Today 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!!!