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!

My Own Team!

DSC_0470-9154(rev 0)So, something I’ve wanted to do before I go off on my Trail adventure is to get an idea of what it is like to be behind a team of sixteen dogs.

I’ve had a bit of experience with mushing.  My good friend Ellen Rizzuto and I attended mushing school at the Wintergreen Lodge in Ely, Minnesota where we had our own team of five dogs. You can read all about our crazy adventures here:

I contacted my friends at Husky Powered Dog Sledding in Western Maryland (  and arranged to go play “musher” for a couple of days!  And what a wonderful experience I had!

When I arrived at the kennel in the afternoon of day one, I got settled and then went out to “snack” the dogs.  They haveDSC_0521-9205(rev 0) about eighteen huskies or so in their kennel.  Sarah, the handler, and I went about and visited each dog and gave them a treat.  What a great way to say hello!

Early the next morning the dogs started howling as soon as I turned on my light!  We had some breakfast and then headed out to take care of the dogs while the snow fell.  The first step was to knock the ice out of the dog bowls so we could give them fresh water.  I was a little slow on this step because I stopped to give hugs and loving on the way!  We organized the harnesses for our thirteen dog team and got the cart ready to go.  We scooped the poop from the yard and then got ready to go for a run.  We first laid out the lines and inspected them to make sure everything was ready to go.  I got my lessons and directions about how to stand and how to steer and brake the cart from Mike, the owner and coach at Husky Powered.  Here’s a video that shows how the lines fit together in case you are unsure:

Then we were ready to harness up the team.  This is where things got interesting.  First we went through the yard and put harnesses on the dogs who were going out on the run.  As soon as the dogs saw the harnesses, they started going nuts!  They were barking and jumping and ready to go, go, go!  After the dogs had their harnesses on we started taking them out and attaching them to the gang line. They get clipped in at two places, the tug line and the neck line, but they only pull the sled by the tug line.  The neckline is used just to help keep them in place correctly, and not all mushers choose to use them.  Once there were about five dogs on the line, my direction was to sit in the cart as my weight was needed to help keep the dogs from pulling the cart loose and taking off too early!  Once all thirteen dogs were in place, we took off!  Sarah and I were riding in the cart and Mike was standing in the rear.

After a few minutes, my big moment came!  Mike hopped into my seat, and I stood on the runners.  I gave the “Ready? Hike!” command and we were off down the trail with me in command!

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I was almost overwhelmed by how much there was to think of, watch, and pay attention to at one time!  I had to think about the cart.  Because there wasn’t that much snow yet, we used a wheeled cart on the trails.  But, because it had been snowing for several hours, it was very slick and slippery. I had to try to keep the cart on the high side of the trail and keep the right amount of pressure on the brakes to keep the dogs at the proper pace.  I had to watch all of the dogs and all of the lines to make sure everything was working smoothly.  I had to be sure to call out the “Gee!” and “Haw!” turn commands when the lead dogs were coming up to the turn which was quite a while before I was coming up to the turn!

But, what an amazing feeling!  It was really magical. The snow falling, the dogs quietly trotting through the woods, the beauty of the scene…. I could see why people fall in love with dog sledding.

Once we returned to the yard after our six mile or so run, we unhooked everyone and returned them to their houses in the yard. Then we went around and unharnessed everyone, knocked the ice out of their bowls again and gave them fresh water and food, scooped the poop again, and then finally got some “thank yous” and loving in!

There are a few surprising Iditarod connections to Husky Powered Dog Sledding….

One of my wheel dogs, Bishop, is a Lance Mackey dog!  Mike and his wife Linda have a wonderful story about bringing Bishop home.  Apparently, while they were visiting Lance’s kennel, they decided to purchase the dog and they took him back to their hotel room until it was time to fly home.  Bishop was mesmerized by the other dog in the room. He tried to sniff and nudge and paw at the other dog, but was never quite successful. That other dog you see was just his reflection in the mirror!  I also had two of North Wapiti’s own Pretty Curly Tails on my team, Roary and Slider.  North Wapiti is Iditarod racer, Karen Ramstead’s kennel in Canada.  Roary is from the “Noise” litter and Slider is from the “Cell Phone” litter.

So, while I still haven’t really felt what it is like to be behind a team of sixteen super charged Iditarod dogs racing down the trail, I had an amazing few days at Husky Powered and have even more of an appreciation for the amazing athletes that the mushers and especially the dogs are.  It’s a lot of work, but the rewards are more than worth the effort.


Mini – Mushers

Denali Ready to Greet the Kids

Denali Ready to Greet the Kids

Today my son and I introduced a whole new generation of Baltimore kids to mushing and the Iditarod at a toddler play date that our school was involved in.  The kids had great fun standing on the runners of the sled, trying on the headlamp, playing with all the stuffed dogs, and yelling command to Denali – the one and only dog on the team!

Pattern Making

Pattern Making

They did a bit of math as well.  Kids of all ages had a lot of fun stamping patterns with colored paw print stampers.  Alternating color patterns were by far the favorite (as was skipping the whole pattern idea all together in favor of just having fun stamping!) but a few kids did more complicated patterns.  One little girl even patterned the directions the paw prints were facing which was really clever.

The older kids did a great job with ordering numbers of dogs in front of a model sled.  It was super easy to set up, I just cut out sixteen sled dogs from the Jan Brett site and wrote the numbers from one to sixteen on them so that the kids could lay out a whole team.  It has been a long time since I’ve worked with little, little kids – so it was fascinating to watch.

Sequencing Numbers

Sequencing Numbers

My son, who is now in second grade, did it by counting backwards from sixteen so that he could put the last ones right in the wheel dog position.  The younger kids started with one and counted forward, so they had to keep moving the sled backwards.  It struck me that you could even use the same activity to count odd and even numbers forwards or backwards so that you’d end up with one line of odd numbered dogs and one in of even number dogs.  It was neat to see the kids process the numbers. Some could put them right in order and some had to go back and count from one every time to determine what number came next.  They were both really great activities to get an idea of where the kids are with their number sense.

It was a fun day… and maybe those of you who teach younger kids can use some of the ideas in your classes!

I got the Jan Brett dogs here:

And the paw print stampers here: