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


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!


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. 


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.  


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.


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!


Take it away Chicago!


Radiating Hope With Musher Larry Daugherty


Dr. Larry Daugherty and his son, Calvin, make it to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro

The Iditarod may be over, but for mushers like Dr. Larry Daugherty, the desire to inspire others continues.  I had the great pleasure of getting to know Larry and his family during his rookie year in the 2016 Iditarod, and I was thrilled to watch him cross the finish line in Nome with his wonderful family there to cheer him on.  Larry and his family are what we call, “good people.”  He is a cancer doctor by trade, and sits on the Board of Directors for Radiating Hope, a non-profit that supports radiation treatment for cancer patients in Africa.


Larry, his wife, Prairie, and the Daugherty kids: Charlie, Conrad, Azalea, Calvin, and Bailey

Taking a step back for a moment, I remember watching Larry coming under the arch in Nome and we could all see what that accomplishment meant to him personally.  It was quite an emotional experience for all of us.  


We all had a good laugh when, Prairie, had a camera malfunction with the cold and, so I happily took some photos of the special moment for them.


I remember at one point Larry brought out some special flags, and I didn’t quite realize the significance of that moment until this last week.  He was sharing a new goal with the world, one that would also be challenging for himself physically and emotionally.  


Larry under the arch in Nome

Larry and his son, Calvin, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness for the special needs of cancer patients in Africa and help bring life-saving radiation equipment to those in need.  Here is video of Larry and his son making the final trek, after 7 grueling days, to the top!

I can’t imagine the life lessons that Larry’s son will carry with him for the rest of his life from this experience.  I was inspired by his story, and Larry is another example of how the Iditarod brings such amazing people together, from all walks of life, with powerful stories to share with us all. 


Larry and Calvin in Africa before making their way to the top!

I remember in Anchorage, the day before the race, Larry signed a ceremonial sled at the musher meeting, and I happened to be there to see it.  I wondered what he wrote, so I took a closer look:


Famous last words!

I know Larry will continue to inspire us all with his good work in his community, and with the global outreach of Radiating Hope.  Best of luck Larry!

Radiating Hope Information

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School Supplies for the Top of the Kuskokwim


The welcoming committee for Nikolai

As I reflect on my time as the 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, I will always be grateful to the remarkable village teachers that helped me during my journey.  In Nikolai, I spent a lot of time with Ms. Tara Wiggins and her wonderful students at the Top of the Kuskokwim school.  Her generosity helped me so much during my stay at the checkpoint, and I wanted to show my appreciation to her and all the Nikolai villagers who were so gracious.

Currently, there are 16 students ranging from Pre-K to 12th grade in the school, which has enabled them to have two teachers; however, one teacher must live at the school due to a lack of housing in this small village.  This is only one of many sacrifices that teachers make working and living in such remote areas in Alaska.


As I prepare to pack up my classroom, I thought about Tara and her students, and what I could do to help them.  When I walked through her class the first time, I loved the charming watercolor paintings that hung on the walls, and we talked about the challenges of having art supplies for these special projects in a place such as Nikolai.  I asked Tara if I could send her brand-new art supplies for next year, and she was thrilled.  I thought about all the teachers and Iditarod fans that read these posts and wanted to share this opportunity for others to give back as well.


Donate new art supplies to this school in Nikolai, AK!

If you are a teacher packing up your classroom this week and you have art supplies that are brand new and never used, or you are an Iditarod fan who wants to support the villages along the trail, please consider making a donation of supplies or books.   Contact djohnson@iditarod.com for information.

It is the support of many village teachers along the trail that help the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ post and share about the race with so many, so I hope you will join me in supporting them!

Please send only new supplies – these children deserve the best!


Pretending to be a dog team in Nikolai – with “Tex” the horse mascot from my school in Austin, Texas

The Iditarod Finale


Our final fight from Nome to Anchorage

I arrived in Anchorage this week on a special flight filled with Iditarod volunteers, race judges, veterinarians, and our race marshal, Mark Nordman.  We had a great time cheering, laughing and telling tales from the trail.  We ate homemade sandwiches and brownies and enjoyed this special last time together as we traveled from Nome after weeks on the trail.  We knew we all had enjoyed the opportunity of a lifetime, but it was coming to a close.

The Iditarod Insider crew did a great job of sharing about the Finishers Banquet in Nome, but I have my own special memories of that night.  The Anchorage Lakefront Hotel cooked a meal fit for a king, as the mushers, their families, volunteers, and Nome citizens feasted on prime rib and, of course, their famous chocolate covered strawberries.


A sled filled with strawberries in Nome!



Brent Sass enjoys the Nome buffet

It was a wonderful opportunity for me to walk around and say good-bye to mushers who had helped me so much this year with sharing Iditarod lessons with teachers around the world.  Their generous gift of time helped make the Iditarod authentic and personal to children all over, and I will be forever grateful.


Me with Sarah Stokey



Noah Pereira, me and Patrick Beall



Prairie Daugherty, Larry Daugherty, and Iditarod White Mountain volunteer Stacey Cardy


I also gave a hug to Canadian musher Jason Campeau, whose sled I rode in  for the Iditarod ceremonial start in Anchorage.  It was an amazing experience.  The dedication these mushers have towards education and connecting kids to the mushing world is extraordinary.  I am so thankful to have spent time with them this year!


Me with Jason Campeau



The banquet lasted a few hours, and trophies and stories were shared from the stage all evening.  Early on, a gift from the village of Nulato was given to Aliy Zirkle and Jeff King.  The citizens there raised money for them after the tragic incident on the Yukon River, and Jeff spoke about giving it back to the community to support drug and alcohol abuse wellness programs.   It was a lovely gesture, and everyone was moved by the opportunity and generosity from Aliy and Jeff to want to help those in need.


In a very emotional moment, Aliy took home the award for best dog care, and asked her husband, Allen Moore, to come to the stage and accept it with her.  The Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award has been given out since 1982 to the musher who shows the best dog care and remains competitive.  Aliy won this, hands down.

DeeDee Jonrowe was surprised with a replica of the very same award she had won years ago.  It was destroyed in the Sockeye Fire this summer.  She was deeply moved by the gesture, and talked about starting over and moving forward.


DeeDee Jonrowe accepts her reproduced award



Another special moment from the stage was hearing from veteran Iditarod champion, Martin Buser.  His son has been recovering from a serious car accident, and it was quite remarkable to see Martin on the trail this year.  Martin has a wonderful attitude, and I remember in Nikolai the villagers talked about his sense of humor and generosity all these years on the trail when he would come through.  Martin joked about his long “camping trip” this year in the Iditarod, and he had high spirits and a smile as he left the stage to loud applause from the crowd.


There were many, many memories made and shared that night.  I loved the fact that every musher had the chance to take the stage and say something personal about their experience on the trail.  The rookie mushers were handed what they had worked so hard for, the Iditarod belt buckle to wear with pride.  Some stories were moving and some were funny…and everything in between.   It was a perfect way to end the Last Great Race on Earth™.

Reef Wins the Golden Harness!


The Mayor, Dallas Seavey, and the best dog in the world

Reef, Dallas Seavey’s 4 year-old lead dog, “trotted” away with the Iditarod Lolly Medley Memorial Golden Harness award for the second year in a row!  The mayor of Nome, Richard Beneville, did the honors at the 2016 Iditarod Finisher’s Banquet.  “Reef is my hero,” Dallas said as he took the stage.

Reef needed a little coaxing to come to the stage, but the special yellow monogrammed harness was a perfect fit.  This award is voted upon by the mushers, and is given to the most outstanding lead dog in the race. 


Reef basking in the glory of the golden harness

Lolly Medley was one of the first women to mush in the Iditarod, along with Mary Shields, in 1974.  She was a gifted harness maker from Wasilla, who convinced the Iditarod that they needed a special award for the best lead dog each year.  In the early years, she created the harnesses herself. 


I honestly think this is one of everyone’s favorite awards of the evening.  Dallas spoke about how much his dogs mean to him, and I am sure every musher felt the same way about their teams.

Below is a list of all past winners of the Lolly Medley Memorial Golden Harness Award.  Here are some suggested activities for the classroom:

  1. Research the musher – were they the winner that year?  If not, why do you think their lead dog was awarded the Golden Harness?
  2. Look at the names of the dogs – what do you think the puppy litter “theme” was? 
  3. Make a line plot or graph of the mushers using data such as: veteran or rookie? Alaska resident?  Lower 48 resident?  Other country?

Golden Harness (Outstanding Lead Dogs)

Lead Dog
2015 Reef Seavey, Dallas
2014 Beatle Seavey, Dallas
2013 Tanner Seavey, Mitch
2012 Guiness Seavey, Dallas
2011 Snickers & Velvet Baker, John
2010 Maple Mackey, Lance
2009 Kuling Royer, Jessie
2008 Babe Smith, Ramey
2007 Larry Mackey, Lance
2006 Salem Jeff King
2005 Kvitsokk (Whitesock) Sørlie, Robert
2004 Tread Seavey, Mitch
2003 Tipp Sørlie, Robert
2002 Bronson Buser, Martin
2001 Pepi Swingley, Doug
2000 Red Dog Gebhardt, Paul
1999 Elmer Swingley, Doug
1998 Red King, Jeff
1997 Blondie and Fearless Buser, Martin
1996 Blondie Buser, Martin
1995 Vic Swingley, Doug
1994 D2 and Dave Buser, Martin
1993 Herbie and Kitty King, Jeff
1992 Dusty Garnie, Joe
1991 Goose and Major Swenson, Rick
1990 Tip Barve, Lavon
1989 Ferlin Runyan, Joe
1988 Granite Butcher, Susan
1987 Blackie Nayokpuk, Herbie
1986 Sister Garnie, Joe
1985 Axle and Dugan Riddles, Libby
1984 Red and Bullet Osmar, Dean
1983 Preacher and Jody Mackey, Rick
1982 Brandy Baumgartner, Ernie
1981 Silver Smith, Larry
1980 Trooper Nayokpuk, Herbie
1979 Digger Peters, Emmitt
1978 Nuggett and Blackie Anderson, Ralph
1977 Pilot Chase, Ken
1976 Puppy and Sugar Riley, Gerald

Mary Made It!

Mary Helwig made it to Nome and earned her place in history as she was awarded the Red Lantern under the burled arch.  I had some frozen tears streaming down my face as Mary was celebrated by the citizens of Nome, mushers, and volunteers who lined the street to see her and help bring Iditarod 44 to a close.  It was an awesome experience for all of us!


Mary made it to Nome…and the history books!


I met Mary last June when I officially took over my duties as the 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™, and I was struck by her humility and friendliness.  I remember it was halfway through our conversation when she smiled and casually mentioned that she had lost her home in the Sockeye Fire and all her belongings with it.  I was amazed at her positive attitude, which certainly served her well along the trail these last couple of weeks.


Fans wait for Mary

Mary was kind enough to work with me this year on a lesson about naming a musher’s kennel.  She shared a video with us about her kennel, Bravo Kennel, and how it got its name.  Children had a lesson with it and really got to know a little about her.  I am sure she had many cheering fans in classrooms all over the world last night.  Check out the lesson below:

20 Lucky Huskies

There were many mushers celebrating with her as she came in, checked her gear, and then put out the famous Widow’s Lamp.  That is a special tradition going back to mushing days when a lamp was kept lit at Alaskan roadhouses to let everyone know a musher was still out on the trail.


Mary blows out the Widow’s Lamp


Name the mushers!  There were many famous faces under the arch with me and Mary and her friends and family.  We laughed and many of us cried a bit as we said good-bye to Iditarod 2016.


Musher friends celebrate the Red Lantern with Mary


I found some sleepy pups waiting for the dog lot as we mingled and visited with each other.  One in particular stole my heart!

Mary still had to perform the same duties as any musher: check her mandatory sled gear, turn in her trail mail, and sign off at the checkpoint.  Then it was official!

With some frozen fingers and some tears, we decided it was time to wrap up the evening… with some Nome ice cream, of course!


(left) Laura Wright, 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail and (right) Grace Bolt, Iditarod volunteer

For the Love of Mushing! Elliot Anderson and Matt Failor in Nome


Elliot and Matt’s fan club waits in Nome


Elliot Anderson and Matt Failor arrived in Nome about 11 minutes apart, with many friends and family members standing by cheering them on…including me!  I had seen this group holding up signs even the day before under the live Iditarod web cam.  They were ready to celebrate!


Mushers Tim Pappas and James Volek squint to see Elliot and Matt come down the chute

Elliot is a very thoughtful person who took the time to help me create an Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ post this year sharing his love of Robert Service poetry with children.  My students created their own version of Iditarod-themed poetry because of his inspiration.  Check out the lesson here:

Hot Cocoa With a Side of Poetry

Elliot brought his team under the arches, and he was all smiles but with some surprise at all the attention.  Getting to know Elliot a little through this experience, I can honestly say that he is truly a humble and thoughtful young man.  Everyone was thrilled for him, and he was gracious about all of it.



Matt Failor and friends


A few minutes later it was time for Matt Failor to make his grand entrance!  Many people had been concerned about Matt when he accidentally injured himself in Nikolai.  True to his character and attitude, he fought through it all, and made it to Nome with a smile on his face. 


A pampered  pup


Matt pulled in his sled and opened up his sled bag and pulled out a husky.  He hugged him as we all cheered, showing the love for his dogs that he is known for.


Veteran musher Jason Campeau gives some dog love


I first met Matt as a finalist for the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ and I have so enjoyed working with him this year with several lessons about kennel life and working with husky puppies.  Students learned a lot from him, and I really appreciated his time working with me.  He is an all-around great guy!  Check out the posts here:

Doghouse Design With Matt Failor

How Does Your Puppy Grow?

He brought his team in, and we all cheered!  Matt got off the sled and gave a big hug to Mark Nordman, the Iditarod race marshal.  It was a great ending to a long journey.  Matt proved to everyone that attitude truly is everything.


Iditarod legend Martin Buser was on hand to congratulate Matt and they were all smiles as Matt thanked each and every dog on his team.


Matt and Martin celebrate the journey


Matt came to the front of his sled and carefully knelt down as he hugged his lead dogs.  There were lots of licks and love to go around.  I look forward to seeing Matt again in the coming years, and he has invited me to come and visit his 17th Dog Kennel to experience a musher’s life in a small way.  He is a generous person, and I was so happy to get to know him this year in this special role.


We made it!