Happy Trails to You…

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Laura Wright, 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail in Nome- photo courtesy of Mike Kenney

The time has come for me to say “good-bye” to my Teacher on the Trail™ Iditarod year.  I started this journey a year ago. I have had the most extraordinary year sharing and learning with teachers and Iditarod fans around the world.  I spent some time today scrolling through hundreds of photos and videos from my time on the trail and found a few special top moments I wanted to share with family, friends, and fans who have supported me this year.  

#1 My Wonderful 4th Grade Class

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The most amazing, incredible group of students on the planet

I would not be the Teacher on the Trail™ without these incredible kids.  We had a blast showing off our talent, attitude, and creativity this year.  I am the luckiest teacher to have had such wonderful students to share this experience with me.  This year will connect us forever, and it warms my heart to think about that.  Great job mustangs!

#2 Headlights at Night and the Juniors

People often ask me about my favorite memory from the trail, and I can honestly say that my time with the Jr. Iditarod was very memorable and special on so many levels.  I loved seeing young people be so responsible and show such integrity in the care and welfare of their dogs.  They also had fun being together and bonding.  I wanted to be a teenager again!  This memory from the Yenta Roadhouse was one of my favorites.  The young mushers and their teams rode out at night with only their headlamps to guide them.  I had always wanted to see this myself, and as I stood on the frozen Yenta River, late at night, with Barbara Redington by my side, I really felt a part of something unique and special.

#3 The Jon Van Zyle Style

What is there to say about the master artist of the Iditarod?  He is charming, talented, and the real-deal musher from times long ago.  I remember visiting his home and studio last summer, and I was casually told to go to the next room and see the newly finished painting that would soon become the official 2016 Iditarod poster.  This really moved me to tears.  This made it all real for me.  This beautiful piece of art would not only represent The Last Great Race on Earth®, but it would also represent me and my time as a part of it.  Before the race this year, Jon was gracious and signed my copy of the poster with a special note of encouragement to me.  I will treasure it forever!

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Thanks for the memories Jon!

#4 My IditaRider Moment!

It was such a thrill and honor for me to show off the maple leaf of Canada in Jason Campeau’s sled at the ceremonial start of the race.  What is it like to be in a musher’s sled on 4th Avenue?  Watch a few minutes of our travel to the starting line, and hear rookie musher, Kim Franklin with me well!  So cool!

#5 Joe Pendergrass!

The men and women of the Iditarod volunteer Air Force are extraordinarily dedicated.  Joe is one of these special people, and I am proud to say, a personal friend. 

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Joe and “Tex on the Trail” from Eanes Elementary School

I was thrilled when he flew me to my very first checkpoint at Yentna.  It was a special experience, and to have a friend by my side was the icing on the cake.

#6 The Lights

I remember clearly when I left my classroom to come to Alaska.  One of my students yelled out to me, “I hope you get to see the northern lights Ms. Wright!”  We studied the aurora borealis all year and they were a passion of ours in science, art, and our writing.  We were especially thrilled when Iditarod chose to put the eerie phenomenon in their 2016 logo design.  We were certain it was just for us.  It was pure magic to see the lights in Elim one night.  I watched them move and shimmer until the cold froze my fingers, and I could no longer take pictures.  A lifelong goal was fulfilled.  

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Glow baby…glow!

#7 You Gotta Have Friends

One of the best parts of being Teacher on the Trail™ are the friends you make along the way.  There are too many to mention, but these special people helped make this journey the wonderful, unique experience it was.  Thank you all!

#8 A Good Laugh in Shaktoolik

I distinctly remember landing on the frozen sea ice at the Shaktoolik checkpoint and realizing I was not quite prepared for the cold.  Local resident Edgar met the plane and informed me we had to walk the long mile to the checkpoint.  I was worried and colder than I could have ever imagined.  At one point even Edgar, with a huge grin, laughed about the freezing temperature.  We continued to giggle about it all as we trudged along.  Suddenly a Shaktoolik resident walked outside his home wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  Edgar and I laughed even harder…at ourselves!  I really felt like a Texan that day!  Edgar had one of the best attitudes I have ever met in another person.  He made me smile in a tough moment, and I will always appreciate it.

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Finally warm at the checkpoint!

#9 A Helping Hand 

Several mushers helped me this year to share this experience with so many people.  They helped me with lesson plans, they encouraged me, they made me laugh, and they inspired me.  I was proud to share their stories.

#10 From Austin City Limits to the Windy City!

I am now handing over the reins to a new IditarodTeacher on the Trail™, Annie Kelley, from Chicago.  I am excited for her journey this year, and she is enthusiastic and ready to share her experiences with teachers all over the world.  The Iditarod is in good hands.  Happy trails to you Annie!

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Take it away Chicago!

Adios!