Catching Up with Monica

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We had the chance to catch up with Monica Zappa via Skype last week!  She joined us from her home to tell us about “life after Iditarod!”  The boys were so excited to talk to her and had some great questions for her.  She even introduced us to Dweezil, the superstar puppy!  Dweezil has become somewhat of a rockstar on social media sites, and my own son met (and instantly fell in love with) him at the Ceremonial Start in Anchorage, but the boys hadn’t heard his story so that was as good a place as any to start!

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When Monica left to go out on the race, Dweezil started to get sick, really sick.  No one could seem to figure out what was wrong with him.  When Tim left home to head to Nome to meet Monica, he got even worse.  He was super weak and got to the point where he couldn’t even walk!  No one has ever really figured out what was wrong with him, but since Monica and Tim have been home, he’s been getting stronger and stronger every day and is walking a bit further every day!   The boys and Monica discussed just how much dogs are in tune with what is going on in their surroundings and how much they need the companionship of their fellow dogs and their humans.  The boys seemed pretty convinced that Dweezil was depressed being left behind and that may be why he got so sick.  It reminded me of being in Nikolai with the dropped dogs and sitting with them while they howled and howled and howled.  They clearly did not like being left behind while their teams moved down the trail without them.  As pack animals, they long to be with their clans.

The boys asked Monica about the race and how she felt about it. She is deservedly proud of herself and the team for getting to Nome. That was her original, ultimate goal after all!  She said she took her time at the beginning because she was concerned about the lack of training they were able to do and with such young dogs she didn’t want to push it to hard too fast.  She felt that had she had the chance to do more training in better conditions, the team would have been able to move faster.   But, she also pointed out; there is always the risk of training too much.  Training too much means that the dogs are bored of running and they don’t have the excitement or the drive to get down the trail and see what is around the next bend.

Our socks were a hit!  If you remember, we had a fundraiser to buy warm wool socks to help Monica keep her feet warm!  She says it wasn’t as cold as she expected it to be, but the socks and warmers were definitely used.  What she really appreciated the most though was the encouragement notes we sent for her to include in her drop bags!  She even sent them all home in her return bags so she would have them!  The most amazing story was that when she reached Unalakleet, she heard that Dallas Seavey had won the race.  The note in her drop bag for that checkpoint said “You have done it; you have reached the three-quarter mark.  You only have one more quarter of the race to go.  I hope you have utilized Dallas Seavey’s strategy – sit back early and attack later.”  Pretty amazing timing, right?

As for her summer plans, she and Tim plan to keep training.  In the summer they will use wheeled carts and give rides to passengers. This will help keep the dogs in shape physically and mentally.  Mentally it will keep them used to listening to commands and working with people.

Looking into the future and future races, Monica’s biggest wish for next year is for the snow to be better than it was this year!  She is planning to run more races next year and is already looking forward to the Tustumena 200 which will be held in February in the Caribou Hills which is right in her backyard!  She even mentioned that she’d like to do the Yukon Quest someday!  Iditarod 2015?  Well, she’s not committing yet, but she may, or maybe Tim will make another run!  She says she’s a little intimidated by the southern route.  Apparently, running the Yukon River on the Southern Route is a little harder because the winds become headwinds instead of tailwinds.   We pointed out that we are pretty sure that if she could handle this year’s Iditarod she could handle any year’s Iditarod.

We are so grateful to Monica for allowing us to be a part of her race.  She was amazingly generous with her time and we are so very proud of her for all that she has accomplished!

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: Signing at the Start

We have been learning about the many, many volunteers who help the Iditarod run like a well-oiled machine – or should I say sled?  Volunteer responsibilities

With Kathy Cappa at the Volunteer Picnic

With Kathy Cappa at the Volunteer Picnic

range from making foot ointment for the dogs, to selling merchandise, to loading and unloading trucks, to working with communications, to being out on the trail, to just about anything and everything you could imagine.  You can see a list of all the opportunities for volunteers on the Volunteer section of the main Iditarod website.

We recently learned about a volunteer job we had never even considered before:  Race Start Sign Language Interpreter!  This was something that the students had never considered, but once the realized this job existed they thought it was a great idea to have this position!

I met Kathy Cappa this summer as we counted the ballots for the Iditarod Trail Committee before the Volunteer Picnic.  The boys recently sent her some interview questions and she graciously answered them all!

You can see the interview here:  February Interview with Kathy Cappa

Tales from the Trail: Monica’s on the Road Again!

With all this crazy warm weather in Alaska, Monica, and many other mushers are traveling the state in search of snow.  Maybe they should think about turning their trucks south and heading in this direction!  Several races have been cancelled, including the T200 which Monica was planning to run.  It has really put a damper on the mushers’ preparations.  Not only on their training runs, but as Monica pointed out, if they are travelling hundreds of miles to find snow, they aren’t able to be at home leisurely preparing their drop bags!  Luckily for us, Monica took time out of her travels (she’s currently in Fairbanks) to give us an update of where she is with preparing the drop bags, planning her Iditarod strategy, and how she felt about her run in the Knik 200 a few weeks ago.  You can read our whole interview withe her here:  January Interview with Monica

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: Monica Update!

So we can finally break the big news!  Monica Zappa has a wonderful new sponsor…….

Introducing…. Petchup!

Yes, petchup…. As in ketchup (and mustard too) for your pets….

You can learn about Petchup here:

Before we went on Winter Break, we checked in with Monica to get an update on her training. She reports that she is getting increasingly busy with traveling, Iditarod stuff, bad weather, trying to keep her house warm, training, making gear, and so on!  She thinks it is good practice for not getting sleep on the trail.

She did find time to update us though!  Click the link below to learn all about how her training is going, how the Iditarod Rookie meetings in Anchorage went, her sleds,  and of course, how the team is liking the new Petchup products!

Monica December Update

Tales from the Trail: Ghosts of the Trail

“… make sure you leave something (such as food) for the Old Woman when you leave.  You don’t want her ghost chasing you to Nome and throwing bad luck your way.”  From Don Bower’s Trail Notes

2013-06-26 11.42.03So much of the Iditarod Trail is the history.  With that history come the stories of the people of the trail and of the people who have perhaps never left the trail.  Mushers tell stories of seeing other mushers and teams dressed in old clothing and hearing cheers along the trail.  In addition to the actual ghost towns the trail passes through like Ophir and Iditarod, are the stories of the ghost of the Old Woman on the trail between Kaltag and Unalakleet.

There are versions of the Old Woman legend according to an article published in the Alaska Dispatch (   One version tells of a woman who died in an avalanche as a result of a curse for doing men’s work on a mountain used by men as a hunting lookout.  Another version says that the woman and her husband were trappers who lived in the area long ago and were caught in an avalanche. The woman was buried and her husband, refusing to leave her, eventually died on the mountain as well.

One of my favorite things to do at this time of year when I taught fifth grade was to challenge the boys to write ghost stories that were set along the trail.  They could set them in one of the Gold Rush turned Ghost Towns found on the trail or along a lonely section of the trail like where the Old Woman cabin is found between Kaltag and Unalakleet.

I would love to share some of your students’ stories in the Student Tales section of the website!

Ghosts of the Trail