In the History Books

The 2014 Junior Iditarod officially concluded tonight with the Junior Iditarod Awards Banquet.  The juniors graciously accepted their awards and prizes and thanked their families and sponsors.  The prize committee worked exceptionally hard this year and the kids earned a variety of scholarships and awards totaling in the neighborhood of $17,000.

jr (1)I always tell my students that one of the things that intrigues me so much about the Iditarod is that the mushers are great role models and often exemplify character traits that we value.  The Junior Iditarod mushers are no exception to this rule.  There are even special awards given to the mushers who demonstrate exceptional character.

Each year one junior musher is recognized with the Sportsmanship Award.  This year the award was given to Kevin Harper.  After leaving the halfway point, Jimmy Lanier ran into a bit of trouble.  Apparently a few of his dogs got a little “chew-happy” and chewed through the lines that attached the leaders to the rest of the team and the leaders were able to get away from the team.  Kevin, without hesitation, stepped up to help Jimmy out.  He chased down the leaders, turned his team around and brought them back to Jimmy, and then had to turn his team around again to head off back down the trail.

The veterinarians award one junior musher the Humanitarian Award each year.  This award is given to the person who is judged by the vets to have taken the best care of their dogs during the race.  In presenting the award this year the vets, Dr. Meyer and Dr. Hempsted, said that the award could have been given to many of the mushers, but they ultimately decided that Ben Harper was the most deserving candidate.

When we learn about the Iditarod at school we often discuss the idea that most of the mushers are not in the race to win it.  They run the Iditarod to challenge themselves and to 2014-02-24 01.37.46have a grand adventure.  We talk about the trait of perseverance and the idea that setting goals and not quitting until you succeed are life lessons we can learn from the mushers.  This is also true for the Junior Iditarod mushers!  Each year the Red Lantern award is given to the musher who sticks with it and gets themselves to the finish line, even when they are last, without quitting.  This year the Red Lantern winner was Nicole Forto.  Nicole showed great strength and perseverance and completed her rookie Junior Iditarod!

The Junior Iditarod is an amazing event and I am grateful for the opportunity to be so involved with it this year!  Everyone was so inviting and welcoming and so obviously loved what they were doing.  A special thanks to Lacey Hart and Nicole Forto for all of the time, talent, and energy they gave to my students this year.  The boys loved working with you almost as much as I did!  Congratulations to all of the junior mushers and the entire Junior Iditarod family for a job well done!  Thanks for including me in your fun!

The Finish Line

When daylight broke at Yentna Station the planes began arriving to move out all the personnel who had been located at the station.  We were on the second plane to take off, and JR Logowe managed to make it back to Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennel in time to see Andrew Nolan come in fifth place in the 2014 Junior Iditarod.  Less then twenty minutes later Jannelle Trowbridge from Nome came in.  Ashley Guernsey arrived about thirty minutes later.  And Joshua Klejka about thirty minutes after that.  What an amazing thing to see the look of confidence and pride on the faces of the juniors as they crossed the finish line!  They faced the challenge and rose to the occasion!  All of their planning and training paid off…  the rookies are rookies no more and the veterans have another Junior Iditarod under their belt.  For three of the veterans, Ben Harper, Joshua Klejka, and Conway Seavey, this was their last Junior Iditarod.  We’ll have to see if their futures hold Iditarods in their futures.

Special congratulations to the mushers who beat me to the finish today!  Conway Seavey and Ben Harper leap-frogged each other to the finish line, but Conway managed to squeeze past Ben to get the win by about two minutes!  Kevin Harper, rookie of the year, finished in third position.  Jimmy Lanier finished in fourth position.  Our good friend Nicole Forto claimed the red lantern for this race!  She was greeted at the finish line by the 1978 Red Lantern Winner, Barbara Redington.

I can say with all honesty, that these kids are amazing!  They were professional,confident, and poised. They took excellent care of themselves and even better care of their dogs.  We are off to celebrate them with a banquet to close out this year’s Junior Iditiarod.

Here’s a few pictures to hold you over til I have banquet news:

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The Juniors Have a Starting Order!

What do GPS Trackers, trail markers, pizza, trail stakes, dog tags, race bibs, pictures, and dog booties have in common? 

They all had featured roles in tonight’s Junior Iditarod meeting.

After sharing some pizza, signing some autographs, and having some pictures taken, the juniors got started on their final meeting before hitting the trail tomorrow morning.

As I’ve gone into schools to share this week, one of the things I’ve been talking to the kids about is the setting of the Iditarod and wondering with such a long race, how on earth do the mushers know where they are?  The kids have come up with lots of ideas – they can tell by the landmarks, the checkpoints, the dogs know  – but tonight the junior mushers and  I  got to hear all about how the trail is marked for the Junior Iditarod from the Trail Boss.

2014-02-21 22.45.24The trail is marked with stakes that have bright orange paint at the top and are labeled with JRI for Junior Iditarod.  The trail markers may be a half mile to a mile apart, but they are within sight of each other.  The kids were told if they can’t see the next trail marker, they may want to stop and think about where they are!  If they see two markers together on one side of the trail, they know that they need to turn in direction.  They only have wide sweeping turns, no right angle turns on this trail.  If they see two stakes crossed like an “x” that means “don’t go this way!”  The coolest thing about the trail markers?  Each junior was given one to keep as a souvenir!  Their special stakes even have the Junior Iditarod logo on them.  Since they got their own to keep, the kids were encouraged NOT to take them from the trail!

The trail this year will be slightly shorter than normal due to the change in starting location.  The juniors will travel 62 miles out, take their ten hour layover at Yentna Station, and then travel 62 miles back in.  The kids were glad to hear that the trail still covers part of the Iditarod Trail, so they can officially tell people they have “raced the Iditarod Trail.”  The Trail Boss described the trail as fast, but luckily it is all frozen, so there is on open water at all.

Probably the most exciting thing for the kids was the start order draw.  The kids were called to the front in the order 2014-02-21 23.03.07they signed up for the race, so our friend Nicole Forto got to draw first.  She drew number six.  No one drew number one, as that space is saved for an honorary musher.

Here’s the starting order and a little bit about each musher:

1 – Ceremonial Musher

2 – Jimmy Lanier – Jimmy is sixteen years old and a junior at Chugiak High School.  His dad, Jim, has run the Iditarod fifteen times!  This is his second Junior Iditarod.  He also plays baseball.

3 – Josh Klejka – Josh is seventeen years old and is a junior at the high school in Bethel.  He finished eighth in the Junior Iditarod in 2012.  He also runs cross country.

4 – Conway Seavey – Conway is seventeen and is an eleventh grade homeschool student.  He has finished the Junior Iditarod three times and won in 2012.  He is also a very talented singer and songwriter.

5 – Andew Nolan – Andrew is fourteen years old and is a ninth grade homeschooler.  He’s been training for the past two years with an Iditarod veteran.

6 – Nicole Forto –  Nicole is sixteen years old and is a junior at Houston High School in Willow, Alaska.  In addition to mushing, she owns Wickes Sweets Baking Company.

7 – Janelle Trowbridge – Janelle is sixteen years old and was born in Michigan.  She and her family moved to Nome, Alaska in 2009.  She is a junior at Nome Beltz High School.  She also runs and skis for her school’s biathlon team.

8 – Kevin Harper – Kevin is fifteen and is a sophomore at Wasilla High School. This will be his first race!  In addition to mushing he wrestles.

9 – Ashley Guernsey – Ashley is a fourteen year old eighth grader at Seward Middle School in Moose Pass, Alaska.  In addition to mushing she runs cross country and track.

10 – Ben Harper – Ben is seventeen and is a senior at Wasilla High School.  This will be his third time running the Junior Iditarod.

Tomorrow is the big day!  The mushers have to be at Happy Trails Kennels by 9am and the race officially gets underway at ten am.  Best of luck to all of this year’s Junior Iditarod Mushers!  See you on the trail!

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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:  http://www.irondog.org/

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….