Video of the Day – Rookie Musher Gwenn Bogart – “From Home to Nome”

“It’s never too late to live your dream,” reads the banner heading on Gwenn Bogart’s musher web site.  I can’t think of a better expression to describe Gwenn.  She is vivacious, uplifting and positive, and this year she is determined to make it “from home to Nome” as she tries a second run as a rookie musher in the upcoming Iditarod 2016.  The teachers from the Iditarod Teacher Summer Camp had the great fortune of hearing Gwenn talk about her life and her deep desire to mush in Alaska.  For the next year, she will be under the care and training of Vern Halter, veteran Iditarod musher, at his Dream a Dream Dog Farm.  Vern worked with the great Cindy Abbott, the 2015 Red Lantern winner, and under his mentorship this year, Gwenn will be prepared for the challenges ahead.  As the 2016 Iditarod  Teacher on the Trailˇ I have chosen to follow Gwen as our rookie musher this year.  She is going to share her preparation for The Last Great Race with teachers and students around the world, so they can all better understand the hard work and perseverance that it takes to bring your sled and dogs to the starting line on 4th Avenue in March.

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Gwenn at the annual Iditarod Volunteer Picnic, signing up for Iditarod 2016

Gwen’s bio from the Iditarod site:

Gwenn Bogart, 58, was born and raised in Vermont. She has B.S. and B.A. degrees from Colorado Technical University. Gwenn has had professional careers in horsemanship and fly fishing. She co-founded Casting for Recovery (CFR), www.castingforrecovery.org, an international breast cancer support group headquartered in Manchester, Vermont, that uses fly fishing for mental and physical healing. Gwenn also has a private pilot’s license and flew a Cessna 150 from the Green Mountain State of Vermont to the Last Frontier in 2011. Gwenn’s two grown daughters, Hannah and Molly, make their homes in Oregon and Vermont. Gwenn moved to Alaska when she and Dave Bogart, a former member of the Iditarod Air Force, were married in June of 2012. She began mushing in 2012 and has run the Sheep Mountain 200, the Copper Basin 300 and the Northern Lights 300. This will be Gwenn’s second attempt to finish the Iditarod and she humbly refers to herself as a rookie’s rookie. She lives in Wasilla with her husband, two border collies and one wiener dog named Frank. She enjoys fishing, flying airplanes, skiing, hiking, riding her road bike and perusing her artistic skills.

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Gwenn Bogart and Laura Wright, Iditarod 2016 Teacher on the Trailˇ

Check out Gwenn’s web site here

Follow Gwenn on Facebook here

Photo of the Day – A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed

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“Tip me for Willow fire!” read the hand-written note clipped to Barb Redington’s jacket at the Iditarod Volunteer Picnic today.  Barb has a big heart and a passionate dedication for the Iditarod and everyone involved from volunteers to mushers.  She is married to Raymie Redington, the son of Joe Redington Sr., the founder of The Last Great Race.  Barb was the 1977 Red Lantern champion in the Junior Iditarod, and now dedicates herself to the organization helping mentor the young athletes all year to prepare.  She and her husband offer sled dog rides at Iditarod headquarters 7 days a week, but today, their earnings were donated to the mushers who lost their homes in the Sockeye fire.

Photo of the Day – Training Native Olympians

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Two young athletes sat respectfully on the stage as we entered and sat in “The Gathering Place” inside the beautiful Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.  A small tethered ball covered in seal skin and fur hung conspicuously from a tall wooden pole.  Our group from the Iditarod Summer Teacher Conference waited with quiet excitement to see some examples of the Native Olympic games.  Our star athletes on stage shared with us not only many remarkable athletic moves this day, but also the history and traditions of their people.  Why are these games important to them?  What are they learning from this experience that draws them closer to a connection with their culture?  The mission of the Alaska Native Heritage Center states that its organization: “preserves and strengthens the traditions, languages, and art of Alaska’s Native People through statewide collaboration, celebration, and education.”  The specific moves in the games come from the moves needed to survive in the wild long ago, such as jumping from ice float to ice float.  Judging by the dedication and passion of these two remarkable young people, the ANHC is meeting its mission to preserve and nurture the history of the native people of Alaska.

Alaska Native Heritage Center

Video of the Day – Puppy Power

Puppies are the future for any kennel.  They require special nurturing and training from the day they are born to prepare them for the possibility of one day becoming a champion.  The teachers at the Iditarod Summer Camp had the opportunity to spend time with Vern Halter’s newest litter during our stay, and we enjoyed every minute of it.  Vern’s puppies were born three months ago and were given unique names in honor of Cindy Abbott’s Red Lantern year; a special tradition within the mushing community.  Early risers were lucky enough to enjoy a puppy walk through the Dream a Dream Dog Farm woodland trails, and it was fascinating for all of us to see the puppies already developing into a close-knit pack.  They chased each other along winding pathways surrounded by ferns and wildflowers, around trees, and over their gnarled roots with the instinct of exactly where to go.  They ran far ahead of the group of teachers, scampering past us all the way back home.  One morning, after chores, we were bound and determined to capture this puppy spectacle on video, so a small group of us waited anxiously by the puppy kennel for their return.  With Mickey, the family border collie and famed stick retriever as their guide, they emerged from the woods with yelps and howls.  We heard them coming before we saw them.  To our delight, they bypassed the food bowl to join us with lots of licks and love.  Yet another great reason for teachers to journey to Alaska for the Iditarod Teacher Summer Camp!

Iditarod Teacher Winter Conference & Summer Camp Information

Photo of the Day – One Happy Husky

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“Dogs laugh, but they laugh with their tails.” – Max Eastman

Howls, licks and love abound at the Dream a Dream Dog Farm for all of the teachers at the Iditarod Summer Teacher Conference.  We all pitch in for dog yard chores and puppy walks several times a day, and there is plenty of husky happiness to go around.

Photo of the Day – Reflections Lake

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“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains!” – John Muir

On a map, the Palmer Hay Flats encompass about 45,000 miles of freshwater streams, marshes, bogs and silty glacial rivers.  In person, its wild beauty is inspiring.  The refuge is the stop for thousands and thousands of migratory birds, and many stay and nest and raise their young. Ducks, geese, swans, and other shorebirds are drawn to these wetlands as they migrate to and from the north.  I spent the afternoon on a one mile hike around Reflections Lake with Sara Lamont, an Iditarod Education Committee member, long-time Iditarod race volunteer and our designated “moose whisperer” as she has the talent for spotting moose.  Sara loves sharing her passion for Alaska’s wildlife with others, and our walk inspired me to continue to spend time in the beauty of nature, not only during my time here in Alaska, but when I return home to Texas.

Map and Wildlife Trail Guide for Reflections Lake

Dream A Dream

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Driving toward Willow, Alaska to Vern Halter’s Dream a Dream Dog Farm for the 2015 Iditarod Summer Teacher’s Camp, I reflected upon the ongoing situation with the Sockeye wildfire. As of this posting, the fire was not totally contained in the thousands of acres affected, but the hard work and dedication of many people continues. A few days later as we ventured north of Willow on the Park’s Highway, we couldn’t help but notice the burnt fir trees on either side of the road. We saw many homemade signs along the highway thanking firefighters for their brave efforts to save homes, many belonging to Iditarod mushers. It was touching and thoughtful and reflected well upon the community of Willow and the people of Alaska.

As our car pulled into the Dream a Dream Dog Farm, we were greeted by dozens of happy husky dogs and 19 eager teachers from around the country ready to learn and share lessons, ideas and give a little inspiration to one another as we camped out together in this special place.

DSC00133In 1983, our host, Vern Halter, ran his first Iditarod, and for 21 years he raced the Iditarod or Yukon Quest. He placed in the top 5 of the Iditarod three times and the top 10 eight times. Vern is the 1990 Yukon Quest Champion and the 1989 Yukon Quest runner-up.  Now he is dedicated to raising, training and racing the Alaskan Husky and guiding rookie mushers who live and train with him such as Cindy Abbott, the 2015 Iditarod Red Lantern winner.  I had the honor of meeting Cindy at the Winter Teacher Conference when I attended with a group of teachers from my school. We all felt drawn to her strong spirit and “can do” attitude.  Vern prepared her well.

Vern’s musher conference room is a treasure trove of Iditarod history and memorabilia. His experience and memories are on display for all to see, and every single teacher was inspired and excited to learn more from this veteran musher mentor. We laid out our camping gear on our beds in the loft and came downstairs for a meet & greet.  DSC00158

The teachers at the conference are from all over the country, and flew in from thousands of miles away from states such as Florida, Minnesota, and Texas. We all became fast friends. For some teachers it has been a lifelong dream to make the trek to Alaska, and we all felt privileged to be here. We gathered our group and quickly made our way out to the dog yard and greeted dozens of happy huskies with hugs and kisses. It was “dog heaven.” For the majority of the teachers present this was their very first experience in a dog kennel, and their faces said it all. Dogs jumped and howled with excitement as we made our way around to each dog house petting and hugging each and every husky. There was a whole lot of joy at the dog farm this evening!

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Speaking of veterans, Terrie Hanke, the 2006 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ was our camp cook this week. Terrie is dedicated to the Teacher on the Trail™ program, and during the Iditarod she will visit checkpoints at the back of the pack and share her adventures and report on the site. She is a real treasure to the program, and I consider her a mentor as I travel the trail this year. After supper it wDSC00208as time for some puppy love! Right now Vern has six 3 month old puppies from his spring litter, and he gave them all names that reflect Cindy Abbott’s journey to the Red Lantern this year. This continues a long tradition in the mushing community, and is a great testament to the respect and admiration that the Dream a Dream Dog Farm has for Cindy.

Bounding through the wild trail behind the kennel, we tried to keep up with the rowdy pups as they made their way over tree stumps and roots all the way to the wooden bridge over the babbling brook. This took a little coaxing from the teachers, but they stumbled their way to the other side. It was simply adorable to watch. They are young huskies in training for the future, and under the care of Vern Halter and his team, we may see them in The Last Great Race® one day.