie of the year is what he is aiming for, he has only one rookie in front of him, Katherine Keith. They have both done their twenty four hours here, but Katherine will leave about three hours ahead of Nathan.  With the time differential (remember, the 24 hour break is where they make up for starting at different times) Nathan is scheduled to depart at 5:38 am.  I’m also happy to let you know that his rest ratio is much better here!  He has already slept for six hours, then three hours, and plans to get about two hours more before he leaves.  He was then off to do some dog chores.  He wanted to take the dogs for walks since they have been sitting for a long time.  He is going to need someone to take him clothes shopping after the race.  His jacket is torn up and he is holding is snow pants on with zip ties because the Velcro tabs broke!

The layout of Takotna is different then the other two checkpoints I’ve visited.  The teams are actually parked throughout the village.  About 48 people live here, and the mushers are all parked in their yards and all around the village!  There are a few diagrams in the checkpoint so that you can find the mushers when it’s time to send them out.  Aily Zirkle left around 9:00pm.  Robert Sorlie left about two hours later.  Then there are pretty much people leaving from midnight on.  It’s going to be a long night of getting teams out. They have to be moved from their camping spots to the main road in front of the checkpoint.  Those that have done their 24 hour have to sign out and be timed out accurately.  Then they follow the river road right out of town!

I spoke with Mark Nordman, the Race Marshall tonight, and he made a comment about no matter what the previous teachers told me to expect I could never really “get it” until I was here to see how it all functions and works. He’s absolutely right. The sheer magnitude of what is needed to run this race boggles the mind!

The scene in Takotna:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“Who is Winning the Iditarod?”

This is the question that is on the minds of most of the kids who are writing me emails or sending me video messages!

The truth of the matter is that this is a really hard question to answer!  It’s always hard to tell for sure until everyone completes their twenty-four hour layover.  Some of the mushers who now seem to be in the back of the pack have already taken their 24 hour break so they will soon be catching up to or passing those mushers who have just started their layover! The 24 hour layover is also the place where the mushers make up for the start differential.  Remember, that the teams started every two minutes at the restart, so there was quite a bit of time between the first and the last musher! That will all be evened out during the long break!

If it seems like your favorite musher hasn’t left the checkpoint for awhile, it may be that they have declared their 24 hour break.  Takotna is traditionally a favorite place to stay for awhile…. they are famous for their pie!

Keep watching the race stats and keep an eye out for that green check under the 24 hour column!  That makes a huge difference in the “who is winning the race” question!

Still Hanging in Nikolai

It’s morning here in Nikolai.  It’s pretty quite now. We are expecting about nine more teams through here.  We have twelve dogs who have been dropped here, so this morning I got to help load up a few to go to the airport.  There is only one dog who has a sore leg, the rest were dropped for “attitude” reasons.  Maybe they were tired, or cranky, or just didn’t feel like running any more.  They are being kept behind the checkpoint, and a few had special blankets provided by school kids from around the country!  I got a few pictures, but they may have to wait – it takes a REALLY – long time to load those here!  To transport the dogs to the airport, we had to check their paper work and make sure who was going.  Each dog travels with paperwork from the vets as a way for the vets on the receiving end to know what is happening with the dogs.  Once we got word that a plane was on the way, we took the dogs being transported for walks so that they would empty their bladder in the checkpoint and not in the sled or the plane!  We got into a sled pulled by a snowmachine and held on tight to the side and the dog!  The dogs were taken to the airport where  a plane from the Iditarod Airforce was waiting for them.  They get snapped into the back of the plane and they usually just curl up and go to sleep!

Newton Marshall arrived last night and as always has a huge smile on his face this morning!  He mushes in jeans!  He has snow pants over top of them, but he has jeans on!  He was just explaining that he doesn’t like the big white bunny boots that some mushers wear because he wants the boots to be warm when he puts his feet in them – and the bunny boots never are. We have hard that he had some excitement on the trail and came upon Scott Janssen on the trail who had broken  his leg.  Newton helped Scott get to a safety cabin so he could get help.  Another example of mushers helping each other on the trail.

Monica Zappa made it in safely!  She looks fantastic!  Her sled is in one piece, her dogs look super and she is really relieved to be here. She said the trail was a nightmare and when she camped last night she kept having flashbacks of the trail.  She is super proud of herself for making it here – as she should be!  She is planning to drop a dog here as she has one who just doesn’t seem right.  She carried him in her sled for the last three miles or so.

Here’s a little math problem for you.  Yesterday I told you that Nathan Schroeder was planning to stay in Nikolai for six hours. He really ended up staying about five and a half.  After he did all his chores, had some food for himself, and hung his clothes out to dry – he was able to sleep for 45 minutes.  What percentage of his “rest” time did he actually rest?  He says the dogs rested for about four hours.  But can you really call it a five and half hour rest if you only rest for forty-five minutes!?!  As he was packing up to leave he was wondering about just how tired he was going to get.  The answer: really, really tired.

Waiting for a plane out to see where I’m heading next!

Nathan’s in Nikolai

Nathan made it into Nikolai about 3:06pm.  He arrived with a smile still on his face!  He’s the second rookie in to Nikolai – and is still my pick for rookie of the year!

It’s been a rough trail in.  Allen Moore describe the trail by saying, “I broke three stanchions on my sled and I only had two to start with!”  Everyone who has arrived has had a story to tell, a sled to repair, and clothes to air out.  Nathan says he took the worst of it with the tug lines off of all but four of his dogs, so that only four dogs were really puling the sled, and he still couldn’t stop them!  He says his sled tipped and dragged a few times.  When he pulled his sleeping bag out of his drag sled it was covered in dirt!  Dirt!  Not something you expect to see on the Iditarod Trail in the middle of winter!  His back sled was pretty beat up. The top rail is broken, but he was able to repair it pretty well, so we will hope for the best.  Nathan kind of just kept shaking his head about the trail.  He asked other mushers around him if it was always that bad – most said part of it is always bad, but not that bad!  I think there is a little air of remorse that the year he finally made his dream come true to run the Iditarod is the year the trail is this bad! He is planning to stay here for about six hours to grab some sleep and then head on down the trail.  The good news is that he found his watch in his sled bag!  He also managed to find another musher’s vet book!  He said, “He must have wiped out in the same place I did!”  He turned the found book into the vets who reunited it with its very grateful owner!

Katherine Keith has moved out, but not on the sled she arrived on!  Her sled was damaged so badly on the trail that it was beyond repair.  There is an allowance in the rules that lets a musher get another sled from a musher who is in the race with their permission.  So, what happened is that when Katherine arrived with her broken sled, she talked to Martin Buser.  He had an extra sled shipped here and then decided he didn’t need it, so he let Katherine use his sled.  There are several deals like that happening. Curt Perrano cracked a runner on his sled.  He thinks he can make it to Takotna where he is planning to take his twenty-four hour rest.  Ray Redington, Jr. has a sled waiting for him there.  So when he gets to Takotna and changes sleds, he has told Curt he can use the sled is is leaving behind.  I think it’s really awesome how the mushers help each other out even though they are in competition with each other.

And mushers aren’t the only ones cooperating!  Jeff Schultz, the official photographer for the race is here in Nikolai, but his laptop is in another checkpoint grounded due to bad weather.  So the Alaska Dispatch photographer who is here too has been sharing his computer with Jeff so he can edit and post his pictures!

Not sure what my next move is… I’m on the board to fly out , but not sure when that will happen!  It’s kind of surreal to sit here in the school cafeteria and watch the mushers roll in and tell each other their stories.  It seems like it will be like this all night long….  and the stories are endless.

At the River in Nikolai

I’m here in Nikolai which is a hotbed of activity!  Mushers are coming and going.  I’m in the school right now which has been pretty much turned into a hotel for the race. The mushers and volunteers are sleeping in the school and the students are cooking food and meals to raise money for a float trip they will take later this spring.  The school has a total of eleven students from grades five-twelve.  The principal/teacher, Marcus, is amazing! He fixed my computer by magic!  The curriculum at the school is amazing.  It’s a thematic curriclum that is based around outdoor education. So for example, they may take the school to the Buffalo Camp and they will camp there for a few days and learn math, science, reading, etc. based on native stories and culture surrounding that location. The elders come and tell the traditional stories and are a part of the experience.  It sounds like a wonderfully rich environment in which to teach.  The school will take on a new look next year as there are currently six preschoolers in the village who will be ready to start school next year!

The mushers who have arrived here are very relieved to be here.  It means they have made it through some of the roughest trail in the race…. trail that this year has no snow.  The trail is riddled with stumps and pebbles and is taking its toll on the sleds and the mushers. The dogs are having a blast!  Mitch Seavey told a reporter that the dogs have realized that when he says “woah” and puts the brakes on, nothing is happening!  The brake isn’t catching on anything so there is now way to slow the dogs down!  The dogs are taking full advantage of the situation!  At least two mushers have arrived with no brakes at all, having lost them somewhere along the trail.

Dallas Seavey told a story about his tug line breaking.  Apparently twelve of his dogs took off when it snapped.  It’s a good thing he is as athletic as he is – he was able to catch up to them!  He seemed a little surprised that he could catch twelve sled dogs! He said it was the best thing that happened to him today!

It was neat to watch Mitch and Dallas pull in.  Mitch arrived first, a few minutes ahead of  Dallas.  Dallas was parked right behind Mitch.  But their chore styles were completely different.  Mitch took the booties off and laid out straw for the dogs first.  Dallas went right to collect hot water and feed his dogs a hot meal which they ate still standing on their feet. Once they had eaten everything they would,  they got their straw to rest.  Mitch got the dogs all bedded down and then made them a hot meal.  Even though Mitch arrived first, Dallas made it up to the school to feed and take care of himself first.  Both were asking how their puppy teams were doing.  Dallas’ puppy team is being run by Christian Turner from Australia.  Mitch’s is being run by another of his sons, Danny.

Jeff King shared a story of running into some snowmachiners stopped right in the trail.  His dogs attempted to dodge them and ended up heading through a five foot deep hole. The dogs made it fine.  The main sled ended up nose down in the hole and the back sled was still balanced on the bank on the far side of the hill.  With the help of the snowmachiners he was able to get it out of the hole and continue, but the handle bars are all messed up.  

That’s all for now – I’m back to the river to wait for more teams… I’m hoping to catch Nathan coming in!

Here are some pictures from today:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Waiting in McGrath

Once I left Skwentna today, I flew back to Anchorage, only I didn’t land at the airport, I landed right on Lake Hood, which is right behind the Millennium Hotel.  I took off almost immediately again, this time headed for McGrath.  I’m in the Cafe now, which is kept open for twenty-four hours a day when the race is in town.

Flying into McGrath was amazing!  We flew over the Alaskan Range. I couldn’t believe that teams cross this mountain range as part of the Iditarod!  It seems so huge and so daunting from the air!  I guess the Iditarod racers have it somewhat easy… there is a trail marked for them.  How did the first team find their way across?  How did they navigate the mountains and arrive safely on the other side?  It’s hard to imagine!

McGrath is a special place to be… not only is it a hub that lots of people pass through on their way to smaller checkpoints, it’s a checkpoint itself.  At this checkpoint, the first person to arrive is given the Spirit Award by Penn Air.  This award is a beautifully carved traditional mask.  The thought is is that we can expect the first team tomorrow between 5pm and 11pm. They’ve looked at the data for the past ten years to come up with that estimate!

I realized today that the warm temperatures and lack of snow are affecting people other then just the mushers and the teams.  McGrath is a hub, so the town is filled with Iditarod Airforce Pilots.  These men and women volunteer their own time and planes to make the race happen. They spend time flying people, dogs, and supplies in and out of various checkpoints.  This evening I got a chance to speak with a few pilots who altered me to the fact the weather is having an effect on the pilots as well as the teams.  It turns out that some pilots can’t fly into certain checkpoints due to the lack of snow on the ground.  There is a difference between landing with wheels, skis, or a combo of the two.  Each type of landing gear is used in a certain type of  environment. So some pilots can’t fly into certain checkpoints because they only have skis on their planes!  It’s having an impact on the pilots’ ability to get people and gear to the places they need to be!

I’ve been thinking a lot about Nathan Schroeder’s comment to me yesterday about how surprised he is about how many people have been around. He’s really right!  It’s just amazing how many people have donated their time and expertise to the race.  Just yesterday in Skwentna there were 32 people running the checkpoint between the Skwentna Sweeties and the Darlings’ River Crew. These two groups keep the checkpoint running – they set it up, run it, and then clean it out.  Then you also have to add in the six vets, the four communications people, the race judge, and myself!  That is a lot of man power for one checkpoint that everyone goes in and out of in about fifteen hours!  Now think about that times the number of checkpoints there are! Now some people travel down the trail and work more than one area, but still.. it’s an overwhelming amount of people!

Rumor has it I may be flying back down the trail tomorrow, so I may lose my lead in the race!  Keep an eye on the tracker to see where I end up next!

Overnight in Skwentna

I flew into Skwentna with Race Judge Jim Gallea.  He has been a race judge for about ten years and is an Iditarod finisher himself.  It was a beautiful day for a flight. The sky was so clear you could see forever. It was just amazing!  I got to sit in the front seat of the plane.  When you sit in the front seat there is a steering wheel right in front of you.  This steering wheel is attached to the pilot’s wheel, so when he moves his,  the one in front of the passenger moves too… which startled me at first!  I wasn’t sure if I had knocked it and was in danger of crashing the plane!  But it was just the pilot steering!

We arrived in Skwentna about three hours before the first team was expected.  This checkpoint runs like a well-oiled machine with the Darlings and the Skwentna Sweeties organizing everything!  It has to be well run, as all of the teams are in and out of here in about fifteen hours total.  The finish chute is on the east of the river.  The musher drop bags are in the middle of the lake arranged in alphabetical order.  Just past that is the area for the mushers to leave their return bags and then a trash heap.  There is a pile of HEET bottles for the mushers to pick up if they need them.  Just past that is a huge camp stove where volunteers melt snow to have hot water for the mushers all night.  The teams are parked in a herringbone pattern on each side of the river.  When they pull out, they will funnel back into the river channel and continue on their way.  Jim told me that we could expect that one-third to one- fourth of the teams would park and stay for a bit.  Those would be the first teams through, and then the later teams would go right through because they had camped earlier on the trail.  Then the later teams would be teams who stayed again.

Mike Williams, Jr. was the first musher to arrive at 8:31am.  It was so cool! You could see his headlight as he came down the river.  It was about three or four minutes from the time you saw the headlight until they actually arrived at the chute.  If the mushers didn’t have lights on, you would never have known they were coming.  They were so silent.  It wasn’t until they were nearly upon you that you could hear the patter of the dogs’ feet and the swoosh of the sled.  As they got close to the chute it was a mystical sight – the steam rose off the dogs and formed a haze in the musher’s headlight.

The hardest part of checking the teams in was getting them stopped on the river ice. There’s not enough snow to really plant a snowhook, so they needed to have several people hold the sled to keep the musher stopped long enough to go through the check-in process.

Once the first team came in it was a pretty steady influx of mushers.  Nathan Schroeder came in ninth.  He got his dogs parked very easily.  He pulled off their booties, spread out some straw for them, gave them some snacks, and then picked up his drop bags from the pile.  He got some hot water and made his dogs a hot meal.  He is disappointed because he lost his watch on the trail – he says it fell right off his wrist somewhere.  I later found out the Lev Shvarts lost his as well!  Maybe this section of the trail will be known as the “watch eating trail!”  Nathan said he was amazed at how many people have been around and that he hasn’t done a lot of river running, so that was a new experience for him.  He still seems calm and confident.  And the dogs passed their vet checks with flying colors!

Monica checked in a bit later – in her brightly colored parka she’s hard to miss!  She arrived a little later than she had planned.  She ended up spending more time at Yentna Station because she had a hard time getting her cooker working.  She wished she had treated herself to a new cooker for the race!  Monica was super glad to learn that the volunteers here at Skwentna had hot water for her!  Her first checkpoint chore was to grab a container of ointment and some leg wraps from her sled and to rub down and wrap a couple of dogs’ legs.  She also gave Moto a shoulder rub and a special jacket. She says that babying his shoulder is how he’s going to get to Nome!  As she gathered her dropbags she joked that she over packed. She said that Tim Osmar’s (her kennel partner) theory was for her to be able to take her twenty four anywhere just in case there was a storm and she got stuck somewhere.  She has realized she forgot her ski pole, but she says she won’t need it for a while, so she will try to pick one up in McGrath.  After her chores were finished she went up to the checkpoint cabin and had some food, got a warm lemon scented washcloth to wash up with, and got some rest.  She got some advice from Danny Seavey, and Iditarod veteran, about going through the Steps section of the trail.  She’s apparently still debating if it’s better to do it during the day or night!  Is it better to see what’s coming or just hold on for the ride?

Danny Seavey has an interesting story that led him to the start line the year.  He was in Florida with his family when he got the call from his dad Mitch that he needed him to come home and run his puppy team.  The musher who was due to run that team, Matt Gilbin, broke his ankle and wouldn’t be able to make the run. The family needed Danny, and so he flew home and went into full training mode, bought some new boots, and here he is!  Back in the race!  It’s been about eight years since his last race, but having the puppy team run this race is an important part of Mitch’s training regime.  The dogs couldn’t just sit this one out!

Things got really busy between 1:30 and 3:00am with teams coming in and out.  The mushers don’t have to sign out with a checker, so you have to keep on your toes to catch a team leaving so that you can accurately record the out times.  It’s actually pretty easy to do.  You just head toward the team that is jumping and screaming and slamming in their harnesses.  They are usually the ones preparing to head out!

The sun rose over the river.  It’s now about 9:00am. There are just four teams left on the river.  Nathan is long gone.  Danny and Monica are feeding their dogs and repacking their sleds.  I’m packed and ready to go.  Just waiting for a plane to take me to my next spot on the trail!

A Magical Day!

The Ceremonial Start of the 2014 Iditarod has been completed.  Mushers and teams are doing their last minute chores and hopefully getting a good night’s rest before tomorrow’s restart.  Tomorrow it starts for real, but today was all about the atmosphere, the fans, the celebration and the fun – for mushers, friends, family, fans, and dogs!

It was a beautiful day in Anchorage!  The fog rolled in for a little bit, but rolled out again almost as quickly.  I headed down to the start line around 8 am and the streets were already filled with dog trucks and the fans were starting to gather. One of the things that continues to amaze me about the Iditarod is how approachable the mushers are.  The fans are able to be on the streets until about an hour before race time to greet the mushers, take photos, and pet the dogs.  I can’t think of any other sporting event that gives such amazing access to its superstars!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I wandered around for a bit, but I really wanted to check in with Nathan Schroeder and Monica Zappa.  I came to Nathan’s truck first… since he is bib #25 he was pretty far down the street. They park the lower numbers farther away from the starting line so that they can get their trucks out first.  Remember, the trucks need to leave as soon as possible so they can get to Campbell Airstrip to meet the mushers at the finishing line for today.  Nathan had a great spot – right on Fourth Avenue. His dogs were amazing. They were so calm, cool, and collected… much like Nathan himself.  It was almost as if they were saying, “No need to waste our energy… we got this!”

Monica was parked on one of the side streets.  She was so bubbly and full of energy!  My son described her as a “brightly colored blur!”  Her Posh House sponsor has given her some super bright gear for the trail – she will be easy to spot for sure!  She even brought five month old Dweezil along for the ride.  What a sweet puppy he is!  He was taking it all in… maybe he’ll get his chance to run the Iditarod some day!  She even put the banner my class made for her on the front of her truck!  I know the boys are sending her all their best wishes….  she has been so amazing to work with this year…  and we are thankful to have played a small role in her journey.

I made my way back to Nathan’s area.  It was kind of cool to see the whole thing unfold. Usually I’m so busy walking around trying to see every musher and every dog. It was a different perspective to see the whole process take place with one musher.  When I got back, the dogs had been put back in the truck and they were all chilling out inside. Laying on their straw and taking one last snooze before the the first leg of their first run.  I don’t know much about these things, but the entire hook up and start seemed flawless from start to finish… well almost.

When the other teams started moving toward the start, Nathan was still calm and collected.  He remarked that it seemed early, and it was… only 9:30 really.  Things were getting crazy around him and he kept his cool.  Eventually he got the dogs out of the truck and put their harnesses and booties on. The dogs were still so calm. Team after team passed them and they watched them go by.  They weren’t phased at all.  As teams 22 and 23 passed, and the volunteers gave him a two or three minute warning, Nathan said it was time to hook them them up.  He literally hooked the last one and it was time to walk to the starting line.  This is were we had a little snafu.  Nathan won the new red collars all of the dogs were wearing at the Denali Doubles race. They are really sharp looking.  He even wrote each dog’s name on the collars so that if one of them has to be dropped, the vets and volunteers will be able to call the dogs by name.  Well, as we were making our way to the starting line, one of the dog’s collars slipped off his neck!  The dog was still pulling with his tug line, but there was a red collar dangling on it’s own from the gangline.  Dusty, who was riding the tag sled behind Nathan, got off and had to fix it while we kept walking to the starting line!

Once we got to the line for our two minute countdown, Nathan got off the sled and gave each dog some love and encouragement. The wheel dogs started slamming in their harnesses.  I know announcements were being made. I wanted to look for Kathy Cappa and see her signing the starting announcements.  I wanted to look for my fellow teachers I knew were in the crowd… but I couldn’t.  All I could do was watch Nathan and try to imagine what he was feeling.  The Iditarod has been his dream for so long.. and it was happening!   The countdown was on….. 10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1…. and we were off!

It was amazing!  Fans lined the streets, calling Nathan by name and wishing him good luck!  He was having a blast!  At one point he even took a video with his phone to send to his wife back home!  He was impressed with how many people there were all along the trail.

Once we got past the crowds downtown, it was truly magical. We got to go through so many different settings – over bridges, through tunnels, through the woods, through wide open spaces.  It didn’t take too much imagination to pretend I was out there on my own with my own dog team…  a small taste of the power of the team and the beauty of the trail.

But it was also so fun to be there with Nathan! He was having a blast!  Collecting hotdogs, muffins, and cookies from the crowds.  Talking about how great his team looked.  Thanking the crowd for their well-wishes.  The pride for his team showed through so much. He talked about Achilles, who has been with him for his three John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon wins.  Nathan was impressed with how Achilles just knew where to move on the trail to avoid obstacles.  He talked about how the team just knew how to follow the trail. How they responded when he whistled to them and the picked up the power up a hill.

And when the finish was in sight, his comment echoed my own, “We’re there already?”

Nathan’s dad met us at the end to lead the team to the truck.  Nathan visited with each dog and checked them out.  “They look great. They ran great.  I hope they do this great tomorrow,” he said.

As much fun as the Ceremonial Start was… both Nathan and Monica said the same thing.  They are ready to be away from the crowds, out on the trail, and off on their adventure with their sixteen best friends.  As for me, I can’t wait to soak up every single minute of it.  It’s going to be awesome!

Monica Moving to the Starting Line!

She’s ready to go!

Tales from the Trail: Nathan Schroeder

IMG_1500Today I will check another item off of my Bucket List:  being an Idita-rider in the Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod.  I’m riding with Nathan Schroeder from Minnesota.  My students have been very concerned about the idea of me riding eleven miles in a dog sled.  It may be my fault; I may have filled their heads with stories of mushers wiping out on the turn.  The race start is on Fourth Avenue right in downtown Anchorage.  The sleds travel down Fourth Avenue for many blocks, and then they have to make a right turn to head out of town.  One of the stories I have been sharing with kids is Jodi Bailey’s story of using photographers as trail markers – “If there is a red x be careful, if there is a red x and a photographer, hold on to your sled for dear life.”  Well – if the amount of photographers is a mark of the danger level of the tail, then the turn in Anchorage is one of the worst sections of the trail.  At least one person wipes out there every year.  And there are a hundreds of fan photographers there to witness it!

So my boys had discussed it and they really wanted me to ride with a veteran.  They figured that veterans had run the race before and therefore would be more careful going around the bend.  Diane Johnson, Director of Education, pointed out to them that it might be better to ride with a rookie.  A rookie would be more careful going around the bend because they won’t want to embarrass themselves in their first race!

When the boys learned that I was riding with Nathan Schroeder, they were a little concerned that he is a rookie in this year’s race.  But, then they quickly realized that while he is a rookie for this race, he is by no means a rookie musher.  In fact, he is a three time John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon champion.    The Beargrease race has been happening for thirty years in Minnesota.  It honors the life of John Beargrease who, among his other accomplishments, delivered mail by dog sled.  There is a fantastic kid’s book that talks about his life and the race called Fearless John:  The Legend of John Beargrease by Kelly Rauzi and Mila Hook.

I had several chances to meet and talk with Nathan yesterday.  What a great guy!  He is soft spoken, kind, and thoughtful.  He says he isn’t nervous; he’s just really ready to get started. He’s looking forward to getting out of town and onto the trail.  He thinks he has his team all picked out.  We’ll have twelve dogs on his team for Saturday and then the full sixteen for Sunday.  He has been living and training up in Alaska since February fifth, so his dogs are acclimated and prepared to run on these trails.  He first got interested in dog sledding when he was in fifth grade and he saw a presentation at school about mushing.  Actually, he said that his regular homeroom teacher was on maternity leave and that it was a substitute teacher who brought in the presentation!

It’s going to be amazing!  Check back later for pictures!!!

Game Day!

Meanwhile Back at School:

We have been working really hard in math these days, so it’s time for a little fun challenge!

Here are some Paw Print Sudoku puzzles for you to share with your kids! Depending on their level, you may want to draw the mini-grid lines in or have them draw them in prior to trying to solve the problems. Enjoy!

Paw Print Sudoku 1

Paw Print Sudoku 2

Paw Print Sudoku bonus

Other Alaskan Traditions

The Iditarod isn’t the only time honored tradition that’s taking part in Alaska right now….  the Fur Rondy is in full swing in Anchorage.  The Fur Rendezvous was started in 1935 and was a three day festival scheduled to coincide with the arrival of the miners and trappers who returned to town with their treasures.  The festival has grown and changed over the years, but the official fur auction has remained a staple.  The Blanket Toss, a traditional native Alaskan event, was added in 1950 and the World Champion Sled Dog Races were added in 1946. This race is a series of sprint races for dog teams.  Today some of the other favorite events are the carnival, parade, Outhouse Races, Snowshoe Softball, and the Running of the Reindeer.  I know that the teachers are checking out sections of the festival as they have free time.  It’s pretty amazing to ride the ferris wheel at night with the lights, cold weather, and snow!

Another tradition that is taking place now is the Nenana Ice Classic.  It might be fun to do a version of this with your kids at school.  Essentially, people are making predictions of when the Tanana River ice will break up at Nenana.  The tradition started in 1917 when some railroad engineers bet money guessing when the river ice would break up.  A large tripod is planted into the river.  There is a clock connected to it.  The clock stops as soon as the ice goes out.  The river usually freezes over during October and November each year.  The ice gets thicker and thicker during the winter and has an average thickness of 42 inches on April 1st.  The ice then starts to melt on the top due to weather and from the bottom due to moving water.

There is some really cool information published to help your kids make their predictions.  All of the past winning dates and times are recorded in the official pamphlet that is distributed all around the state.  If I were to make a prediction, I would take a look at what happened in 2003. Knowing that was the year they moved the Iditarod restart to Fairbanks, maybe that’s a good indicator for what will happen this year?  What prediction would your students make and why?

You can access the brochure here:

It’s Really Happening!

Yesterday was the day it really hit home. The fact that I’m about to head out on this amazing adventure is now more real than ever before!

In the morning I attended the Musher Meeting.  This is a required meeting for all the mushers where they get their updates on the trail, take care of their last paperwork, and get their last briefings before they head out on the trail.  I felt like a kid in a candy store!  My heart was pounding and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face!  I met Monica Zappa in real life which was amazing!  She has so much energy and enthusiasm for what she is about to undertake.  She says she is ready to get out of town and get on the trail.  She has 20 dogs ready to go and will make her final decisions this weekend.

The mushers I talked to all said that the committee is reporting that the trail is much better than people were expecting.  Crews have been working hard to keep the trail in great shape.

I also got to meet and talk with Nathan Schroder who is the musher I will be riding with for the ceremonial start.  I will have lots more on him tomorrow… but for now, he is a great guy and assures me he will not tip the sled on the big turn out of town!

At lunchtime, the mushers met with their Idita-riders for a pizza lunch.  It was so fun to get to hang out and chat with the mushers in a casual environment.  Monica’s rider is a fifth grade boy.  What an adventure he’s going to have!

Last evening was the Musher Draw Banquet so we now have a starting order for the race!  The evening was started with music from Hobo Jim, and quite appropriately the first song was The Iditarod Trail Song!

It was a wonderful evening filled with energy and excitement as the mushers dined with friends and fans, thanked their sponsors, drew their numbers and signed a bunch of

My son with Monica Zappa!

My son with Monica Zappa!

autographs.  For the first time, I actually stood in the autograph chute line…  my eight year old son is in town and he really wanted to get everyone’s autographs, so we did!  The mushers coming through the chute couldn’t have been more wonderful. They stopped and chatted, said thanks for the support, and were so excited to be there.

The countdown is on!  They are doing their last preparations today.  There are several volunteer meetings at the Millennium today and later the Idita-riders have a meeting to learn what to do with their special roles.  Tonight the city of Anchorage will prepare for tomorrow.  They will bring in the snow and hang the starting line on Fourth Avenue and then tomorrow it begins!  Can’t believe it’s really here!

Tales from the Trail: What’s in a Name? Anchorage

I’m always curious about how places get their names.  You can usually learn a little history about places from how they were named. Here’s one story of how Anchorage got its name.

The land that is now Anchorage was home to the Dena’ina Athabascan Indians who used it as a seasonal fishing camp.  White settlers moved into the area and eventually Alaska came to be owned by the US.  Transportation became a big concern for the handful of people who lived here.  Eventually in 1914, the federal government approved the building of a railroad in Alaska.  The area where Anchorage now sits was to serve as the construction base for the new railroad.

No one was really prepared for what happened next.  Practically overnight the area was flooded with hundreds of people seeking employment.  They built row upon row of white, box shaped tents to serve as buildings and the town came to be known as “Tent City.” It was also referred to as Alaska City and Ships Landing.

When the townspeople met to vote on the name for their new city, they chose Alaska City.  However, they soon learned that the US Postal Service had already named the town.  When the ships delivered mail to the railroad workers, they had to drop anchor in the deep water off shore and then shuttle the mail into shore by smaller boats.  This was due to the large amount of glacial silt in the inlet.  The post office had already named the town Anchorage because of the ships having to take anchorage off shore.  So, Anchorage officially became the town’s name.

Final Vet Checks

2014-02-26 18.58.10

Today the Iditarod Trail Committee Headquarters was hopping – or should I say tail-wagging?  Today was the final day for Pre-Race Vet checks.  Mushers can have their final checks done by their own vets, or they can take advantage of the race vets and get free checkups at the headquarters.

The vet checks are very thorough. The dogs get an EKG (to check their heart), blood work, and a physical exam.  Pretty much every inch of the dog that could be checked is inspected.  In fact, you can see the entire checklist here:  LINK

I pulled into Headquarters today in time to see Newton Marshall and Curt Perano finish up their vet checks.  Newton Marshall is from Jamaica and is running a team comprised of dogs from several different kennels.  Curt Perano is originally from New Zealand where he currently owns and operates Under Dog New Zealand which is a sled dog tour company in his home country.

Each musher is allowed to have up to twenty dogs checked per team.  This allows the mushers a little more time to decide the final makeup of their teams.  They really don’t need to have the final list until they leave the starting line on Sunday morning!

An article in the news tonight reports that about forty of the 69 teams entered in the race took advantage of the chance to have the Iditarod vets examine the dogs.  Think about how many dogs that is!  The vets and the vet technicians are just a few of the volunteers already hard at work preparing to get the race started.

Tomorrow the mushers will all arrive at the Millennium hotel for the mandatory musher meeting that begins at 8am!  And then tomorrow evening is the Musher Banquet Draw! The excitement just keeps building and building!

One of My Favorite Places on Earth

I’ve been telling anyone who will listen my retirement plans.  I plan to retire to Jon and Jona Van Zyle’s home.  It is truly the most amazing place on earth.  Not only to they have a dog yard full of beautiful and friendly huskies, their home and studio are filled from floor to ceiling with the most amazing collection of art and artifacts.  Everywhere you look there is something new and interesting to see!

The Van Zyles routinely invite the teacher conference groups to their home for an evening of stories, dog hugs, and conversations about art.  Jon Van Zyle is an amazing artist and book illustrator and serves as the Iditarod’s official artist.  Each year he creates a special poster and a numbered print commemorating a different aspect of the race. He is himself an Iditarod finisher, so he is the perfect person to take on this job.  His wife Jona is an amazing artist in her own right. She works with textiles and beadwork.  Her studio area is a wonderful conglomeration of stuff – beads, furs, leather, horn – all piled on her work space to provide instant inspiration.  Jon’s space is a little more sparse – just a palate, a pile of paint tubes, and a cup of brushes.  But somehow the two different spaces represent the two different artists perfectly.

The teachers enjoyed their visit to the dog yard and studio, collected some artwork to take home for their own, and relaxed in the gracious and welcoming home of the Van Zyles.  It is something I look forward to in every trip I take to Alaska, and once again I am thankful to have had a chance to visit my dream retirement home!  I finally told Jon last night of my plans and he left me a glimmer of hope, “Maybe someday we’ll need someone to come and help us do things.”  Sign me up!

Mushing for a Cause

Today, the teachers had a chance to visit Vern Halter’s Kennel, Dream a Dream Dog Farm.  He is helping Iditarod Rookie Cindy Abbott in her quest to complete this year’s Iditarod.  Cindy attempted a run at the race last year but broke her hip during a fall and ultimately had to scratch.  She is back and ready to try again this year!  I’m super excited about her entry this year as she is taking several of the dogs I got to meet and hang out with this summer during the Iditarod Summer Camp for teachers!  It will be great fun to watch them head down the trail.

Cindy is one of several mushers who are racing not just to have the challenge of the race, but also to raise awareness for a cause.  Cindy’s cause is raising awareness about Rare Diseases.  Cindy herself has been diagnosed with Wegener’s granulomatosis which is a rare disease that causes inflammation of blood vessels which then restricts the blood flow to various organs.  It most typically affects the kidneys, lungs, and upper respiratory tract.  It can be fatal if it’s not treated.  Cindy herself went undiagnosed for about fourteen years,but she hasn’t let it stop her!  She climbed Mount Everest and is now coming back to claim an Iditarod belt buckle!  Her dogs will be wearing special dog coats that say VASCULITIS Racing for Life coats.  When she gets to the finish line in Nome she will unfurl her National Organization of Rare Disorders (NORD) banner to bring awareness to that organization.  She feels compelled to do this so that when people hear, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you,” from their doctors, they will know that there is somewhere they can turn for more information.

Our special friend, Iditarod rookie Monica Zappa, is mushing for a cause as well.  Her cause is an environmental one.  Monica is very concerned about the Pebble Mine which is proposed to be built at the mouth of Bristol Bay.  She is working hard to prevent this mine from being built and is using her Iditarod rookie run, in part to bring awareness to this cause.  She is concerned that the mine, if built at the mouth of Bristol Bay, would be disastrous for the fishing economy, tourism and natural beauty of the region.

In an earlier post, I talked to you about how Martin Buser and Aliy Zirkle are bringing awareness for the importance of vaccinations to the villages along the trail by carrying vaccine in their sleds.

The mushers take different strategies when they are planning to bring awareness to a cause.  Monica has dog jackets for the dogs to wear, signs on her trucks, and has teamed up with other advocates to broadcast their message loud and clear.  She also makes a point of talking to students about the cause when she does presentations for schools.  She prepared special informational packets to send to the schools in the villages she will visit as part of this year’s race.

The mushers hope that the national attention the Iditarod will garner will help to spread their message to a larger audience.

A neat project or journal entry for your students may be to have them think of a cause they hold near and dear to their hearts.  If they were mushers, how could they use the Iditarod to help them get their message out there to the larger population?  Designing jackets for the dogs is one way – what would their designs look like?  What other ideas do they have for introducing people to their cause?

Rock Start Sighting: Dallas Seavey!

2014-02-24 21.42.55I got a chance to check in with Dallas Seavey at the ExxonMobil Welcoming reception for the Winter Conference for Educators last evening.  The question on everyone’s mind?  The trail conditions.  Dallas’  point of view is that it’s the Iditarod and it’s not supposed to be easy.  He says this isn’t the first time the trail has been this way, nor will it be the last time it will be this way.

He seems to think that this year’s trail will favor mushers who have experience and who can think on their feet.  Dallas’ predicts that the mushers who are running the race with a solid “race plan” will have a hard time.  They will go into the race thinking they have to get to point A by a certain time and then when they get out on the trail and realize it’s not going to quite work that way, they won’t be able to make the adjustments.  He says that he races his team, not the race.  So he listens to what his dogs want and runs his race that way.

He’s really excited about his team this year.  This team is really HIS team. In the past he’s run dogs that he’s gotten from his dad and other mushers, but this year he has raised and trained all the dogs for himself.  They have been born and raised in his kennel and are truly a product of his training and coaching.  Dallas referred to himself as a teacher and coach.  His role in the team is to teach his dogs their roles and commands, form the team, and then coach them to reach their fullest potential. His favorite thing is to take dogs out in small teams (five or so) and really work with the dogs to learn.  He says when they are small puppies they are like sponges. They soak everything up and are so eager to learn and please.  Sometimes they don’t always remember what they learned the next day…. Sometimes they need to hear it a few times – kind of like some students I know!  But they all love to learn, love to run, and love to be on the trail!  Just like Dallas himself.

Tales from the Trail: Special Delivery

This year, two mushers will be carrying special packages on their sleds to make a special delivery in Nome.

In order to promote vaccine awareness, Martin Buser and Aliy Zirkle will carry vaccine from Anchorage to Nome.  Vaccines are given to children to help prevent various diseases.  This event is being organized by Lisa Schobert, Vaccine Coordinator and Dawn Sawyer, PA.  The I DID IT BY TWO: Race To Vaccinate program has been working hard to encourage people to have their children immunized.  The program has done several events to promote their cause including providing dog jackets for the Iditarod race dogs on start day, giving families mushing themed charts to track their immunizations, and many more.  The I DID IT BY TWO slogan is to remind families:

I  – Iditarod

DID – Did you know that children need 80% of their childhood vaccines by age 2?

IT – It can seem a little complicated keeping up with recommended immunizations, but the payoff is big!

BY – by immunizing your children on-time by age…


Lisa tells me that she chose Martin Buser to help with the project because he has worked with the I DID It By Two group before and is a great spokesman for the campaign.  He will be carrying the DTAP.  This vaccine is given to children between the ages of  two months and six years.  The DTAP is a vaccine given to children to prevent diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough).  The organizers think that with Martin’s playful personality, he may actually pass the vaccines off to other mushers to carry down the trail!  That would be in keeping with the spirit of the original serum run which was actually a relay.

Aliy Zirkle was asked to participate because Lisa wanted a front line contender, and with second place finishes in the last two races, Aliy certainly meets that criteria.  Knowing how competitive she is, Aliy will most likely put the vaccine in her sled and run her race!  She will be carrying Tdap vaccine which is used for adolescents and adults.  Tdap stands for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis and is used for people aged seven and older.

Each musher will get a box of ten vials to transport and they can package them however they would like to.  Each box weighs 2.3 ounces.  This made me think of the classic, “Can you package an egg and drop it off the roof?” science experiment.  So here’s a little Iditarod themed twist on that activity:  Protect that Vaccine

Here are some photos to share with your kids to show what the vials will look like:

The temperatures that the vaccines are stored at are very, very important.  If the vaccines are not kept between 35-46 degrees F they cannot be given to patients.  Lisa explained to me that if the refrigerator door is left open or someone goes in and out of the refrigerator a lot, the inside temperature can be affected.  They use a Data Logger to continually monitor the temperatures of the vaccines as they travel from one location to another.  The logger, which is similar to a thumb drive, can record temperatures for fifty-six days. Then when the vaccines and logger arrive at their final location, the data can be loaded onto the computer and the temperature information can be displayed in a graph form.  My class has been given a data logger to experiment with, but you can replicate this with a basic thermometer and a refrigerator at home or school:  Keeping the Vaccines Cold

Obviously, to many people, the Iditarod has come to serve as a reminder of the 1925 Serum Run.  That was not Joe Redington, Sr.’s main objective though. His main goals in establishing the race were to project the sled dogs and their role in the culture of Alaska and to save the historic Iditarod Trail.  The Serum Run definitely has a huge role in the history of Alaska and the history of the Iditarod Trail, so it’s kind of neat to see this event as a way to bring the message of the importance of immunizations to villages on the trail.  Here is more on the history of the race and the reasons it started from Katie Mangelsdorf:  Bustingmyth

The go-to picture book for kids to learn about the Serum Run is the Great Serum Race by Debbie Miller.  You can also join the Cleveland Museum of Natural History for a Distance Learning Program about Balto. I wrote about that here: LINK

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History has a great PDF file you could print to give some kids the story behind the Serum Run.  It even has a picture of the original vials to compare to the ones Zirkle and Buser will be carrying this year:  LINK

Here’s a Venn Diagram you could use to compare the Serum Run with the modern trip the vaccines will be taking with Aliy and Martin this year.  VennDiagram

For a writing piece, students could write and record radio spots, like public service announcements for the I DID IT BY TWO Campaign.

The official Press Release is here:  January Press Release – Vaccine

You can learn more about this project here:  LINK

I will have more information soon about other mushers who are “mushing for a cause” or using their Iditarod runs to bring awareness about causes near and dear to their hearts!


Congratulations to Conway Seavey, the winner of the 2014 Junior Iditarod!  Here he is leaving from the starting line on Saturday morning.

In the History Books

The 2014 Junior Iditarod officially concluded tonight with the Junior Iditarod Awards Banquet.  The juniors graciously accepted their awards and prizes and thanked their families and sponsors.  The prize committee worked exceptionally hard this year and the kids earned a variety of scholarships and awards totaling in the neighborhood of $17,000.

jr (1)I always tell my students that one of the things that intrigues me so much about the Iditarod is that the mushers are great role models and often exemplify character traits that we value.  The Junior Iditarod mushers are no exception to this rule.  There are even special awards given to the mushers who demonstrate exceptional character.

Each year one junior musher is recognized with the Sportsmanship Award.  This year the award was given to Kevin Harper.  After leaving the halfway point, Jimmy Lanier ran into a bit of trouble.  Apparently a few of his dogs got a little “chew-happy” and chewed through the lines that attached the leaders to the rest of the team and the leaders were able to get away from the team.  Kevin, without hesitation, stepped up to help Jimmy out.  He chased down the leaders, turned his team around and brought them back to Jimmy, and then had to turn his team around again to head off back down the trail.

The veterinarians award one junior musher the Humanitarian Award each year.  This award is given to the person who is judged by the vets to have taken the best care of their dogs during the race.  In presenting the award this year the vets, Dr. Meyer and Dr. Hempsted, said that the award could have been given to many of the mushers, but they ultimately decided that Ben Harper was the most deserving candidate.

When we learn about the Iditarod at school we often discuss the idea that most of the mushers are not in the race to win it.  They run the Iditarod to challenge themselves and to 2014-02-24 01.37.46have a grand adventure.  We talk about the trait of perseverance and the idea that setting goals and not quitting until you succeed are life lessons we can learn from the mushers.  This is also true for the Junior Iditarod mushers!  Each year the Red Lantern award is given to the musher who sticks with it and gets themselves to the finish line, even when they are last, without quitting.  This year the Red Lantern winner was Nicole Forto.  Nicole showed great strength and perseverance and completed her rookie Junior Iditarod!

The Junior Iditarod is an amazing event and I am grateful for the opportunity to be so involved with it this year!  Everyone was so inviting and welcoming and so obviously loved what they were doing.  A special thanks to Lacey Hart and Nicole Forto for all of the time, talent, and energy they gave to my students this year.  The boys loved working with you almost as much as I did!  Congratulations to all of the junior mushers and the entire Junior Iditarod family for a job well done!  Thanks for including me in your fun!

The Finish Line

When daylight broke at Yentna Station the planes began arriving to move out all the personnel who had been located at the station.  We were on the second plane to take off, and JR Logowe managed to make it back to Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel in time to see Andrew Nolan come in fifth place in the 2014 Junior Iditarod.  Less then twenty minutes later Jannelle Trowbridge from Nome came in.  Ashley Guernsey arrived about thirty minutes later.  And Joshua Klejka about thirty minutes after that.  What an amazing thing to see the look of confidence and pride on the faces of the juniors as they crossed the finish line!  They faced the challenge and rose to the occasion!  All of their planning and training paid off…  the rookies are rookies no more and the veterans have another Junior Iditarod under their belt.  For three of the veterans, Ben Harper, Joshua Klejka, and Conway Seavey, this was their last Junior Iditarod.  We’ll have to see if their futures hold Iditarods in their futures.

Special congratulations to the mushers who beat me to the finish today!  Conway Seavey and Ben Harper leap-frogged each other to the finish line, but Conway managed to squeeze past Ben to get the win by about two minutes!  Kevin Harper, rookie of the year, finished in third position.  Jimmy Lanier finished in fourth position.  Our good friend Nicole Forto claimed the red lantern for this race!  She was greeted at the finish line by the 1978 Red Lantern Winner, Barbara Redington.

I can say with all honesty, that these kids are amazing!  They were professional,confident, and poised. They took excellent care of themselves and even better care of their dogs.  We are off to celebrate them with a banquet to close out this year’s Junior Iditiarod.

Here’s a few pictures to hold you over til I have banquet news:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Morning at Yentna

It was pretty quiet here at Yentna Station overnight. The kids had their traditional campfire, caught a few hours of sleep outside with their teams, and did their other necessary JR Logocamp chores.  The adults (race officials, trail sweeps, reporters, etc.) enjoyed the hospitality of Yentna Station and tried to get a bit of sleep inside.

Around one am things started to get revved up again! People started stirring.  The snow machines that were sweeping the trail ahead of the mushers prepared to leave.  The kids’ camps started bustling as they did their morning chores, cared for the dogs, and starting cleaning up their camping areas.  Dogs started getting the idea that it was time to start moving again. They shook the sleep off and started looking around, getting antsy to get moving again.  Three dogs were ultimately left at the dropped dog area and they were howling and moaning to let everyone know they did NOT want to be left behind!

The first few kids, the veterans Conway Seavey, Ben Harper, and Jimmy Lanier, made smooth and graceful exits.  Sleds were packed, dogs were prepped with ease! As the countdown happened, they would walk up and pet each of their dogs in turn and then pull the snow hooks just as the countdown reached one.   As he left, Ben Harper whispered to his lead dogs, “Let’s catch us some Seavey!”  The teams left right from their parking spots after having them checked for cleanliness by the judges!  Kevin Harper also made a swift exit.

Ashley Guernsey took a little bit longer to get ready to go.  Even though the pressure was on to get moving, she made sure to go through her whole race routine, putting booties on each and every dog and being sure all of her gear was packed into the sled correctly.  Once she left, she was quickly followed by Andrew Nolan and Janelle Trowbridge… the three left within about two minutes of each other.  Both Josh Klejka and Nicole Forto had longer blocks of time before their departure. Both seemed to have things well under control and were packed up and ready to leave right on schedule.

The 90 dogs minus the three who were left with sore shoulders were screaming, barking, jumping, and went charging out of the checkpoint.  There may have been a bit too much excitement…. Three of the mushers tipped their sleds and fell before they got all the way out of the checkpoint, and Andrew may have broken his sled as he dropped onto the river this morning.  But everyone recovered quickly and didn’t seem to lose any confidence.

As the last team left, the clouds cleared so I wandered down to the river and turned my headlamp out.  What an amazing sight!  The Northern Lights opened up in the sky on one side of me, I could watch the moon rise on the other side, and I was surrounded by millions of stars on the others.  It was just amazing… breathtakingly beautiful.

At this writing, it’s about 8am.  The sun is creeping over the horizon and we are waiting for the planes to come and start taking us out.  Conway Seavey is in the lead with about 20 miles to go.  Ben Harper is right on his tail…. Maybe he will “catch that Seavey!”

At The Halfway Point

The Juniors are all tucked in safe and sound at their camping spots at the halfway point for the Junior Iditarod – Yentna Station.  Conway Seavey arrived first followed by JimmyJR Logo Lanier and Ben Harper.  Dr. Phil Meyers, the vet, was really pleased with the teams coming in.  When asked what he looks for he said, “Anything unusual.”  But as they arrived the dogs were rolling in the snow and were looking like they could go another hundred miles.  He said they all looked like they were having fun and that’s a great sign!

When the teams pull into the checkpoint as the dog’s lead dog crossed the line their time is recorded. This is a good thing, because the teams haven’t quite made it smoothly into the arrival chute! Most want to keep plowing right ahead, not make the sharp gee turn as they come in!  The race officials then check their mandatory gear and the juniors sign the time sheet and gear checklist.  They are given their drop bags, six bottles of fuel, and a bale of hay.  They carry the hay to their parking spot by digging their snow hook into it and dragging it behind the sled.  A volunteer then leads the team to their parking spot.

The parking location is a special puzzle that Lacey (the Race Marshall) has to orchestrate.  The mushers will wait here for their ten hour layover plus the extra minutes they need to make up their start differential.  So Ben Harper, who was the last musher out this morning, will stay exactly ten hours.  The first musher to leave this morning, Jimmy Lanier, will stay for ten hours and sixteen minutes to make up for the starting differential.  Because of this parking the teams can be an issue.  Just because a team is first to the checkpoint doesn’t actually mean they are in first place or that they will be leaving first.  So Lacey had to do some fancy math and figure out what order the teams will be leaving in the morning so that they can be parked in a way that they can get out in the right order easily.

DSC_0551As I walked through the teams, the kids were getting the dogs bedded down on straw, removing the booties, getting the cookers started and filling them with snow to melt.  I got a chance to check in with Ben Harper and his younger brother Kevin. This is Ben’s third and final Junior Iditarod and Kevin’s first!  Kevin and Ben both agreed that the trail was really warm, but was much better than they expected. In fact, Kevin arrived at the checkpoint wearing just a sweatshirt!  He said he changed out of his parka about five miles into the race after pedaling and running with the team!  They thought it was going to be glare ice the entire way, but were pleasantly surprised to find that wasn’t the case.  Kevin asked for some advice from Ben and after teasing him, “it’s a secret!” I left them sitting side by side cooking their dog food and swapping trail stories.

The first musher will be leaving around 2:00am and will finish right around sunrise tomorrow!  It’s going to be an exciting race to the finish!

The Juniors are Off and Running!

We arrived at Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel about 8am this morning and the action was already in full swing!  TheDSC_0308 kids were busily unloading the dogs, taking care of their feet, having their sled bags checked, getting their SPOT trackers pinned to their sleds, and getting their last minute advice and hugs and kisses.

I got the chance to check in with Nicole Forto and her dad Robert. Nicole is the Junior Rookie Musher my class has been following all year.  She seemed calm, cool, and collected.  She says is ready to go and really excited about her adventure.  Her dad says he’s confident that she is ready to face this challenge.  They let me get a good look at the two trackers.  They were given the trackers in dog booties and had them pinned to the top of the sled bags with huge safety pins. One is pinned down near the brush bow and the second is up higher near the handlebar.  The tracker near the handle bar has a panic switch. So if the kids feel like then are in trouble they can push it and someone will come out and check on them.  To push the switch, you have to lift a tab, so it can’t accidentally be pushed.

Lacey Hart, Race Marshall, says that this part of the race, the start, was the hardest part.  She says the rest of the race for her will be a lot of thinking and checking on things, but that this was the most active and stressful part!  She’ll be flying out to Yentna Station soon.  Because the front runners are expected to finish tomorrow before sunrise, she’ll be riding a snow machine back with the trail breakers so that she’ll make it to the finish line before the first mushers.  She’s anxious to see the kids come in to Yentna this evening.

The start went off without a hitch!  The setting was beautiful, the dogs were beautiful and the kids were all smiling!

The Juniors Have a Starting Order!

What do GPS Trackers, trail markers, pizza, trail stakes, dog tags, race bibs, pictures, and dog booties have in common? 

They all had featured roles in tonight’s Junior Iditarod meeting.

After sharing some pizza, signing some autographs, and having some pictures taken, the juniors got started on their final meeting before hitting the trail tomorrow morning.

As I’ve gone into schools to share this week, one of the things I’ve been talking to the kids about is the setting of the Iditarod and wondering with such a long race, how on earth do the mushers know where they are?  The kids have come up with lots of ideas – they can tell by the landmarks, the checkpoints, the dogs know  – but tonight the junior mushers and  I  got to hear all about how the trail is marked for the Junior Iditarod from the Trail Boss.

2014-02-21 22.45.24The trail is marked with stakes that have bright orange paint at the top and are labeled with JRI for Junior Iditarod.  The trail markers may be a half mile to a mile apart, but they are within sight of each other.  The kids were told if they can’t see the next trail marker, they may want to stop and think about where they are!  If they see two markers together on one side of the trail, they know that they need to turn in direction.  They only have wide sweeping turns, no right angle turns on this trail.  If they see two stakes crossed like an “x” that means “don’t go this way!”  The coolest thing about the trail markers?  Each junior was given one to keep as a souvenir!  Their special stakes even have the Junior Iditarod logo on them.  Since they got their own to keep, the kids were encouraged NOT to take them from the trail!

The trail this year will be slightly shorter than normal due to the change in starting location.  The juniors will travel 62 miles out, take their ten hour layover at Yentna Station, and then travel 62 miles back in.  The kids were glad to hear that the trail still covers part of the Iditarod Trail, so they can officially tell people they have “raced the Iditarod Trail.”  The Trail Boss described the trail as fast, but luckily it is all frozen, so there is on open water at all.

Probably the most exciting thing for the kids was the start order draw.  The kids were called to the front in the order 2014-02-21 23.03.07they signed up for the race, so our friend Nicole Forto got to draw first.  She drew number six.  No one drew number one, as that space is saved for an honorary musher.

Here’s the starting order and a little bit about each musher:

1 – Ceremonial Musher

2 – Jimmy Lanier – Jimmy is sixteen years old and a junior at Chugiak High School.  His dad, Jim, has run the Iditarod fifteen times!  This is his second Junior Iditarod.  He also plays baseball.

3 – Josh Klejka – Josh is seventeen years old and is a junior at the high school in Bethel.  He finished eighth in the Junior Iditarod in 2012.  He also runs cross country.

4 – Conway Seavey – Conway is seventeen and is an eleventh grade homeschool student.  He has finished the Junior Iditarod three times and won in 2012.  He is also a very talented singer and songwriter.

5 – Andew Nolan – Andrew is fourteen years old and is a ninth grade homeschooler.  He’s been training for the past two years with an Iditarod veteran.

6 – Nicole Forto –  Nicole is sixteen years old and is a junior at Houston High School in Willow, Alaska.  In addition to mushing, she owns Wickes Sweets Baking Company.

7 – Janelle Trowbridge – Janelle is sixteen years old and was born in Michigan.  She and her family moved to Nome, Alaska in 2009.  She is a junior at Nome Beltz High School.  She also runs and skis for her school’s biathlon team.

8 – Kevin Harper – Kevin is fifteen and is a sophomore at Wasilla High School. This will be his first race!  In addition to mushing he wrestles.

9 – Ashley Guernsey – Ashley is a fourteen year old eighth grader at Seward Middle School in Moose Pass, Alaska.  In addition to mushing she runs cross country and track.

10 – Ben Harper – Ben is seventeen and is a senior at Wasilla High School.  This will be his third time running the Junior Iditarod.

Tomorrow is the big day!  The mushers have to be at Happy Trails Kennels by 9am and the race officially gets underway at ten am.  Best of luck to all of this year’s Junior Iditarod Mushers!  See you on the trail!

 2014-02-21 23.15.28

Checking in with Lacey and Nicole

My boys were anxious to hear that I did finally get to meet Lacey Hart and Nicole Forto in real life. They’ve both been so amazing this year with writing to my students and keeping  them up to date on their Junior Iditarod preparations.  Last night I got to check in with both of them.

Nicole reports that both she and the team are ready to go!  She’s a little nervous but a LOT excited!  She was going to miss school today (lucky!) to take her dogs to vet checks and to get one final training run in.

Lacey says everything is in good shape for the race to begin tomorrow.  She and the staff of volunteers have taken care of pretty much everything that needs to be done.  She is super excited too and ready to have a sleepless few days while keeping a watch on all the junior mushers and their teams.

I finished up my school presentations here in the Mat-Su Valley today visiting Larson Elementary and Willow Elementary.  Both schools were fantastic and in one day I spoke with kids from preschool through sixth grade!  WOW!  Thanks to all the schools I’ve been able to visit so far, it’s been wonderful getting to share Iditarod stories with you!  And a special note to all the kids I’ve spoken with….Be sure to keep watching the Iditarod race so we can figure out the ending to this year’s exciting Iditarod story!

Greeting at Larson Elementary!

Greeting at Larson Elementary!

The Jr. Rookies Are One Step Closer

JR LogoHow better to learn about your passion then to hear from someone who has been in your shoes and has become an expert in the same area?

This evening the Junior Iditarod Rookie Mushers had a meeting where they got to do just that.  They got to hear from experts in the field about the types of situations they may face on the trail during this weekend’s race.  Since six of this year’s ten racers are rookies, this was a very important evening.  The juniors introduced themselves to each other and were encouraged to help each other out on the trail.  A couple of them seemed very calm and confident and few seemed to be a bit nervous!  I’d be nervous if I was getting ready to go out over a hundred miles on a dog sled race for the first time!

The Junior Iditarod is a special race for kids ages fourteen to seventeen.  This will be the thirty-seventh running of the race.  Due to the weather this year, they will be running the race from Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel instead of the regular location on Knik Lake. You can read more about that change here:  LINK

The junior mushers were given lots of great information and hints and tricks of the trade to help them out with their upcoming adventure.  They were 2014-02-20 23.19.49shown the GPS trackers they will be carrying.  These things are so cool!  They will actually be carrying two trackers, a SPOT tracker and a smaller one.  Each tracker fits into a dog bootie and will be safety pinned to the sled bag.  The larger SPOT tracker is attached to the sled near the handlebars and the smaller one is attached to the front of the sled on top of the bag.

Ben Harper, who has competed in two Junior Iditarods and who will be competing again this year, told the juniors that his best piece of advice is to get some sleep!  At Yentna Station, the mushers will take their ten hour layover.  Ben told them that during his first Junior Iditarod he stayed up all night talking with the other mushers and because he was so tired he had a miserable ride to the finish the next morning!

Each junior musher was given a sled repair kit and some really neat suggestions on how to make simple and quick repairs to their sled.  For example, did you know dental floss could be used as thread to repair tears in sled bags?

One of the vets for the Junior Iditarod, Jayne Hempstead, talked to the kids about dog care. She stressed that prevention is the key to the care of the dogs’ feet.  The mushers really need to take care of the dogs’ feet, even down to making sure to trim their toenails!  Apparently the weather is going to be quite warm this weekend for the race – about 30 degrees (!) so Dr. Hempstead also talked to the kids about warning signs for overheating in their dogs and what to do if they suspect a dog is too hot.

2014-02-21 00.23.09Then, two Iditarod veterans came to talk to the kids.  Cim Smyth shared lots of information with the juniors about how to snack their dogs on the trail.  He also talked about the possibility of a warm weekend for the race and about the importance of keeping the dogs hydrated.  He said the dogs like to “snow dip” or grab mouthfuls of snow as they run down the trail.  One thing that he does to keep the dogs from doing this is to make his special “meat cube” treats for the dogs.  He takes equal portions of meat and water and freezes them in ice cube trays.  When he gives these treats to the dogs, they are getting the water they need along with a yummy treat!   It was especially neat for the Junior Mushers to hear from Cim because he is a Junior Iditarod champion.  He admitted that he made some mistakes in his first Junior Iditarod race, but he learned from those mistakes and continues to learn from other mushers as well.

Iditarod veteran, Zack Steer reviewed with the mushers how to dress on the trail. He actually thinks about not only2014-02-21 01.03.18 staying warm, but about preplanning enough so that he is also dressed in a way that will make effective use of his time in the checkpoints.  For example, he ties his pocket knife to his belt so that it hangs down below his parka so he can always grab it. He has special pockets to carry things like extra lights, matches, earplugs (for sleeping at the checkpoints), etc.  He puts the same things in the same pockets every time so he always knows where things are.  A little preplanning makes things go easier on the trail and in the checkpoint where every minute counts!

Something that several of the presenters  encouraged the juniors  to do was to make certain that about five miles away from the checkpoint they eat and drink something themselves.  This way, by the time they reach the checkpoint, they are hydrated and reenergized and are ready to handle the dog care that needs to be done.

It was a lot to take in for one meeting, but the juniors asked some great questions and seemed to soak in all the information.  It looks like the Juniors Rookies are ready to get started on their adventure!   And I am too…. In just about twenty-four hours I’ll be on my first bush plane soaring towards my first checkpoint on the Iditarod Trail!  WOW!!

Mini-Musher Banquet

I didn’t even really get to say goodbye to my students or my co-teachers…

The last day I was meant to be at my school there ended up being snow day!

That day was also supposed to be the day of our big “Musher Banquet” so, now that the kids are back in school after their five day extra-long weekend, they finally got to have their banquet!

The banquet was the time that they finally rounded out their Fantasy Iditarod Team by choosing the musher for their team.  When we first began our Iditarod Math Unit, they did some research and chose the sixteen dogs for their team.  You can see that lesson here:  LINK

Previously, we had also completed a series of probability lessons where we predicted the characteristics of the winning musher (male, veteran, from Alaska, etc).  In that lesson we created “musher stacks”.  There is one stack per musher and shows their gender, race status, and location.  You can see that lesson here:  LINK

When the day of the banquet finally arrived, the kids signed in to school on a board in the order of their arrival. This was to simulate the mushes “signing up” for the race, which in part determines their order for drawing their numbers.

At the banquet,  kids were seated at long “banquet” tables decorated with puppy print tablecloths and some extra copies of the centerpieces we had sent up to Alaska for the “real” musher banquet (more on that here – LINK).

The boys began the festivities by belting out Hobo Jim’s “The Iditarod Trail Song” and munched on Klondike Bars and cookies shaped like dogs and sleds.

When it was their turn to choose their musher, they went to the front in the order they signed up in the morning, reached their hand into the mukluk and drew out one the musher stacks from the probability experiment.  (In real life, the mushers to go the stage, reach into the mukluk and draw out a chip with a number on it.  That number becomes their starting number for the race).  The students then had to choose a musher from the board that matched the characteristics on the stack they had drawn.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once they chose their musher, they moved through the autograph chute and autographed some posters (not quite as many as the mushers do at the banquet!) and then proceeded to pick up their race packets. (The mushers will find their dog tags and the identification tags for their handliers in their envelopes, now that they finally know their start order.)  The students found biographies of their mushers, an Iditarod pencil, and a blank biography card in their packets.   While the others were choosing their mushers, they got started on completing the biography card of their musher that will be displayed with their tracking map.

Everything of course was photographed and filmed by the “paparazzi” from the Gilman/Anchorage Daily News and the Gilman/Nome Nugget!

I was sorry I missed the banquet.  By all accounts it was a huge success!  The countdown is on!

Meet Tikaani!

I finally got to pet my first sled dog of this trip!

DSC_0011Meet Tikanni.  Tikaani means “wolf” in Ahtna Athabascan.  She is a village sled dog from Aniak, Alaska who is living and working in Wasilla at the Dorothy G. Page Museum.  She is training to be a lead sled dog, but she is also getting her therapy dog training.  She has even been to dog obedience school and gotten lots of training! She is a pretty amazing dog!  The museum is hoping that by this summer she will be working at the museum to help teach visitors about sled dogs and mushing.   

We are spending the week in Wasilla, Alaska.  Wasilla was founded in 1917 as a railroad depot and a supply town for the gold mines in Hatcher Pass.  

This afternoon I got to visit Shaw Elementary – Home of the Sun Dogs!  I met with each grade from kindergarten through third grade and got to talk about my home state of Maryland, telling stories, and of course the Iditarod!  The kids were great and even gave their “howls” of appreciation at the end of the talks!  

Petchup or Muttstardt?

As you probably know, we were thrilled to be able to announce to all of our followers that our favorite musher Monica Zappa had gotten a new sponsor:  Petchup.  LINK

So my kids were really intrigued by the whole idea of ketchup and mustard for dogs.  We knew that Monica was experimenting to find out the best way to feed it to her dogs, so we decided to do our own experiment.

Monica told us that she was experimenting to find the best way to use the product with the dogs both in the kennel and on the trail.  At the kennel, she could just mix some with the dogs’ food and they slurped it right up!  On the trail, things may get a bit more complicated.  She is playing with adding it to water in warm races, putting it on the dogs’ kibble, squirting it directly into their mouths, and even making Petchup ice cube pops as a treat.  Monica feels like the product is having a positive impact on her dogs’ energy and overall health.  We were anxious to see if we could add anything to her discoveries.

DSC_0205So first, we needed a subject for our experiment.  Enter Atti, our service dog in training.  Our math and science teacher, Ellen Rizzuto, is training a service dog with the help of our Lower School.  Atti gets used to being around a lot of people and activity and our boys learn how to handle a dog that is working and isn’t to be treated like a pet.

We wanted to see if Atti would prefer Petchup or Muttstard and if she would prefer it alone or on her kibble.

We let the boys smell the two products – the Muttstard is turkey flavored and the Petchup is beef flavored. They made their predictions about which one they thought Atti would prefer.  We put a little of each product in a bowl, showed Atti where they both were, let her smell them both and then let her go…. She chose the Muttstard first and totally devoured it!  She also then devoured the Petchup, so she liked them both, but we think she preferred the Muttstard.  For the second experiment we put a bowl of plain kibble, a bowl of kibble with Muttstard, and a bowl of plain Muttstard out for her to select.  We think the first time she just went to the bowl that was the closest, so we reset it up so the bowls were closer together.  This time she chose the kibble with Muttstard first.  She did eat them all again, but we think her preference was kibble with Muttstard.  So, our recommendation to Monica is to carry Muttstard and squirt some on the dog’s food and they should love it, just like Atti did!

It actually turned out to lead to a very interesting discussion about the fairness of the experiment and how certain we could be of our results. Plus – it’s fun anytime Atti visits us!

Tales from the Trail: Monica Update!

We checked in with Monica a few weeks ago, and her busy training schedule finally gave her a chance to get back to us!

She and Tim have been training up in the Fairbanks area and last week they competed in the Denali Doubles. The Denali Doubles is a unique race that runs 265 miles from Cantwell to Paxson and back.  What makes it so special is that each team consists of twenty dogs and two mushers!

This will probably be the last time we are able to check in with Monica for an interview before the race!  We want to wish her and the Zappa Huskies all the best of luck for an amazing race!

You can read the full interview here:  Monica Zappa Feb. Interview

International Sled Dog Race

The formal name of the race we all know as the Iditarod is the Iditarod Trail International Sled Dog Race.  And it truly is an international pool of mushers this year.  A quick look at the musher list shows seven different countries (US, Norway, Jamaica, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden) and seven different states (Alaska, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, California, Montana, and Washington) represented!

There is quite a Norwegian influence in this year’s race.  There are five Norwegian mushers competing in the race led by two time Iditarod champion, Robert Sorlie.  Robert Sorlie first entered the Iditarod in 2002 when he finished in ninth place.  He returned to complete in 2003 and 2005 when he won.  His most recent entry was 2007 when he finished in twelfth position.  To compete this year, Robert Sorlie will be travelling about 3,967 miles from his home in Hurdal, Norway to Anchorage, Alaska.  According to his blog, Robert and his dogs will leave home on February 17th, land in Seattle in February 19th, and then travel to Alaska by air from there.

I’ve been trying for a while to find some information about the history of mushing in Norway, and the best I can discover is that it spread to Norway around the start of World War 1 as a way to deliver supplies to soldiers in the field as well as for nature tours.

Now, if Curt Perano was to travel from his kennel in Roxburgh, New Zealand to Anchorage, he’d have to travel a whopping 7,715 miles!  Lucky for him, he is staging his race season out of Willow, Alaska.

An easy way to give your kids a visual of where in the world the mushers are coming from, have them checkout the musher list and have them color in all of the represented locations on a map. Here’s a cool one I found that features both the states and the rest of the world:

Recycled Dogs

I once joked with a coworker that I could turn anything into an Iditarod related lesson, and today I found another example!

I had a chance to visit the Anchorage Museum, which is one of my favorite museums.  They have an amazing exhibit on the history of Alaska, a fantastic kids area, and the beautiful Smithsonian Arctic Studies gallery of Native Alaskan culture and artifacts.  They also have an area where they host changing exhibits.

This year, the changing exhibit is called Gyre:  The Plastic Ocean.  A gyre is a swirling vortex in the ocean.  There are gyres in each ocean.  The gyres are massive, slow moving, whirlpools that sweep garbage into them.  Discarded items can be pulled into gyres where they slowly are pulled in the whirlpool and are pushed towards the center where they form floating garbage piles in the ocean.  You can learn more about gyres here:

This is, of course, a problem for marine life who often misinterpret the waste as food or are caught up in the plastics especially.

The Gyre expedition and exhibition is the result of a team of scientists and artists who explored the coastlines of Alaska and collected plastics most likely deposited from the North Pacific Gyre.  The exhibit was a sobering reminder of what we are doing to our planet.

The artists who were included in the exhibit took different approaches to the project.  Some displayed found objects as they were, which was sobering.  Some made juxtapositions between the ugly trash and the beauty of the environment in which they were found.  And still others used the found materials to make something new.  Like this dog sled and team!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wouldn’t this make a neat art project?  Could you and your class create a life sized dog team from recycled materials?  And there’s a perfect tie in between plastics in our oceans and the Iditarod!