Day two of the Iditarod Winter Educator’s Conference took us on our first field trip to the home of Jon and Jona Van Zyle. Jon is celebrating his 40th year creating the official Iditarod artist and poster, and he has two new books this year celebrating his art and love of the Last Great Race on Earth®. He is a wonderful, fun host and I have looked forward to visiting with him each year I come to the Iditarod teacher conferences.
We were welcomed into Jon and Jona’s home and kennel with open arms and spent time with their beautiful Siberian huskies in their dog yard The dogs are used to being photographed and are total hams. They run in and out between people and play games with each other. It is a challenge to get a good shot. I think, personally, that they love to play this game with us. Jon was a musher in one of the first Iditarod races with Joe Redington Sr. and shared great stories from the trail with us.
He showed us the mandatory gear for an Iditarod musher and how they are used. We stretched out the towline, and we were amazed at how far ahead a team of huskies is from a sled. How can the dogs hear the voice commands? Jon reminded us just how keen a dog’s hearing is. In a normal speaking voice, the lead dogs could hear “gee” or “haw” even yards away from the musher. Jon explained that there really is no reason to yell commands loudly because dogs hear so well. We had several teachers from Norway in our group who shared their sled dog wisdom and stories. It was a fascinating lesson.
Inside the Van Zyle home you will find a museum of Alaska’s history through the incredible art they have collected over the years. Most pieces have been donated to museums over the years. Jon’s original Iditarod art was on full display, and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to spend time with Jon, Jona, and rest of the wonderful teachers here at the Winter Education Conference.
I brought Jon a special gift from Texas…a chili recipe! He was so appreciative, and let me know he sure did hope it was hot enough. I was thrilled to have Jon sign “my poster” he created for the 2016 Iditarod. It is stunning, picturing a mountain scene, with a musher and dog team at night.
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: