One of the special benefits of the Jr. Iditarod is that the young mushers bond with each other in a unique and lasting way. In the woods at Yentna Station, after taking great care of their dogs for the night, they bonded over a campfire and shared trail stories. It was remarkable to see, and I am sure these memories will last a lifetime for them.
What is friendship like in the Jr. Iditarod for these young people? Can your sled dog be your friend? For help, I turned to former Jr. Iditarod champion, and 2016 rookie Iditarod musher Noah Pereira.
Noah, born in Brookport, New York, became the first non-Alaskan to win the Jr. Iditarod in 2013. This week, I met up with him at the Jr. Iditarod start where he was offering support and help to the young mushers before his 1,000 mile adventure next week.
My class wanted to know more about this very special Iditarod event, so we sent Noah one of my favorite books about the Jr. Iditarod, called Painter and Ugly, by Robert J. Blake. The book is from the perspective of two Jr. Iditarod lead dogs who are good friends and finish the 150 mile race together.
I asked Noah about his friendship with his sled dogs and he said, “My dogs are my friends because I really truly trust them, and they truly trust me. No matter what happens I know I can depend on them. With that bond we can do some incredible things.”
Noah was so gracious and recorded himself reading the book aloud with his sled dog, Rainy! How often does an Iditarod musher read a children’s story to classrooms around the world? As a bonus, Allison Perry’s wonderful second grade class from my school in Austin, Texas, created sled team friendship books after listening to the story. The book inspired them to think about friendship for themselves and what qualities they look for in a friend.
They pretended to be mushers in the Jr. Iditarod and colored their own sled dog scene. When they were finished, they added their faces to the musher and put their lovely writing in a special book about friendship.
Noah shared his inspirational experiences from his champion Jr. Iditarod year and what his friendship with his dogs meant to him:
The Jr Iditarod is a 150 mile race meant to prepare young mushers for future dog sled races. Mushers from ages 14 to 17 can take up to 10 dogs and compete. For many, Jr Iditarod is just way to have fun with dogs, but for myself it was so much more.
In 2012 I was a sophomore going to a high school in upstate New York. I had dreamed about Jr. Iditarod since my first sled dog encounter during 5th grade. When I heard of an opportunity to race it I could not pass it up. In December of 2012, my father and I left New York headed for Alaska and the Jr Iditarod. That February I would be a rookie in the race.
There was little hope for me to win the race, but I had some very talented dogs to get me to that point. The first 75 miles was simple and we made it to the halfway point with ease. During the mandatory 10 hour layover I fed my dogs, took care of their feet, and gave them all straw to sleep on. After all that was finished I finally was able to eat something myself. Morning came and it was time for me to take off. I was the second musher to leave the checkpoint. We eventually caught the first place musher about 40 miles from the finish. We mushed together and neither one of us could take the lead for long. About 10 miles from the finish I was able to take the lead. I kicked and I pushed as hard as I could for the whole way to the finish constantly looking over my shoulder to see if he was catching up. I made it to the finish line in first place. If there’s one thing I learned throughout my experience it’s that where you come from doesn’t dictate what you can become.
Check out more wonderful images from this special lesson for Noah:
Follow my journey this year as 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™. We have partnered with Skype as a virtual field trip experience, and I will be sending recorded video messages daily along the trail to classrooms around the world. Sign up for a free Skype account first, and then join the “Iditarod Classroom Club” to follow along. Remember, you must have a Skype account first, or you only be in my club for 24 hours as a guest! Click the link below:
Want to know more about other 2016 Iditarod mushers and their teams? The name says it all. The ULTIMATE INSIDER gives a school access to everything! All of the benefits of the INSIDER VIDEO combined with the ability to “Track the Pack” with the GPS INSIDER! Access to all of the commercial-free video. Spotlight up to 5 of your favorite mushers and receive email alerts when they enter and leave a checkpoint.
- GPS Tracker
- Commercial-Free access to all video content
- Highlight 5 Mushers with email alerts