Checking in with Lacey and Nicole

My boys were anxious to hear that I did finally get to meet Lacey Hart and Nicole Forto in real life. They’ve both been so amazing this year with writing to my students and keeping  them up to date on their Junior Iditarod preparations.  Last night I got to check in with both of them.

Nicole reports that both she and the team are ready to go!  She’s a little nervous but a LOT excited!  She was going to miss school today (lucky!) to take her dogs to vet checks and to get one final training run in.

Lacey says everything is in good shape for the race to begin tomorrow.  She and the staff of volunteers have taken care of pretty much everything that needs to be done.  She is super excited too and ready to have a sleepless few days while keeping a watch on all the junior mushers and their teams.

I finished up my school presentations here in the Mat-Su Valley today visiting Larson Elementary and Willow Elementary.  Both schools were fantastic and in one day I spoke with kids from preschool through sixth grade!  WOW!  Thanks to all the schools I’ve been able to visit so far, it’s been wonderful getting to share Iditarod stories with you!  And a special note to all the kids I’ve spoken with….Be sure to keep watching the Iditarod race so we can figure out the ending to this year’s exciting Iditarod story!

Greeting at Larson Elementary!

Greeting at Larson Elementary!

The Jr. Rookies Are One Step Closer

JR LogoHow better to learn about your passion then to hear from someone who has been in your shoes and has become an expert in the same area?

This evening the Junior Iditarod Rookie Mushers had a meeting where they got to do just that.  They got to hear from experts in the field about the types of situations they may face on the trail during this weekend’s race.  Since six of this year’s ten racers are rookies, this was a very important evening.  The juniors introduced themselves to each other and were encouraged to help each other out on the trail.  A couple of them seemed very calm and confident and few seemed to be a bit nervous!  I’d be nervous if I was getting ready to go out over a hundred miles on a dog sled race for the first time!

The Junior Iditarod is a special race for kids ages fourteen to seventeen.  This will be the thirty-seventh running of the race.  Due to the weather this year, they will be running the race from Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel instead of the regular location on Knik Lake. You can read more about that change here:  LINK

The junior mushers were given lots of great information and hints and tricks of the trade to help them out with their upcoming adventure.  They were 2014-02-20 23.19.49shown the GPS trackers they will be carrying.  These things are so cool!  They will actually be carrying two trackers, a SPOT tracker and a smaller one.  Each tracker fits into a dog bootie and will be safety pinned to the sled bag.  The larger SPOT tracker is attached to the sled near the handlebars and the smaller one is attached to the front of the sled on top of the bag.

Ben Harper, who has competed in two Junior Iditarods and who will be competing again this year, told the juniors that his best piece of advice is to get some sleep!  At Yentna Station, the mushers will take their ten hour layover.  Ben told them that during his first Junior Iditarod he stayed up all night talking with the other mushers and because he was so tired he had a miserable ride to the finish the next morning!

Each junior musher was given a sled repair kit and some really neat suggestions on how to make simple and quick repairs to their sled.  For example, did you know dental floss could be used as thread to repair tears in sled bags?

One of the vets for the Junior Iditarod, Jayne Hempstead, talked to the kids about dog care. She stressed that prevention is the key to the care of the dogs’ feet.  The mushers really need to take care of the dogs’ feet, even down to making sure to trim their toenails!  Apparently the weather is going to be quite warm this weekend for the race – about 30 degrees (!) so Dr. Hempstead also talked to the kids about warning signs for overheating in their dogs and what to do if they suspect a dog is too hot.

2014-02-21 00.23.09Then, two Iditarod veterans came to talk to the kids.  Cim Smyth shared lots of information with the juniors about how to snack their dogs on the trail.  He also talked about the possibility of a warm weekend for the race and about the importance of keeping the dogs hydrated.  He said the dogs like to “snow dip” or grab mouthfuls of snow as they run down the trail.  One thing that he does to keep the dogs from doing this is to make his special “meat cube” treats for the dogs.  He takes equal portions of meat and water and freezes them in ice cube trays.  When he gives these treats to the dogs, they are getting the water they need along with a yummy treat!   It was especially neat for the Junior Mushers to hear from Cim because he is a Junior Iditarod champion.  He admitted that he made some mistakes in his first Junior Iditarod race, but he learned from those mistakes and continues to learn from other mushers as well.

Iditarod veteran, Zack Steer reviewed with the mushers how to dress on the trail. He actually thinks about not only2014-02-21 01.03.18 staying warm, but about preplanning enough so that he is also dressed in a way that will make effective use of his time in the checkpoints.  For example, he ties his pocket knife to his belt so that it hangs down below his parka so he can always grab it. He has special pockets to carry things like extra lights, matches, earplugs (for sleeping at the checkpoints), etc.  He puts the same things in the same pockets every time so he always knows where things are.  A little preplanning makes things go easier on the trail and in the checkpoint where every minute counts!

Something that several of the presenters  encouraged the juniors  to do was to make certain that about five miles away from the checkpoint they eat and drink something themselves.  This way, by the time they reach the checkpoint, they are hydrated and reenergized and are ready to handle the dog care that needs to be done.

It was a lot to take in for one meeting, but the juniors asked some great questions and seemed to soak in all the information.  It looks like the Juniors Rookies are ready to get started on their adventure!   And I am too…. In just about twenty-four hours I’ll be on my first bush plane soaring towards my first checkpoint on the Iditarod Trail!  WOW!!

Tales from the Trail: The Weather Strikes Again!

I have made it to Anchorage!  I’m happy to report it is snowing!  I’m watching the Iron Dog start on TV, while updating the blog and preparing to go exploring.  The Iron Dog is the longest snowmobile race in the world. It travels 2,031 miles and will feature 38 two person teams this year. It uses a lot of the same trail as the Iditarod.  The racers are talking about how tough the training has been this year. They have run into the same problems as the mushers… the lack of snow!  You can check it out here:

JR LogoYesterday, while I was on my layover in Salt Lake City, I got an email from Lacey Hart, Race Marshall for the Junior Iditarod.  The Junior Iditarod will be moving due to lack of snow!

The start and finish will be at Martin Buser’s Kennel in Big Lake.  From what Lacey has said, making the decision was a fully thought out process that involved her and other race officials snow machining along the trail to checkout conditions. While part of the trail was useable, part of it definitely was not safe.

Lacey seems very confident that the new trail will be challenging, but definitely doable! She points out that the Junior Iditarod is an Iditarod qualifier, so it should be a little challenging!  The plan is to start at Martin Buser’s kennel and follow the river to Yentna and then return to the kennel the next morning.  The race is usually 150-160 miles and this year it will be closer to 130-140 miles.

She also sent her response to the last set of interview questions my students sent to her.  They were wondering if the race would have to move… and it turns out they were right!  You can read the interview here: Lacey Hart

We will find out tomorrow afternoon if the Iditarod start will move to Fairbanks….

Tales from the Trail: Nicole Update!

Our favorite junior musher, Nicole Forto, is just about a week away from her Junior Iditarod run!  She took some time out of her busy schedule to give us a quick update!  February Interview with Nicole Forto

We wish her and all the junior mushers a safe journey! 

You can follow along with their adventures here: Junior Iditarod Website

Tales from the Trail: The Job of a Race Marshall

JR LogoAs you can imagine, it takes many, many people to plan, organize, support, and oversee a sled dog race.  One of the most important jobs is that of the Race Marshall.  We wanted to get a sense of what that means and what is entailed, so we went straight to the source and interviewed Lacey Hart who will be serving as the Race Marshall for the 2014 Junior Iditarod.

Lacey is also a musher and has competed in the Junior Iditarod among other races.  She told us that when she was in second grade, her teacher taught her class about the Iditarod and that is what inspired her to become interested in sled dogs and to eventually become a musher!

She shared some things about herself, her experience running the Junior Iditarod, and about her upcoming challenge as the Race Marshall.  We are looking forward to getting updates from her as we continue to rev up for the big day!  Lacey Jan Interview

Lacey has also written a book about her experiences as a Junior Musher. It’s a great read for anyone wanting to get more information and a sense of what it takes to accomplish something as extraordinary as finishing the Junior Iditarod:  Dog Girl

Lacey’s dad shared the story of how Lacey became interested in mushing:  Dad’s Story

The Race Marshall for the Iditarod is Mark Nordman. You can learn more about him here:

Tales from the Trail: Nicole Forto Update!

How will you be spending your Winter Break from school?

Well, if you were training for the Junior Iditarod, you would be spending it on the runners of a dog sled!  Having lots of free time from school means having lots of time for extra training runs!

There are now seven junior mushers signed up for this year’s race!  It’s a pretty even division – four rookies and three veterans…. Three girls and four boys!

Before we left school for our Winter Break, we checked in with Nicole Forto who is running this year’s Junior Iditarod to see how her training is going.  Click the link below to see what she has to say.  Nicole Forto December Update

Here are some pictures she shared with us from Thanksgiving time!

Tales From the Trail: The Junior are Training Too!

The story goes that a group of five to seven kids started the Junior Iditarod because they were less then eighteen years old and therefore couldn’t compete in the main race.  The first race was held in 1978 and there were actually two divisions that year; a junior division for ages 11-14 and a senior division for ages 15-18.  Ever since that first race, there has been only one division for ages 14-17.  The first year the juniors ran a total of 36 miles while the seniors ran forty miles.  My students were especially interested to hear that the person with the most wins – three consecutive – is Tim Osmar!  They refer to him as Monica’s Tim (we have been following her training all year).  And that the red lantern that first year was won by a young woman named Barbara Ryan, whose married name is now Barbara Redington (daughter in law of the founder of the Iditarod Joe Redington, Sr.)! Their jaws just about dropped.

JR LogoWe wanted to get a little background information about the Junior Iditarod, so we used the Junior Iditarod official rules [2013 Rules] to compare the race to what we already know about the Iditarod.  In partners, they read the Junior Iditarod rules carefully and hightlighted everything they thought made the Junior race different than the main race.  We discussed their findings and summarized them on a chart.  They knew most of the answers to the questions about the Iditarod, but it was a good chance to clear up a few questions they still had.  I also had to fill in some of the missing blanks from other sources.

Blank Chart            Completed Chart

There were a few things that were still unclear about after reading the rules, so we consulted with two people in the know, Barbara Redington, who ran the first race, and Lacey Hart, who has completed the race and will be serving as Race Marshall this year.

From Redington and Hart we discovered that there really are two checkpoints in the race.  The kids will leave the starting line and in about fifty-five miles will reach Eagle Song Lodge.  This is a checkpoint where you can stop and drop dogs or speak to a veterinarian or race judge, if needed.  Most of the mushers won’t stop there for an extended period of time.  From there it’s about 20 miles to Yentna Station Roadhouse and the extended, mandatory rest stop.  They will also pass through Eagle Song again on the return trip.

Nicole at the Start of Her First Race!

Nicole at the Start of Her First Race!

We got the chance to interview Nicole Forto, the very first musher to sign up for the Junior Iditarod this year!  I tried to encourage the boys to find a new way to interview her… but our standard movie interview won out!  She sent us a great reply you can read below the video.

Nicole’s Response

You can learn more about Nicole and her family at Team Ineka here:  Team Ineka

We will be bringing you lots more news from the Junior Iditarod!  We have an interview set up with Lacey Hart to learn all about the job of a Race Marshall, and we’ll be checking in with Nicole monthly to see how things are going with her training!  Stay tuned!