What a Wonderful Trip

I am so sorry that it has taken me so long to return here to visit with you.  I think of you all often and wonder how I can share this amazing experience.

I have been trying to sum up my time on the trail for weeks now, and I accept finally that it just defies summing up.  My heart was filled to overflowing by the unquenchable loyalty and energy of the dogs, the understated devotion and service from the pilots, the camaraderie  and support of the volunteers, the completely uncensored welcome of residents of villages across Alaska, and it was all given to me so freely.

I have had several opportunities since I returned to share my experiences with students around my area.  It is so difficult to contain my excitement and enthusiasm, and maybe the best part of that is that it seems to be catching.  Without fail I have a hard time putting an end to our sharing time. They can’t stop asking questions or saying, “Show that one picture again, PLEASE!”  By the time I give them back to their teachers, I know they are hooked.  I look forward to working with their excited teachers throughout the year to find even more ways to add the Iditarod to their curriculums.

I will be retiring from full time teaching this June, but it looks like I won’t be out of the classroom any time soon.  That is more than OK with me!  I will be full time IDITAROD.  Please feel free to use me anytime as a resource   (blynnef@sbcglobal.net) and don’t forget the voluminous resources of the Iditarod Website.

Let me leave you with a slide show of the phenomena that puts excitement into your classrooms and welcome Linda Fenton, 2013 Teacher on the Iditarod Trail, into the most exciting experience she will ever have.  I know she will bring you yet another perspective of the Iditarod to continue to enlarge this amazing teaching tool.

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With heartfelt regards which is always on the trail,

Blynne Froke, 2012 Teacher on the Iditarod Trail

Community and School are One: Galena

Galena so totally captured my heart when I was there during the race that I had to find out more, and everything that I have learned since has not only confirmed my original impression of this community, but also extended it.  I think it is the priorities of community and education that actually endears one to this village.  The importance that residents give to using what they have while taking a risk to extend themselves to educate students even outside of their village sets them apart from many.

The original settlement of Galena was a miner’s trading post while the majority of the native population lived in Louden upriver toward Ruby where they mostly sold logs to the barges on the river.  They eventually moved down to what is now known as “old town” by the airstrip.

At the beginning of World War II, the United States Air Force built a base at Galena.  As the story goes, the Air Force dropped a few individuals in and told them to get to work and they would be back in two weeks.  Well, weeks turned into months, and the community of Galena, in its characteristic style, took them in.  The Air Force did eventually return and the construction of the base was completed, lending infrastructure and even more diversity to the community.

In the early 90’s, with the reduction in military spending, the base at Galena was closed and control of the land was left to a management company.  The Air Force had left so much of what they used, like furniture, tools, etc., that the people of Galena,  no strangers to using what you have, were able to put it to good use.  Galena also has a fully functioning clinic, easing the worries of the residents.

Outsiders have been a part of Galena for so long that they are welcomed, so long as they do not judge the traditional ways that are still very much mainstream for this community. Sidney Huntington, the village elder at 97, is revered above all and is still in attendance at most village functions.  During my stay at the checkpoint in Galena, Sidney walked down to the community center every couple hours or so to see how things were coming with the race, and then would sit and visit for a while before heading off again.  When the checkpoint opened and they found themselves without food for the mushers that were soon to arrive, a call was put out over the Public Radio Station there in Galena for help.  Community members immediately began a steady stream of tasty hot meals and special treats, often staying to visit and tell stories during the waiting times.

The school system in Galena is the heart of the community.  Sidney Huntington School is a K-8 of roughly    students.  Debbie Koontz, an upper grade science teacher, gave me a grand tour while I was there, and I was impressed by the extensiveness of their program.  Both the arts and vocational education are emphasized along with the traditional academic program.

About fifteen years ago, along with the advent of the charter school system, an application was written to establish GILA, a secondary school that emphasized economically viable skills.  At the time that the application was due, the school board had none of the necessary equipment or facilities to establish this school, but with a “build it and they will come” type of attitude they made the application, were approved and started the next school year with everything from facilities to students that they needed.  That was fifteen years ago.  Today GILA has fully functioning programs in the Culinary Arts, Cosmetology, Aviation where students can actually earn their private pilots license, Automotive Technology, Carpentry and Welding, to name a few.

There is also a secondary boarding school in Galena and a traditional academic program through the Sidney Huntington School.  All three of these systems do share classes at times where it seems beneficial.

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Galena is a community about sustainability, and children mean income.  The Galena District welcomes students from neighboring areas and also encourages outsiders to actually buy land and build homes in Galena. In Galena, school and community are one and the same thing, and I can’t imagine a more positive and supportive community in which to live.  Thank you Galena for your warm welcome and the great memories I have to take with me.

Remembering the special spots on the trail,


Practice, Practice, Practice

The practice principle certainly applied itself over the last couple weeks on the trail.  There were very few things that I did on the trail that I have either ever done or done very often, and boy, was I a rookie!

The range of new experiences went from the mundane (learning to walk in giant boots) to the highly specialized (finding my way into an outhouse that is under five feet of snow, sorting through five layers of clothing and coming through the experience dry).

I no longer have to be helped into a small plane and buckled up like a small child; I can do it myself.  I no longer need to be reminded to put on hat and gloves ANY time I go outside.  I no longer need to be coached through every new experience; I have learned to watch, listen, and assimilate.  I have also learned to speak up and ask questions when something looks more specialized than I understand or relax and let things happen around me until I begin to feel the rhythm depending on the situation.

When a dog team, off course in a checkpoint, runs toward me, I no longer step out of the way, I reach for a gang line.  I am no longer too shy to speak to a stranger who I find interesting.  All of my new experiences have met with positive outcomes, mostly due to the kind and caring people that accompanied my adventure.  Though there were obviously many people around me that were quite skillful at the tasks I found challenging, I was never afraid to give it a try as someone always had that gentle teaching tip that solved the dilemma.

The practice principle always works best when you are not afraid to make mistakes, and the Iditarod community gave me the confidence to try new things and make more than a few mistakes.  They inspired my trust that they would never allow me to make a dangerous mistake.

I have learned so many skills during my time on the trail that I will probably use daily.  Over the next few weeks I will try to share as many of those gems with you as I can, but nothing is better than experience, so get out there and try something new, don’t be afraid to make a mistake or two and practice, practice, practice.

While I was in Nome I became enamored with the hundreds of ravens that supervise the city streets.  I have begun a study of them and boy, am I making a few mistakes.  Take a look at what I have so far, and I will share again in a while when my mistakes are different ones.

Still learning from the trail,


The Last Day in Nome

My last day in Nome was packed and I wanted it to be because I wanted to get the most out of this great town before I left.

We were all pleased to see Dan Seavey arrive in great shape.  Dan ran the Iditarod this time to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the Historical Iditarod Trail.  He stopped at numerous villages along the way to make presentations of commemorative plaques to the communities and talk about the history of the trail, so this was no race for him.

I met Dan a number of times along the trail.  I met him in Skwentna, Takotna and Galena.  In Skwentna we discussed the value of the race as an educational focus.  He was surprised, but pleased to find out that his granddaughter, teaching in the lower 48, said her students responded with an amazing involvement in their academic tasks when these tasks were put in the context of the race. They found new value in math, science, geography and used an understanding of statistics to track their favorite mushers.  We also discussed the values lessons available in a real life situation that the Iditarod offers.

The big deal of the day, of course, was the banquet.  I couldn’t believe how many people packed themselves into the Recreation Center, but I could see why.  All the mushers that had finished (that was all but two) were introduced, given their trophies and buckles and the special awards were announced.  My favorite every year is the Leonard Seppala Humanitarian Award, which is given for the best care given to the dogs by a musher.  This year it went to DeeDee Jonrowe and was obviously well deserved.

Another award that I was pleased to see was the Golden Clipboard, which is awarded to the best checkpoint and selected by the mushers.  This year the award went to Nulato.  I didn’t have the privilege of stopping in Nulato, but the checkpoints I went to must have given them a real run for their money, because they were all staffed by warm, welcoming individuals that would do anything they were allowed for you.

The banquet was a last opportunity for us to reconnect with people we had met along the trail and compare our experiences since we met.  New stories abounded and promised to see each other again.

No description of the Banquet would be complete without an applause for the food.  My favorite was the dogsleds filled with HUGE fresh strawberries that were constantly being refilled.  That along with giant shrimp and prime rib just says it all.

The volunteers were repeatedly thanked and praised by the mushers as they said this race just couldn’t happen without the volunteers and it is clear they were right, but Iditarod cares for the volunteers very well.  Before the banquet they took all our bags to the airport and checked them in for us and afterward they gathered us up and whisked us off to the airport where we loaded on the plane.  Being as exhausted as we all were you would have expected a quiet sleepy plane, but it was anything but as we continued to meet new people and start new relationships.  By the time we were dropped at the Millennium the only thought was sleep.

Rookie and I will be sad to leave this trail in Alaska, but it continues wherever you are and we will be on it.


Wandering Nome

Since I had no scheduled activities today, I decided to wander the neighborhoods between sirens for incoming mushers and see what I could learn about the character of this town.  Nome is a very friendly place with evidence of two very busy seasons.  Even in deep winter you can see the objects and tools of summer.

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It is a town of individuals right down to the ravens that broadcast from every corner.  They even had a golf tournament on the ice today and a St. Paddy’s Day Parade.

I was lucky enough to watch Hank DeBruin come in with his beautiful dogs and at two this afternoon mushers gathered in the convention center for autograph signing and they were welcomed by a huge crowd.

This will be my last night in Nome and I really think I will miss it.  The town has a great personality and the volunteers welcome you like long lost friends.

So it will be back on the trail after the banquet tomorrow,


Volunteers in Nome

Volunteers in Nome and those who reach Nome are well taken care of.  We are welcomed at the United Methodist Church where our housemothers, Deb and Joan, see to it that we are fed, cared for, and learn a few new manners while we are here.  Pilots, veterinarians, technicians, all manner of volunteers, and this teacher get three hot, tasty meals a day and a quiet cot to sleep on.

When it is dinnertime, as many as are not on duty somewhere, volunteers gather for dinner, conversation, stories, and a few games.  Last night I even saw two volunteers trying to play a card game on an Iphone app.  It was an amusing scene, to say the least.

There is room for 20-25 of us to sleep and quiet areas are observed. We even peacefully share one bathroom and one shower.  It is encouraging to see what people can really do.

A BIG THANKS to those ladies that keep us all going!  Thanks, Deb and Joan!


Keep On Growing

We have all grown during this experience.  Some growth happens just as an unplanned result of experience.  Some growth occurs out of necessity and some growth happens because you specifically plan to improve certain skills.  Growth in any sense is good and something that we should strive for throughout our lives.  When we cease to grow, cease to strive for better performance out of ourselves, we cease to treasure the life we have been given.

Rookie has grown through an amazing sequence of experiences on the trail and off.

Yesterday I took a class at the Parks Service Bldg. about drawing dogs.   There was a little girl who told me my dog’s name was Tilo and that in Inupiaq the word for dog is kikpiq. Admittedly, I was the only adult there, but I learned some valuable tips to improve my dogs and heard the teacher repeat the mantra I have used with myself and my students.  Really look at the thing you are about to draw, look at it until you are sure you really see it.  My sight is improving, though I still have a long way to go, so it is back on the proverbial trail for me and Rookie, too.