Well, I REALLY got on the trail this weekend and have just now returned!  Sorry for my absence.

The Junior Iditarod was definitely an experience that will take far more than one or two posts to cover, but I will give it a start.  The kids, the dogs, the weather, the amazing spirit of volunteerism all worked so seamlessly that it is a wonder that we cannot do this well at other things, but that is another post.  I am suffering from a time warp caused by being snowed in for almost three days which is an experience unique in and of itself, but again that is another post.  One that I will get to work on as soon as I finish this one.

Let’s go back and start at the beginning . . . Eleven young mushers, one hundred nine dogs, a warm blizzard (according to this Californian) that grounded airplanes, stuck snow machines and some dog sleds alike made for an eventful weekend.  The field of mushers was pretty evenly divided with five girls and six boys, four out of state mushers and seven Alaskans.

I love blue eyes.

Junior mushers started arriving around 5:30 p.m. Saturday evening at Yentna Station which is the half way point for the race.  They seemed to be traveling pretty closely together on that first day.  Mushers check in, pick up their food drop bags, straw and HEET for cooking and are guided to their parking spots for a required ten hour layover before returning to Willow Lake and the finish line.  The dogs all had hot meals cooked by their mushers, but when I asked them what they were eating I got answers like “Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and chips.”  I guess teenagers are similar everywhere.

They're off!

Seventy-five miles each way, the juniors travel 150 miles with only the company of their dogs.  This year there was a lot of monitoring by snow machines as the number of moose has been so high.  The first day the traveling was great and the weather as the checkers, vet, doctors and other support staff flew into Yentna Station was beautiful, but as night came so did the bad weather.  The first in to Yentna was Ben Lyon followed very closely by Conway Seavey.

As the mushers began leaving around 3:30 in the morning, the snow was already building up making the trail very soft and punchy.  The arrival in Willow was in reverse order with Conway Seavey arriving only a minute before Ben Lyon.  The finishing order was

1. Conway Seavey

2. Ben Lyon

3. Ben Harper

4. Jesse Klejka

5. Jenny Gregor

6. Chelsea Davis

7. Bailey Vitello

8. Alyana Ferraro

9. Mattie Cobb

10. Abigail Brooks

 I would like to tell you all how the Junior Banquet went after the young mushers were in, but I was snowed in in Yentna until Tuesday afternoon and missed all of the festivities.  Hopefully someone will fill me in.

There is so much more to say, but for the moment I need a little shut-eye.  I will be back with more in the morning.

Finally truly on the trail with Rookie.


Watch Out Future!

Are you tired of hearing comments about youth today claiming that they have lost focus, are horribly self-centered or just unproductive?  Well those people should have been at the Iditarod Headquarters tonight to watch the Jr. Iditarod Musher’s meeting.  These young people, ages 14-17, manage and care for their own team of dogs and have trained devotedly for the race that they will start tomorrow morning.

They will leave from Knik and travel 75 miles out to Yentna on Saturday, spend a 10 hour layover plus differential which allows for the two minute staggered starts, and mush another 75 miles back to Willow on Sunday.  While out at Yentna the mushers will stay outside all night and care for their teams and enjoy each other’s company.

This year’s group is almost half male and half female reminding us that the athletes here are the dogs, not the nushers.  There are eight rookies and three veterans running this year so that should make for some interesting stories.

The evening started with each musher signing a set of bibs that will be given to the sponsors in gratitude of their valuable support.  Pizza was served followed by a description of the trail conditions, markings and warnings about excessive moose on the trail by the Traill marker, Richard Plack.

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Then it was time for the mushers to draw their starting positions which made the whole experience begin to actually seem real.  Then the rest of us were ushered out so they could all get down to business with Race Marshall, Melissa Owens.

This year we have mushers from as far away as Southern California.  In fact, we have four mushers from the lower 48 which is a record.

Chelsea Davis is 16 and a sophomore in high school.  She has been here in Alaska working her dogs out of Talkeetna since the end of Christmas vacation.  She is not missing school though, as she has homework everyday and goes into a local high school to have her tests proctored.  A very serious student, Chelsea is considering medical school after high school.  Being from California myself, I was drawn to her cheerful and positive attitude.

Anxious to really get on the trail in the morning,


Just By Chance

Sometimes you make stops along the way and there is nothing particularly special to notice, but today was not one of those days.  It seemed that today was not one of those days.  On our way out to Willow School to do a couple presentations we stopped at Vern Halter’s Dream a Dream to take a look at a special map that he has.  Well, that was not to be as there was a mountain of snow in front of it, but we did meet Sylvia Furtwangler.

Sylvia is a rookie born and raised in Germany, now living in Norway.  She talked with us about running the Yukon Quest, which she started twice and finished once in 2003.  The first time she ran the Quest she brought her lead dogs and leased the rest of the team from another musher.  She said it just didn’t work for her since she didn’t have the bond with the new dogs that she has with her own.  She had to scratch.  The next time she brought her whole team with her from Norway and the experience was so different, “we were connected,” she said and that made all the difference.  She is looking forward to the 2012 Iditarod so her young team can learn from the experience.  She just wants to enjoy it and build a good experience for the team.  The trip out was quite a journey as they went by fairy, then overland, then a ten hour flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Seattle.  Thank goodness she had friends in Seattle that came to the airport to help her walk all the dogs before the next leg of the trip to Anchorage.   We wish her luck and hope to see her on the trail.

The kids in Willow were a great audience for my first classroom presentations and helped me make up a game that went with my presentation perfectly and used the letters of IDITAROD.  One student would pick a letter from the word Iditarod and another would choose a word starting with that letter that was a character quality that helped you pursue your dreams and be a finisher.  I tried to tie in stories about the Iditarod when they picked one for me that worked like “determination.”  I told them about the year that Martin Buser cut off the end of his finger days before the start and everybody told him to stay home.  He was determined to run the race anyway and he did.  We finished up with one young man that said what about dog?  We all laughed for having missed such an obvious choice.

getting a blood tes

On the way back we stopped off at headquarters so that I could put some faces to names that I have been corresponding to and found the vet trailer busy doing a pre-race vet check.


We were invited in to watch a microchip being put in, a blood test drawn and an EKG being given.  I also picked up some information about the vet study that will be done this year during the race, but need to do some reading so that I can explain what it is all about.  Stay tuned.

Rookie and I are going to get some rest as tomorrow will probably prove to be as busy as today.  Also I have some reading to do for you.


A Snowy Day

It has been snowing most of the day.  I know that for most of you that is no big thing, but for a kid from California it really is pretty cool!  I am lucky to have a driver that was a Wisconsin Driver’s Ed teacher, so we pretty much just keep going regardless of the weather.

There is plenty of preparation for the journey ahead and my main focus today was warm hands and feet.  The other focus is my first school presentation in Alaska tomorrow so while it snowed outside, I became more computer savvy than I ever thought I could.  I can’t believe some of the things I can do now and some with only one hand!

The Junior Iditarod starts in two days and I am getting pretty excited.  One of the mushers is a young lady from California so I will be sure to meet her.  Terrie tells me that if it is snowing we won’t fly out to Yentna, we will snow machine out.  Now that would be some adventure for me.

Well I hope you enjoy the snow.  I think Rookie and I are going to get some shut-eye.


Bacon’s Acres


What an amazing day in the Matanuska Valley!  We went to visit Kristin Bacon and her seventeen dogs, seven of who are under a year in Big Lake.  What a wonderful crew!  Kristin is relatively new to mushing, but not huskies who she has loved for years working with other people’s dogs and working the checkpoint in Skwentna, but when shortly after the race last year, she brought home Libby, already bred she knew her life was changing and  all for the good.  A couple pets turned in one big happy kennel.  I couldn’t name which one I loved most, though Pirate could steal your heart and Yashnomi was a huge flirt.

Kristin is a Physical Therapist and works with special needs children all over Alaska.  Most of the time she goes to her clients to work with them, but those that can she invites to the kennel to enjoy the dogs and sometimes take a ride.  Kristen has seen a real difference in the children. After spending time with the dogs the often withdrawn and quiet faces fill with  smiles.  She hopes to one day extend the kennel into a healing place for children with autism and other disorders.  Kristin also has her eye on the Iditarod in a couple years, but for now is enjoying the magic of running with her new family.  She will; however, be back at Skwentna Checkpoint keeping people warm and welcome as she has for several years now.

I remember two years ago when Dee Dee Jonrowe  helped to raise money for “A Dog for Logan,” an autistic boy in Unalakleet who has bloomed in the companionship of his new dog.  It is a true gift that these dogs have to change lives in so many ways.

Still on the Trail with Rookie and more inspired everyday,


Back in Alaska

Thought I should check in with you all so you can get your warm socks ready.  It seems like it has been a long time, but really just a few short months since I was here last.  It has been a real transformation though, emotionally, technically and socially just to name a few.  These have been growing months and there is only more to come.

It will all fit somewhere, right?

I know I brought too much.  Don’t we usually, but do you leave?  Well, I have been doing some more sorting as I am getting temporarily settled and have made a few more decisions.  I think packing and repacking are going to become familiar.

After all that packing I needed some fresh air and it is really pretty nice outside today.  Didn’t even need a coat.  I have been looking at all the planes around Lake Hood, some I think were here two years ago.  Anyway, I have been contemplating the amount of travel I will be doing in them and figure they deserve a drawing or two so I took a couple pictures for models.  It is going to be that perspective thing all over again, in more ways than one.

Rookie is the only dog here I have seen so far, except the stuffed kind so I am anxious to get out to see some kennels tomorrow.

Let’s see where the trail takes us,


Pencil Point “Again”

If there is one thing I have truly learned this year, and really it has only just begun as the best part is about to start,  is that echo I hear from Jon Van Zyle “do it again” or on the same note I hear in brother’s energetic proclamations “If at first you don’t succeed . . .”

The goal is always to produce better results, to keep working and focusing on the process and if we improve the process the product will always be better.  As teachers the raw material we start with is relatively the same each year; a first grader in September is a first grader in September.  My blank sheet of paper looks at me expectantly again.  I know what I drew last time.  I know what I thought I did well and I want to do that again.  I also know that some of my efforts didn’t turn out the way I envisioned. By studying what I did, I can adjust my process for better results. This is what we, as teachers, do year to year.  It is what we were taught to do and we do it.

I drew a particular dog for a friend of mine the other day.  And the first few tries were just not up to snuff, so I got a breath of fresh air and tried again.  I think I did better, but I still see things I want to work on.  So for this post I share with you the progress I have made with Rookie this year and the progress I made with Annui last week and commend you all for the work you do everyday to improve what you do.

The oak tree is still very illusive and may be the work that takes me into very old age, so I am still on the trail (and joyfully probably will be for life) with Rookie.