Thanks, Herb!

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A Heartfelt Thanks to Target

I feel very fortunate to have been a part of the 38th Iditarod.  Because of Target’s willingness to sponsor the Teacher on the Trail program, I had the opportunity to witness and share with students around the world one of the greatest sporting events in the world. By using Skype and the Target® Iditarod Teacher on the Trail Blog, I was able to communicate with students the experiences I was having as I was traveling the length of the Iditarod Trail. As I moved from checkpoint to checkpoint, students were able to ask questions about the weather, the people, the race, and the dogs. With my guitar, I was able to share folk songs and songs about the Iditarod with people in the villages. This has truly been a life changing experience for me, and one that I will continue to share long after I have returned to my daily routine.  Thank you Target for providing this wonderful opportunity, and for all the opportunities you provide for students and educators everywhere.

View a video clip from the starting line of the 2010 Iditarod, Herb was the Idita-Rider with Trent Herbst by following this link.

Target® Supports Education!  Learn more by following this link.

Ray Redington Jr. – 2010 Sportsmanship Award

Ray Receiving the Award

Ray Receiving the Award


If you read my last post, which listed the awards from the banquet, you would have seen that Ray Redington won the Sportmanship Award.  Many of you may not know the story of why Ray was chosen as the 2010 winner.  I’ll do my best to recite the story.




Ray was mushing along in the dark a few miles out of Shaktoolik when a tall figure appeared in front of him on the trail.  Ray said to himself, why isn’t that skier getting out of the way? He’s right in the middle of the trail.”  As Ray went around him he heard the skier yell, “Hey Ray! Is that you?”  From the sound of the voice and seeing that it was someone who was tall enough to hunt geese with a rake, he knew it wasn’t a skier, rather it was Gerry Willomitzer walking without his sled and dog team.  Ray quickly stopped and let Gerry get on the sled runners with him.  As they continued down the trail, Gerry told the story of how he fell asleep and fell off his sled.  After a few miles the pair realized that there was just not enough room for both of them to stand on the runners.  Obviously, there was only one solution.  Ray was going to be the one to jump on the sled bag since Gerry was too tall. (Gerry’s feet most likely would have been kicking the wheel dogs in the behind as the sled bounced down the trail, which would not have worked at all.) Gerry figured his dogs would go straight down the trail and on into the Shaktoolik Checkpoint. So onto the sled bag Ray went. As he comfortably lay down he said, “Mush me to Shaktoolik Gerry.” Through the darkness they mushed and into Shaktoolik.  Unfortunately for Gerry, there were no dogs pulling a sled waiting for him there.  After discussing things with the checkers, they decided to put technology to use.  Every sled is equipped with a GPS tracker from IONEARTH. They could easily get on the computer and locate the sled which hopefully would still have 16 dogs hooked to it when they get to it.  After locating the sled on the GPS Insider Tracker, they lit out on a snow machine to find it.  Finally, they were able to locate the sled and the dogs down in a dip with the sled tipped over.  A sled on its side does not pull very easily so the dogs just stopped and stood there with out causing any major tangles.  Gerry was able to right the sled and drive the team to Shaktoolik.  A happy ending for several reasons, Ray Redington Jr. saw another musher in need and knew that the right thing to do was to stop and help him. The folks at the checkpoint used technology to avoid what could have been a tragedy for both musher and dogs.  A tragedy for the dogs because it was -40 and dogs need care in those kinds of temperatures. A tragedy for the musher since it could have meant the end of his race. Instead, everyone worked together as a team.  Now we have a happy ending, a wonderful memory, and a great story. 



Keep in mind that the Iditarod is a sled dog RACE.  Ray could have kept going and not stopped.  He had a choice to make.  Fortunately for Gerry, Ray chose to do the right thing.  Wouldn’t the world be a better place if everyone would stop and help someone in need? Let’s all follow Ray’s example when someone needs help.

2010 Iditarod Awards Banquet

Inside the Rec Center

Inside the Rec Center

Sportsmanship Award

Sportsmanship Award







PenAir Spirit of Alaska award – Jeff King

 GCI Dorothy G Page Halfway Award – Dallas Seavey

 Millennium Alaskan Hotel First to the Yukon Award – Jeff King

 Wells Fargo Bank Alaska Gold Coast Award – Lance Mackey

 Rookie of the Year – Dan Kaduce

 Nome Kennel Club Fastest Tome Safety to Nome – Paul Gephardt

 Horizon Lines Most Improved Musher Award – Sam Deltour

 Fred Meyer Sportsmanship Award – Ray Redington

 ExxonMobil Mushers’ Choice Award – Jim Lanier

 Northern Cargo Herbie Nayokpuk Award – William “Middy” Johnson

 Golden Stethoscope Award – Dr. Carolyn Griffith

 Alaska Airlines Leonhard Seppala Humanitarian Award – Sebastian Schnuelle

 City of Nome Lolly Medley Golden Harness Award – Maple (owner Lance Mackey)

 Northern Air Cargo “Four Wheeler” Award – William “Middy” Johnson

 Red Lantern – Celeste Davis

 Outstanding Checkpoint Award – Cripple Checkpoint


 Interesting Facts

 1. First time ever that all mushers reached Nome before the banquet.

 2. Fastest Red Lantern Ever

3. First Jamaican Musher to finish the Iditarod


Doing Her Personal Best

Jane Heading for the Finish

Jane Heading for the Finish

Have you ever tried to do something and just didn’t seem to be able to get it right?  Maybe it was in math.  You just didn’t understand the problem.  Or maybe you just can’t seem to learn how to spell.  Or maybe you’re trying to hit a baseball and just keep on striking out.  Well, learn a lesson from Iditarod musher Jane Faulkner.  It’s not always important to come in first, sometimes you just need to do your personal best.  Sometimes it’s more important just to finish rather than worry about being first.




Finishing; A Great Accomplishment

Finishing; A Great Accomplishment

Jane finished the Iditarod today in 53rd place out of 55 mushers.  That’s 3rd to last place.  Not even close to winning.  So why did she continue down the trail?  Why didn’t she just give up and scratch? She was at the back of the pack almost the entire race. She knew she wasn’t going to win.  I asked Jane that very question.  Jane said she didn’t plan on winning.  She just wanted to do her best.  She doesn’t compete for anyone else.  She isn’t worried about doing better than the other competitors. Her main competitor in any competition is herself.  Hence, her main goal is to try to do her best, to do better than she did last time.  So, take a lesson from Jane, don’t worry about what your peers are saying.  

Do it with integrity, do your personal best and try to improve.


Jane Signs the Official Checkers Sheet

Jane Signs the Official Checkers Sheet

Behind the Scenes

Crowd In Convention Center

Crowd In Convention Center

As the fans swarm into the Mini Convention Center, and the mushers sign autographs, outside not more than 100 feet away the Nome Dog Lot people are busy taking care of over 400 canine athletes.  These dogs just raced 1000 miles and need some serious TLC.  Kathleen Zwolak, a 3 year veteran of the Nome dog yard, is the manager of dog lot.  She is the perfect person to make sure the dogs are treated according to the mushers instructions.  Some mushers want Kathleen to feed their dogs, other mushers like to take care of their own dogs.  Not only do the dogs need food, snack, and water, they also need protection. After a 1000 race, the dogs need to rest and relax.  A crowd of people walking through the lot would excite the dogs and cause them increased stress.  Kathleen and her staff provide security 24/7.  Another job Kathleen is responsible for is plotting out where each team will go when they arrive.  There is a limited amount of space, so she has to make sure she uses the space efficiently. She recently added a line along the snow bank.  The mushers liked this because the dogs were protected from the wind by the snow.  The Dogs didn’t seem to mind either.

Kathleen, Dog Lot Manager

Kathleen, Dog Lot Manager

Kathleen told me a funny story about Gerald Sousa and Sebastian Schnuelle’s dogs.  Both teams were wearing blue coats.  Kathleen saw a dog with a blue coat on a wrong line and noticed that Gerald’s line was missing one dog.  She immediately took the dog over reuniting it with its team mates, or so she thought.  Unfortunately, Sebastian now had a hole in his teams line. About that time, Sebastian showed up and watched as they franticly looked for his dog. After allowing them to search for several minutes Sebastian asked, “What are you looking for?”  Kathleen said to Sebastian, “One of your dogs.”  Sebastian chuckled as he said, “Oh, that’s Skunk.  He’s like a pet.  He slept in my truck last night!”

Behind Snow Bank

Behind Snow Bank Volunteers Feed the Dogs

White Mountain – Sunny and Warm

A Soft Pillow

A Soft Pillow

I arrived in White Mountain today to be greeted by a warm sun with temperatures in the upper 30’s.  The dogs were soaking up the sun as they relaxed on their straw beds.  I was interested in hearing what the mushers had to say about the warmer weather and how it might affect their strategy for completing the race.




Trent Herbst

Trent Herbst

There were 3 mushers at the checkpoint when I got there; Trent Herbst, Scott White, and Chris Adkins.  Trent has only dropped 4 dogs from his team of yearlings.  He said his team is doing great, however on warm days, such as today, he doesn’t run them hard and tries to run more at night.  Warm temperatures are hard on the dogs because they can overheat.  Trent said he will wait until the sun goes down before he leaves White Mountain.




Chris Talks With Some Fans

Chris Talks With Some Fans

Chris Adkins is the son of one of the first Iditarod veterinarians.  He came to compete in the Iditarod because he heard his father describe the things he saw and this motivated Chris’s desire to see the same thing.  Chris has been mushing with 8 dogs since Galena. He feels the 8 dogs he has are race hardened and will be able to finish the race without a problem.  Chris also said the warm weather takes a lot out of the dogs and that he will not push them hard.  Chris is enjoying his trip up the Iditarod Trail and is taking a lot of pictures as he goes.




Scott Enjoying the Sun

Scott Enjoying the Sun

Scott White is another back of the pack musher who is enjoying his trip.  Scott is from the state of Washington and runs a construction company.  Scott has 7 dogs still running out of his original 16 and feels his dogs are up to the challenge of finishing the race.  He said he doesn’t really feel any pressure to beat anyone but just wants to finish.




resting dogs2

I think these 3 back of the pack racers should be commended for the great attitude they have about the task before them.  They are not worried about what anyone else is doing or has done in the past.  They are concentrating on doing the best job they can personally do and focusing on good dog care.


Martin L. Olson School

Martin L. Olson School


I arrived in Golovin Wednesday.  Golovin is a very beautiful village on the coast.  The school has 45 students in grades k through 12.  Again, the  people made me feel very welcome here.  The native Alaskans have gone out of their way time and time again to introduce themselves to me.  Half the people in the villages know my name before I leave and greet me every day with a smile and a hand shake. It is always sad to leave the friends you have made in each village.








This is the hill where the kids slide down called Baldy.  It looks like a lot of fun!!!






They have a well equipped health clinic.




Golovin Power Plant

Golovin Power Plant




All of the remote villages that I visited have their own power plant that generates the electricity for the village. Most of the power plants have 3 or 4 diesel generators. The generators are run 1 at a time.




Golovin Books to the Trail

Golovin Books to the Trail




This is some of the students with the books from the “Books to the Trail” program.  Reading plays an important part in all content areas.  Reading the book “The Cruelest Miles” is how I got interested in the Iditarod.




Jay and Tracey

Jay and Tracey




This is Jay and Tracey Petervary. They are biking from Knik to Nome. Tracy is on pace to break the woman’s record. The trip from Knik to Nome is about 800 miles and will take them about 18 days. Go Tracey and Jay !!! Read more about there biking adventure on


MVI_2428 -  Click to View – Golovin From the Air








Snaking Their Way Across the Ice

Watch as Wattie McDonald’s team winds its way across the ice into the village of Golovin.

Video 1 – MVI_2494

Video 2 – MVI_2495

Video 3 – MVI_2496

Question of the Day: Why aren’t the dogs going in a straight path across the ice?


The Trail Winds Its Way From Unalakleet

The Trail Winds Its Way From Unalakleet

A Musher on the Way to Shaktoolik

A Musher on the Way to Shaktoolik








Dee Dee Going In To Shaktoolik

Dee Dee Going In To Shaktoolik


Besboro Island

Besboro Island

Norton Sound

Norton Sound
















outhouse sundog

Old Shaktoolik

Old Shaktoolik

Click to Watch Video -  - Willam “Middy” Johnson on his way to cross Norton Sound – Middie Johnson, 43, was born and raised in Unakaleet.  His grandfather, Henry Ivanoff, was part of the original serum run, having been the one to hand off the serum to Leonhard Seppala.
Why is there Old Shaktoolik?  The village was originally located six miles up the Shaktoolik River, and moved to the mouth of the River in 1933. This site was prone to severe storms and winds, however, and the village relocated to its present, more sheltered location in 1967.  Reindeer herds were managed in the Shaktoolik area around 1905. To read more about Shaktoolik go,_Alaska

Kaltag to Unalakleet; A Transition

IMG_2280The bright sun and blue sky made it a beautiful day to fly from Kaltag to Unalakleet.  The white sparkling snow was separated into patches of green by sparsely branched spruce trees.  





The snowy crags seemed to reach out toward the tips of the bush plane’s wings as we snaked our way along,  800 feet above the Iditarod Trail.  As we meandered along, the picture in my mind was that of a heavy wooden freight sled pulled by a team of large, well haired huskies driven by none other than Joe Redington, the father of the Iditarod.






Unalakleet suddenly came into view, just like it had been dropped from a space ship onto the edge of the sea.








 As we approached the village of Unalakleet, its appearance was much like that of a ghost town in the middle of a dry desert. The snow looked like wisps of sand being blown across the lonely surface by a constant wind.




The above is the best I can do at describing Unalakleet.  Unalakleet is like no other place I have ever been, and I’ve been a lot of places.  It’s a place that you have to see in order to understand.


Unalakleet to Shaktoolik

A College Degree is a Tool    

 This is Nancy Persons the 3rd grade teacher from Unalakleet. Nancy has had an interesting teaching career.  She hasn’t spent her time teaching in one place, but rather has used her teaching degree as a tool to experience life in a variety of locations world wide. What an interesting IMG_2264approach to life. She hasn’t used her college degree to reach the end of her trail, but rather has used it to expand her trail. Nancy has taught in Peru, Bolivia, Oman, and Morocco.  Since coming to Unalakleet, Nancy has rejuvenated the ski program. She has her team practicing skiing for 6 months out of the year!!! I’m jealous Nancy. I wish our skiing season in Pennsylvania was 6 months. Her team will be going to the Arctic Winter Games, which every country that touches the Arctic Circle can compete.  They even have dog mushing and biathlon, which is skiing and shooting, at the Winter Games.


Preserving the Traditional Ways

 Meet Donna.  Donna works at PennAir in Unalakleet.  Donna was raised in Barrow, Alaska. Barrow is north of the Arctic Circle. When Donna was in 6 through 12 grades, she had classes in Arctic Survival.  She learned things such as navigation by the stars, building snow shelters, and IMG_2267building fire using a certain kind of rock with gold specks. I thought that was great, but I had to wonder what they used for fuel. I look across the landscape and all I see is snow, and snow doesn’t burn well at all. So, I had to ask her what they used for fuel.  She said there is a certain kind of moss that will burn.  She learned how to build 2 different kinds of snow shelters.  One was the traditional igloo type; the other was the cave type, which was built if time was limited. She also learned how to hunt polar bear, seal.  To this very day, the fishermen bring her seals because they know that she has the skill to process them the old way. She uses every part of the seal.  For example, the intestines are dried and can be used for making raincoats and the bladder can be used for making a bag.  Donna also teaches a community coarse on making Heart Sole Mukluks. This is the traditional boot with a seal skin sole. 


Donna is interested in preserving the old ways which were taught by the elders and have been passed down from generation to generation. The value in learning the old ways gives us “a sense of who we are,” Donna said. 


Wow Donna!!! That is a profound statement.  I agree with you 100%.  As a matter of fact, that is exactly what the Trail to Every Classroom program from the National Park Service is all about. This program, if you read in an earlier post on my blog, is being adopted by the United States Forest Service for the Iditarod Trail. I hope Donna will get involved with this program and hopefully get some support for educating students in traditional Alaskan ways.


 Going at the Shak

 The toilet at Shaktoolik is not the traditional toilet, or maybe it is. I guess it depends on who you are and where you live.  Going at the Shak requires climbing skills.  In order to sit upon the throne you have go up several steps.  This is required because it is a composting toilet which IMG_2317has a mechanical devise for stirring.  The stirring devise needs room in order to operate properly, therefore, the raised platform.  When the contents have sufficiently decomposed, they can then be removed.  There are several types of composting toilets.  Check them out online.  If you want to really find out something interesting, go to the NASA sight and find out how they treat waste in space. 

Kaltag; The Place to Be


Sebastian Dances Up a Storm – Sebastian Dances Up a Storm2 (Click for the full effect.)

The Kids Were Great – IMGP1356

A Little Time for Computer Work – IMGP1359

Snowboarding behind a snow machine – IMG_2179


Trails That Cross

The last 48hours has been a whirlwind tour for me.  I started in Takotna and have visited Galena,Nulato and Kaltag.  At each location, the most interesting part of my trip has been the trail crossings that I have experienced with the wonderful people I have met. The people in the villages have been very friendly and welcoming.  The children in the villages have caused me to miss the children at my school at the Southern Fulton Elementary back in Pennsylvania.  And the volunteers for the Iditarod, which come from all over the world, are interesting, friendly, and fun.  Some of these people are a long way from home, but they have come for the dogs, for the people, and to work together as an international team to make this race a success. 

Volunteer (Picture later) This is Tracey.  She is from New Zealand.  She was a volunteer at the Iditarod last year and got hooked on dog mushing.  She IMG_2208corresponded with some Iditarod mushers and ended up at Jeff King’s kennel as a handler.  She wants to see the world so she is taking some time off and traveling the world.  She is certified in Canine Behavior, and has a diploma in veterinary nursing. She wants to do further studies in the field of Canine Behavior in order to become a specialist.  We want to wish Tracey lots of luck in her endeavors and thank her for working as a volunteer.  Question of the day: In what hemisphere is New Zealand?




(picture later)  This is Ruth.  Ruth is a veterinarian from Germany.  Ruth volunteered with the Iditarod because a fellow veterinarian had visited Seavey’s kennel and talked her into applying. Ruth has enjoyed her visit to Alaska and loves working with the dogs.  Danke schoen Ruth.  We appreciate your efforts.

Connections With People

Tom Jarding from Pennsylvania is walking the a Trail from Knik to Nome.  Tom lives about an hour from where I live back  in Pennsylvania.  He walks about 50-60 miles per day.  Tom pulls a sled behind him with food, a sleeping bag, and white gas for his stove. He doesn’t have a tent, but has devised a system by which he sleeps on his sled and uses the tarp as a tent.  Tom is on pace to break the record of 22 days and 6 hours to walk the trail. I saw Tom from the airplane as we were flying from Galena to Nulato. We buzzed him a couple times and waved the wings at him.  He was really trucking. Go Tom go!!!  We’re pulling for you!!! (Don’t forget to duck next time Tom.)

(picture later) This beautiful family is Keith Ramos, his wife Tabitha, and their son Kaden.  They moved to Alaska from sunny Florida.  Keith works for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.  Tabitha is studying to be a physical education teacher.  Tabitha and Keith love Alaska and feel that it is a healthy place to live and raise a family.  I actually have 2 connections with Keith.  The first one is we both have had training at the National Conservation Training Center in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, which is a great place to study and eat, and eat, and eat. . . . The second connection is that we both have taken classes in Missoula, Montana. Keith has mule packed in the Bob Marshal Wilderness. (Check the Bob Marshal Wilderness out online, and then go there.) As some of my readers know, I mule packed for the United States Forest Service and mule pack recreationally.  We wish Keith, Tabitha, and Kaden well and hope our trails cross again.

(picture later) This is Monica from Dillsburg, Pennsylvania. She is a volunteer at the Nulato checkpoint. Dillsburg is about an hour from where I live. Monica and I both know Urtha Lenharr, an Iditarod finisher from Pennsylvania.  See you back in PA Monica!!!

(picture later) This is Melanie Hans.  I ran into Melanie last year at the National Conservation Training Center.  She is a biologist for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in Galena, Alaska. It was wonderful to be able to go so far away from home and see a familiar face.  Melanie was one of the followers of our NCTC band.  Many a day was spent studying, and many a night was spent playing music at the social center. Stay warm Melanie!!!!



This is George Nyce.  George has been a resident of Alaska all of his adult life, but he was actually born in the same town in Pennsylvania where I was born.  The connection doesn’t stop there though. His father owned a planning mill in Doylestown, PA where we used to buy lumber 40 years ago.  It’s a small world!!!  What are the chances of occurrences such as this happening.  I traveled thousands of miles to walk on a snow covered road in Alaska’s interior(a place with no roads to or from) to meet this man.  George, it was great meeting you.  We’ll have to do it again sometime. 

Folks, these trail crossings are wonderful experiences, but they only happen if you take that first step.  It may be as simple as saying, “hey, how’s it going,”  or as simple as stopping and helping someone along the way.  One connection may be all it takes to change your life or to help someone who has lost their way along the trail of life.

Concert in Takotna

Oh Howl I Can Sing

Oh Howl I Can Sing


Check out the all the good music at Takotna.  Join in!!! Let’s hear you howl!!!

A Team Being Left Behind (Click to hear song) – Hey Wait For Me

A Team Leaving (Click to hear song) – Meet Me In Nome

A Tribute to Newton Marshall from Jamaica -(Must have the Insider)

Takotna Checkpoint

Post Office

Post Office



Takotna is a fine place to be.  I visited the school yesterday.  There are 2 elementary students, one in kindergarten, and one in sixth grade.  The high school students and the elementary students are in the same building.

This is Regan.  She is a comms person at the Takotna Checkpoint.  She remembers her 3rd grade teacher using the Iditarod in the classroom as a teaching tool.  She also remembers reading books by the author, Jack London, who wrote stories about the north. Between her sophomore and IMG_2015junior years in college, she joined AmeriCorps and ended up in Anchorage.  While in Anchorage, the Iditarod Ceremonial start rekindled her interest in sled dogs and the Iditarod.  At the start of the race, she saw how excited the dogs were about pulling.  She said they tugged and barked and were having so much fun.  Last year she was an official comms person in Nome, this year in Takotna. Regan said, “I love volunteering and watching the mushers interact with their teams. Iditarod ensures that mushing skills are passed on to the next generation. The bond between mushers and dogs is neat.”

Thanks Regan!!! And, all you 3rd graders watch out if your teacher is using the Iditarod in your classroom.  You might end up in Alaska as a volunteer at the Iditarod.

Larry is a native Alaskan.  He is a race judge.  He grew up with dogs in the north western part of Alaska.  While he was growing up, his family IMG_2006depended on dogs for hunting and transportation. He said the original Alaskan huskies were much bigger than dogs used in the Iditarod today.  Their hair was thicker and they weighed more. Dogs back then were bred for pulling heavy loads, not for going fast.  He started competing in dog sled races in the 1960’s and raced for several years. Unfortunately, he found it too expensive and time consuming to continue since he had to provide for his own family. He was away from dogs for many years, but dogs have always been in his blood. He is glad to be back around the dogs as a race judge.  We are glad he is here also, and love that he shares his knowledge and experience about dogs with us. Thanks Larry!!!


A team rests in Takotna.






The landing strip on the river in Takotna is marked with spruce bows.

More About Nikolai

Hi Everyone, (Click on the pictures to expand them.)



Coming into Nikolai.  You can see the dogs lined up on their straw at the checkpoint.






It was -36 last night. So, the planes are frozen up as of 12:00 noon.  I may not get out of Nikolai today.  Not that I want to leave.  The people are very friendly here.  It was so cold, the Insider movie cameras were freezing up.  Even during the day today they could only stay outside for a short period of time before their cameras would stop working.  The picture is the road through the center of the village.





This is the tent being used as a resting place for the mushers.  The kids put spruce bows on the ground inside, so it is soft and it smells like Christmas.





The stove keeps it toasty warm inside.






This is a native Alaskan by the name of Philip who is a hunting guide.  He tells some great grizzly bear hunting stories, and stories about surviving bush plane crashes.  We sat around the stove for a while and listened to him spin a yarn.  Maybe sometime I will hire him to guide me on a hunting trip in the Alaska Range.





I spoke to the K-6 classes this morning.  The picture doesn’t include all of them.  I think there’s a total of 11.




Breaking Trail for You,


Target 2010 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail  

McGrath and Nikolai

After leaving Skwentna checkpoint yesterday, we were flown back to Anchorage for the night.  The weather had gotten too bad for us to continue IMG_1917up the Iditarod trail.  Today we boarded a Cessna Caravan, which is a slightly bigger aircraft than the one we had been flying in, and it can carry about 9 passengers.  It is able to fly in bad weather when there is low visibility because it has the proper instruments for the pilot.  Bush pilots fly by the seat of their pants, not by instruments for the most part. (I underlined the figurative language in this sentence. What does it mean?)


We traveled North West over the Alaska Range to a town called McGrath. The peaks in the Alaska Range were steep and covered with snow.  They were absolutely gorgeous.



It was much colder in McGrath than in Anchorage.  Can anybody explain why?




Visibility in McGrath was about 1 mile because of a snow storm. So, we were grounded again.  I checked in with the comms people and asked if IMG_1936there were any interesting places for me to visit while I waited for a flight to Nikolai. They told me I had about an hour and a half and to check out the museum.  About 15 minutes after finding the museum, a snow machine operator came screaming into the library parking lot looking for me.  They had found a pilot going to Nikolai. That means I needed to go immediately. We jumped onto the snow machine and darted back to the airstrip. Unfortunately, when we got to the airstrip, it was snowing and we were grounded again.





It’s back into the Iditarod Trail Cafe for another wait.  This is where I found out what trail breakers do when they get a few minutes.  Keep in mind that this is in the middle of the café in downtown McGrath. 





I was lucky enough to finally get out of McGrath and get to Nikolai before nightfall. Nikolia is a beautiful village along the Kuskokwim River.  Here’s a musher coming off the river to the checkpoint.

Bored? Nothing to do?

Have you ever felt bored on the weekends, after school, or during the summer?  What do you do if you have to wait for a ride?  Monday the check station workers at Skwentna were stuck because of the weather.  Poor visibility and strong winds had us pinned down. No planes were flying in or out.  Keep in mind that the nearest road to Skwentna is 60 miles away.  The mail is flown in by bush plane to a small airstrip and the postmaster crosses the river on a snow machine to retrieve the mail and bring it back to the post office. The post office covers about a 2400 square mile area. There are no Wall Marts, grocery stores, or towns for us to visit while we wait for a plane.  However, there are some very productive ways to spend our time.



Working at the computer.






Playing a musical instrument.







My favorite, eating.







Sleeping.  (Especially after being awake all night checking in mushers.)







Discussing plans for making future improvements.







Writing in a journal.







Practicing the lost art of story telling.  (Skwentna is actually Joe’s homestead.  He moved here in 1948 and has been here ever since.  He hasn’t been to town for 3 years. Joe has some amazing stories to tell.)

Race Day

IMG_1831It’s finally race day.  I wasn’t able to make the festivities on Willow Lake for the start of the race because I had to be ready to leave from Lake Hood right outside my hotel in Anchorage.  The lake literally is 75 yards from the back door of the hotel.  So out to the plane we went and we were airborne in a matter of minutes. 


It was interesting to the pilot explain the gauges.  The altimeter is really just a barometer that is calibrated to tell how many feet above the ground we are when we are flying. Because it’s a barometer, it needs calibrated or adjusted every time the pilot flies since air pressure varies Jr. Iditarod 065with the air mass that is present at any given time.  If you have just a simple home weather system that has a barometer and you want to see how pressure changes with altitude, put the barometer in the car and drive up a mountain or down into a valley.


Here’s a picture of the comms room for the Iditarod.  This board shows all of the flights leaving Lake Hood, the tail number of the plane, who is on the plane or what supplies are being transported, who the pilot is, the ETD (Estimated Time of Departure), and the ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival). Can you find me on the board?

IMG_1836Does your local post office look like this? Skwentna is a refreshing step back in time.







The ladies are cooking up a storm!!! The Skwentna Sweethearts did an excellent job at keeping our strength up. The meals were fantastic!!!





How do you set 2 poles up on a river?  Does anyone have any ideas?




 All ready for some mushers to roll in.

The Ceremonial Start

I had the honor of riding with Trent Herbst today in the Ceremonial Start in downtown Anchorage on Four Avenue.  What a blast!!! Take a look at the video.  It may give you an idea of what it’s like to be here, but there’s no substitute for the real thing.  If you’ve never ridden on the back of the runners of a dog sled, or you’ve never been here for the start of the Iditarod, start making your plans for next year.  I’ve included some videos and pictures in today’s post.  Take a gander.

A little about Trent.  Trent is a fourth grade teacher from Idaho.  All of his students came up to Alaska for the start of the race.  They did a presentation at the Teachers Conference yesterday, and they did a very good job I might add.  His students also built his sled and packed his drop bags.  Trent really gets his kids involved with hands on projects using the content they’re learning in the classroom in real life situations.  

MVI_1689 -  Click for video. Trent’s fourth grade class from Idaho presents at the teachers conference. Nice job!

MVI_1794 - Click for video. Riding Trent’s Sled to Glory! I wish that guy would get his big feet out of the way.



Oh man Trent!  What have you been feeding these dogs?!





Newton Marshall.  The first dog sled team from Jamaica to compete in the Iditarod.






The parking garage in 4th Avenue was filled with people.  Look at the TV camera on top.






A straight, single file, quiet line.






What does he think he’s doing?

1 More Day Until Race Day

Today was another amazing day at the teacher’s conference filled with surprises.    


Angie Taggart, a teacher from Ketchikan Alaska has qualified to compete in the 2011 Iditarod. She will be taking a year off of teaching in preparation for the “Last Great Race.”  Fantastic job Angie!!!!!! We will be following your progress at


How would you like to meet someone who competed in the first Iditarod back in 1973? Rod Perry is just that person.  We had the wonderful opportunity to meet and talk with Rod and listen to those amazing stories of yesteryear.  Rod has written a book about the history of the Iditarod trail which is available at:  Rod drank milk from a mother moose on 2 different occasions, once to ward off starvation.  He has also taken weeks long trips in the subarctic on dog sled without the support of additional supplies being dropped by airplane or snow machine.  


We listened to Jeff King tell stories from the Iditarod Trail.  The story that tickled me the most was the one about camping next to a Native Alaskan musher.  Jeff got his drop bag out of his sled all lumpy and bumpy from the things that were neatly packed in plastic bags.  As Jeff removed his items from the bag, the Native Alaskan musher got his drop bag out which was perfectly cylindrical and smooth. After opening the end of the bag, the Native Alaskan slid a hard frozen seal out of the bag and commenced to chopping the seal up feeding himself and his dogs; quite a contrast in cultures.


Quote of the day:  Some people are already dead. They just haven’t been buried 

 Breaking trail for you,

 Herb Brambley

2010 Target Iditarod Teacher on the Trail

2 More Days Until Race Day; Hang in There

Sometimes it seems like this race will never start, but we have to get the formalities out of the way.  So don’t give up.  Hang with me, and let’s get this monkey off our backs.

IMG_1637 Musher Meeting  - This morning was the mandatory musher meeting at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage.  Information on where the mushers are to park for the ceremonial start and the restart was reviewed along with the route the mushers will be taking for the ceremonial start.  A representative from BLM(The Bureau of Land Management) was present to discuss parking for the end of the ceremonial start for the musher’s trucks.  Later in the morning, Stewart Nelson the head veterinarian for the Iditarod went over some of the finer details of dog care with the mushers. Dr. Nelson provides top notch care for these super canine athletes.


 Trail Mail

At the musher meeting, the mushers signed the trail mail that they will be taking with them from Anchorage to Nome.  The mail will be sealed in a plastic bag and stamped at the post office in Anchorage. Then when they arrive in Nome at the end of the race, it will be stamped again. They must take an oath before the start of the race saying they will deliver the mail. If they are not able, they must place it in a mailbox so that it can be delivered by another postal employee.  If they don’t follow this procedure, they will be charged a $500 fine.      


IMG_1674Banquet – If you ever have the opportunity to attend the musher banquet before the Iditarod, do so.  It is an extravaganza to behold. 2000 people were in attendance at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in downtown Anchorage.  The tables were beautifully decorated with center pieces. At the start of the banquet, the National Anthem and the Alaska Flag Song were beautifully sung by Anna Bondarenko, Jimmy Lanier, and Jim Lanier. A delicious dinner consisting of steak, mashed potatoes, and vegetables followed by a delicious chocolate cake was served. After drawing their bib numbers, the mushers graciously filed around the room signing autographs for hundreds of people. I hope the mushers realize how much we as fans appreciate the time they take to do this. 


IMG_1648Old Friends The evening was doubly special for me.  I belong to the Pennsylvania Sled Dog Club and had the wonderful surprise of seeing 2 of our members at the banquet, Chris and Jessica Bannister. This young couple has a very interesting story as they ended up together partly because of a mutual interest in sled dogs. Great seeing you!!!!!!!!!!!!!



IMG_1666And lastly, I had the opportunity to see my friend Jeff Chandler and his wife Maureen.  I met Jeff last year when we were setting up the starting chute at the restart in Willow. Jeff was raised about 50 miles from where I live in Pennsylvania. Jeff and Maureen, now residents of Alaska, provided some Alaska hospitality for me when I arrived last summer for the Iditarod Teachers Conference.  What a relief to see a friendly face after 8 hours crammed like sardines in a plane. Thanks again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Signing off for now, I’ll see you on down the trail.


I Didn’t Know That!!!


Today I attended the press conference for the 2010 Iditarod at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage and learned some interesting facts.

 Since the Iditarod started in 1972, 671 people have completed the race.

 There will be 71 mushers competing this year in Iditarod XXXVIII. (That’s 38 in Roman Numerals. X=10, V=5, and I=1)

 There are 59 mushers from the United States of America.  The rest come from Canada, Scotland, Jamaica, and Belgium.

 There are 22 rookies in the race. This has been said to be the best field of rookies ever with many of them having a chance to win the Rookie of the Year Award.

 There are 49 musher competing who have completed the race.

 Out of the 71 mushers, 16 are women, and 55 are men.

 9 out of last year’s top 10 finishers are back.

 There are 3 principle partners who support the Iditarod. 1.) Anchorage Chrysler Dodge 2.) GCI  and 3.) Exxon Mobil (So buy Exxon/Mobil gas and put it in your Chrysler or Dodge as drive down the road talking on your GCI cellular phone.)

 There are 5 basic functions that IonEarth Tracking is used for; 1.) Track the mushers, 2.) Position camera people during the race so they can get good shots. 3.) Used by checkers so they know when someone is coming down the trail and can then be prepared to perform their duties. 4.) Used to show where the mushers are on the Iditarod Insider. 5.) Makes tracking of the race available on smart phones.

 The Iditarod has had a drug testing rule for the mushers since 1984, and has been testing dogs since 1994.

 There has NEVER been a positive drug test from a dog since they started testing.

 They will test every musher in the Iditarod this year for drug usage.

 $561,000 will be divided between the top 30 mushers.

 The winner will receive over $50,000 for his/her efforts.

 Trail Conditions at a Glance

 The trail should be fast since it is icy in a lot of places.

 Snow is scarce in some locations so we may see the use of dust masks for the first time.

Surprisingly, there is not much overflow.

 The trail conditions on the other side of the Alaska Range are slightly softer.

 Final Comments

With trail conditions as they are and the weather being much warmer than normal, this could turn out to be an interesting year.  What strategies should the mushers use? Should they hold the dogs back at the beginning on the hard fast trail, or should they use this part of the trail to get a jump on the competition by letting the dogs run? Would it be better to save the dogs energy for the softer part of the trail? Whose dogs run better in warmer weather? If the weather stays warm, what is the trail going to look like after the first 40 mushers? In the warmer weather, do you change your run rest strategy to longer slower runs, faster shorter runs, or do you keep it the same?

 It is shaping up to be an interesting race this year.  Get those computers fired up and the Iditarod Insider so you can follow the race as it happens. 

 See you on down the trail.


Target® 2010 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail


A Trail of Connections

TOTT has been an extreme amount of work, but it has been a very richly rewarding experience that has taken my life in directions that I could never have imagined.  For example, meeting Kim Darst at the Iditarod last year lead me to write a book, “Cotton’s Tale,” about her blizzard experience. ”Cotton’s Tale” will be out on in a few short months. 

 Meeting the author and sled builder, Rod Perry, and talking with him about my background initiated a conversation about lumber and trees and Pennsylvania hickory.  Rod needs good hickory for his sleds.  I will be supplying Rod in the not to distant future. 

 I was interviewed by a Maryland Television Station about my Teacher on the Trail Journey.  When it was aired, the director of the National Park Service’s “Trail to Every Classroom” program saw me and invited me to present at their teacher’s conference, which  lead to a conversation between the United States Forest Service and the National Park Service and the roots of the “Trail to Every Classroom” program for the Iditarod Trail.

 After applying for the Target Iditarod Teacher on the Trail for 2010, a person that sells books to my wife at the Fulton County Library in McConnellsburg, PA wanted to get involved with the “Books to the Trail” program, she developed a whole website,  This website has several ways for students, teachers, and the general public to be involved with books to the trail.  It’s as simple as buying a book, or if you desire, donating money directly to the program.  The program is over for this year, but look for it again next year.

 If you are a teacher contemplating applying to be Target Teacher on the Trail, I would recommend that you get started on your application.  It is the most motivating, refreshing, interesting, and invigorating experience I have ever had, and it’s not over yet.  Where will this trail lead me is anyone’s guess, but I’m ready and have my bags packed. Remember, you get out of life what you put into it.

Do It Yourself Lifestyle at Yentna Station Roadhouse

Jr. Iditarod 075Jr. Iditarod 148

Have you ever been to a motel you can only get to by bush plane, snow machine, boat, or dog sled?  I have!!! The Yetna Station Roadhouse is just that.  After seeing the Jr. Iditarod mushers off the starting line at Willow Lake, we were flown over to Yentna Station.  The flight alone is an experience.  We came banking in as we lowered our altitude, and gently dropped down onto the ice covered Yentna river for a slightly bumpy landing by our ski plane.


Yentna station was a wonderful place to stay.  The proprietors were very nice and the accommodations were out of this world.  They even have an inside bathroom that you don’t need to worry about flushing.

 Jr. Iditarod 116

Need running water? No problem! Run out to the river and get it.  No, not really.  They do have running water, and even hot running water thanks to the on demand propane water heater.

 Jr. Iditarod 125

Where did the electricity for the lights come from?  (Since I teach environmental education, and one of my lessons is about this very thing, I found this most interesting.) The answer is solar panels and an electric generator. There are no power lines running to Yetna Station.

 Jr. Iditarod 085

 Want heat? No problem.  Stoke the fire.  And if you’re still not warm, go split some wood. 

Jr. Iditarod 110 


Need lumber to build something, including your house? They make that right here at Yentna Station too; with their own sawmill.

 Jr. Iditarod 115

After exploring all of these wonderful adaptations and having an absolutely delicious meal rustled up by Mamma and Pappa Gabryszak, we sat down and entertained ourselves by playing guitars as we waited for the junior Iditarod mushers to come in off the river.  That’s right no need to turn the radio on or play video games.


The junior mushers were a great group of young adults.  They handled themselves in a responsible manner that would have made any parent proud.  After arriving they got right to their chores of taking care of their dogs. (The dogs will take care of you, if you take care of them.) After chores, they did have time to socialize with a game of Duck, Duck, Goose as they waited for the last musher to come in.  It was very late at night before the last musher got there, but not one of the other competitors left the rivers edge until the very last of them had arrived safely.  When he did finally arrive, everyone pitched in to help him take care of his dogs by bedding them down and helping him build a fire to melt snow so that he could feed his dogs. This display of genuine concern for a fellow musher was enough to bring tears to your eyes.  You see, Jonathan is a diabetic and he has trouble with low blood sugar.  At one point during the day his blood sugar got so low that he passed out and his sled rolled over on top of him. After receiving some medical attention for his low blood sugar, he continued down the trail. What an absolutely fantastic display of courage by this 14 year old.    

 Jr. Iditarod 119

Sunday morning things went smoothly as the junior mushers moved back onto the Yentna River and back toward the Start/Finish line in Willow. Merissa Osmar was the first musher across the finish line with a $5000 scholarship waiting for her.  The $3500 scholarship for second place was wrapped up by Anitra Winkler, and the $2000 third place winner was Rebekah Ruzicka. 

 Jr. Iditarod 162

As the awards banquet started at 6:00, there were 3 musher still out on the trail. We had finished eating and a few door prizes were handed out when the announcement was made that there was a musher coming in.  Everyone left the community center and filed out into the crisp night air.  A light snow was falling as we walked down to the lakes edge.  We peered into the darkness as we waited for the dim light of a headlamp to appear.  Finally, way across the lake a faint light came into view.  Cheers went up from the crowd as the dog team headed down the bank onto the ice toward the waiting crowd on the opposite shore. And then, without warning, all of the junior mushers ran across the lake to greet the last mushers. The strobe lights on the lead dogs pierced the darkness as the teams honed in on the waiting crowd, first the dog teams, followed by the running group of young mushers. Cameras flashed as the mushers made their way under the finish line banner.  As Jonathan, the last musher made his way under the banner to the cheers of the waiting crowd, a huge sense of relief filled the air.  The last musher had made it safely home. 

 Jr. Iditarod 136

No longer was there tension in the air, as the crowd walked back to the community center to finish the banquet proceedings’.  The celebration could finally be complete, as all were now in attendance. 


Final note:  Jonathan was unanimously voted by his fellow mushers as the Sportsmanship award recipient; deservingly so.

Herb Brambley’s Jr. Iditarod Adventure!

CIMG6965Target® 2010 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ Herb Brambley flew in a small bush plane out to Yentna Station to be at the half way checkpoint of the Jr. Iditarod.

13 mushers entered the race.

Free GPS Tracking provided race fans the opportunity to keep track of the race! (

View information about the Jr. Iditarod at this link.

Herb will soon be updating the website and sharing information about the Jr. Iditarod.

Music to Mush By

Here are the words to some mushing songs I use in my classroom.  I’ve used some familiar tunes but have changed the words. 

Nine Days on the Trail - Sung to the tune of - ”Six Days on the Road”

Musher’s Blues - Sung to the tune of – “Folsom Prison Blues”

One Chance - Sung to the tune of – “Paradise”

Ghost_Huskies_in_the_Sky[1] - Sung to the tune of – “Ghost Riders in the Sky”

150_Huskies[1] - Sung to the tune of – “A Hundred and Sixty Acres”

There are many benefits of using music in the classroom.  Information that shows the beneficial effects of music on the brain can be found in the book The Mozart Effect by Don Campbell.    

Some of the hundreds of benefits are:

  • Improves test scores
  • Cuts learning time
  • Calms hyperactive children and adults
  • Reduces errors
  • Improves creativity and clarity
  • Heals the body faster
  • Integrates both sides of the brain for more efficient learning
  • Raises IQ scores 9 points (research done at University of California, Irvine)

 A study was conducted in 1996 on all students taking their SAT exam.  Students who sang or played an instrument scored 51 points higher on the verbal portion of the test and 39 points higher on math.

Under the Watchful Eye


After visiting Iditarod Elementary today, Terrie and I swung over to the Iditarod Headquarters to see what was going on at the vet trailer.  We pulled in at just the right time. A musher was there getting the required EKG’s done on his team. I thought this might be a good opportunity to explain a little more about an EKG.

What is an EKG?
The letters EKG stand for electrocardiogram. An EKG is a non-invasive, completely painless test, which evaluates the health of a dog’s heart. It measures the heart rate and heart’s electrical activity to tell the veterinarian if the dog has an irregular or dangerous heartbeat that can’t be detected with a stethoscope.


How is the test done?
The dog lies on a table and clips with wires coming from them are attached to the dog in several locations. The musher or handler stays at the dog’s head to keep the dog calm. The wires are attached to a special recording machine.  During the EKG, electrical signals from the dog’s heart are sent through the wires to the EKG machine. The EKG machine records a reading of the dog’s heart rate and electrical activity on paper. This only takes about 2-3 minutes.

Does it hurt?
No, an EKG is painless. After the EKG is completed, the clips are removed and there are no marks on the dog. 

Does every dog in the Iditarod get an EKG?
Yes, every dog is required to get an EKG before racing in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. 

Can a dog be disqualified from participating based on an EKG?
Yes. The chief veterinarian has the authority to deny entry of any dog to the race if the dog has an abnormality which may put the dog at risk for injury or death.


Are EKG’s done on humans?
Yes.  EKG’s are performed on humans for the same reasons they are performed on dogs.

Keep in mind that an EKG is only one part of the overall vet care these world class athletes (the dogs) receive.  The dogs get a blood test, worming, complete physical and each dog is micro chipped.  During the race each musher is required to carry a vet book in which is recorded any observations that may require special attention. The veterinarian and the musher must both sign the vet book before the musher leaves the checkpoint.

For more information, see the official Iditarod rules at:

Back on the Trail at Big Lake

Hello from Wasilla, Alaska.  I thought this day would never get here.  I’ve had several trail reroutes along that way, including a stay for a week in the hospital back in January. But, I’m back on the trail again, and hoping to share my experiences with you in a way that will rejuvenate and motivate all who read my posts whether you are a teacher or just a fan of the Iditarod. 

I don’t know if you’ve been paying much attention to the national weather, but the east coast has been getting hammered with snow since December.  What a fantastic winter!!! I loved every minute of it.  Three months of excellent dog sledding.  Bring it on!!!

Terrie's Camera 002

Today I visited Big Lake Elementary.  What a nice school and a very well behaved group of students.  We sang a few songs, but the main focus of my presentation was trails.  It was titled “Life is a Trail.” Along with talking about the Iditarod Trail, I talked about how life can be looked at as a journey in which we are following a trail. This direction our trail goes is in part determined by our goals, our life experiences, and our ancestry and heritage. Therefore, our trail actually starts before we are born. I used a picture of my Great, Great, Grandfather to talk about my ancestry and how the part of the country where I live and the life style I lead has been influenced by my ancestors.  We should look at our heritage as a source of pride and not as a limiting factor in our growth.  Knowledge of our heritage gives us an understanding of how and why we are where we are.  This kind of understanding can help us figure out where we need to put our energy. It gives us a “sense of place,” respect for our elders, and a concern for preserving items of historical significance so that future generations can also share the guiding influence these things provide.

 Terrie's Camera 009

Below, I have included some suggestions for student activities.  I have also included  a link to my “Life Trail Map” as an example.  The trail map activities can be created on the computer using the tools at the bottom of a Word document.  I got most of my pictures from Clip Art.  If you do not have a computer lab, or for younger students, a “Life Trail Map” can be created by drawing a line diagonally across a paper and using pictures, photographs, or drawings. 


Life Trail Map

     1. Make a heritage trail map of your ancestry.

     2. Make a trail map of things you’ve done.(Reflection)

     3. Make a trail map of places you would like to go or things you would like to do or see.  (Goal Setting)

Books to the Trail

Recently, our school, through our local Usborne books representative, Alyssa Truman, held a Reach for the Stars reading program.  The program served many purposes; 1) it motivated the students to read by providing incentives, 2) it provided free books to students who read a certain number of pages, and 3) it provided a total of $750 to the Books to the Trail program in Alaska!!!  It was a win, win situation.  The kids at Southern Fulton Elementary School won, Usborne books won, and the students in Alaska won. What a great opportunity for everyone involved. 

Mrs. Trail (Principal), Lucy (The Husky), Target Iditarod 2010 TOTT (That's me), Alyssa Truman of Usborne Books

Mrs. Trail (Principal), Lucy (The Husky), Target Iditarod 2010 TOTT (That's me), Alyssa Truman of Usborne Books

 This may sound like a great accomplishment to some, but it was pretty much a no brainer for the kids at Southern Fulton.  You see, Southern Fulton Elementary was the winner of a National Title I Distinguished School Award last year.  Not only that, but they have achieved AYP 6 years in a row. What I’m saying is that the students at Southern Fulton know how important reading is to learning.     

 Reading is one of the most important things we can learn to do in our lifetime.  Reading opens many doors. Books are windows to places we may never go.  Reading allows us to travel to places and vicariously experience things without ever leaving our living rooms.  And, most importantly, it allows us to be our own teacher.  We spend such a short time of our life in school, but we spend a lifetime learning. Hence, the most important job a teacher performs is to teach a student how to teach themselves.  Reading is one of the most important tools in the tool box for achieving this practice.

 So, do you want to get involved?  Do you want to help with Books to the Trail?  Another great lesson the students learn from this program is helping others.  It’s a great feeling to help someone else.  If you want to get involved, go to become part of putting books in the hands of the students in Alaska and your students. You’ll be glad you did.     

 ***If reading opens doors, and books are windows, that makes the library the Lowe’s Building Center of life.

Breaking Trail

We recently received a blessing of 14 inches of snow.  Needles to say, I have spent as much time out with the dogs as humanly possible.  I have managed to get some sleep, at least enough so that I have been able to give the illusion of functioning in a normal manner.  December has been a great month in Pennsylvania for taking the dog sled out. Since receiving our first snow on December 4, there were only 2 training runs where I was not able to take the sled. 

If the weather cooperates, one of my adventures over Christmas break will be to take the C&O Canal along the Potomac River, from Cumberland to Hancock, Maryland, a trek of 60 miles through some of Maryland and West Virginia’s most beautiful Appalachian Mountain Country.  Sometime, I would like to do the entire 184 mile towpath from Cumberland to Washington D.C. The entire length of the C&O Canal is smorgasbord of history.  For example, the canal winds its way past the Antietam Battlefield where in 1862 occurred one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.  At Harpers Ferry, John Brown seized the Federal Arsenal in 1859 in an attempt to arm slaves with weapons. In 1787, James Rumsey operated the first steamboat in America at Shepherdstown, West Virginia. On January 5, 1862, Confederate General Stonewall Jackson laid siege to the town of Hancock, Maryland.  Little Orleans, Maryland was the site of one of the first labor disputes in American when construction workers, on May 17, 1838, rioted because of non-payment of wages. These are just a few of the historic sites along the C&O canal towpath.  Take a look at the site below for a virtual tour.  And, by the way, take a look at the movie of my team as we wind our way through the hills of Breezewood, Pennsylvania breaking trail. 

Merry Christmas, and have a safe New Year!!!


C&O Canal Virtual Tour –


Breaking Trail Video – Breaking Trail

The First Snow of the Season

Saturday brought our first snow that stuck to the ground.  What a welcome site, a magical experience to be out in that first snow.  With the smell of pumpkin pie still in the air from Thanksgiving, and the anticipation of Christmas right around the corner, this snow seemed to signify the beginning of “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” if I may borrow the line from the famous song.  Now, I know many people dread the winter season for many reasons.  But, there are those, including myself, who look forward to cold weather, snow, skiing, ice skating, sledding, firewood cutting, days off school, and, oh yeah, taking the dog sled out. 

 Not only was Saturday the first snow of the year, it was our Alaskan Husky, Willow’s first snow of her life. For those of you who don’t know, I brought Willow back from Alaska this past summer at the end of the Summer Teacher Conference. So, she is a true Alaskan Husky, born and bred.  She enjoyed the snow immensely.  First, I allowed her to have some play time before we got down to work (pulling the sled.)  We live back in, off the road, so our dogs are lucky to be able to get some supervised, free running time. She was a natural at running full bore down some of our hills, slipping onto her belly and sliding as her back end tried to pass her front end. 


How was that Dad?

And of course she went and teased her Uncle Bo by trying to do a paw stand.  That didn’t work out very well. 


She even went on a hunt and pounced on imaginary mice under the snow.


I know you're under there!




 And finally, she pranced like a reindeer getting ready to pull Santa’s sleigh.

On Dasher! On Dancer! On Willow! ...

On Dasher! On Dancer! On Willow! ...

Willow has been practicing pulling with the other dogs for about a month now.  She has taken to it naturally.  I believe, she is the most enthusiastic and motivated dog out of my four dogs. A natural athlete, a future Iditarod champion in the ruff, or is that rough?  Oh well, I was never two good at spelling anyway.  Take a look at the Pennsylvania winter landscape below.  Enjoy!!! Don’t be influenced by that cranky old weatherman on TV. Get out in the weather and enjoy it!!!    

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Herb’s Lessons

This section of the website will be added to periodically, so check back for new lessons and updates.

Lesson 1: Introduction to the Iditarod Sled Dog Race; Grades 2-8; Geography, Social Studies, and Science; This lesson introduces how climate relates to lifestyle and culture.

Lesson 2: The Alaskan Husky; Grades 4-8; Technology, Science; This lesson uses computer skills such as cutting, pasting, and saving a Word document as a vehicle to learn the unique characteristics of the Alaskan Husky. 

Lesson 3: Making Electricity from the Sun; Grades 4-12; Science, Technology, Geography, Environmental Education; In this hands on lesson students see how the angle of a solar panel in relationship to the sun’s rays directly effects voltage output.  The Internet is used to research the average hours of sunlight per day for locations across the globe.    

Lesson 4: Wilderness Survival; Grades 4-8; Social Studies, Environmental Education; Students actually build a debris shelter(or model) as they study the hierarchy of survival priorities.  Read Iditarod stories of survival from the book More Iditarod Classics.

Lesson 5:The Reason for the Seasons; Grades 2 -6;  Science, Environmental Education; Students learn about the tilt of the earth and the angle of incidents of the sun’s rays and explain the causes of seasonal change.

Lesson 6: Are We There Yet; Grades 5-12; Technology, Geography; Find out how far it is from your house to Alaska and how long it will take to get there driving, walking, or using public transportation.

Lesson 7: Why is Iditarod a Ghost Town ; Grades 4-12; Environmental Education, Social Studies; Students determine the best place to locate a village by evaluating several locations for available water resources, type of soil, signs of wildlife, and ease of travel.

Lesson 8: The Cold Hard Facts; Grades 4 and above; Technology, Science, Math;In this lesson students use an Excel spreadsheet to record temperature data from their local area and a location in Alaska.  They also use the graphing capability of Excel to create a graph that compares the 2 locations.

Saving Toner, Money and Trees

Our school is in the process of starting a recycling program.  I’m sure there are many schools out there that have been recycling for several years, but living in a rural area presents some unique challenges when it comes to recycling.  Many of the trash haulers still do not provide a means to recycle.  People in our area who wish to recycle have to haul their own recyclables to a central location where there is a roll off container.  Many companies will not even supply a container or wish to be involved in recycling because it ends up costing them money due to the distance they have to travel.  It is actually costing our school district more to change haulers so that we can start a recycling program!!!  But, in the long run, our students will be better off by becoming educated about the process, by becoming part of doing something to help our planet, and by reducing their carbon footprint.

Not only is recycling a great idea, but what about reducing the amount of printing done at the school so that less paper is used?  If you want some motivation to reduce, get a hold of your school district’s paper budget.  Sit down first though before you look at it. And, if you want to create a visual for others to see the need to cut back on paper use, borrow the gym and create a pile of boxes big enough to hold the number of reams of paper your school uses in a year.  If you want another shock, figure out how many trees it would take to make that amount of paper.  Not a pretty site.

So, I’ve come up with a number of ways to use less paper and to save money on printing.

1. Have students do assignments in the computer lab and save them to a folder on a drive so that you can down load them to a flash drive.  It is a lot easier to carry a flash drive home in your pocket than a bag full of papers.

2.  Use one of the free test makers on the internet rather than printing your tests out.

3.  Make worksheets on the computer and save them to a drive that is accessable to your students.  If you go to Tools in the tool bar, and then come down to Protect Document in the drop down menu, you can lock your document so the questions can’t be changed.  You can also provide fields for the students to type their answers.

4.  Only print one copy on your computer printer.  Use a potocopier to make multiple copies.  Copier costs are much less than printer costs.

5.  Some printers are capable of printing duplex. Suggest to your purchasing department that they buy printers of this type.

6. Print to a laser printer instead of an inkjet printer.

7. Make sure students are not printing things they shouldn’t be printing.

8. To save toner, change your printer default to draft mode.

9. Always do a Print Preview before printing to verify that you are only printing pages that you need.

10. For color printers, only print color if needed.

Each one of the above suggestions by itself is no great savings, but if we all follow them, and make them a habit, together we can make a difference.  Live lightly!!!

Introduction to the Iditarod Sled Dog Race

Introduction to the Iditarod Sled Dog Race

Developed by: Herb Brambley
Discipline / Subject: Geography/Social Studies/Science
Topic: Iditarod Sled Dog Race
Grade Level: 1 and above
Resources / References / Materials Teacher Needs:Movie – Nanook of the NorthMovie – Alone in the Wilderness

Book – Enchantment of America:Alaska

Book – Balto by Natalie Standiford



Internet site with animation of earth’s orbit:

Lesson Summary: This lesson introduces Alaska and the Iditarod to the students.  It is also a lesson on why we experience the change in seasons.
Standard’s Addressed: (Local, State, or National)1. NSES 6.4 Earth and Space Science2. PA S&T 3.4D Explain and illustrate the cause of seasonal change.

3. USNGS 6 How Culture and Experience Influence People’s Perceptions of Places and Regions

4. NCSS 3 People Places and Environments

Learning Objectives:1. Students will describe the movement of the earth in relationship to the sun.2. Students will explain how the tilt of the earth relates to the change in seasons.

3. Students will identify differences between our culture and that of people from the artic regions.

Method of assessment for learning

  1. Students will draw the tilt of the earth and its relationship to the sun in each of the 4 seasons.
  2. Students will demonstrate the movement and tilt of the earth in relationship to the sun.
  3. Students will list differences between their culture and Nanook’s culture.
Procedural Activities

  1. Using the globe and solar system model, describe the orbit of the earth around the sun.
  2. Use the flashlight and globe to show how the tilt of the earth causes parts of the earth to receive less sunlight certain times of the year.
  3. Show students the Internet site with the animation of earth’s orbit.
  4. Since we receive heat and light energy from the sun, parts of the earth get less heat and light during some months and are therefore colder.
  5. Relate lifestyle and culture to climate.
  6. Show students the movie Nanook of the North.
  7. Have students list differences and similarities in culture they observed.
Materials Students Need:Worksheet page with picture of the sun and earth’s orbit.
Technology Utilized to Enhance Learning:Computer with internet access to show animation of earth’s orbit.
Other Information:Preview Nanook before showing it to your class. Some material may not be suitable for children.
Modifications for Special Learners/ Enrichment Opportunities:This is a great hands-on lesson for learning the orbit and tilt of the earth.Students who understand the concept of earth’s tilt may describe in their journals the affect there would be on the seasons if earth had no tilt.

“A Trail to Every Classroom”

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA I recently attended the National Park Service Teacher Conference called A Trail to Every Classroom. The 2009 cohort included 49 participants from Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. In addition to teachers from the above mentioned states which the Appalachian Trail traverses, there was staff from three other trails; Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, the proposed Mississippi River Trail, and yes, you guessed it, the Iditarod National Historic Trail.

So, what is this Trail to Every Classroom? TEC is a workshop administered by the National Park Service which helps teachers develop a curriculum for their school using the Appalachian Trail as a recreational, environmental and educational resource. The Trail to Every Classroom curriculum has several functions, 1) to get students outside, experiencing the environment, 2) to get them actively involved in their community performing a needed service, and 3) to teach students the unique history of their community so that they know why and how their community originated. These goals are accomplished by using two teachings methods; Service Learning and Placed Based Education.

Who benefits from TEC? Everyone! That’s the great thing about using these methods to teach students. The students aren’t learning in a vacuum. They are actively participating in their learning as active members of their community. Students also benefit by using all of the content areas during their involvement. The very nature of TEC lends itself easily to a multidisciplinary approach. As an example of this, during the TEC summer workshop, teachers could attend a technology session where they learned to use a GPS as a teaching tool in their classroom. They also had the opportunity to attend a science oriented environmental quality monitoring session where they were learning about the effects of air pollution on vegetation and soil, doing a macroinvertebrate study in water and in the soil.

And what was I doing there? Other than playing a lot of music every night and eating the fantastic meals prepared by the kitchen staff at the National Conservation Training Center, where the conference was held, I did a presentation on the Iditarod Race and I worked on developing a TEC program for Alaska with 3 wonderful people; 2 from the United States Forest Service and 1 from Alaska Geographic. As many of you already know, especially those that attended the winter conference, I love to play my guitar and I use a lot of music in my classroom. At the conference, I met someone from Vermont who had a mandolin and an accordion, and another person from Missouri who played the harmonica, and it wasn’t long before we had a 3 man band. You should have been there!!!

The National Guard Can Provide a Unique Drug Education Program at Your School

As mentioned in my previous blog posting, I want to write specifically about the programs provided by the National Guard in the area of drug, alcohol, and substance abuse. There are several programs available through the National Guard designed to suit your specific needs in the areas of leadership training and drug education. Even if your school currently has a drug education program, I believe it would be advantageous to research available programs through the National Guard. Perhaps your school has been doing the same drug education presentation to your students for several years and your students are becoming a little bored with the repetition. Maybe the teachers are too. Check out the National Guard Drug Demand Reduction (DDR) program. It will provide a fresh approach to drug education for your school.

During the teacher’s conference this past summer, I had the privilege of experiencing first hand several of the activities that are used in their lessons. To say the least, I was extremely impressed with the activities and how the lessons are tied in to drug education and leadership training. Before one of the lessons, we were told that we could learn a lot from a rubber chicken. Well, I was very skeptical. But, as it turns out, rubber chickens are very, very intelligent. Rubber chickens can teach you the importance of communication. Really!!! If you want to learn how, check out your local National Guard DDR program.

Another lesson which was done on a low ropes course required our group to work together as a team to complete the course from one end to the other. It was virtually impossible for one person to complete the course alone. In order to maintain balance on the cable we were walking on, an overhead rope had to be swung to you so that you could hold on. As you progressed to the next section, another overhead rope was swung to you by the person in front of you. In this way, you were able to make your way along the entire course. Almost like swinging through the trees with Tarzan, Jane and Cheetah.

Our final activities were on the high ropes. When I say high, I mean about 40 feet high. Talk about a different perspective on things. High ropes require trust. Trust in yourself, trust in the people on the ground, and trust in your partner on the ropes. They also require confidence and the ability to overcome obstacles. Not just physical obstacles, but emotional and mental as well. I don’t believe there is any way to prepare yourself for the mental challenge of a high ropes course. The feelings and challenges that are created on the high ropes are completely different from anything else most people experience in life. It is a unique feeling that almost overwhelms you as you work with your partner to exchange places as you walk a telephone pole 40 feet above the ground. There is nothing like a high ropes course when you want to build confidence, problem solving skills, and the ability to overcome new challenges one might face in any aspect of their life. In Pennsylvania where I live, the high ropes are done at Fort Indiantown Gap as a residence program.

Don’t let me scare you away from these programs with my stories of the high ropes. The National Guard has a variety of programs available.

Summer Teacher’s Camp – Don’t let another summer go by without attending this conference!!!

This year’s Summer Teacher’s Camp was another gem among many. Starting off with 4 days and 3 nights at Vern Halter’s “Dream A Dream Dog Farm,” we got right in to the mushing and dog care aspect of the teacher conference. With Vern at the wheel (literally), we bounced over hill and dale, and Vern guided us through the twist and turns of developing a run/rest schedule for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

We met authors such as Pam Flowers and Rod Perry. Pam Flowers was the first and only woman to traverse the arctic alone by dog sled. What an eye popping story! Pam’s books are available at Rod Perry recently completed a book about the history of the Iditarod Trail called Trail Breakers, available at Rod is an experienced back-country musher who has been charged by grizzly bears no less than 3 times, and has indulged in milk from a mother moose at least 2 times, once in a life or death situation to ward off starvation. Rod was a champion wrestler in college so he must have used some fancy wrestling hold to complete that task.

The Iditarod sign up on Saturday was a great opportunity to meet and talk with world famous mushers like Lance Mackey and Dee Dee Jonrowe. We had the privilege of visiting the beautiful home of artists Jon and Jona Van Zyle. One of the conference days was an open day to visit a site of our choosing as we completed a fun challenge project. Our final experience was an introduction to the National Guard’s Drug and Alcohol Reduction program, which is available for your school through your state’s National Guard. I will write more on this later.

This conference, my friends, is not your average teacher’s conference. It provides once in a life time experiences and refreshes the soul to prepare you for a fresh start next school year. It is a wonderful opportunity to exchange ideas with teachers from across the country. If you haven’t attended this conference, start making plans to include the Iditarod Summer Teacher’s Camp in your schedule for next year. I will be looking forward to seeing you there.

Top 10 ways to plan for this conference next summer.
1. Open a vacation account at your local credit union.
2. Spend some of that moldy money you have socked away in your secret Swiss Bank account.
3. Save all your pocket change in a 5 gallon water cooler jug.
4. Put 20 dollars in a bank account every week for the next year.
5. Stop at laundry mats and check the washer, dryers and coin returns in soda machines for change.
6. Play the lottery.
7. Don’t go on that stupid family vacation that everyone hates.
8. Don’t waste your time and money going to the beach and renting that condo.
9. Run the family station wagon with the bald tires and muffler dragging the ground for one more year. (Be like Uncle Buck. He’s cool. You can be cool also!)
10. Just do it!!!!!!! You’ll be glad you did.
11. And one more thing, when making reservations, remember United breaks guitars!!!

Meet Herb Brambley: Target® 2010 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™

Teacher on the trail Finalist Herb Brambley, Target® 2010 Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM.

View Herb’s Lessons for Students.

Visit the Teacher on the Trail Blog

Herb, along with his wife Jamie, who is a librarian, live in a log home they built and now share with 3 huskies, 5 cats, and a mule.  Herb is a K-6 environmental education and technology teacher at Southern Fulton Elementary School in Warfordsburg, Pennsylvania.  He is also a part time grant writer for the district and has been instrumental in helping the school secure more than $115,000 for the environmental program and the nature trail.  Herb says he has the best teaching job anywhere and also the biggest classroom, since his classroom is the 140 acre school property of woods and fields, which also includes a pond, wetlands, and several streams.

Before becoming a teacher, Herb had a variety of occupations.  He was a farmer, blacksmith, farrier, sawyer, machinist and tool and die maker.  Having these experiences has enriched Herb’s classroom by giving him the necessary background from which to draw upon in order to make real life situations a part of the curriculum in his classroom.  What better way is there to give meaning to learning other than to use the lessons to solve problems students may face once they are in the real world?  Herb was also a Youth Conservation Corp Crew Leader for the United States Forest Service at the Teton Basin Ranger District in Driggs, Idaho.  That was one of the most rewarding and fun jobs he says he ever had.  Imagine getting paid to experience the Tetons and all the adventures they provide and, at the same time, teach students how to care for a fantastic resource so that it is there for future generations.  Speaking of future generations, the next generation has recently been added to Herb’s family by way of a grandson Zeke, and a granddaughter Ella.

Herb also volunteers his time to several community organizations.   He has been treasurer for the local soccer club for 20 years, and because of his extensive experience playing and coaching soccer, he also is a clinician at soccer clinics for coaches.  After receiving the necessary training, Herb became a Trail Stewardship Coordinator for the Pennsylvania Equine Council.    His skill and experience in building and maintaining trail has also led to a volunteer position with the Mid State Trail Association as a trail maintainer.

One project Herb’s school will be participating in this year is the “Books to the Trail” program.  Schools involved in this program hold a fundraiser to help schools in need receive books.

When Herb isn’t coaching soccer you can find him working with his Huskies.  He recently acquired a dog sled and spent a major portion of his spare time last winter viewing the blue ridge mountains of Central Pennsylvania from the back of a dog sled.

If you ask Herb, there’s no better way to travel than dog sled and it sure beats the noise and toxic exhaust of a four-wheeler or snowmobile.

If you ask us, there will be no better way to spend the 2009 – 2010 school year than being on the Iditarod Trail with the Target® Iditarod 2010 Teacher on the TrailTM Herb Brambley.

With Great Appreciation: Thanks Cathy!

Cathy Walters, 2009 Teacher on the Trail

Cathy began her Iditarod adventure as Target®2009 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ in April of 2008.   The journey is not a journey of one year, but a journey that lasts a lifetime.

As Cathy begins her journey as a Teacher on the Trail alumni member, join us in thanking her for sharing her lessons, activities, songs, and her journey with us.  Enjoy a scrapbook of Cathy’s journey.

Send Cathy and email by clicking here!
Thanks Cathy!

Lesson From the Trail: Team Work

I am certain I’m not the first person who has surmised that the Iditarod Sled Dog Race is a metaphor for life.  It is a long journey-even much longer than it appears-and one that requires almost obsessive discipline, focus, and perseverance.  It teaches the participants things about themselves they may never have known if they had never started that journey.  What happens when they are lost or stranded?  How will they react in life and death situations?  How will they react when confronted with the choice of stopping to help another competitor at an almost certain cost to their own aspirations?  How can they foresee the daily-and decidedly unglamorous-tasks associated with keeping, training, and providing for a kennel full of dogs, day after day, morning after cold morning?  And finally, after meeting all of the challenges and logistical nightmares involved in bringing a team to Anchorage for the race, how does one face the heartbreak of not finishing, of losing a dog, or of finishing far below the expectations of friends, family, sponsors, and-most importantly-oneself?   How does a musher measure success when failure is, for most, what seems to be the order of the day?  Why would anybody do this voluntarily? Dee Dee snacks her dogs.

Three years ago, when I started my journey to be Teacher on the Trail, I could not foresee the trials, the work, the uncertainty, and the heartbreak.  I wanted to quit more than once. After my first attempt-I was chosen as a finalist, but not the 2008 Teacher on the Trail-I was ready to call it quits.  But my “team”-friends, colleagues, family, and even members of the Iditarod Education Committee-challenged me to keep going. With no guarantee of success, I had to take a deep breath and consider if this was the right decision for me, and was it the right decision for this great group of folks that made up that team.

But with their support, I decided to give it a go, not knowing at the time how vital this team would become in my life.  I put together that second application packet-notebooks full of essays, lesson plans, biographic information, etc-sharpened my computer skills, and waited for the word.

And so I was selected as the 2009 Teacher on the Trail in April; I coasted along on smooth trail until September of  ‘08.  Then the worst weather conditions blew in-I was diagnosed with cancer.  What was I to do?  It didn’t seem possible that I would be able to fulfill my duties as Teacher on the Trail.  I decided to resign.  My husband Bob said, “No, you need to follow through with this.”  I called my principal Claudia Sherry to say I wouldn’t be going to Alaska, and she said, “Yes, you are.”  Diane Johnson, head of the Iditarod Education Committee, said, “No, you may not resign.”  She assured me it was my position, and they would work with me, come what may.  My doctors said, “Well, maybe, but it will be close.” 2009 Teacher on the Trail, Cathy Walters, and Iditarod Education Director, Diane Johnson at the start of the Junior Iditarod.

And close it was.  After months of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments, I was cleared to go on Friday, February 20th, five days before I flew out to Anchorage.  Two weeks before my red and white blood cell counts were much too low to even consider the journey, but there it was.  I had made it!  But it would not have been possible without the wonderful support and encouragement I had from my doctors, my family, my good friends, my colleagues at Carolina Day School, my church, and all of the dozens and dozens of teachers, mushers, and administrators associated with the Iditarod.  This was my team, and they pulled me through. Blue eyes dressed in pink!

I am teaching at CDS once again; I walk regularly, and I’ve even run a little.  I get fatigued easily, and I am still experiencing some swelling and discomfort.  But I am alive, and I have never been more thankful.  I have discovered much about myself; I am humbled by the outpouring of hope, faith, and love from literally hundreds and hundreds of people.  Now I have to pass it on.  I want to be a part of other teams, for those whose sleds have taken an unexpected turn, or whose team is worn out.  I want to be light and warmth for those who find themselves stranded out there on the dark and cold trail.  I hope to cheer them across the finish line, just as others have cheered for me.  Life is teamwork.  That’s what I learned from the Iditarod, and that’s what I hope to pass on.

Watch the slide show!

Thank you, Target!

Bullseye makes it to the finish line of Target® has always had a commitment to providing educational support for America’s schools and teachers.  They have been active in an early childhood reading program, Reach Out and Read, that puts books in the hands of pediatricians to distribute to their young patients.  They have also helped military families stay connected through a program entitled, United Through Reading. In fact, since 1946, Target® has given 5% of its income through community grants and programs that support education, the arts, social services, and volunteerism nationally and locally.  And now they are in partnership with the Iditarod, sponsoring the Teacher on the Trail™ program.  This partnership has provided opportunities for classrooms across the country and world to connect to “The Last Great Race on Earth®.”  It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as the 2009 Target® Teacher on the Trail™, and a joy to share lessons that use the Iditarod as a theme of instruction across curricula.  Thank you Target®for this teaching adventure of a lifetime!

“Riding with the King”

After a month of travel and excitement, I am now home in North Carolina, safe and sound.  But I couldn’t leave Alaska without one final adventure.

Mt. Redoubt before the eruption. I was scheduled to fly to Anchorage late Sunday night from Nome after the Wells Fargo Awards Banquet.  Due to the large number of folks who needed to be transported to the airport to make that flight, my driver needed to drop me off and then go back for a second load.  I walked into one door of the terminal just as Jeff King walked through the other.  We looked at each other and quickly assessed the situation.   If we hurried, we might be able make the flight that was just boarding.  Of course, the clerk recognized Jeff immediately and granted his request to make the flight.  Though I was an unknown, they graciously accommodated me as well.  Unfortunately, I had checked my bags earlier in the day for the later flight, so they were not going with me.  But I took the chance, hoping that eventually I would be able to claim my bags.

Jeff King and Salem at the start of the 2007 race. It turned out to be a serendipitous meeting, because that was the last flight to make it out of Nome that night and for the next two days.  While we were in the air Sunday night, Mt. Redoubt erupted, sending an ash cloud nine miles into the sky.  The flight I had originally been scheduled to take was forced to turn around to avoid the ash cloud.  The volcano erupted five more times in the next 24 hours, but the prevailing winds were blowing north/northwest; most of the ash blew away from Anchorage and into the interior of Alaska.  My bags were eventually sent to Fairbanks and then forwarded on to Asheville.

I was happy and relieved to make it to Anchorage Sunday night so I could make my flight to Charlotte on Tuesday.  But that early flight also gave me a special gift – the opportunity to chat with Jeff King for the two-hour flight from Nome to Anchorage!

The Sportsmanship Award

Aaron Burmeister at the White Mountain checkpoint. Aaron Burmeister was traveling to Kaltag.  The wind was blowing in his face on the mighty Yukon River, making the temperature colder than the recorded negative 30 degrees.  Aaron had braced himself in his sled, putting a snowshoe on either side of his sled seat, so he wouldn’t fall off the sled if he fell asleep.  It is very hard to stay awake between 2 and 3 a.m. even on the trail.

In the blinding snow he wasn’t sure what that bent over figure was in the night.  Could it be a bear?  It seemed to be panting, out of breath.

Aaron was brought quickly back to wakefulness when he realized that this figure was a fellow musher separated from his team.  The big panting bear turned out to be John Baker trying to chase down his team.  Aaron pulled the exhausted John onto his sled and set off into the night hoping to locate John’s team further down the trail.  John slept while Aaron ran along side the sled searching the night for John’s dogs.

John Baker leaving White Mountain in 3rd place. It was over an hour before he spotted the glowing eyes of dogs in his headlamp.  He woke John.  Trying to keep his dogs from taking off without him, John quietly crept up to the team.  He lunged for his sled and grabbed it-success!

John Baker regained his team and went on to place third in this year’s Iditarod.  Aaron’s sacrifice of his own time and effort enabled John to be one of the prizewinners, a position for which Aaron himself was in contention.  For his selfless assistance to a fellow musher in need, Aaron Burmeister was this year’s recipient of the Fred Meyer Sportsmanship Award for heroism on the trail.

On this level, the Iditarod is about more than winning; it is about character.  It harkens back to the original serum run, the race against time to save lives.  For Aaron Burmeister, it wasn’t much of a decision; when someone is in distress and his dogs are in danger, you stop racing and you start caring.  And thus the Last Great Race continues to give educators everywhere on the globe real stories of compassion, character, and sacrifice to share with our students.

The Wells Fargo Awards Banquet

March 23, 2009

The Wells Fargo Awards Banquet was held last night at the Nome Recreation Center.  Hundreds of race fans packed the arena for this event that recognized the achievements of the teams that finished Iditarod XXXVII.  The following is the list of special awards that were presented.

PenAir Spirit of Alaska Award – Aaron Burmeister received a $500 credit for travel or freight and a beautiful framed mask depicting the spirit of the “team,” for being the first musher into McGrath.

GCI Dorothy G Page Halfway Award – For being the first musher to arrive in Iditarod, Lance Mackey received $2,500 in gold nuggets and a beautiful trophy.

Millennium Hotel Anchorage First to the Yukon Award - Lance Mackey received a nine-course meal for being the first team to Anvik.  Tonight Mackey received an additional $3,500 in one dollar bills as the “after dinner mint” for his efforts.

Rookie of the Year – Chad Lindner was the first rookie to pass under the burled arch in Nome.  He received $1,500 and a trophy for his efforts.

Nome Kennel Club Fastest Time Safety to Nome – Ramey Smyth completed the trek from Safety to Nome in 2 hours and 27 minutes, receiving $500 for his efforts.

Horizon Lines Most Improved Musher Award – The most improved award was given to Dallas Seavey for going from 41st place in 2007 to sixth in 2009.

Fred Meyer Sportsmanship Award – This award includes $1,000 in Fred Meyer Gift Cards and was awarded to Aaron Burmeister for helping a musher find his team.

Chevron Most Inspirational Musher Award – Trent Herbst received this award for the work he has done in the classroom teaching his fourth grade students all about “The Last Great Race on Earth.” The honor included a trophy and $1,000 worth of Chevron gas.

Golden Stethoscope Award – This award was given to Dr. Denny Albert, the veterinarian deemed most helpful on the trail by the Iditarod Official Finishers Club.

Golden Clipboard Award – Nikolai was given this award for being the checkpoint along the Iditarod Trail that most exemplifies community teamwork.

Alaska Airlines Leonard Seppala Humanitarian Award – Lance Mackey received a trophy and two round trip tickets to anywhere on the Alaska Airlines system.  This award is given to a team in the top 20 who has best demonstrated outstanding dog care as voted by a team of veterinarians.

City of Nome Lolly Medley Golden Harness Award – This award honors an outstanding lead dog, chosen by the mushers. This year’s recipient was Kuling a 9-year-old member of Jessie Royer’s team.  Kuling has completed seven Iditarods and led this year’s team to an 8th place finish.  She has been Jessie’s lead dog for all seven of her Iditarods.

Northern Air Cargo Herbie Nayokpuk Memorial Award – Sonny Lindner received a free freight allotment on Northern Air Cargo, $1,049 cash, and a trophy.

Wells Fargo Red Lantern Award – Timothy Hunt was the final of the 52 official finishers to cross under the burled arch in Nome.  He completed the 1,049 miles in 15 days, 14 hours, 6 minutes, and 22 seconds.


Bill Samuels, Cathy Walters, and Gayle Tate. I’ve run into the nicest folks along the trail and many of them have been veterinarians.  Many of these men and women make it a habit of going home and sharing their trail adventures in their local schools.  Gayle Tate of Woodbury, Tennessee, and Bill Sampson of Bernardsville, North Carolina, are two of these super nice guys. Yesterday, in between the long hours of volunteer work they were doing for the Iditarod here in Nome, Gayle asked me to send a message out to one of the schools he regularly visits. So here is a big “HELLO!” from Nome to Ann Bartholamew and her sixth grade class at Short Mountain Grammar School.  “Happy Trails!”  from Mr. Tate and Cathy Walters, 2009 TargetTM Teacher on the Trail.

Meet the Mushers

Saturday, March 21st

Dee Dee Jonrowe and Jessie Royer.

Today was Meet the Mushers at Iditarod Headquarters in the Nome Mini Convention Center.  Hundreds of people, young and old, were there to meet and greet, and get the autographs of the mushers who finished Iditarod XXXVII.  The top three finishers, Lance Mackey, Sebastian Schnuelle, and John Baker literally took the stage to chat with fans that came by their tables.  The rest of the finishers sat behind three long rows of tables on the floor of the center, armed with their Sharpies.  Folks had such a wide variety of items to be autographed.  They brought posters, race guides, trading cards, scraps of paper, maps, calendars, t-shirts, hats, coats, bib numbers, bandanas, and newspapers to be signed.  It was a grand three-hour event.

Enjoy the slide show!

Other folks on the trail…

Iditarod Trail Invitational participants. Tim Hewitt and Tom Jarding. When I was in Grayling there were a lot of folks spending the night at the school.  I took photographs of everyone assuming they were all mushers.  That was not the case.  Two gentlemen were part of the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a human powered race to Nome.  Athletes in this competition can bike, ski, or walk the trail.  Tim Hewitt, a lawyer from Greenburg, Pennsylvania, and Tom Jarding, a mailman from Wyano, Pennsylvania, were walking the trail. They had both accomplished this tremendous feat before.  In fact, this was Tim’s fourth attempt.  They told me they cover about 50 miles a day and can complete the entire trail from Willow to Nome in about 26 days.

The above photograph shows Tim and Tom ready to hit the trail at Grayling.  They are equipped with ski poles and a sled that carries all of their equipment.  I have a feeling that this year’s severe weather may slow down these athletes just as it slowed down the dogs and sleds.  Good luck fellows in your adventure of a lifetime!

“There’s No Place Like Nome!”

Standing under the burled arch in Nome. Nome is a city of 3500 people and at this time of year the population seems to double with Iditarod fans.  The town comes to life for the Iditarod with a wide assortment of activities.  First and foremost among them is the celebrating that goes on at the finish line of the Last Great Race.  At all hours of the day and night, the fire siren sounds to announce that another winning musher is about to cross under the burled arch.  Folks rush to Front Street to cheer, take photographs, and listen to the live interviews of each one.  At that moment, each tired but elated musher embraces the motto of this community, “There’s no place like Nome!”

Sebastian Schnuelle in the finish shoot. The lists of events that occur during race week are posted all over town.  Each day there are a great variety of cultural, local history, and culinary opportunities.  There are also numerous documentary movies, a host of presentations, and contests.  Today I had the opportunity to hear about how the first Iditarod was put together on the Nome end of the race.  Howard Farley was a good friend of Joe Redington and told his audience at the Nome Museum all about the early days of the race. He was fascinating.  Later I went to the library for a casual and intimate conversation with Martin Buser.  Martin was very reflective and honest about his performance. He was disappointed in his 18th place finish, but knew that he ran the race that was right for his dogs.  He is so passionate about the Iditarod; the race that he says is the “ultimate equal opportunity sport for young and old, men and women.”  I couldn’t agree more. Martin Buser at his kennel.

I also made my way to the Native Alaskan Art Fair.  It is held in one of the many churches in town.  There were fine carvings of ivory, whalebone, and walrus, and mittens and hats made of a great variety of furs.  I enjoyed chatting with the artists and hearing their stories of how they learned their craft.  Many had learned their trade from parents and grandparents.  One artist was actually wearing 52-year-old mukluks made and previously worn by her grandmother.  That is stitching that has withstood the test of time!

At any time of the day or night anyone can drop in to Iditarod Headquarters located at the Mini Convention Center.  Many mushers gather there to chat, check email and keep up on the race.  It’s just down Front Street, a block from the burled arch.  Tomorrow from 2 to 5 p.m. is when all the mushers will gather for autographs.  I’ll be there for sure!


Aily Zirkle finishes the race in 17th place! Here I am in Nome.  The weather is a little cool, minus three, but I keep on wearing my North Carolina boots.  I do have proper Alaskan footwear with me; a top-of-the-line waterproof boot put out by Cabela’s.  The problem is that I just can’t move fast enough in the big boots, so I continue to wear the lighter boot with foot warmers and my feet have stayed perfectly dry and warm.  That’s the important thing.  My feet are dry and warm.

Aliy's boots that she made on the tail. Aliy Zirkle was the seventeenth musher to arrive in Nome today, just minutes behind Paul Gebhardt.  She was her usual upbeat smiling self, but I noticed she was wearing some unusual footwear.  They looked like giant, black, puffy slippers that weren’t put together quite right.  Aily had run into a problem out on the trail, she had gone through an overflow and completely saturated her boots.  She had to get those boots off so her feet wouldn’t freeze.  If she were to get serious frostbite she could lose her toes.

One of Aily's frozen boots. Aily had to think fast.  How was she going to cover her feet?  What would you do in this situation?  She didn’t have extra boots and there was no one to ask for help.  Aily was on her own.  She solved her problem by cutting her extra $300 snow pants to a size to wrap around her feet.   She roughly sewed the sections together with bungee cords. They weren’t beautiful, but they did the trick, her feet were warm and dry when she passed under the burled arch.

The boots Aliy got wet were in her sled, frozen solid, and covered with frost.  She had a really good reason for not wearing her Alaskan boots.

Under the Burled Arch in Nome

Lance and Dick Mackey at the start of the 2007 Iditarod. I flew into Nome today right after Lance Mackey made it to the finish line.  I could see from the air that the crowd had gathered around the burled arch.  I wasn’t too disappointed that I didn’t get to see him win the race.  After all, I did have dinner with him the night before in White Mountain, and I did make it to his post finish interview.  While Lance was talking about his dogs and giving them full credit for the win, tears came to his eyes and his wife, Tonya, handed him a tissue. Sebastian and his dad under the finish line banner.

Watching Lance, then Sebastian and John Baker come to the finish line of The Last Great Race made it clear to me that none of these men had made it to the finish line alone.  Of course there were their dogs, the super athletes of the Iditarod, but there were others present at the end of the race that you could tell were also an important piece of these winning teams. Family and friends.  They were there to greet, hug, and congratulate these men on completing something extraordinary.  These folks were there to bask in the glory of the moment, but you could also tell that they had been a part of the journey that had led to the start of the 2009 race for each of these me John Baker and his son. n.

Here are three photographs of fathers and sons, two from this race and one from 2007. That was the year that began Mackey’s reign as Three Time Iditarod Champion.  Dick Mackey, the 1978 Iditarod champion, was there to see his son at the start of that race wearing the same number he had won in victory, bib #13.  This year Sebastian’s dad came all the way from Germany to see his son’s second place success today.  And John Baker, a native Alaskan, had his son and daughter embracing him after his third place finish.  Our families support and encourage us through our successes and our trials.

Congratulations Lance, Sebastian, and John!  This was one of the toughest Iditarods in quite a while.

Aaron Burmeister in White Mountain

Aaron Burmeister on the Fish River. Aaron going into the shoot. Profile shot of Aaron. After Lance Mackey, Sebastian Schnuelle, and John Baker left White Mountain today, Aaron Burmeister came down the Fish River.  I happened to be in one of those magic places to see the beauty of sled dog racing.  I hope you enjoy these pictures of Aaron coming into the White Mountain checkpoint.  In just a few hours we will know if Aaron held on to that fourth place position. Running into the checkpoint. Aaron's alert and hapy dogs.

Lance Mackey

Lance and his dogs in White Mountain. Lance Mackey.  He is amazing.  This evening he breezed along the Fish River into the checkpoint at White Mountain, hours ahead of the competition.  After checking in, Lance moved routinely, methodically, through a long to-do-list.  First, he put down straw; sometimes he even dumped the straw right on top of the dogs for more warmth.  He pulled off their booties, opened three bottles of Heet, lit a fire, and began boiling water for the dog’s food.  While the water was heating, Lance pulled jackets out of the sled, straightened each one and put them in a pile.  After putting the jackets on the dogs, the water was heated; the frozen meat added to the water.  Lance put kibble (dry dog food) in each bowl and poured the hot meaty broth over it, serving the dogs in the same order every time.  Once they had eaten, he massaged the paws of some of the dogs and then they were set for their eight-hour rest.

Lance and his mom. Lance managed to take care of his dogs in the midst of chaos.  There were hundreds of people standing around.  The media was filming and taking still shots and interviewing him while he was working.  The vets are also caught in this jumble of people, checking each dog and making notes in Lance’s Vet Book.  Lance and his dogs seem to take all of this attention in stride.  Neither are distracted enough to interfere with what they are suppose to be doing.  The dogs ate their dinner and curled up and went to sleep.  Lance took care of them, never losing his concentration while answering non-stop questions.

While Lance was working, his mom surprised him by coming to the checkpoint.  She gave him a huge hug.  Lance said to his mom, “Aren’t these dogs superstars?”  Her response, “You are a Superstar!”

The “Superstar” may receive the big prize tomorrow under the burled arch in Nome, for the third time.

White Mountain

There are three things I must take care of when I arrive at a checkpoint; check in, get the books, and find a place to sleep.  Today in White Mountain the first two were easy, but the checkpoint looked a little crowded, so I thought I’d wait to find a place to sleep.

Delivering books in White Mountain. After landing by bush plane on the White River (which was very cool!), I checked in with the Iditarod communications folks, picked up the books and headed up White Mountain to make my delivery.  The Anchorage Municipal Library mails a box of books to each school along the Iditarod Trail.  It is a wonderful gesture and it is my privilege to deliver the books.  The principal of White Mountain School, Andy Haviland, introduced me to each classroom.  When we arrived at Cheryl Silcox’s combined first and second grade they were in the middle of writing a song about the Iditarod.  The artist in residence, Ellen Frankenstein, allowed me to jump right in and sing a couple of songs with the children from my Idita-Tunes.  Ellen specializes in videography, so she filmed the teacher, students, and I singing and moving to, Iditarod, Iditarod, A Dog Sled Race.  We had a blast!

As I was walking back to the checkpoint I started thinking about where I should sleep tonight.  On the trail it’s best to work these things out long before bedtime.  My sleeping arrangements are pretty special tonight; I have deluxe accommodations right beside the checkpoint.  I have a mattress on a platform bed in my own room…behind bars!  I’m spending the night in the town jail and all I can say is, “The Jailhouse Rocks!”

P.S.  The jail has been offered to the Iditarod for guests staying in White Mountain.


Snow drift in Unalakleet. Unalakleet is like nothing you have ever seen before.  It is on the coast of the Norton Sound entering the Bering Sea.  As far as you can see in any direction it is icy and white.  Last night the wind chill made the temperature feel like it was 50 degrees below zero!  It is definitely the coldest place I’ve been on the trail.  The snowdrifts are 7 to 10 feet high in town and it has made it a little difficult for me to keep my bearings.  After being in the Athabascan villages of Nikolai, McGrath, and Grayling, Unalakleet feels like a big city.   It is the largest checkpoint on the trail with cars and trucks and snow machines moving the 600 inhabitants around town.  The native people here are Inupiat (Eskimo).

Student interviewing Hugh Neff. The school in Unlakleet is very involved with the race.  Once the mushers arrive, the student broadcast team from the Bering Strait School District (BSSD) goes full speed ahead with interviews, filming, and editing.  Their products are aired on a program moderated by Chick Beckley that is broadcast to schools in Alaska and the lower 48.  I was invited to participate in the live broadcast this morning.  It was such a thrill to be in Unalakleet and chat and answer questions from students in Minnesota and Florida.  The other amazing piece is that I knew the teachers in those schools!  Sheryl Cater teaches in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.  We spent time together just last week at the 2009 Iditarod Teacher’s Conference in Anchorage, and at the restart of this year’s race in Willow.  Bonnie (a teacher from Merrit Island, Florida) and I both met at the 2006 Iditarod Summer Conference.  She has the quilt the teachers made in 2006 on display in her classroom.  This is truly instructional technology that empowers teachers and students.  This BSSD project is an outstanding example of how Iditarod brings learning to life for students around the world.  Their web site is:  For photos and video go to:

Gold Coast Award – Unalakleet

I flew out of Grayling this afternoon and headed for Unalakleet.  The pilot received word that Lance Mackey was on the trail and that if we were lucky we could see him on the trail.  Luck was not with us, but when we flew over the checkpoint there was a huge crowd and we knew that Lance had made it into town before us.  It was close to 3:00 p.m.

Lance Mackey in Unalakleet Wells Fargo presented Lance with a trophy and $2,500 in gold nuggets for being the first team to reach the Gold Coast.  It took me about 40-minutes to get from the airport to the checkpoint, but Lance was still there.  He is always such a positive example of how to be polite, upbeat, and pleasant no matter how tired he might feel.  I watched him give several interviews, sign autographs, and head for the checkpoint to take care of himself.

A vet coming in for dinner this evening just told me that Lance wants to be awakened at 8:30 p.m.  Is it surprising that the next team is scheduled to arrive into Unalakleet sometime after 9:00 p.m.?   There is only one more 8-hour mandatory rest at White Mountain, and then the push is on to Nome.  What is Lance’s next move?

I heard Lance answer that question in an interview he gave today, “Watch out, because you don’t know what I’ll do next.”

It’s All Happening at the School in Grayling

Wow!  It is all happening at the school!  The David Louis Memorial School is where all the mushers in Grayling stayed last night.  After caring for their dogs they came into the school to prepare their own food.  Then the race chatter began.

“Where is Lance?”

“How long did it take him to get to Eagle River from Grayling?” Ray Redington andMelissa Owens

“How long did it take Hugh?”

“Has Sebastian taken his eight hour?”

“How many dogs does he have?”

“Which of the other mushers have made it to Eagle River?”

“How long did it take them?”

“What’s the weather forecast?”

“Is there more wind upriver?”

“How long have the front teams been resting?”

And on the questions went with each new arriving musher.  You could see each one weighing the information and working out what they should do next.  How long should they rest?  When should they hit the trail?  What a treat it was to be a part of their camaraderie and conversation, to glimpse into their world.

At the time they were so thankful to be able to come into the school, out of the wind.  But not for long.  They didn’t enter this race to escape the elements.  In fact, fundamentally, they entered it to test themselves against those very elements.  It’s the whole point-in a weird way, they are truly in their element only when they walk out of the school, step back on their sleds, and bark, “Hike!”

Speaking of being in one’s element, I am spending a lot of time in schools while I am in Alaska, both on the trail and off.  As an educator, it is both instructive and fascinating to see how others deal with the challenges all educators face in one way or another: space, weather, technology, curriculum development, discipline, etc, etc.  Character development is one of those challenges, and one of the reasons the Iditarod has always had a strong pull on me-it exemplifies so much of the character that we are trying to instill in our students and children.  So, while visiting in the Athabascan communities of Nikolai, McGrath, and Grayling, I have thrilled to see this list posted in each of the schools.  It is entitled, “Athabascan Values.”   Compare this list of good character traits to the character education program you use in your school.

Athabascan Values Iditarod Insider Film Crew

Self Sufficiency

Hard Work

Care and provision for family

Family Relations





Love for Children David-Louis Memorial School Teachers



Village Cooperation

Responsibility to Village

Respect for Elders and others

Respect for knowledge

Wisdom from life experiences

Respect for the Land

Respect for Nature

Practice of Traditions


The sharing and caring by teachers for their communities and for these Iditarod mushers has been truly remarkable.  School is a vital part of these communities well after 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Watch the slide show presentation!

Watch the slide show presentation!

Grayling Food Notes

I wanted to give you two more food stories from  Grayling.  There are no restaurants here and there is only one grocery store, The Native Store.  The prices are much higher at The Native Store than most places in the United States because everything has to be shipped here by airplane.  Today I went into the store to see what the prices were like. The Native Store in Grayling. [singlepic id="734" w="320" h="240" mode="" float="" ]

- Rice Krispies – $7.15

- Can of Del Monte green beans (14 oz.) – $2.70

- Kraft Parmesan Cheese (8 oz.) – $10.50

- Barilla Fettuccine (1 lb. box) $3.25

- Campbell’s Cream of Celery Soup – $2.40

- Chunk tuna – $3.20

- Creamy Caesar Salad Dressing – $5.40

- Tide laundry powder (70 oz.) $16.40

- Dozen eggs – $4.50

- Milk (only in a quart box from the shelf) $2.70

- Cake mix – $3.90

- French’s mustard (20 oz.)- $3.95

Check the prices of these food items in your community to see what your total bill would be.  Compare that total to what you would spend in Grayling, Alaska.


My other food story comes from Martin Buser.  In a way I had dinner with him.  Okay, I didn’t really have dinner with him, but he gave me what he would have had for dinner if he had stayed in Grayling.  Here’s the Buser menu:  smoked salmon, rice, mixed nuts, dried apricots, craisins, poppy seed cake, and tiny Toblerone chocolate bars.  All but the candy was in vacuum-sealed bags.  He gave me more food than my friend and I could possibly finish.  This gives you an idea of how many calories mushers burn in a day.  Martin told me that he usually loses 10 pounds during the race.  I would definitely gain 10 pounds if I ate that much food!

Martin Buser's vacuum-packed meal. Each musher has to be so prepared before coming out on the trail.  They pack their food, food for all their dogs, and all the gear they will need further down the trail in bags to be sent out to the checkpoints.  Each “drop bag” (or bags) has the name of the checkpoint printed on it and is color-coded, and as you can see in the picture, Graylings colors are green and pink.  To tell the bags apart, mushers use a permanent marker and write their names on the outside of the bag.    When the bags are delivered to the checkpoints they are put in alphabetical order so it is easy for the musher to find.  It is very important that enough food and gear arrives to each checkpoint.  Good mushers, like Martin, are well prepared for their journey.  They must plan well in advance for the adventure that awaits them on the trail.  This is a great life lesson – prepare now for the adventures that lie ahead.

Grayling Sunrise

Saturday, March 14

2 degrees, clear skies

Sunrise in Grayling. Sunrise on the Yukon.  It is a beautiful clear morning in Grayling, and we can see how the teams are spreading out.  The first team in last night was Jeff King, followed by Sebastian Schnuelle, Aaron Burmeister, and Lance Mackey.  The first three stayed, and Lance breezed through this checkpoint.

When I got up this morning I could just begin to see the pinks, purples, and yellow of the rising sun.  It was breathtaking!  I ran out to snap some shots of the new day and find out who had come in while I was sleeping.  I felt so fortunate to see several ladies of the race.  Aliy Zirkle was preparing to leave, Jesse Royer was snacking her dogs, and within the hour I watched Dee Dee Jonrowe pull into the checkpoint.  What a thrill!

Dee Dee Jonrowe snacking her dogs in Grayling. At the front of this race there appears to be no weak teams.  The top 15 or so teams are all strong and capable.  The dogs of these teams are highly energized and eating well.  Even at this point in the race, the first team into Grayling may not be the first team into Nome.  There are still far too many challenges to predict a winner yet.  This race is very interesting.

Aliy Zirkle leaving Grayling on the Yukon River. Once again, just like in Nikolai, this village is making the mushers feel very welcome.  Grayling has opened the school for mushers to get water, to shower, and spend the night.  The children are so excited about the race.  They were running, leading the way into the school to show the mushers where to get water.  The teachers at David-Louis Memorial School guided mushers to the classrooms where they had provided extra mats for them to sleep on.  They even had a sign on the door, “Shh, Musher’s Sleeping!” In fact, Jeff King and Hans Gatt slept a few hours in the classroom beside the one I slept in last night.  It is important for the mushers to catch naps when they can.

The mushers appreciate Grayling for its fine hospitality; it is also a good place to escape the flow of cold air on the river.  Many have taken the opportunity to give their teams the mandatory 8-hour break (required somewhere along the Yukon).  Others will rest at least 6 hours here because the next push is a tough 60 miles on the Yukon River to Eagle Island.  Resting on the river is a poor place to rest because there are no wind breaks.

I believe I’ll take a rest too, a rest from writing.  I’m going to see what’s happening at the checkpoint.

Race officials in Grayling.

Picture 1 of 8

Grayling Hospitality

The Frozen Yukon River. Today the church bells rang in Anvik as Lance Mackey made his way into town.  Lance is this year’s winner of the “First to the Yukon Award.”  This ward is sponsored by the Millennium Alaskan Hotel and includes an 8-course meal prepared on camp stoves by the hotels chief chef.  Mackey feasted on Alaskan Bouillabaise, Breast of Duck, Artisan Cheese Plate, Flamed Strawberries Romanoff, and an After Dinner Mint of $3,500 presented in an “Alaskan Gold Pan.”

Cold smoked salmon and Sailor Boy Bread. I, on the other hand, flew to the next checkpoint on the trail, Grayling, and was served cold smoked salmon, Sailor Boy Crackers, and hot tea for dinner.  It was just what I wanted and it was oh-so-delicious!  My new friend, Melody Kruger, ran home after my presentation at the David-Louis Memorial School to gather these goodies.  The king salmon she served was netted out of the Yukon right here in Grayling.  Melody, Eleanor Painter, and Edna Deacon, Grayling residents, told me that the best king salmon comes from the Yukon at Grayling.  Salmon netted down river are too big and oily, those up river are too skinny.  I don’t know where to find the best salmon, but I do know that what I had tonight was some of the best I have ever eaten.

This is how Melody makes hers so tasty.  She places each salmon over smoking alder wood for three or four weeks.  To feed her family she nets and smokes over 100 king salmon a year.  Melody calls the meal she served me “standard fare” for lunch in her home.  Thank you Melody for making my first time to the Yukon River dinner.  I found it to be far better than standard fare.  I hope Lance enjoyed his First to the Yukon River dinner as much as I enjoyed mine.

Watch the slide show!

Last Out of Nikolai

I love this pic!

Where ever I go, so goes the snow.  That’s the way it seems since I’ve been on the Iditarod Trail.  It was snowing in McGrath, so I was there an extra day.  I finally made it to Nikolai and when it was time to go, it snowed.  So, as of this posting on Thursday evening, I’m still in Nikolai.  I have to practice a little patience, knowing that eventually I will catch up with the race.

I did get to see the top three mushers go through McGrath and today I saw the last three out of Nikolai.  So, Rob Loveman may have been the last musher out of Nikolai, but he was not the last visitor to leave.  The snow kept the dropped dogs and nine of us associated with the race from flying out today.  We were a bit disappointed, but that’s the way it goes on the trail.  You’ve got to make the best of every situation.

Rob Loveman leaves Nikolai. So, how did I spend my afternoon?  I spent some quality time with the folks who live in Nikolai.  I had a great time talking to Nick Dennis, an 81-year-old elder of the village.  He told me of the early days of the Iditarod, how he used to break trail, and how the race has improved over the years.  He also told me how much has changed in Nikolai since he was a boy.  Nick learned the customs of his people, the Athebascans, that have been passed down from generation to generation.  The making of snowshoes, boats, and sleds is a dying art.  Over Nick’s lifetime he has made at least 50 sets of snowshoes and the very first set he made is on display in the school.  For many years he taught these fine traditions to the students in his shop class at Top of the Kuskokwim School.  Click the pictures below to see a larger view of Nick and his snowshoes, and to see where I’ve been sleeping while in Nikolai.

P.S.  If those snowshoes are missing from school tomorrow…I’ve borrowed them to make my way down the trail!

Watch the slide show presentation!

Perseverance in Nikolai

Rob Loveman, the last musher into Nikolai.

What is perseverance?  I believe perseverance is more than endurance.  It is endurance combined with the certainty that what one is looking for is going to happen.  Perseverance is more than hanging on to the sled, which may expose the fear of letting go and falling.  Perseverance is the super effort of refusing to believe that you will not be conquered.  Endurance athletes, like mushers and their sled dogs, know that perseverance is more than day in and day out workouts and putting in the time.  Perseverance is about having faith in what you are doing and truly believing in yourself and the path (or trail) you are taking.  The training mushers do will yield the results they have aimed for.  The mushers that trust in themselves and their dogs and don’t worry about what the other teams are doing – that is perseverance that leads to success.

Rookie Blake Matray and his Siberians. I am still in Nikolai on Thursday afternoon.  Being here has allowed me to see perseverance at its best. The last three mushers in the 2009 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race came off the Kuskokwim River into the Nikolai checkpoint by 11:00 a.m.   All three mushers, Blake Maltray, Kim Darst, and Rob Loveman, are definitely interested in what is going on in the rest of the race, but it doesn’t effect their personal race.  All three of these rookies arrived in good spirits, as did their dogs.  They may be the last three in the race, but they are persevering in their own personal race in The Last Great Race on Earth.  These folks are demonstrating how to set goals, how to work as a team, and how to give their personal best.  For these rookies, finishing the Iditarod will be their success story.  They exemplify perseverance, and encourage the rest of us to do the same.


Jen Seavey coming into Nikolai. Tonight I’m in Nikolai, an Athebascan village of 70 on the Kuskokwim River.  The checkpoint is just off the river.  Mushers can hike up the hill to eat, take a shower, and sleep at the school.  The entire school gets ready for the Iditarod.  Under the direction of the school’s two teachers, principal and teacher, Denis Gardella and his wife, Joyce, students cook, serve, and clean up.  It’s a super busy three or four days, but lots of fun.  The boys in the kitchen prepared moose soup for dinner tonight – soup and cornbread for $10.

The Top of Kuskokwim School has 15 children, pre-kindergarten through 12.  The elementary students go to school 8:30 to 1:30 and the secondary students, 10:30 to 4:45.  These dedicated teachers normally put in long days and even longer days during the Iditarod.  Denis and Joyce roll out the red carpet for mushers and all the guests that come to Nikolai.

Trent Herbst getting hot water in Nikolai. If it seems like I’m going in the wrong direction on the trail, you’re right.  Nikolai is the checkpoint before McGrath, not after.  I’ve found out first hand that you go where the weather allows you to fly and where there is room for you at a checkpoint.  On Tuesday, visibility was too poor for anyone to fly.  Today, Wednesday, it was clear to fly, but there was room for me at Nikolai and not at Takotna.  So, here I am!  Just like the mushers, I have to be flexible and change my plans according to the current situation.

It all turned out for the best.  I got to see Jen Seavey come off the river and chat with Trent Herbst, whom I rode with as an Iditarider at the Ceremonial Start.  Trent was taking advantage of the hot water provided by the warm and friendly people of Nikolai and bedding down his dogs for a few hours.  I plan to be in Takotna tomorrow, but I’ll just have to wait and see if that works out.

Enjoy the slide show!

“Spirit of Alaska”

Aaron Burmeister accepting the Spirit of Alaska Award from Danny Seybert.

The PenAir Spirit of Alaska Award is given to the first musher into McGrath. The 2009 winner is Aaron Burmeister! Last night Burmeister’s headlamp could be seen flashing through the trees as he came down the Kuskokwim River. It was a beautiful evening with the snow lightly falling. The children were playing while the adults chatted at the McGrath checkpoint. All of the fans, young and old, had been waiting for hours and began to cheer as soon as Aaron came down the street. It was so exciting!

Burmeister signs an autograph. Presenting the award was CEO of PenAir, Danny Seybert. Burmeister gratefully accepted the award and signed autographs for the children. After having his dogs checked by chief vet Stuart Nelson he moved on to Takotna for his 24-hour layover. It seemed to be the trend for the night. Shortly after Burmeister left McGrath Hugh Neff came off the river followed by Sebastian Schnuelle. They breezed through town on to the next checkpoint with their headlamps glowing. It will be interesting to see who leaves Takotna first. Whoever leaves first will be breaking trail through the new fallen snow for those that follow.


Dog handler coordinator, Sara Lamont. The volunteer aspect of the Iditarod is huge.  People come from all over the world to volunteer for a staggering variety of jobs: veterinarians, pilots, trail guards, dog handlers, media, communications, logistics, cooks, security-the list goes on and on.  It is estimated that each year there are 1,800 to 2,000 volunteers that literally make The Last Great Race happen.  The race just couldn’t be held without those who give their time and talents, with many coming year after year.

And these are no mean talents they bring, either.  As the list above suggests, many of these people make a living doing these very jobs; however, there is no way the race would survive if all of them required payment.  They do it from their hearts, for the satisfaction of seeing something done well, and for the obvious thrill it provides to be a part of the Iditarod community.  And they are as happy, helpful, and capable a group as you could hope to find anywhere.

That Old “Tang” Go!

Making Tang in the McGrath kitchen. Ardi Butler of Maple Valley, Washington is mixing up a time-honored Iditarod tradition in the McGrath kitchen.  Tang!  The orange powdered drink mix was introduced to The Last Great Race by Joe Redington, the founder of the Iditarod.  The makers of Tang were an early sponsor of the race and the tradition has continued for thirty-seven years.  There is hot and cold Tang served at every checkpoint on the trail.

Trail Breakers

Trail Boss - Chuck Melin Is the trail marked, or do mushers and dogs find their own way?  The Iditarod Trail Breakers are some of the most hard-core snowmobilers in the world.  They make a “highway” over 1,000 miles long across Alaska.  This year 15,000 pieces of surveyor stakes with orange paint and reflective tape are used to mark the trail.  Additional ribbons and tripod markers are used in places like the Alaska Mountain Range and the Bering Sea.  The rules require that mushers must stay on the marked race trail.  That is sometimes easier said than done.

Trail markers Even though the Iditarod Trail Breakers also work to keep the trails broken open and packed down, they can’t be everywhere at once.  Storms, wind, and drifts can fill in the trail and make it slow going for the teams.  Often mushers have to rely on the sled marks made by the teams ahead of them to stay on the trail.  Or they must trust completely in their dogs knowing the way when they can’t see the trail.

I had the opportunity to meet the six Iditarod Trail Breakers in McGrath.  The Trail Boss is Chuck Melon and his tough crew of five are J.R. Melon, Jesse Ripley, Daniel Ashcraft, Dustin Ashcraft, and Andrew Runkel.  They started breaking trail two days early due to the snowy weather conditions.  Their goal is to stay at least 24-hours ahead of the mushers at the front of the pack.  They headed out this morning to tackle the most difficult section of trail, Iditarod to Shaktoolik.  The race wouldn’t be the same without the hard work of the Trail Breakers.  Thanks, guys!

Enjoy the slide show!


Landing in McGrath

This is day two of the Iditarod and the lead teams are leaving Rainy Pass.  I have been dropped off further down the trail in one of the major hubs, McGrath, population 300.  It is usually very cold here on the Kuskokwim River, but that is not the case today.  It was 39 degrees by mid-afternoon.  I was peeling off layer after layer of clothing to get comfortable.  McGrath is a favorite 24-hour layover spot for the mushers.  There is boiling water and stores if you need something important like duct tape for your sled repairs.  There is also plenty of room to sleep and plenty of food to share.  The first musher to McGrath wins the “Spirit of Alaska” award.  This award provided by PenAir, is a beautiful framed mask depicting the spirit of the “team” and includes a $500 credit for travel or freight.

1997 Alaska Teacher of the Year, Judy Kuhn.

Since there were no mushers in McGrath today I went to school.  It’s spring break here, but a lot of the teachers were finishing up their end of term reports and readying classrooms for the next unit of study.  I had the opportunity to have a long chat with Judy Kuhn, the 1997 Alaska Teacher of the Year.  She has a class of four kindergarten students, four first grade students, and six-second grade students.  Her classroom was beautifully decorated in an African theme, but she was preparing to move on to her next unit, The Iditarod!   When McGrath Elementary school puts on their Iditarod race every student is involved.  The first graders are mushers on a real sled pulled by an Alaskan husky.  The second graders are the checkers, the third graders are the veterinarians, the fourth graders are the marshals and judges, and the fifth graders run concessions.  This will be going on while the real Iditarod mushers are checking in just a few blocks away!  Could learning be any more pertinent to what is going on in the lives of these students?

Spring Break Fun!

So, what are the McGrath kids doing during spring break?  They are playing and working on service projects.  The picture on the right shows three children playing on a mountain of snow.   I also found a group of students across the street from the checkpoint running the Iditarod Trail Snack Shack.  Their goal is to raise money to build flower boxes for the homes of the elders.  I was so impressed with how polite and articulate they were with why they were selling coffee and sweets.  They are definitely putting compassion into action for their community.  I contributed by buying a chocolate oatmeal cookie.  It was delicious!

Enjoy this slide show!

2009 Iditarod

2009 Iditarod! Hike!  Today was the big day!  Sixty-eight teams parked their dog trucks around Willow Lake waiting their turn to go to the starting line.  Each musher hooked 16 dogs to the gang line, ready to take his or her team down the trail to Nome.

It was a picture perfect day, clear skies, no wind, and the temperature hit a high of 27 degrees.  It was very comfortable for spectators, but a little on the warm side for the canine athletes.  The warmth of the day did not diminish the dog’s excitement to get on the trail.  As soon as the dogs were harnessed and had their booties on they began to jump and sing for the fun to come.   These dogs love to run and pull.

Dee Dee Jonrowe! Thousands of fans lined the fenced starting shoot to watch the race.  Official race time was two p.m., with teams leaving in two-minute intervals.  Each team was individually introduced with the last ten seconds counted aloud – 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1- Go!

Will 2009 be a “three-peat” for Fairbanks’ Lance Mackey as he goes for his third straight victory?  Is this the year for Jeff King or Martin Buser to match Rick Swenson’s record of five Iditarod wins?  Or will this be the magic year for one of the ladies in the race, Dee Dee Jonrowe or Aliy Zirkle?  Of course, you can’t rule out Sebastian Schnuelle and Hugh Neff’s recent first and second place finish in the Yukon Quest.  And then there’s Cim Smyth, who was the 37th musher to select his bib number at the banquet, and he pulled number 37 out of the hat for the 37th Iditarod.  Wow!  The competition is really deep this year.

The race is just beginning!  Come along as I follow the 2009 teams down the Iditarod trail.

Enjoy this slide show!

Finalist Projects: Target® 2010 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ (March 2009)

Nikki, Herb, and Linda participated in the competition for the Target® 2010 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail.  View “The Challenge” projects.

The competition is on.  Not just for mushers, but for teachers, too.  On Monday, the Finalists for Target Iditarod Teacher on the Trail began their day with personal interviews.  Following their interview, they participated in a “Challenge Project”.

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Click here to view their lesson plans!

The Amazing Race!….. Teacher on the Trail Style!

By Nikki Allen 2010 Target Teacher on the Trail Finalist

                   This year’s Iditarod Teacher on the Trail challenge project was truly an amazing race! We traveled to Wasilla, Alaska and made four stops along the journey. The first was an amazing photo opportunity of Pioneer Peak where we stopped on the drive from Anchorage to Wasilla to capture the beauty of Alaska.  Alaska during the winter is absolutely breathtaking! From the snow capped mountains to the frozen lakes and rivers, to the snow covered trees throughout the forest, Alaska really is a winter wonderland.

                                      Our next stop took us to Target, the official sponsor of the Teacher on the TrailTM program. We had 30 minutes to go in and gather any information that we might want to use for our project. Target is an amazing company who really reaches out to the community and puts a high priority on supporting educational programs. Target guest services attendant Mandy Douberly say that the thing that she loves most about working for Target is “the community service that they are involved in. All of the Target employees get involved in volunteering with these programs. Recently many of the employees have worked with the boys and girls club to provide opportunities for students.” She said that just yesterday they had a number of young students in Target for a celebration of the birthday of Dr. Seuss. They  read with the students and really encouraged them to get excited about reading. Target also sponsors the Target field trip grants for teachers where teachers can apply for money to take their students outside of the school walls to embark on real life learning experiences. For any credit card or check card issued to a customer, Target also allows that customer to select a school of their choosing and ten cents of every dollar spent goes directly to the particular school. The Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM program is definitely lucky to have such an amazing company as their sponsor. They really value education within their community.

                                      Stop number two was in down town Wasilla where I was able to check out all of the old buildings that began the town.  There was the blacksmith shop, Shorty Gustafson’s Barn, Wasilla’s first school built in 1917, the Capitol site cabin, the Herning-Teeland-Mead house, and Wasilla’s first public sauna bath. I was also able to meet Marty Raney, an adventurous Wasilla resident. Marty is a contractor who has lived in Alaska for 35 years. And talk about adventurous….Marty has climbed Mt. McKinley 10 times and is the only person who has ever taken a guitar to the top of the mountain! Speaking of guitar, I found out that Marty is quite an amazing guitar player who not only plays, but writes songs too. He very generously gave me one of his CD’s entitled “Strummit from the Summit.” Very appropriately named in my opinion!  Marty was also the guide who led the PBS filmmaking crew for the breast cancer awareness video “Against All Odds.”  Just yesterday he climbed to the top of Marmot Mountain and went skiing off of the top! I feel very lucky to have met Marty because I truly believe his adventurous spirit is the true spirit of Alaska!

                   The last stop of our amazing race took us to Crevasse Moraine Trailhead where we were able to spend 30 minutes enjoying the winter wonderland that is Alaska. Strolling through the snow covered trees with mountains blanketing the background was a very peaceful moment and really reminded me of the greatness of Alaska and our amazing country. We truly are luck to live in this land that we call America. I am thankful to have had this awe inspiring and truly fun experience known as the challenge project, or in my book….The Amazing Race (Teacher on the TrailTM style!)

Challenge Project

Herb Brambley

Interesting, enlightening, insightful, friendly, and inspiring are all words that I would use to describe our afternoon challenge project adventure.  The trip from Anchorage to Wasilla was breathtakingly beautiful.  The snow capped peaks, reaching towards the sky.  The green conifers cradling the snow with branches that resembled outstretched arms.  The ice covered river with a small ribbon unfrozen water that appeared and disappeared as it snaked through the valley toward the waiting ocean.  All of these sights are indelibly etched into my mind.

As we approached Wasilla, the task at hand began to force its way into my stream of consciousness. Here I was in Alaska as one of the three finalists for the 2010 Target Teacher on the Trail.  As I forced myself to refocus, our chauffer pulled into a Target parking lot.  This was our first stop on our Challenge Project.  She announced that we had 30 minutes to accomplish our task.  Unfortunately for us, our directions were not as specific as we had hoped for. Our job, experience Wasilla.  See what you can find out.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA Into the store we charged.  On my way to the store I decided to talk to as many people as I could in order to answer two questions.  What is your opinion about the Iditarod Sled Dog Race, and how long have you leaved in the area?  I was pleasantly surprised to find that people were very willing and helpful to answer questions for my interview.  Each of the three people I talked to was very supportive of the race.  One of the clerks actually said that they were going to make it a day out with the family.  Wow, a day at the races!!!  Wouldn’t Mario be proud?  It was also interesting to find that 2 of the people had left the area and then moved back.  One had actually left and lived in a warmer climate for twenty years!  I glance at my watch and I see I have 5 minutes left.  Just enough time for a picture with the famous Spot, and off I go.

Our next stop was in a parking lot close to the Wasilla Public Library and the Dorothy Page Museum. As I talk to the librarian I discover that she was raised in my hometown of Everett, Pennsylvania.  Her sister went to school with my cousin.  Imagine that! I went 4207 miles just to meet my neighbor.  I also talked to a man that set up ham radio equipment for the Iditarod 30 years ago. I struck it rich in Wasilla!  I found a gold mine of information. Meeting these people at the library just made me think, “How many times do we pass people on the street with common interests, common family, or common acquaintances?”  If only we would take the time to stop and talk a little.  The pace of life is so fast.  We should slow down and enjoy the company of each other.

I rush out of the library and over to the Dorothy Page Museum.  I found it to be an absolutely interesting place.  There were many old photographs and stories of early Wasilla, pictures of Wasilla before the railroad.  The railroad changed the history of the entire state of Alaska by shifting the center of population from the Southern panhandle to the South central region. As I get back to the car I see everyone is set to leave. I jump in, close the door, and off to the next mystery stop we go.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA We drive away from town and end up on a road that is completely snow covered.  “Where is our driver taking us?” I think to myself. We end up at the Crevasse Moraine Trail area. If you love the out-of-doors, hiking, and nature you need to go here.  It has a wonderful trail system for hiking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, sledding, or just plain communing with nature.  We hiked back in as far as we could go with our allotted time and stopped to enjoy a few moments of quiet.  Now, this is my kind of stop.  Away from it all!!!  We weren’t able to interview anyone here, but what a perfect way to end a hectic day.  Don’t we all need to have that favorite place where we can go to rejuvenate, reenergize, and prepare ourselves for the next round.  This was one of the reasons the Wilderness Act was created, to preserve a place were man can go to maintain his sanity when need be.  No wonder people in Alaska seem so happy.  There’s plenty of open space to get away from it all.  Maybe we need to think about open space more when we decide to allow another housing development. Maybe limit the number of houses in an area or put more space between them, sustainable housing.  I have to put my plug in for nature.

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA What a fantastic day! This was a day that is going to be hard to top, but I’m sure the Iditarod Education Department will surely try.  They have a way of delivering when you least expect it.  I can’t wait for tomorrow.

The Tale of Two Cities Meets the Raven

By Linda Kal Sander, Finalist 2010 Targe Teacher on the Trail

It was the best of times.  It was the best of times.  Okay, I am taking a little artistic license with the opening lines of the Dickens’ classic, A Tale of Two Cities when describing the town of Wasilla, Alaska.  Yes, this past year Wasilla received much notoriety and fame as the hometown of a major political figure, but to those that live in the Alaska’s 5th largest city it is the home of the Iditarod.

Speed Star 1.1600329  00Wasilla is a town of contrasts.  This was my observation on today’s challenge.  On the drive from Anchorage to Wasilla one can’t help but be awestruck at the majestic power of the snow covered mountains caressing the azure sky.  One of the most impressive of the peaks is Pioneer Peak, rising 6400 feet above the Knik River in the Chugach Mountains outside Palmer.  The contrast comes quickly as you enter the town of Wasilla.  Right off the highway are the shopping centers one would find anywhere in the continental United States.  The Cottonwood Creek Center is home to the local Target, our sponsor store.  At first I couldn’t believe that we were dropped off at the Target as part of our challenge, but I was greatly relieved.  Turns out that I was greatly in need of a new digital camera, as mine met its demise earlier in the morning.  We were left to discover this shopping center in only half an hour.

Speed Star 1.1503357  00One might expect that this Target store would be the same as any other Target in the lower 48.  In that regard it didn’t disappoint. Like all Targets, it supports its local schools and often hosts events for children.  One event in particular really made my ears perk up.  This particular store celebrates Dr. Seuss’ birthday with their employees dressing up as his characters and reading the many wonderful Seuss stories we have all come to know and love.  (What is your favorite?)  The one thing that struck me as most unusual upon entering the store was the entire section of bikinis.  Mind you the temperature outside is a balmy 17¡, yet here were the teeny-weeny yellow polka dot bikini dreams of a warmer clime.

Speed Star 1.1457408  00Speed Star 1.1494341  00New quickly gave way to the old.  The next stop on our challenge was in the historic district of Wasilla.  This is the location of the old Wasilla Town Site and the Dorothy Page Museum.  Dorothy Page is the mother of the Iditarod, former mayor (famous town for mayors!), and former president of the Knik Historical Society.  Like many towns in the US, the railroad played an important part in this town’s start.  When the railroad was built in 1917, many residents of Knik moved to Wasilla.  It was here that gold from Nome came off the Historic Iditarod Trail and was then transported via train to Anchorage and eventually off to Seward.  Sledding became obsolete with the arrival of the train, car, plane, and snow machine.  Dorothy Page felt this important part of Alaskan history would soon be lost and wanted to preserve it.  She founded the Iditarod Dog Sled Race along with Joe Redington and the Dorothy Page Museum and Historic Town Site. Across the street from the museum, stands the Herning-Teeland-Mead building, one of the first buildings constructed in Wasilla (1918).  It still stands today, and is a popular meeting spot for both locals and tourists.

A short drive out of the Wasilla heading towards Palmer is the beautiful nature trail of the Crevasse Moraine Trailhead.  Alone on the trail, one is left to listen to the sounds of nature.  Thick, powdery snow covers the leafless trees and evergreens.  Although the winter cold might make you think that life in the forest is in the throes of deep hibernation, a simple pause on your walk yields a symphony of sound.  At first I thought I was hearing croaking frogs, then the sound of a distinct caw.  I let my eyes drift through the trees, and spotted an ebony raven.  As I headed back to the parking lot to meet up with our host Sara Lamont, I was met by an Akita mix and a Golden Retriever.  They were in a playful mood and insisted that I say hello!  A quick scratch of the ears and they were off to find their person.  I met Ray.  He officially introduced me to Lunta and Tucker. He is fascinated by the stately ravens and often walks his dogs on this trail to observe them.

“Ravens have the largest range of voices of any bird.  Right now they are pairing up because their babies have to be in feather by May,” he informed.

Wasilla may be a town of contrasts, but it left a lasting impression.  A modern city, surrounded by the mighty splendor of magical mountains and forest, yet still deeply rooted in its rich history.

It was the best of times.  It was the best of times.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,

By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.


from “The Raven”

by Edgar Allen Poe

Dog Names

The view from the sled going through Campbell Creek Recreation Area.

Bonfire and Hoover, Trent Herbst’s lead dogs, are ready to hit the trail!  Aren’t those great names?  Have you ever wondered how these dogs get such wonderful and unique names?  Generally, each litter of puppies born in a kennel is tagged under a common theme.  For instance, Hoover was probably from a litter named for presidents (or vacuum cleaners!).  Another, Dent, was named with a car theme in mind.  Here is the rest of Trent’s team: Val, Chocolate, Sprout, Cupid, Eros, Alaska, Juneau, Lumber, Timber, Claire, Ayn, Prancer, Laney, and Cauliflower.  Can you guess the theme or category from which these were selected?  Can you find the actor/actress names?  And does Cupid go with Eros or with Prancer?  So there it is: just another little detail that makes sled dog racing such a fascinating sport.

Ceremonial Start of Iditarod XXXVII

Last night Anchorage readied itself for the IDITAROD!  Banners were hung from 4th Avenue and trucks hauled in more snow to make sure the trail had a base of 12 inches for the Ceremonial Start.  Race officials estimate that 10,000 spectators lined the streets cheering for the sixty-seven mushers and their Iditariders.

Bullseye and Cathy The Ceremonial Start has the feel of a festival; a celebration of The Last Great Race on Earth.  Today mushers were happy to mix with the fans, pose for photographs, and give autographs.  Tomorrow will be a different story.  The competition begins at the restart in Willow and mushers will be in race mode.  But today, at the Ceremonial Start, it’s all about having fun.  Mushers only harness 12 dogs to travel the eleven-mile course that goes from Anchorage, through Campbell Creek Recreation Area, ending at Campbell airstrip.  The pace is “casual” because the musher has a passenger in the basket of the sled-an Iditarider.

Trent, Target, and Cathy at the Ceremonia Start. As the 2009 TargetTM Teacher on the Trail I had the privilege of being an Iditarider.  My terrific sponsor TargetTM chose (and paid) for Trent Herbst to be my musher.  Trent is from Ketchum, Idaho and has a mighty passion for sled dogs and the Iditarod.  He uses the Iditarod theme throughout his curriculum as a fourth grade teacher, and he trains and runs the puppy team of Ed and Tasha Stielstra’s Nature’s Kennel.  This teacher/musher blends these two pieces of his life in remarkable ways.  Trent had his students design and build his sled as part of his curriculum.  Students researched sleds, built models to scale, and calculated the dimensions to make Trent’s sled.  And they built it out of broken hockey sticks!  My ride was nothing short of thrilling-Trent even let me ride the last mile standing on the runner!-and I am so inspired by Trent’s creativity in the classroom.  Thank you, Trent and TargetTM!

Enjoy the slide show!

Conference Wrap Up

Sheryl Cater and Gary Paulsen  The 2009 Iditarod Winter Conference for Teachers closed with a bang today.  Let me give you a quick snapshot of our day.  2006 Teacher on the Trail Terrie Hanke opened the morning session by sharing her “adventure of a lifetime.”  Newberry winner, Gary Paulsen had the audience in the palm of his hand as he told stories of his life and how it lead him to running dogs. Author and Iditarod musher, Lisa Fredericks and Aliy Zirkle, nine year Iditarod veteran and Yukon Quest Champion, both shared tales from the trail.  The final speaker of the conference was head Iditarod veterinarian, Stuart Nelson. His presentation focused on the true athletes of the race, the dogs, and how they prepare for the Iditarod and are cared for on the trail.

The teachers were sad in one sense that the conference was drawing to a close, but they knew that the best was yet to come.  It is finally race weekend!  The Iditarod Ceremonial Start is on Saturday in downtown Anchorage and the Iditarod Re-start is on Sunday in Willow.

Enjoy the slide show!

Musher Meeting and Banquet

Melissa Owens and Nancy Yoshida

Thursday was a busy day for the 67 mushers participating in Iditarod XXXVII.  They spent the morning at the Mushers Meeting receiving information on race procedures and trail conditions.  Reports confirm that there is a lot more snow in the interior of Alaska than in recent years.  Just last night some areas received as much as two and a half feet of new snow.  Snow machine drivers are working long hours to have the trail prepared by race time.  And this year, when it is time for the Last Great Race, fans can have a front row seat of the race via the internet because every musher will be carrying a GPS tracking device.

Hugh Neff On Thursday evening mushers attended the Wells Fargo Mushers Drawing Banquet held in the new Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in downtown Anchorage.  The festivities began with entertainment by “Hobo” Jim, followed by the invocation given by Native Alaskan musher Mike Owens.  Dinner was served, introductions of special guests and principal partners made, and mushers signed what I am sure felt like a million autographs.  Then it was time for the big event: the drawing of bib numbers.  Mushers came on stage, one at a time, and pulled a number out of a hat to find out their starting position.  Every musher has a preferred start time.  Some want to leave later in the day because they like to run their dogs in the evening when the temperature is cooler.  Others want to quickly establish their run-rest schedule.  Some mushers want to leave at the end of the pack; some prefer the middle, while others hope for their “lucky” number.  This is a competitive group of mushers with 25 of last year’s top 30 returning from the 2008 race.  Each and every one of them has a race plan and it is effected by the number they draw for the start.  You can find the musher you or your class is following at

Enjoy the slide show!  (It takes a few minutes to load.   Show will advance automatically.)

Homeschooling in Alaska

Cathy presents Iditarod lessons to homeschool friends. After visiting the Van Zyle’s, the three 2010 finalists and I drove back into Anchorage so that I could give a presentation to a homeschool group.  This audience would include moms, dads, grandmothers, baby brothers and sisters representing 20 families.  These families are connected by the Interior Distance Education of Alaska and its positive and energetic field representative, Sally Javier.

Interior Distance Education of Alaska (IDEA) is the homeschool support program of the Galena City School District.  It has served the needs of students throughout Alaska since 1997.  IDEA works in partnership with homeschooling parents, providing resources and support to parents who individualize education for each of their children.  Every aspect of IDEA was developed around a homeschooler’s needs.  The finalists and I were awed by the many wonderful resources available in this facility.  We were equally impressed with how attentive and respectful all the children were for an evening gathering.  Needless to say, we had a lot of fun during the presentation and chatting with parents about schooling afterwards.

Iditarod map for IDEA Iditaread project. This encounter is yet another confirmation of how easy it is to incorporate an Iditarod unit into your curriculum whether you are teaching at home, in public school, or an independent school.  The Iditarod allows any educator to connect the race with themes surrounding a real-time event and then generalize those themes into all subject areas.  It is great to be a part of an academic success story that not only inspires students to learn, but motivates them to pursue skills necessary to move on down the trail.   The Iditarod is a serious thematic tool helping students reach their goals and dreams no matter where they live or go to school.

Jon and Jona Van Zyle

Jon and Jona Van Zyle

One of my favorite events of the winter educator’s conference is the field trip to Jon and Jona Van Zyle’s. They have that gift of hospitality that makes you feel like you are right at home.

When conference participants first arrive, Jona takes them to the dog yard where she has 16 beautiful and obedient Siberian huskies.  Everyone loves on the dogs and poses with them for photographs.  When we have had our fill of doggy time, we head inside to their beautiful home and studio.  Jon is an artist and illustrator and has been creating the Iditarod poster since 1978.  Folks browse through the prints and the books Jon has illustrated, making careful selections.  There is much rich conversation about the early days of mushing and the Iditarod while sampling the fine assortment of finger foods set out for us.  Jona shares her great knowledge of the sport acquired during her tenure as museum coordinator of the Leonard Seppalla exhibit in Ohio.  We all come away enriched and thankful for this special time with very special people.

North Carolina Girls!

Picture 1 of 4

The Junior Iditarod Finish

The Junior Iditarod is a 150-mile race for mushers ages 14 to 17.  The trail stretches from Knik over the first 85 miles of the main Iditarod Trail to Yentna Station, where competitors are required to take a 10-hour layover, before returning to Willow the next day.

Junior Iditarod Start This year Cain Carter, stepson of two-time defending Iditarod champion Lance Mackey, won the XXXII running of the Junior Iditarod.  He finished with a comfortable lead; there was no other musher in sight as he crossed the finish line.  That was a big change from last year when Carter lost to Jessica Klejka of Bethel by two seconds in a mad dash to the finish.

The Junior Iditarod, however competitive it may be, is much more than just a race.  The clock ticks, and a finish line awaits, but it is the test of being alone, and caring for the every need of your dog team that demands full attention, skill, and discipline.  Ten hours of mandatory rest may sound like a lot of time, but not when you consider how long it takes for mushers to cook food for their dogs teams, set up beds of straw, and get ready for the return trip.  If you add in the camaraderie with other mushers, and the time it takes to build the legendary Junior Iditarod bonfire, you realize that competitors don’t sleep long.

While Carter was enjoying a hamburger in the Willow Community Center after the race someone asked how he was feeling.  His response was, “I’m a little tired, but it was worth it.”  Carter won the race, the $5,500 first place scholarship award and three round-trip plane tickets to Nome for the Iditarod Awards Banquet.  But you get the idea he would have worked just as hard to win if there was no prize money at all.

Congratulations to all of the Junior Iditarod mushers, their families, and their teams.  And best wishes to the 17 year old mushers who have graduated from the Junior Iditarod.  Please check for complete race results.

Yentna Station Roadhouse

Snow machine riders take a break on the Yentna River The 2009 Junior Iditarod began this morning in a virtual winter wonderland.  The 21 participants left in two-minute intervals with the snow falling in big fluffy flakes, creating a kind of musher snow globe.  The fast trails of last night were made a bit slower by the new fallen snow; in fact, the snow was falling so heavily that the Iditarod Air Force could not fly the volunteers and race officials out to the checkpoint.  That meant, TargetTM Teacher on the Trail Cathy couldn’t fly out either.  So, what were we to do?!  The problem solving answer: snow machines (snow mobiles for those in the lower 48…).  So this year, this southern Teacher on the Trail went to the Yentna checkpoint via snow machine!  Not only did I get to ride on a snow machine for the very first time in my life, but I also drove the machine for 40 minutes on the Yentna River.  It was so exciting!  The trip was absolutely beautiful and so much fun.  For the second time this week we had a clear view of Denali.

Do you know this famous author?

Robert Blake at the Junior Iditarod Half-Way Point That’s right!  Robert Blake, author of the books Akiak and Togo, was at the Yentna checkpoint.  Mr. Blake lives in Nashville, Tennessee but was visiting this remote roadhouse on the Yentna River drawing and doing research for his next book.  I can’t tell you what the book is about because the author tells me it is going to be a “surprise.”  We will all have to wait knowing that it will be a must read for our classrooms!

As the junior mushers arrived at Yentna each one signed off on their time with the race official, had their sled checked by the race marshal for their required gear, and were guided to a resting spot.  Each musher received six bottles of heet, straw for their dogs, and a bottle of juice.  By 11 p.m. all the mushers were in and the race officials went inside the station for a warm and delicious meal.

Dan and Jean Gabryszak own and operate the roadhouse year round.  In the winter there are lots of snow machines that come off the river for gas and refreshment and in the summer it’s a fisherman’s paradise.  This evening Dan entertained us by singing and playing guitar while Jean dished out mounds of food.  Soon we were all full, warm, and ready for bed.  Everyone had to be up early as the first musher was scheduled to depart shortly before 6 a.m.

Leaving Yentna We were fortunate that the weather wasn’t too cold.  Highs had been in the mid-20’s and the low was -10 with little to no wind; in the morning the mushers and dogs woke up to clear blue skies.  And the trip to the finish line would be faster than getting to the halfway point at Yentna.  When the last musher headed for Willow that morning, some of the officials headed back on their snow machines and the rest of us flew back in a bush plane.  The trip by plane only took about 15 minutes compared to the 2-hour snow machine ride.  It was wonderful to see from the air where we had traveled the day before-on lakes and rivers, and through the woods.  We made it back in plenty of time to see the finish.  Stay tuned for race results!

Junior Iditarod: “The Trails Are Gorgeous and Fast”

Shameka Nelson at the Junior Iditarod vet check. Last night, all twenty-one entrants of the Junior Iditarod attended a required mushers’ meeting at Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla, Alaska.  During the meeting questions were answered about the trail and starting positions were drawn from a hat.  Racing bibs and maps of the route were handed out as well.  Earlier in the day, veterinarians had carefully examined every dog.  Current immunization records were reviewed before the official health certificates were signed.  Everything is set for the race.

Musher drew their starting number from the There is a new and intriguing aspect this year.  Every musher will have a GPS electronic tracker attached to his or her sled provided by ION EARTH.  This 20-ounce satellite unit will show the musher’s movement (or lack thereof), their sled speed, and the outside temperature.  The whole world will have the opportunity to watch the progress of each Junior Iditarod musher and the terrain they will be covering by following their progress along a special map.  You can enjoy this addition of 21st century technology to our ancient sport by going to 

Getting Ready To Race

The start date of Iditarod XXXVII is quickly approaching. Race organizers are attending to the last minute details of the Last Great Race.  The food bags have been sorted and distributed along the trail.  Mushers have their dogs in the “taper” phase of training.  Just like human distance runners they prepare for racing by putting in lots of mileage early in the season and then when it gets close to race time they significantly decrease mileage, saving energy for the big race.

The same is true of us in the Iditarod Education Department.  The TargetTM 2010 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail finalists are preparing for their 10-day, 24/7 interviews in Anchorage.  Diane Johnson, Iditarod Education Director, is putting the final touches on the Winter Conference with all of its fine speakers and fun field trips.  I have had a wonderfully busy time visiting schools in the Wasilla area, where I have been sharing Iditarod songs and stories with the children.

And now it is time for me to put on my real winter gear and cover my first race.  I have the distinct honor of covering the Junior Iditarod.  The Junior is a 150-mile race for mushers 14 to 17.  The trail stretches over the first 85 miles of the main Iditarod Trail to Yentna Station, where competitors are required to take a 10-hour layover, before returning home the next day.  The race is designed to teach young mushers how to travel long distances with their dog teams-a stepping-stone to the real Iditarod.  Follow these young mushers with me right here as we see how this year’s race unfolds.  Start time is 10 a.m., Saturday, February 28.

A Day With The Kids

Kindergarten class from Larson Elementary School This was my second day to meet with “kids” in their schools in the Wasilla area.  It has been such a delight for me to be back in the classroom.  Due to my cancer surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation, I have been out of my class since the end of October.  To tell you the truth, I was a little nervous going into my first presentation; five months is a long time to be out of school.  Could I create that teacher magic moment where you feel like you have the kids eating right out of the palm of your hand?

Today I visited Sherrod Elementary School in Palmer.  We managed to pack over 100 fourth graders into Mrs. Russell’s classroom.  The space was a little tight, but we had a terrific time.  We sang most of my Idita-tunes and talked about mushers who showed good character.  I shared information about North Carolina, TargetTM, and the Teacher on the Trail program.  The teachers were also great; they even acted out the Five Little Huskies poem.  The students really liked watching their teachers perform.  I gave Mrs. Russell a copy of my CD, and she gave me copies of two songs related to her curriculum.  I really enjoyed my time with the fourth grade teachers and their “kids” at Sherrod Elementary, and I do believe we had some magic moments.

Later in the day, Terrie Hanke and I paid a visit to the Spring Promise Pygmies Farm owned by Deb and Jerry Frost.  Here we visited with the four-legged “kids.” Just the night before, Deb and Jerry had picked up their newest baby goat at the airport.  “Yarn” had a sixteen-hour flight from California but looked to be settling in quite nicely.  Yarn is a special pygmy goat; she is a mix of a pygmy and an angora and is called a pagora.  Deb gave us a real education in goats, breeding, and the fibers they produce.  Deb loves to card and spin the wool of these goats into beautiful yarns, which she uses to knit into lovely creations.  She also let us spend time petting and feeding her “kids.” Here’s where I could truly say I had the ‘kids” eating right out of the palm of my hand!

Flight Connections

I couldn’t have had a more perfect flight to Alaska.  The sky was bright blue all day, and l had the nicest people sitting next to me on both legs of my flight.  And, I SAW DENALI!  For the first time in five visits to Alaska, Mt. McKinley was not hiding behind the clouds.  She was beautiful.

During the long flight from Minneapolis to Anchorage, I had plenty of time to chat with the fellow sitting next to me.  I think it is so interesting that, if you talk long enough to a complete stranger, you will eventually make a connection.  As our conversation unfolded I found out that Duane Hanson, my fellow traveler, is the pastor of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Wasilla.  That was our first connection-I was headed for Wasilla.  Duane had wonderful stories of his early years as a pastor on the Seward Penninsula of Alaska in Shishmaref and Nome.  In Nome he lived next door to legend musher Herbie Nayopuk and would run his second team of dogs.  There’s the second connection-dog sledding.  At the end of the flight Duane invited me to attend the soup and sandwich dinner and Ash Wednesday service at his church.  I said I would like that and and I meant it.

Terrie and Duane As we were getting off the plane, I connected with my friend Terrie Hanke, the 2006 Teacher on the Trail.  I introduced her to Duane and told her about the invitation.  We started to walk away when Terrie said, “Wait a minute, I know this guy.”  We returned to Duane and indeed they did know each other.  Duane and Terrie had golfed on the same course in Dallas, Wisconsin and Terrie had actually given Duane’s wife golf lessons.  There it is!-the third connection.  It is a small world.

Terrie and I both attended the dinner and service; the dinner and fellowship were terrific.  So now I’m looking forward to more connections as I begin the Alaska piece of my TargetTM Teacher on the Trail journey.  I am reminded that it is not only wonderful to have others along with you on your journeys, but to see who will cross your path, and how they will contribute to your life and you to theirs.   It is, I believe, part of why we are called to do these sorts of things.

I’m On My Way!

One last entry before I head to Alaska.  Yes, it really is happening!  Last Friday I had my 50,000-mile checkup with Dr. Condra, my radiologist.  She put me through every test imaginable and, all things considered, I am fit enough to go.  You notice I didn’t say I was 100%, but each and every day I am getting better and better. 

Thank you, thank you for all your prayers and thoughtfulness.  I am as ready as I could have dared to dream four months ago.  My being able to go to Alaska is the result of much love, support, and kindness from dozens and dozens of friends, family, colleagues, parents, and even total strangers.  Thank you so much and God bless you all.  I’m on my way…

This is my prayer for this adventure of a lifetime.  A friend whose husband worked for many years as a New York City Firefighter sent this to me today.

            “Lord, take me where you want me to go; Let me meet who you want me to meet;

               Tell me what you want me to say, and Keep me out of Your way.”

Written by Fr. Mychal F. Judge, chaplain, FDNY

May 1933 – September 11, 2001 

Teacher on the Trail Sleeping Bag

Target 2009 Teacher on the Trail PatchMy bags are packed and I only have a few little odds and ends to take care of.  Last night I sewed my patch on the Teacher on the Trail sleeping bag.  Every teacher who has been selected for this position has a patch on the bag; along with mine, there are now a total of eleven.  The bag started its journey in Indiana (1999), then on to South Dakota (2000), Colorado (2001) to Missouri (2002), and then Oregon (2003).  The next year bag was in Minnesota (2004), then on to Massachusetts (2005), Wisconsin (2006), Florida (2007), Arizona (2008), and now to me in North Carolina (2009).  This sleeping bag has really moved around these United States! 

Here are two sleeping bag activities for your students.  1) Use the Internet and find out how many men and women have been Teacher on the Trail.  2) Using a map of the continental United States, color the states blue that have had a male TOTT.  Color the states pink who had a female TOTT.  3) Number the eleven states showing the sleeping bags journey, i.e. (1) Indiana.  4) Draw lines from the first state to the second, etc., until all eleven states have been connected.

Teacher on the Trail Sleeping BagNow the TOTT sleeping bag has been to these eleven states but its real duty is out on the Iditarod Trail during the Last Great Race on Earth. Wherever the teacher goes, so goes the sleeping bag.  At each checkpoint on the trail the teacher pulls it out of his/her duffel and looks for a place to sleep.  I’ll post pictures of the 2009 journey of the sleeping bag out on the trail.  I hope we find warm and cozy places to sleep!

Appreciating the Art of Storytelling

Storytellers have delighted their listeners with animal tales throughout the ages.  Across the world these stories have entertained and instructed in a gentle, humorous way about the strengths and weaknesses of humankind.  The heroes and rogues of this earliest and most widespread form of the folktale were often mischief-makers known as tricksters.  The tricksters have special appeal because of their ability to triumph over larger foes not by physical strength, but by their wit and cunning. 

For many years I have shared the stories of Rabbit, the trickster-hero from the Cherokee oral tradition.  The children and the storyteller sit in a circle around the “campfire” waiting for the “fire” (a candle on top of stacked blocks) to be lit.  The storyteller asks the children, “Would you like to hear a story?” and in unison they respond, “Yes, we would like to hear a story.”  The fire is lit and the storytelling begins.  It is important to note here that this is storytelling, and not reading.  The technique of storytelling is so much more interactive and engaging than merely reading, and these tales are uniquely suited to the storytelling method.

Raven..A Trickster Tale From The Pacific NorthwestThere are many wonderful Native Alaskan stories where the trickster Raven is the central character.  A good one to tell around the campfire is Raven…A Trickster Tale From The Pacific Northwest by Gerald McDermott.  This is the wonderful story of how clever Raven brings light to a dark world.  This is a Caldecott Honor Book so it should be readily available in your local bookstore or library.  So read the book, put it to memory, and then tell this story around your own campfire.

Legends: Raven…A Trickster Tale From The Pacific Northwest

Lesson Plan Summary:  This plan gives direction in sharing the story of Raven, the trickster-hero from the Native Alaskan oral tradition.

Download Lesson Plan: Legends: Raven…A Trickster Tale From The Pacific Northwest

More Than A Toy

 In my classroom I have a small dog lot.  The dogs are 7″ long and come in shades of gray and black with white markings.  Each one has its own little house.  These miniature Alaskan huskies are gifts to my pre-kindergarten students from their fourth grade buddies.  The dogs are cute and cuddly and serve as an amazing catalyst to bond the buddies.  But after this initial bonding, do they serve any purpose in the classroom other than a toy?

Of course, they do!  These little huskies can help address some of the very real differences in how boys and girls learn.  Brain research tells us that the right side of the male brain is more fully developed causing it to better perform on spatial tasks than the female brain.  However, the left side of the female brain is more developed, making for earlier language and reading development.  Brain research tells us these differences are hard-wired into the brain before birth, but these gender differences do not mean that girls can’t do well in math or that boys can’t do well in reading.  To quote Dr. Leonard Sax:  “There are no differences in what girls and boys can learn, but there are big differences in the best ways to teach them.”  (To more fully understand gender differences and how it impacts learning I encourage teachers and parents to read, Why Gender Matters by Dr. Leonard Sax.  Also, check out this fascinating website where MIT graduate student David Merrill demonstrates a very new kind of block, Siftables, the toy blocks that think,

Puppies and Children in the Block Area.Building with blocks is a math readiness, spatial skill.  In my pre-kindergarten class there is always lots of activity in the block area and, without teacher intervention, that activity is dominated by boys.  All that is needed for the girls to find interest in the blocks and create wonderful structures of amazing size and detail is a little stuffed husky.  Knowing how the girls are wired helps me as the teacher direct learning and develop those spatial skills. 

These “pets” encourage a different type of learning in the boys.  Take William for example.  He is a typical boy on the go until you give him a little husky dog.  This puppy draws out of William the need to interact.  He talks to the dog; his dog talks to other dogs; and his dog talks to other people.  By playing with his husky, William is developing better language and social skills.

As more and more standards-based curricula take brain research into account, the need for this type of instruction becomes obvious. This is another instance of how using the Iditarod as a theme of instruction enhances how we meet the individual needs of our students. 

These darling little dogs can be purchased at the Iditarod Store.  The link is,98.html.  In the summer we throw the pups in the washing machine, and then they are fresh and sanitized for the next year’s class to enjoy.  These huskies are well worth the initial investment.

Matters of the Heart

Valentine’s Day may be over but the sentiments of that special day of love still linger in the air.  Here are two bits of advice to warm the heart I found written on chocolate wrappers: “Do all things with love” and “Love cures people, both the ones who give and the ones who receive.”  Now these sayings may be a little sappy, but parents and teachers everywhere desire that their children be loving, kind, and responsible.  As teachers and parents, we hope and pray that our children make good choices, know the difference between right and wrong, and show others they care.  Children constantly hear from authority figures that they are in charge of their behavior and all of the decisions they make.  But how do we as parents and teachers purposely instruct our children in these matters?  I like to refer to this instruction as “matters of the heart.”

There are loads of complicated programs developed to train children in areas of character or “matters of the heart,” and I am sure many are effective.  But I have found real-life examples from the Iditarod to be particularly effective.  My school’s “Buddy System” uses the Iditarod to build relationships between students; it teaches them, in an interactive format, what it means to be compassionate and responsible.  It is a simple system that profoundly encourages appropriate behavior, and it works!

Buddies!Each fourth grader (big buddy) is paired with a pre-kindergarten child (little buddy).  The pair will remain buddies for the next five years (after which the little buddies become big buddies with little buddies of their own!)  On their first meeting in August the fourth graders give their buddies stuffed husky dogs.  Together they name the dogs, decide their gender, and make collars with dog tags for them.  The buddies have their photograph taken with their dog and the dog’s birth certificate, with all of its vital statistics, is attached to the back.  Each of the buddies receives a copy to take home.  Through this initial interaction deep bonds are already forming.

Canine Fairy with Fourth GradersHowever, prior to the buddies’ first meeting, the pre-kindergarten teachers (dressed up as “Canine Fairies”) deliver the stuffed 7″ huskies to the fourth graders.  The Fairies impress upon them the responsibility that comes with being a role model to younger children and what that behavior looks like.  We even ask them, “Are you ready to take on this responsibility?”  Of course their response is a resounding, “Yes!”  The fourth graders are so excited to be at long last big buddies after years of being the little buddy!  The Fairies then give the dogs to the students to take care of for the weekend.  When they return to school the next Monday, we have the fist buddy meeting with subsequent meetings scheduled every month for the rest of the school year.

pupbox-001.jpgOn their second meeting in September the buddies paint doghouses for the puppies.  In October the buddies meet for such activities as a special pizza picnic prior to attending a school assembly to meet Hugh Neff, the 2004 Rookie of the Year, and his lead dog, Marcellus.  The Iditarod is the perfect theme to build positive relationships.  And then in March when the real Iditarod is going on we have our own Iditarod adventure.  The fourth graders are the huskies and the pre-kindergarten children are the mushers.  They race across Alaska, from Willow to Nome, on plastic sleds over the damp grass. 

PK/4th Grade IditarodLast year we had our school Iditarod covered by our local television station and newspaper.  They recorded the fun, the laughter, the sledding, the hard work, the dogs singing for their supper, and the eating of dog bone cookies prepared by the pre-kindergarten children.  Best of all, the fourth graders were recorded by the media answering the question, “What does it take to be a big buddy?”  The responses touched the hearts of teachers and parents alike when they responded, “I have to be responsible for my buddy.”  “I have to make sure he is safe.”  “I have to set a good example.”   These were not empty words.  The responsibility the fourth graders take for their buddies was evident in their behavior.  They were making good choices based upon the needs of their buddies; moreover, these responses come from the heart.  It is in matters of the heart that we see these young ones begin to realize their place in our community.  To be responsible is to give back.

The relationship mushers have with their teams in the real Iditarod gives children a picture of how to be responsible.  There are always wonderful examples for students to watch on Iditarod Insider.  For example, find out how Paul Gebhart made responsible choices based on the needs of his dogs in last year’s race.  You will find this listed under March 12 Paul Gebhart finishes 8th

At the end of the Carolina Day School Iditarod the pre-k mushers treat their fourth grade huskies to some homemade dog bone cookies.  The dough is easy to work with and the cookies are very tasty!  The recipe for these great canine treats follows this message. 

Cathy’s Canine Treats

Lesson Plan Summary:  This lesson provides a great recipe for making your very own dog bone cookies!

Download Lesson Plan:  Cathy’s Canine Treats

V is for Valentine’s Day and Volcanoes!

This week in my pre-kindergarten class we are studying the letter “V.”  Obviously we would study “V” the week of Valentine’s Day, the week of giving and receiving love.  But I’ll save my love letter for my next post; what I want to talk about is the other exciting thing we study during “V” week-volcanoes!

Students of all ages love stories about volcanoes.  Volcanoes are so powerful, and unpredictable.  These natural wonders give teachers the perfect opportunity to study history and science.  For example, look at all of the history we learn from the city of Pompeii.  This amazing city was perfectly preserved under tons of ash from the volcanic blast of Mount Vesuvius.  The discovery of Pompeii gives us a picture of what life was like in that ancient city.  History literally unburied.  From this history we can ask students why the people of that city didn’t flee and save themselves.  This is where the science comes in.  The people of Pompeii had no warning. 

Mount RedoubtAt this very moment in our history, scientists, seismic experts from the Alaska Volcano Observatory are monitoring one of the nation’s highest-threat volcanoes.  Mount Redoubt, located on the Kenai Peninsula, 106 miles southwest of Anchorage is being watched round-the-clock.  One of the latest activity reports a vapor plume rising above the volcano’s summit crater.  There are holes melting in the upper Drift glacier.  The melting glacier on the side of Mt. Redoubt means that heat from the magma is moving up to higher elevations.  Many folks have written in to ask, “Will Mount Redoubts activity have any effect on Iditarod XXXVII?”  At this point, we don’t know for sure, but probably not.   But unlike Pompeii, today scientists can give us fair warning of any potential eruptions.  The Alaska Volcano Observatory is a wonderful example of how science can help save lives and protect property.

Here is a little scientific history of Mount Redoubt’s last series of eruptions that took place in late 1989 through early 1990.  During that eruption, the second most costly in the history of the U.S., ash clouds disrupted national and international air traffic and mudflows threatened an oil storage facility near Cook Inlet.  But perhaps the scariest event occurred on December 15, 1989.  A Boeing 747 flying 150 miles northeast of Anchorage encountered an ash cloud and lost power in all four engines.  The plane, with 231 passengers on board, dropped more than 9,800 feet before the flight crew was able to restart the engines.  Thankfully they landed safely.

Currently the Mount Redoubt volcano alert is set at orange, the level just below actual eruption.  Just as in 1989, an eruption can interrupt or interfere with air traffic.  But the falling ash from an eruption presents the greatest danger to residents of Alaska, so they have been preparing themselves by purchasing protective goggles and facemasks.  And who knows-maybe we will see mushers wearing facemasks at the start of this Iditarod!

Science Fun!

To add a little fun and pizzazz to our curriculum my fellow PK teachers and I become “scientists” when we present science lessons to our students.  Our “scientist alter-egos” currently on staff are Sally Science, who has a distinctive Southern draw and wears her graduation robe and glasses, Doctor Discovery, who has an Indiana Jones kind of look (complete with backpack) and is from the Outback of Australia, and me, Professor Peabody, who dons a white lab coat, wiggly heart headband (that I claim to be my brain) with my hair piled high on my head, gold metallic shoes, all topped off with a silly falsetto accent.  We all claim to be cousins of the PK teachers who go missing when it is time for science.  The children absolutely love our antics and completely buy into our bravado.  We truly have them in the palms of our hands as soon as we walk into the classroom, and then the science begins!Professor Peabody/Milk Magic

Our lesson on volcanoes is simple and at the same time electrifying for these preschoolers.  First we read the Step-Into-Reading book Pompeii… Buried Alive and then we bring out our teacher-made volcano model (see accompanying lesson plan to make your own).  I place tiny blocks at the base of my Mount Vesuvius volcano to represent Pompeii and then the eruptions begin!  All you need is baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring.

This year we will be able to simply segue from volcanoes to Alaska and the Iditarod.  Mount Redoubt on the Kenai Peninsula, just 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, is ready to erupt (see my February 10th message for more information).  The little scientists in my classroom will be keeping track of this volcano by the information given to us by the real scientists at the Alaska Volcanic Observatory.  Please check the following lesson on volcanoes to make science “explode” in your classroom!

Make a Volcano!

Summary:  Teachers and students can make their own model of a volcano following this simple plan.

Download Lesson Plan:  Make a Volcano!

Volcano Model


Numbers.  The bottom line.  In the recent presidential election the winner was decided by who had the most votes.  The more dogs you have at the end of the race, the higher you are likely to finish.  Last Sunday in the Super Bowl, there were all kinds of numbers given, first downs, completed passes, etc, but the bottom line, the numbers that decide which team won the game, are the ones on the scoreboard, 27-23.  The high score wins.  At this point in my cancer treatment I am playing a numbers game too, and again the high score wins.  The higher my white and red blood cell counts are, the healthier I am.  Currently my counts are so low that I cannot eat fresh fruits or vegetables for fear that some germ may not get washed off and attack my weakened immune system.  I am still fatigued by anemia.  My hope and prayer is that my numbers will steadily increase-which they are doing!-to the point that I am healthy enough to board that plane to Alaska on February 24.  The bottom line is in the numbers.

So with all the ways numbers affect our lives I thought it was time to post a few number lessons.  One lesson is for building up the excitement of The Last Great Race on Earth by counting down the days until Iditarod XXXVII.  The second is a fun lesson on learning to skip count by 5’s using dog bones and tally marks.  And in the third lesson students will sort dog bones by color, demonstrate 1-1 correspondence in counting, and show conceptual understanding of the terms more, less, and equal.  Since my last message, I did post a lesson on phonological awareness using the book, Sled Dogs Run, by Jonathan London with illustrations by Jon Van Zyle.  The teacher’s guide that accompanies the lesson is filled with ideas that can be used for transition times, dismissal, as well as small and whole group instruction.  I hope you can add these lessons to your Iditarod studies.  Happy Trails!

Dog Bone Tally

Summary:  In this lesson students will learn to skip count by fives using tally marks and dog bones.

Download Lesson Plan:  Dog Bone Tally

Download Lesson Plan Supplement:  Tally Sheet

Countdown to the Iditarod!

Summary:  Students will write numbers 1-25 on a linear claendar.  To build excitement for the upcoming Iditarod students will cut one day off their calendar until the race.

Download Lesson Plan:  Countdown to the Iditarod!

The Calendar

Sort and Count Dog Bones

Summary:  Students will sort dog bones by color, demonstrate 1-1 correspondence, and show conceptual understanding of the terms more, less, and equal in this lesson.

Download Lesson Plan:  Sort and Count Dog Bones

Use the book, Sled Dogs Run, to teach phonological skills

Summary:  This lesson teaches phonological awareness skills (word awareness, syllable awareness, rhyming, and sound awareness) using the rich vocabulary found in the book, Sled Dogs Run, by Jonathan London with illustrations by Jon Van Zyle.

Download Lesson Plan:  Sled Dogs Run

Download Lesson Plan Supplement:  Sled Dogs Run Teacher’s Guide

Meet the 2010 Finalists for Target Iditarod Teacher on the Trail

Each January the Iditarod Education Committee seeks to identify three highly qualified educators to via for the position of Target® Iditarod Teacher on the Trail.  Applicants from around the world are invited to submit an application document and portfolio by December 1 of that year.  The committee selects from the application pool, three finalists who come to Alaska prior to the start of the next Iditarod, to continue the selection process, participate in personal interviews, and participate in a variety of activities that are rated and scored by the committee. The result of the week long interview—  the selection of the ‘next’ Target® Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM.Meet the finalists for Target® 2010 Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM:– Nikki, Herb, and Linda.


Teacher on the trail Finalist Nikki Allen, Florida

For middles school students at Fort Braden School, Social Studies is more than a required subject, it is an adventure in learning because Nikki Allen brings the subject matter to life through her creative teaching techniques.

The cover of Nikki’s application document was entitled, “Living the Dream”.  That title is more than a title for a portfolio.  It is symbolic of the true philosophy behind Nikki’s teaching.  Nikki believes the best way to learn is through experiencing first-hand the topics in American History and World Geography.

Nikki attended Florida State University.  She was a cheerleader and track & field athlete. (pole vault)  Nikki enjoys reading, working out, visiting Florida’s beaches, attending Florida State sporting events, and spending time with her pets, her dog, General and cats Curtis and Boo.  Nikki loves to travel and experience other cultures.  She has traveled to Mexico, the Caribbean Islands, Scandinavia, Russia, Estonia, Poland, and Israel.  Nikki attended the Iditarod 2008 Summer Camp for Teachers.

“It has become my goal to be the 2010 Teacher on the TrailTM not only to succeed with a personal challenge, but also to be a representative of the Iditarod Trail Committee in helping teachers use the Iditarod theme to enrich their curriculums and to engage their students in developing the skills necessary for successful learning.” Nikki teaches Social Studies to 7th and 8th grade students at Fort Braden School in Tallahassee. Her area of expertise is Social Studies, an area she teaches with passion, creativity, and dedication. She believes a key to academic success for students is to make the learning real and applicable. Through her teaching strategies, she demonstrates the importance of academic success.

Nikki attended the 2008 Summer Camp for Teachers. Nikki says, “The theme can be effectively incorporated into numerous lesson plans for subjects touched on such as: character education, native heritage, concern for global climate changes, and physical fitness.”


Teacher on the trail Finalist Herb Brambley, Pennsylvania

Before becoming a teacher, Herb experienced several different occupations: a machinist, tool and die maker, welder, farrier, blacksmith, and sawyer.  Herb considers those occupations to be fortunate experiences because he is able to incorporate them into real world situations to use with his students.

Herb teaches environmental education and technology K-6 at the Southern Fulton School District in Warfordsburg, Pennsylvania and has been at that school for 10 years.  He began using the Iditarod with his second grade students and from there, expanded the activities and lessons with other students.  Being a tactile learner himself, wanting to know as much as he could about everything, he recognized that real life experiences an important way to learn, leading him to  building a sled and to attending the 2008 Iditarod Summer Camp.

Herb received his BS in Elementary and Environmental Education from Shippensburg Universtiy in Shippensburg Pennsylvania.  Five years later, he received his MA in Curriculum and Instruction from Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania.

Herb has 3 of his own huskies.  He bikejores with the dogs and enjoys the exchange of energy and exercise between his huskies and himself.

“I am applying for teacher on the trail to further my life-long desire for learning and adventure so that I can share my enthusiasm in a way that will motivate my students to seek their own adventurous learning experiences.” Herb teachers Environmental Education and Technology at the Southern Fulton Elementary K- 6 school in Warfordsburg. He attended the 2008 Summer Camp for Teachers. Prior to being a teacher, Herb had a number of occupations: machinist, tool and dies maker, welder, farrier, blacksmith, and sawyer. “I consider myself very fortunate to have had so many different occupations since I can now take these experiences and incorporate them into real world situations for my students.” Being a tactile learner himself, he recognizes the need to bring real life experiences to students and guides students to learn through experiences.


Teacher on the trail Finalist Linda Kal Sander, Florida

Linda is not just a teacher, but she is a teacher’s teacher.  She is also a mother, a wife, a life-long learner, and a Harley riding adventure seeker.  With twenty years of teaching experience and instructional coaching, she has left the traditional classroom behind and is a school-based reading coach at Pompano Beach Middle School and a Teacher Trainer for Broward County Public Schools, the 6th largest school district in the nation.

As a reading coach, Linda creates weekly critical thinking curriculum and leads the professional development for 75 teachers.  This allows her to reach more than 1,000 students with the Iditarod Theme.

Linda’s experience includes being a nationally recognized presenter of cooperative learning strategies, classroom management practices and techniques, differentiated instruction methods, and standards/benchmark aligned question writing skills.  She has been recognized on an international level through drug awareness curriculum that she wrote for the Vitebsk, Belarus School District where she was a guest teacher, presenter, and coach for 31 days.  She attended the Iditarod 2008 Winter Conference for Educators.

“The Iditarod is a gold rush of spirit. The camaraderie of the mushers, volunteers, and fans is a fire that stays with your forever.”  This is the same spirit that Linda lives each day in her ‘life’ as a teacher’s teacher and facilitator for Broward County Public Schools.   She is ‘like the Iditarod’, a rush of teaching spirit….  It is the ‘camaraderie of the teachers, the entire staff, parents, and students themselves’ that must work together to bring about quality education, an absolute dedication and goal in Linda’s professional and personal life.

Linda believes that there are three things that are yours forever:  education, experience, and faith.  She enjoys skiing in the Rockies, exploring on her ‘97 Harley Davidson Fat Boy, or reading as well as traveling with her family.  “I want to be the 2010 Target Teacher on the Trail to demonstrate how one topic as captivating as the Iditarod can be a tool for both professional development and character education.”


The Iditarod Education Department recognizes that these highly qualified educators, Nikki Allen, Herb Brambley, and Linda Kal Sander represent the best of the best in the world of educators and proudly welcomes them to the Iditarod family of educators.

Nikki, Herb, and Linda, congratulations on your hard work and on demonstrating your dedication to education, students, parents, and your community.  We celebrate your success and wish you the best!

Compassion in Action!

Way back on July 23, 2008 I posted the first two of my four part, Iditarod themed character education program, using the acronym RACE for the Last Great Race on Earth.  The “R” stands for respect and responsibility, the “A” for attitude, the “C” for compassion, and the “E” for excellence, personal excellence.  We can see all of these traits exhibited in the mushers and their relationships with their dogs and each other.  It is also evident in the many volunteers that help make the Iditarod happen.  

So, after this message you will find the compassion and excellence pieces of this program.  They have accompanying songs and  lists of Iditarod Insider videos showing that particular tenet.  I have had success using this program in a one-week summer camp, highlighting one tenet a day, Monday through Thursday, then reviewing by making the RACE necklace (July 23) on the last day.  And it is equally successful using it in the regular classroom in a three or four week study.

Pre-K Students Visiting with Maybelle at Asheville Manor.During the compassion piece of the program, we encourage creating a service project.  For example, the three pre-k classes at my school visit an assisted living community each month of the school year.  The children sing five to seven songs about their recent studies to the residents and then go around and give hugs and handshakes, introducing themselves and wishing the Grandma’s and Grandpa’s greetings of the season, “Happy New Year,”  “Happy Valentine’s Day”, etc.  Every class in our school has their own special project.  The kindergarten works with the Humane Society, the second grade is in charge of the weekly recycling for the entire lower school, and the list goes on.  Compassion has no boundaries.

Most recently I have been blessed beyond measure by the compassion of my school.  My principal, Claudia Sherry, sets high, but loving standards for our lower school in so many ways.  She is quick to assess a need and develop a plan.  Not long after I told her of my cancer diagnosis, Claudia whipped up an action plan that offered families in my school the opportunity to pour out compassion on me (and my family) in a very tangible way.  She sent a letter to lower school families telling them of my diagnosis and that my oncologist was out of my insurance network.  She went on to say that my church would be taking care of any meal needs my family required so if they would like to help with medical costs, the school would be happy to collect donations on my behalf.  To date folks have given an extraordinary $9,000.  Of course, I cry happy tears at every deposit, but the last deposit really released the floodgates.  The father of one of my colleagues-a man I have never met-donated an amazing $3,000!  May we all be encouraged by the selfless compassion of such a heart.

Compassion – Character Education

Summary:  This lesson(s) will focus on the third tenet of the acronym RACE, compassion.  Through song, reading, video, discussion, drama, and a service project students will identify and demonstrate compassion. 

Download Lesson Plan:  Compassion – Character Education

Download Lesson Supplement:  Compassion Song 

Personal Excellence – Character Education

Summary:  This lesson(s) will focus on the fourth tenet of the acronym RACE, excellence.  Through song, reading, video, discussion, and drama students will identify and demonstrate personal excellence.

Download Lesson Plan:  Personal Excellence – Character Education

Download Lesson Supplement:  Personal Excellence Song 

Let’s Sing In the New Year!

One of the many things I miss about being out of the classroom is not being able to sing with the children every day. I love to sing, and I especially love to sing Iditarod songs. Right now I can’t be the one to teach my little friends these songs. So, let me live vicariously through all of you folks out there in internet land. Please sing these songs with your students. I guarantee you will find at least one or two that you will end up using every year. My friend Paula from Arkansas had her students perform Iditarod, Iditarod, A Dog Sled Race and the Iditarod Checkpoint song at her school’s holiday concert. They were the hit of the show!

To make singing in the classroom easier for you, I have recorded seven of my Iditarod tunes on a CD. All you have to do is download the songs, burn them onto a CD, and then you have me to sing along with. Many of the songs I posted on August 12 are on the CD, so go there for a copy of the words. The song I am giving you today is the Iditarod Checkpoint Song. I piggybacked this song to the tune of Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer. Since there are so many checkpoints it really is helpful to have the sound track to learn this song.

This song is an easy lesson to tie-in to your geography studies. Students can follow the race on a wall map hung in the classroom. Maps of the trail can be found at the official website Let’s see how many students can name all of the checkpoints in order by race time!

Click here to listen to Cathy’s tunes and see all of Cathy’s Idita- Tune lessons.

The Iditarod Checkpoint Song

Summary: Here are the lyrics to The Iditarod Checkpoint Song. Write them on a song chart or overhead transparency to help students learn the names of the checkpoints as they sing aong with the music.  (See the link on the left hand menu bar for the music.)

Download Lesson Plan: The Iditarod Checkpoint Song

My Challenge

We all marvel at their toughness. How do the men and women who compete in the Iditarod Sled Dog Race do it? Certainly these are uncommon people, these athletes we admire for their tenacity and spirit; for their love of their dogs; and for their passion for the wild side of Alaska. And we are more than fans; we are incredible addicts, race junkies. We know img_1894.jpg these mushers by name, know where they live, the names of their families, dogs, kennels, and much more. We admire them for the perseverance and discipline they teach us, lessons not easily found in our comfortable and convenient modern world.

Then there are a few mushers we also know for their personal battles with disease. The stories of how they fought for their lives show us how the same traits that make them outstanding people and mushers helped them cope, hope, and persevere while battling cancer. Four Time Iditarod champion Susan Butcher fought a long and valiant fight with leukemia, passing away in August of 2006. She was an amazing woman and admired worldwide. Lance Mackey successfully battled throat cancer and has won the last two Yukon Quests and Iditarod championships. No one else has accomplished this feat. And then there is the lady who is easily identified in a crowd by her pink parka-DeeDee Jonrowe, a breast cancer survivor.

img_2035.jpg I recently looked up DeeDee’s cancer journey on her website. I knew the basic story, but wanted to know the details. DeeDee was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2002. She had surgery and many months of chemotherapy that ended just three weeks before the 2003 race. Amazingly, DeeDee competed in that race, placing 18th. She also won the Most Inspirational Musher Award and was named the honorary chair of the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

DeeDee’s story is particularly inspiring to me because I am facing challenges similar to those she overcame in 2003. I was told I had cancer in late September and had a radical hysterectomy at the end of October; it took the better part of two months to recover. I then began chemo and radiation therapy three weeks ago, with three weeks left to endure. It is not fun, I promise, but neither is it permanent. I should be finished with my treatment schedule by the end of January. Then near the end of February, I am supposed to go dashing off to Alaska for a month to fulfill my duties as 2009 Target Teacher on the Trail.

img_1927.jpg I won’t have to race over a thousand miles on a dog sled. And I won’t be exposed to the brutal Alaska winter for a week and a half unabated. But I’m supposed to be running around doing workshops and presentations for a couple of weeks before the race, and then fly from checkpoint to checkpoint during the race in a little bush plane carrying my backpack and helping out where I can, plus writing updates to send out to classrooms around the globe. My schedule will be full of both real and ceremonial duties, and I will be very busy, and sometimes very tired.

Right now in the midst of nausea and weakness and drowsiness from medications, I can’t imagine it. But I’m going to do it, because so many others have shown me the way. And if DeeDee can race the Iditarod so soon after surgery and chemo therapy, then I can monitor and report on it. I’m going to do it. Teacher on the Trail coordinator Diane Johnson (what an encourager!) and her wonderful team are committed to my going forward with it, and they will be there to help. I’m going to do it.

Target Scores a Bullseye!


The Target corporation scores another “bullseye” as the sponsor of the Target® 2009 Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM program! On December 18 a huge box arrived at my home overflowing with beautiful red and white Target gear. It included apparel for my school presentations, warm outerwear, and the cutest little Bullseye dog riding in a Target shopping cart. My grandson Asher quickly laid claim to Bullseye and Jake once again allowed me to dress him in some Target finery.

Last year I had the pleasure of meeting the real Bullseye at the Ceremonial Start of the Iditarod in Anchorage. (I wonder if he will be there this year?) Thank you, thank you Target for all of your help and support of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race!

In particular, I want to thank you for your support of my year as the Target Teacher on the Trail, and the “Don’tForget the Bag” program.


Teachers Apply for Target 2010 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail

When you think of Iditarod in the classroom, it is easy to imagine the wide variety of projects that students are doing to practice their curriculum skills. Students are using the Internet to research about mushers and follow the race. Math skills are practiced while predicting a team’s speed between checkpoints. Students are reading, writing, and practicing basic skills. But, it isn’t just the students who are completing projects! Some teachers are going beyond using the lessons on our website and writing their own lessons. They are also setting professional goals to become the next Target® Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM.

applications.jpgThis year, ten highly qualified educators have applied for Target® 2010 Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM by submitting a portfolio application that demonstrates their Iditarod thematic units and their goals for being involved in the Target® Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM program.

Why are they applying?

The response from each applicant to our question number one and additional information will help you get to know the teachers who sent in their application with the goal to expand the walls of their classroom and experience the Iditarod Trail first hand and teach globally via Internet as the next Target® Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM.

In one sentence, state your reason for applying for this position.

Nikki Allen, Florida, “It has become my goal to be the 2010 Teacher on the TrailTM not only to succeed with a personal challenge, but also to be a representative of the Iditarod Trail Committee in helping teachers use the Iditarod theme to enrich their curriculums and to engage their students in developing the skills necessary for successful learning.” Nikki teaches Social Studies to 7th and 8th grade students at Fort Braden School in Tallahassee. Her area of expertise is World History and American History. She believes a key to academic success for students is to make the learning real and applicable. Nikki attended the 2008 Summer Camp for Teachers. Nikki says, “The theme can be effectively incorporated into numerous lesson plans for subjects touched on such as: character education, native heritage, concern for global climate changes, and physical fitness.”

Herb Brambley, Pennsylvania, “I am applying for teacher on the trail to further my life-long desire for learning and adventure so that I can share my enthusiasm in a way that will motivate my students to seek their own adventurous learning experiences.” Herb teachers Environmental Education and Technology at the Southern Fulton Elementary K- 6 school in Warfordsburg. He attended the 2008 Summer Camp for Teachers. Prior to being a teacher, Herb had a number of occupations: machinist, tool and dies maker, welder, farrier, blacksmith, and sawyer. “I consider myself very fortunate to have had so many different occupations since I can now take these experiences and incorporate them into real world situations for my students.” Being a tactile learner himself, he recognizes the need to bring real life experiences to students and guides students to learn through experiences.

Julie Burakowski, New York, “I would like to expand my knowledge of the Iditarod sled dog race and Alaska so that I will be better able to share this information with the students in my own school and around NY State.” Julie is a K-4 Gifted and Talented teacher from Country Parkway Elementary School in Willimasville. Julie first integrated the race into her high school English class in a unit designed to focus on the conflict of man verses nature. As she used the theme with elementary students, she noticed that students themselves began to expand their learning outside the classroom and began to find information on their own, which demonstrates the power of an Iditarod unit of study. About teaching, Julie says, “I want every student in my classroom to feel that they have the potential to be successful.”

Amy Dahmus, North Dakota, “I would like to fulfill a personal and professional goal that I have had for many years.” Born and raised in North Dakota, teaching for the past seventeen year in grades 4 – 6, Amy is currently a 5th grade teacher at the Prairie Rose Elementary School in Bismarck. Amy is an explorer and loves the out of doors and nature. She is concerned about the environment and teaching students to be responsible and care for the environment. Amy is always looking to learn something new and adapt it to her classroom and her style of teaching. She is a life- long learner and stresses to her students the importance of being life-long learners. Amy states, “I believe that we need to live each day to the fullest, not with wild abandon but with zest and excitement looking to experience and learn new things.”

Martha Dobson, North Carolina, “I am reapplying for theTarget Teacher on the Trail position because the Iditarod sparks interest and learning as nothing else has done in my classroom and because the challenge the race presents to mushers, dogs, and me is a metaphor for the challenges of life and life opportunities, a strong example of setting goals, determination, and perseverance to run your personal race.” Martha teaches 6th Grade Language Arts at Mount Pleasant Middle School in Mount Pleasant. She attended the 2007 Summer Camp for Teachers. Martha was an Idita-Rider at the start of the 2005 Iditarod. She also attended sessions at the 2005 Winter Iditarod Conference for Educators. Borrowing from Randy Pausch, Martha says, “Iditarod is a great “head fake” because students are so interested in the race they don’t realize they’re learning educational skills.”

Tee Hutton, Tennessee, “It is my hope that my adventurous spirit, love for the outdoors, and never-ending search to discover all I can about the world will lead to my selection as the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail so that I may share all that it entails with not only my junior high science students, colleagues, and stakeholders but also with teachers and pupils across the country in an adventure that will last a lifetime.” Tee is a 7th Grade Science teacher at Adamsville, Jr. / Sr. High School in Adamsville. She attended the 2007 Summer Camp for Teachers and was an Idita-Rider at the start of the 2008 Iditarod. Tee, a native Tennessean has lived her life in West Tennessee. She is an active, outdoor-loving person, who is passionate about photography and enjoys outdoor sports such as golf, softball, and football. “I have aspirations of obtaining my Doctorate of Education.”

Linda Kal Sander, Florida, “I want to be the 2010 Target Teacher on the Trail to demonstrate how one topic as captivating as the Iditarod can be a tool for both professional development and character education.” Linda is Reading Coach and District Trainer at Pompano Beach Middle School in Pompano Beach. She attended the 2008 Winter Iditarod Conference for Educators. Linda’s personal philosophy states “there are only three things in life that are yours forever: education, experience, and faith.” Linda writes curriculum and is a ‘teacher’s teacher’ for the 6th largest school district in the nation, reaching almost a thousand students with her Iditarod theme used throughout the district. She is a nationally recognized presenter of cooperative learning strategies and other areas including curriculum on an international level. “The Iditarod is a gold rush of spirit. The camaraderie of the mushers, volunteers, and fans is a fire that stays with your forever.”

Denise Pfaff, Maryland, “I love dream adventures that I am able to talk about to my students and telling them that you must have a plan and support to have a vision.” Denise teaches Technology K/5 at Johnnycake Elementary School. Denise has attended a workshop at the Baltimore Aquarium which included a sleep over night with the dolphins. This sparked her love of science. She also worked in Anchorage at the Imaginarium, planning a unit for Super Sleuth Week dealing with fire safety. Technology and technology instruction became a new passion allowing her to impact students educationally as they used technology in their curriculum.

Denny Shaffner, Pennsylvania, “I want to be able to better communicate my enthusiasm for and excitement about the North Country, its environment and way of life, through learning firsthand from those who participate in it.” Denny teaches third grade at Clearfield Elementary School in Clearfield. He has taught all grades and lives in a home that he built himself. Denny has been involved in first person portrayals and reenactment projects. As the president of the Clearfield County Historical Society, he is involved in acquisitions, maintenance, and in leading tour groups. His passion and interest in history is reflected in his curriculum writing projects, having developed a 4th grade local history curriculum. Bringing history to life, making learning fun and applicable to real life is the obvious teaching styles. Denny demonstrates through his projects and travels. He has also led educator’s workshops to the Dominican Republic.

Sally Simon, New York, “I want to be a role model of lifelong learning for my students, and to show them that global learning means learning from people in ‘far-away places.” Sally is an Enrichment/Gifted and Talented teacher at Buchanan-Verplanck Elementary School. She states that she “rarely sits still” and is known as a fun teacher that introduces students to interesting topics such as forensics, bees, Leonardo Da Vinci, and of course, the Iditarod. She grew up an explorer, on the go. Sally has acted in and directed plays for Community Theater, organized fund raisers, and traveled to Guatemala and Paris. Sally says she is “an adventurer who marches to the beat of a different drummer, a life-long learner who strives to be creative in all endeavors, a teacher who strives to be a role model for her students…” Her challenge to us is “Catch up with her if you can!”

What have the applicants done so far? What will happen next?

Although ten might not seem like a large number of teachers to apply, keep in mind that applicants for this volunteer position must submit a portfolio document that is often several years in development representing years of classroom application. Prior to beginning their application process, educators often attend an Iditarod Teacher’s conference before the race or during the summer, to further sharpen their skills and knowledge base in quest of their goal to be the selected teacher. The completed portfolio serves as a testimony to what makes a good teacher- a best educator and how the use of Iditarod in the classroom as a highly effective learning tool.

The portfolio application document contains lesson plans and activities, answers to a variety of questions, a job résumé, goals and objectives, letters of recommendation, and examples of student projects. Applicants also submit a 3 – 5 minute video document that introduces the applicant to the committee and provides insight to the teacher’s communication and technology skills. The applicant sends an original and four copies of the portfolio, one for each of the educational selection committee members, to the Education Department by the first of December.

The selection committee, Alaskan educator, Sara Lamont, past Teacher on the Trail alumni, ‘Finney’ (1999), Jeff Peterson (2004), Terrie Hanke (2006), and Diane Johnson (2000) have the responsibility to ‘trek’ through more than 20 pounds of educational materials to review the application documents. Each committee member scores each application portfolio document using a rubric. The applicants are evaluated over a number of identified skills and attributes. The committee holds a teleconference in early January to review the scores, discuss the applicants, and to determine the finalists. The rubric scores and information are sent to all of the applicants, providing each educator who applied with feedback about their portfolio.

On or by January 15, three finalists will receive a phone call that invites them to continue the selection process by traveling to Alaska to attend the 2009 Iditarod Winter Teacher’s Conference (March 3 – 6, 2009) and compete in a selection process which includes personal interviews, presentations at the conference, volunteer responsibilities, and a competition project designed to challenge the finalists to demonstrate their ability to observe, report, write, create curriculum, problem solved, use technology, and be ‘trail ready’ for Iditarod as Target® 2010 Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM.

Teachers not selected as a finalist will receive notification via email and postal mail, containing feedback on their application document should they wish to reapply.

The week before the race is a busy, jam packed time for the finalists. The three finalists will have a personal interview with the committee on March 2. They’ll put in long hours that week competing for the experience of a lifetime that comes to the selected teacher. Seeing the start and the restart will be bonus experiences that week for the teachers. After the finalist completion concludes and the mushers are headed to Nome, the finalists will return to their home communities to wait for early April, when the selection committee announces the decision of the selection of the 12th Teacher on the Trail.

Information will be posted at FOR TEACHERS to share highlights and information about the selection week activities.

iditarod2003025_thm.jpgAndrea “Finney” Aufder Heyde, the first Teacher on the Iditarod Trail (1999) has seen this program grow and expand from her dream to the thematic instructional tool that reaches a global audience of students pre-school through university level. Eleven teachers have followed her example and strived to bring quality teaching and learning to classrooms.

Target® is the Official Sponsor of Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM. Please visit the Target® website, click here.

                   The Target® 2009 Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM, Cathy Walters has many lesson ideas and messages on the website. Click here to look at the lessons and become involved in the projects.

Are you interested in applying for Target® Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM? Click here to view the application document and start making your plans! Use this ‘race season’ as the starting point to build your application. We look forward to seeing your application arrive!
Educators from other countries have inquired about being a future applicant, evidence that the Teacher on the TrailTM program is as vast as the Iditarod Trail and wilderness of Alaska. This program encourages educators to be a life-long learner and improve their own teaching skills. The Teacher on the Trail program is dedicated to helping students to achieve academic success, develop technology skills, solve problems, and live as healthy citizens making positive choices.

Who will make the ‘finalist’ team and head to the start of the Iditarod 2009? Who will be selected as the Target® 2010 Iditarod Teacher on the TrailTM?

Language Arts Lessons

(Lessons are PDF documents.  These lessons can easily be adapted to any grade level.)

The 6 Traits of Writing by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Students will practice the trait of good ‘Word Choice’ in writing about the Iditarod.  language arts – writing, Grades 2 – 8

6 Traits Writing – menu

Barking Up the Right Tree (6 Traits of Writing) by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Students will practice using the trait of voice in writing about the Iditarod.  Topic: the 6 + 1 Traits™ for writing –trait of voice, Grade 3 – 8

Barking Up the Right Tree (6 traits writing)
Worksheet: voice rubric

6 Traits of Writing (Order) by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Students will practice the trait of organization using descriptions of activities and development in a sled dog pup’s first year of life.  Topic: the trait of organization, grades 1 – 4

Order! Order! (6 Traits writing)
Worksheet: organization rubric


6 Traits of Writing, Word Choice by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Students will practice the trait of good ‘Word Choice’ in writing about the Iditarod.  Topic: the trait of Word Choice, grades 2-8

Choose Your Words Wisely (6 Traits writing)

Creating Your Personal Slogan by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Students will discuss the Iditarod slogan “The Last Great Race on Earth” in relation to what it states about the Iditarod. Then they will create their own personal slogan to reflect who they are as a person.  Writing, Character Education, Any grade level

Your Personal Slogan

Literature Connection:  Woodsong by Gary Paulsen, Developed by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Journal ideas for grades 4 – 8 using Woodsong. Integrates Iditarod Insider video into the lessons.

Woodsong Journal Ideas

Literature Connections: Cinderella, By Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: After a comparative study of Cinderella stories from around the world, the students will write an Alaskan/Iditarod based story using the key elements of a Cinderella story. Language Arts/Literature/Creative Writing,  Topic: fairy tales, Grades 3-8

Alaskan Cinderella Stories (literature)

Vocabulary Development by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: This activity, which is a technique for teaching English language learners, teaches students to evaluate unknown vocabulary words by creating a concept map. Discipline/Subject: vocabulary study for any subject/discipline, Grades 4-8

In Other Words (vocab)
Worksheet: vocabulary map


An Alaskan Living Wax Museum by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: After a study of Alaska, its history, geography, climate, animals, and culture, students will create a museum display based on one of the areas.  Topic: Alaskan Culture, history, geography, native people, and climate, Grades 3 – 8

Alaskan Living Wax (cross-curricular)
Worksheet: wax museum abstract rubric
Worksheet: wax museum display rubric


Sled Dog Resume by Kim Slade, 2007 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary:  Students use creative writing to compose a resume that features a sled dog applying for the job of an Iditarod racer.  Language Arts, Creative Writing, Grades 4 – 8

Sled Dog Resume
Worksheet: Resume
Worksheet: Resume Sample


Iditarod Billboards by Kim Slade, 2007 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: After studying advertisements, students create imaginary billboards advertising make-believe products that could be sold to mushers.  Language Arts, Writing Slogans, Grades 3 – 8

Iditarod BillboardsWorksheet: Iditarod Billboard Worksheet


Inside the Iditarod! The 5 ‘W’s’ by Kim Slade, 2007 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary:  Students will summarize Press Release from the Iditarod website by utilizing the 5 W’s strategy.  Reading/Writing/Communications, Grades 3 – 7

Inside the Iditarod
Worksheet: Iditarod 5 W’s

Comparing and Contrasting Famous Sled Dogs by Kim Slade, 2007 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary:  Students will compare and contrast two sled dogs, Balto and Togo, using literature and mathematics.  Reading, writing, Grades 3 – 5

Famous Sled Dogs
Worksheet: Balto & Togo – Compare/Contrast
Worksheet: Iditarod Math: Balto & Togo

Passport to Iditarod Adventures by Kim Slade, 2007 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary:  Students will embark on an imaginary tour of the United States (Florida, Alaska, and their own state). In their travels, they will be learning about the various locations they will be visiting.  Travel Journal Writing, Research, Measuring, Environmental Studies, Any grade level

Worksheet: Passport Cover
Worksheet: Passport Page 2
Worksheet: Passport Page 3
Worksheet: Passport Page 4
Worksheet: My Route Log


Follow this link to Language Arts Lessons from Terrie Hanke, 2006 Teacher on the Trail™

Let’s Celebrate Alaska’s 50th Anniversary!

I’d like to introduce my one-year-old Siberian husky. His name is Jake, and he is posing in this picture wearing a reusable Target® bag. Jake is pointing out that sled dogs think it is a very cool idea to help take care of our environment by using cloth or reusable shopping bags. My one-year-old Siberian husky, Jake.He hopes that you will want to join him in cutting down on the use of dangerous and unsightly plastic bags. To encourage your class or school to participate in a “Don’t Forget the Bag Week” program, the Iditarod Education Department would like to issue certificates of participation. In addition, I will post the names of each school that participates on this website

Our goal is to have 50 schools participate. The number 50 was selected to honor the state of Alaska as it celebrates its fiftieth year of statehood in 2009. Please send the name of the sponsoring teacher, school or class, address, and the day of your event to: click here. Then publicize your event and help us reach the goal! I will post the list in mid-March, after the Red Lantern winner has crossed the finish line in Nome.

Jake also reminded me that it was time to post some husky related lessons. So here are two lessons to encourage PK-K students with number readiness. Happy Tails!

Husky Number Cards

Summary: 16 husky number cards help students learn number order and one-to-one correspondence.  The accompanying songs teach adding and taking away one.

Download Lesson Plan:  Husky Number Cards

Download Lesson Supplement:  Husky Take Away Song

Download Lesson Supplement:  Husky Plus One Song

Dog Bone Count

Summary:  This is a fun and easy daily station where students can practice counting and writing numbers independently. 

Download Lesson Plan: Dog Bone Count

Target Sponsors “Don’t Forget the Bag” Program

bagweek-004-1.jpg [singlepic id="534" w="320" h="240" mode="" float="" ]This summer when I was in Alaska I had the opportunity to visit a glacier. As my three friends and I approached this amazing wonder of nature all we could say is, “Wow.” Over and over again we kept repeating: “Wow.” We couldn’t seem to find any other word to express the thrill of being there and the awe of what we were seeing and touching. It was simply a “Wow” experience.

When I returned home to North Carolina, I was struck anew by the beauty of my own surroundings. Unfortunately, Western North Carolina is not as pristine and untouched by human excesses as the Alaskan wilderness. I felt a tug, a call to present a project to children at my school and around the world that would empower them to take steps in their young lives to take care of our planet. As educators, don’t we need to instill a respect for our physical world and its limited resources? After careful consideration, I came up with an environmental awareness project called “Don’t Forget the Bag.” It is a project that shows students they can make a difference and show compassion to their planet by just changing one behavior. The effects of that change can be felt locally and globally. The goal was to not only raise awareness, but to also begin a new habit. For one week, students and their families were asked to use cloth or reusable shopping bags and refrain from using the plastic bags that are provided at checkout counters in most stores.

At my school we kicked off “Don’t Forget the Bag” week with a fifteen minute PowerPoint presentation. The slides gave statistics and showed photographs of the harmful effects of plastic shopping bags on the environment. It was a wonderful eye opener for the students to see how plastic bags pollute our communities, our waterways, our forests, and, in particular, how they endanger wildlife that inhabit each of these places all over the world. targetbags_web-resolution1.jpg To give students an idea of the magnitude of this problem they were asked to bring in all the plastic bags their families used in one week. The week prior to the presentation they were collected in a washing machine sized box in the entry hallway to the school. After the PowerPoint presentation, the curtains on stage were opened and you could hear the audible gasp as they looked upon the mountain of plastic bags gathered in one week. Students were told that we/they don’t have to wait for legislative action to make a difference: “Let’s try to make new habits starting next week by only using reusable bags.”

To conclude the presentation, faculty, staff, and students were presented with reusable fabric bags. Target®, my sponsor as the 2009 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail, provided 800 bags for this project. Thank you Target® for investing in the environmental education of our children.

I have included the PowerPoint, the letter sent home to parents, and the lesson plan for the “Don’t Forget the Bag” week project. Please consider having your own program during your Iditarod studies.

Don’t Forget the Bag Week

Download Lesson Plan: Don’t Forget the Bag Lesson Plan 

Download Lesson Supplement: Cathy’s Presentation Notes

Download Lesson Supplement: Flyer to be sent home

2006 Traveling Quilt

Cathy and her pre-kindergarten class pose in front of the quilt. I’ve had the opportunity this month to take a little trip down memory lane. Two years ago I attended the 2006 Iditarod Summer Conference for Educators in Wasilla, Alaska. During the conference Diane Johnson, the Iditarod Education Director, gave each conference participant a large, square, white handkerchief and asked us to design a square by the end of the week. The square was to reflect the week in some manner: character education, Alaska, the race, the dogs, the mushers, the conference, or the people attending the conference. At the end of the week our squares were to be given to the lovely Carol Helmke, a conference attendee, who volunteered to take all the squares and turn them into a quilt. Carol finished the project by the end of August 2006 and the quilt began its travels. The 2006 Quilt has been to Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Washington, and North Carolina. At each stop it has been displayed, photographed, and loved. Teachers have used the quilt as a teaching tool to inspire the writing of stories and poetry. Others have used the quilt as a spin off for discussions. Why did the artist/author say or write what they did? Is there a message in the square or in the quilt?

North Carolina Quilt I gave my square to Carol in June of 2006. My square is designed like a license plate. There is a cartoon husky running through the mountains of Alaska. It states “Alaska,” “RUN4IT” and the funny thing is I’ve been doing just that for two years. Could this have been a foreshadowing of things to come? Who knows? Finally, two years later and as 2009 Teacher on the Trail, I have seen the completed quilt for the first time, and it is now being displayed in my school. The quilt has been on a remarkable journey, and so have I. I had no idea how that conference would impact my life and the adventure that would unfold. The quilt has brought back a flood of wonderful memories from that first visit to Alaska. It is a vehicle for teachers to inspire their students just as the Iditarod conferences inspire teachers. I have since used the quilt in directing my students to make individual quilts about Alaska and in working together to make a quilt about North Carolina.

Fourth and fifth graders with their Alaska quilts This has given us the opportunity to compare the notable features of both states. It seems there is no end to the lessons learned and spawned by this quilt that began over two years ago in Wasilla, Alaska. It is further confirmation of the rich lessons and fresh ideas offered by the Iditarod educational initiative. (Lesson plans for the 12″ x 12″ Alaska quilt can be found here.)

Alaska Quilt

Summary: Students will create their own 12″ x 12″ Alaskan quilt.

Readers Theater

Summary: Readers Theater is the reading of a text in a play-like fashion. I have written two scripts. The first script is geared towards pre-readers. The teacher reads the portion of the script that moves the story, and students respond with a refrain or simple lines that are repetitive and easy to learn. The second script is for written for first and second grade students. Although props and costumes can be involved in an elaborate Readers Theater, most involve the children simply reading the text with good fluency. By performing a Readers Theater, students are given an excellent reason to read, reread, and reread a text; they are practicing for a performance.

Polar Bears

Summary: After reading Polar Bears by Gail Gibbons students will complete an ABC or 123 dot-to-dot of a polar bear. The teacher will read the Polar Bear Fact sheet and students willpoint to the corresponding physical feature on their completed dot-to-dot polar bear. For example, when the teacher reads the fact, “Polar bears have small ears so they won’t freeze.” Students point to the ear on their picture. After all the facts have been read, students watch the National Geographic Video. The teacher then introduces the polar bear song to the children.

Happy Labor Day!

Could there be a more exciting time to include Alaska and the Iditarod in your curriculum?  Many of you know that Alaska is preparing for its 50th anniversary as a state in 2009, but the big news of this Labor Day Weekend is the announcement that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is the Republican Party’s choice for vice president.  With that announcement all eyes turn to Alaska.  Everyone wants to know about this candidate who is the first GOP woman on a presidential ticket.  Where is she from?  What are her views?  What is her background?  Here are a few interesting bits of information about Sarah Palin for Iditarod followers. Before Palin was governor she was the mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, which is where Iditarod Headquarters is located.  In June of 2007 Governor Palin attended the festivities on Musher Sign Up Day at Iditarod Race Headquarters.  And the governor’s husband, Todd, loves to race through the snow, but not on a sled.  He prefers to ride a snow machine (or snow mobile for those of us who live in the lower 48).

Of course with thoughts turning to Alaska many of the political controversies of that state hit the airways.  As I listened to All Things Considered on my favorite National Public Radio station, the topic of global warming came up.  Margaret Williams, Alaska’s director of the World Wildlife Fund, shared her observations of how melting Arctic ice is currently affecting polar bears.  Later in the day questions arose about the pros and cons of drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).  ANWR consists of 19,049,236 acres in northeastern Alaska often referred to as the North Slope region.  The refuge supports a greater variety of plant and animal life than any other protected area in the Arctic Circle.  This controversy has been going on since the Carter administration.

As we all begin a new school year these political issues give us a marvelous opportunity to educate our students.  Without giving our own political views we can use these topics to educate young people on the importance of researching issues, weighing the pros and cons, and forming an educated position.  So with these issues in mind, I give to you three lessons on Alaskan animals.  I hope you can plug these lessons into your Iditarod studies this year and, as this Labor Day Weekend is the symbolic end of summer, let me wish you a happy and productive 2008-2009 school year!

Alaska’s Arctic Animals

Summary: During the study of Alaska’s Arctic animals and where they live students will be able to tell the teacher one cold fact about each animal. A cold fact is anything that tells how these animals survive in such a harsh environment. Two facts, for example, that help the willow ptarmigan survive are that he turns white in the winter (his camouflage) and that he grows extra feathers in the winter, even on his feet (for warmth). This information is reviewed and reinforced by playing the Arctic Animal Memory Game and Arctic Animal Bingo.

Toothpick Experiment

Summary: Students will look for red, yellow, blue and green toothpicks distributed in a grassy area and discover that the green toothpicks are more difficult to find because they are the color of their surroundings.

Willow Ptarmigan — Master of Disguise

Summary: After conducting the toothpick experiment and reading Gone Again Ptarmigan students will see in this art activity how important camouflage is to Alaska’s state bird, the willow ptarmigan and other Arctic animals. (Other Arctic animals that change their coats or feathers with the season are the Arctic fox, the short-tailed weasel (known as ermine in their winter coats), the snowy owl, and the snowshoe hare. Polar bears keep their camouflage all year long!)

Let’s Sing to Learn!

Kids of all ages love to sing and move to the echo chant song, Iditarod, Iditarod, A Dog Sled Race! It happened twice this weekend. The first time was on Saturday night when I went to see the movie Mamma Mia. I came out of the theater humming ABBA tunes with a smile on my face and a skip in my step. The second time it happened was on Sunday when I heard the National Anthem. Team USA’s men’s 4X100-meter freestyle relay was receiving gold medals at the 2008 Summer Olympics for their amazing victory during the swimming competition. I cried like a baby. In both instances music moved me in a profound way. We all have had this experience, but why does it happen?

Brain research tells us that physiological things happen to us when we listen to and make music. Music causes changes in EEG activity and pulse rate. We as educators can use this research in our teaching strategies because music engages multiple memory pathways and increases receptivity that is known to enhance and accelerate learning (Music with the Brain in Mind by Eric Jensen). Who wouldn’t want to use another mode of instruction to enhance and accelerate learning?! Using this information to incorporate singing and movement in our classrooms is easy, fun, and can happen outside of music class.

I was very fortunate to have the legacy of song writing passed down to me by my friend and mentor, Genevieve Fortuna. Years before the brain research studies were available to the general public she was writing songs as essential pieces of curriculum. She knew that music lifts our spirits and brings joy to our souls; she also knew it was a fun way to deliver information. I learned much from this wise woman, just like husky pups learn from the wise, more experienced sled dogs. Genevieve moved from the classroom several years ago and is currently in the business of parent education, but we continue her music legacy. Now no unit feels quite complete until we have at least one song to go with it!

Where On the Globe is Alaska? Song Chart The lessons I am posting today, August 12, all have accompanying songs. There is a geography song, an art song, an exercise/letter song, an information song, and a fun echo movement song; moreover, they all are about the Iditarod and Alaska. I have posted the words to each song and the tune to which it should be sung. We plan on making the audio recording of each song available to you very soon. I doubt these songs will make you cry like the National Anthem, but they are catchy tunes that really do get stuck in your head. Many parents have shared with me that they hear their children singing these songs around the house. That is strong testimony to the power of a simple song! So when they are available, download the tunes and put a little Iditarod music in your classroom to enhance and accelerate learning!

Iditarod in Rhyme and Song

Summary: Students will learn about the Iditarod by singing and learning a finger play that can also be dramatized.

Literacy and Fluency Instruction

Summary: Students demonstrate understanding of an area that you are emphasizing in your instruction by circling or underlining on the “Five Little Huskies” handout. For example, students can circle all the capital letters in the poem.

Sing to Read

Summary: Students will learn strategies to decode the word “Iditarod.” They will identify all letters by name and sound, place the letters in the correct order and orally read “Iditarod” as a sight word.

Mush! Art Lesson

Summary: Students will observe Jon Van Zyle’s Iditarod art as well as some of his other work showing the beauty of Alaska. They will learn a song about Jon and then draw their own Mush! Art following a step-by-step format.

Where on the Globe is Alaska?


  • Students will learn the location of Alaska on the globe and on a map
  • Students will name bodies of water and countries to the north, south, east, and west of Alaska
  • Students will learn one or two facts about the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, Canada, and Russia

Memory Map

Summary: At the end of a three-week study students will draw and label a map of Alaska from memory.

Classroom Management Using the Iditarod

The signs are everywhere. In today’s newspaper it can be seen over and over in advertising: Tax-Free Weekend, 100 Power Hour Specials, and more clearly stated, Back-To-Class Sale. It’s time to get ready for school.

Even if teachers haven’t officially started school, most are getting ready mentally. For example, my school year begins in ten days (not that I’m counting!), but the Pre-Kindergarten team of seven will be meeting this week. On Monday we will meet to take our “teacher photograph” (that we turn into a postcard and mail to our incoming students) followed by our annual back-to-school going out to dinner. Obviously this social gathering is not really “work”, but it is one of those signs that prepare us mentally for the job ahead.

There was one advertising quote that I really liked and thought was good for teachers to ponder as we ready for the year ahead: Expect Great Things. All teachers enter the school year expecting great things for their students, but how do we plan to make sure that happens? We can’t control all variables but we can implement good, consistent classroom procedures that will help us maximize our instructional time. To make this happen in our pre-kindergarten classrooms we use the Iditarod as a team-building theme to help us move smoothly through our school days. (The lesson is intended for Pre-K to 3rd Grade.)

Each morning I gather my students on our “Silver Circle of Love,” (I really do call it that) to start our day. The first order of business after songs and movement is to find out who will be the Lead Dog, Swing Dog, and Musher for the day. This is accomplished through a numbered rotation, where all “team” members’ names are displayed. The days Lead Dog answers calendar questions (see lesson plan Hike!), and when it is time to line up to go outside or to a special, they stand at the edge of the red rug in front of the door. The Swing Dog’s job is to hold the door open for his team, and the Musher gives the command to go by saying, “Hike,” “Mush,” or “Let’s Go!” when given the cue by the teacher.

This simple procedure implemented daily begins our thread of Iditarod instruction that runs through our curriculum. It allows us to manage our classrooms in a fun and exciting way, and more importantly, it works! Not only do the children look forward to being the Lead Dog, Swing Dog, and Musher, but it also allows teachers to emphasize the importance of the Team Dogs. Each and every dog on an Iditarod team has an important part to play. If the team is not working together they will not move smoothly down the trail. Moreover, it is an easy and effective method of classroom management integrated into the overall curriculum. I hope this Iditarod team procedure will help you move your class smoothly down the trail of learning this year.


Summary: Classroom jobs will be given each day by a numbered rotation.

RACE Necklace — Character Education

Summary: Students will string beads in the order demonstrated by the teacher.

Respect and Responsibility — Character Education

Summary: This lesson(s) will focus on the first tenet of the acronym RACE, respect and responsibility. Through song, reading, video, discussion, and drama students will identify and demonstrate respect and responsibility.

Attitude — Character Education

Summary: Through song, reading, discussion, and viewing mushers in action students will identify and demonstrate a good attitude.

The Last Great Race on Earth — Character Education

Every camp has its unique feature.  Most camps have games, stories, and crafts, and some even have singing.  Mush! Iditarod Quest! had all of the aforementioned activities, but what made this camp unique is its focus on character.  The children learned what it takes to be a good musher and therefore a good citizen.  To teach these good character traits I used the acronym RACE, because the Iditarod is The Last Great RACE on Earth.

Monday through Thursday of this one-week camp I focused on one of the character traits in the acronym RACE

  • R – Respect and Responsibility
  • A – Attitude
  • C – Compassion
  • E – Excellence

Each day, campers learned one story about a musher who exemplifies that trait.  That way, when I reviewed the traits already studied the children could look at the musher’s photograph and tell me his name and what he did that showed the exemplified trait.  For instance, the musher I used to exemplify respect and responsibility was Jeff King.  In the 2006 race Jeff’s team pulled away without him in the middle of the night.  Jeff did what anyone would do in that situation.  He ran after them screaming at the top of his lungs, but that’s not what turned them around.  Salem, Jeff’s lead dog, turned the team around and came back for him; they went on to not only finish but also win the race.  The children clearly understood how responsible Salem was from this story.  Jeff then showed respect for Salem at the start of the 2007 race, and I was fortunate enough to catch it on film.  Salem didn’t make the team that year, but Jeff gave him a ride to the starting line in the sled basket anyway.  That special bond between this man and his dog were evident to everyone.  My campers could look at this photograph and completely understand what respect and responsibility looks like.

The above lesson is an excellent example of the type of character education we can glean from the Iditarod.  And this type of teaching isn’t preachy or overly didactic; it makes the point by illustrating character in the lives of real people.  Simple storytelling is a powerful tool that cannot be exhausted.  The Iditarod provides endless stories of the lives of the mushers, their dogs, and the countless people who make it all happen.

To start the school year I am posting lessons on respect and responsibility and attitude.  Each of these character education tenets has a song that goes along with them and extended references so that each trait can be studied for an entire quarter of the school year.  I am also posting the craft idea that pulls all four traits together, a necklace with  beads that spell RACE, six round beads to represent the number of dogs needed to finish the Iditarod, and sixteen multicolored beads for the number of dogs pulling the sled at the start of the race.  Campers made the necklace on Friday and camp concluded with them singing the character education songs to their parents and then challenging them to Dog Bootie Relay!

Water the Huskies Relay

Summary: Students will run traditional relays with the intent of working as a team to water their huskies. The focus is on the chores necessary to take good care of the dogs and less on winning the race.

Feed the Huskies Relay

Summary: Students will run traditional relays with the intent of working as a team to feed their huskies.  The focus is on the chores necessary to take good care of the dogs and less on winning the race.

Pooper Scooper Relay

Summary: Students will run traditional relays with the intent of working as a team to clean the dog yard.  The focus is on the chores necessary to take good care of the dogs and less on winning the race.

Bootie Relay

Summary: Relay race using team work and cooperation. Students work in teams of three to five to come up with the best strategy to bootie their dogs (chairs). Students start the race with chairs standing in a row. They may bootie their “dogs” in any fashion—even turning them upside down—but they must be returned to their upright position and all team members must return to the starting line before their task is complete.

Little Brown Bear

Little Brown Bear is a line game where all players are involved at all times.  Children especially like this game when the teacher, counselor, or leader assumes the role of “it,” or in this case, Little Brown Bear. All of the children must move through the woods as Little Brown Bear has stated.  Using the same locomotor skill, Little Brown Bear tries to tag as many players as possible as they move through the woods.  Players who are tagged become Little Brown Bears helpers.

Black Bear

Summary: Black Bear is a line game that allows all players to be involved at all times.  Children especially like it when the teacher or counselor assumes the role of “it,” Black Bear. Black Bear is a game that tests auditory discrimination and teaches children to navigate a designated area while avoiding being tagged.  Anticipating the signal adds to the fun.

White Bear

Summary: White Bear provides an opportunity to move in general space with a partner, without colliding with others. Whenever White Bear says, “White Bear is hungry!” all of the fish must run across the sea area and attempt to reach the opposite base line as White Bear chases them.  White Bear may only catch one fish at a time.  Whenever White Bear has a pair of fish in his Ice Cave, they join hands and become fishermen.  Then when White Bear says, “White Bear is hungry!” the fishermen may go fishing with White Bear capturing one fish at a time.

Dog Yard Tag

Summary: This is a basic tag game that allows student to have fun with sound effects. The “its” are the wind and the rest of the players are Alaskan huskies. The “its” tag the huskies and they howl three times and freeze. The designated mushers may free the huskies by saying “Good Dog!” and patting them on the head.

Iditarod Fun and Games

I love camp!  I love being a camper and I love being a counselor.  After spending a terrific time as a camper at the Iditarod Summer Camp for Teachers in June, I came home to be a counselor for the first three weeks of July at Summer Quest, a day camp held at Carolina Day School.

The first week I taught four-year-olds art.  Yes, that’s right, four-year-olds.   They were great!  They learned the basic elements of shape, learned to identify the work of Vincent van Gogh and Mary Cassatt, they even painted their own versions of Vincent’s Sunflowers and Starry Night.

But what I have to share with you lesson-wise comes from the other two camps, Get Up and Play! and MUSH! Iditarod Quest!   Both of these camps give me the opportunity to write new Iditarod curriculum that can be used during the school year.  In Get Up and Play! I select games that get campers excited about just playing; but these games also develop specific physical education skills.  These are classic games that are easy to play and involve everyone.  And, of course, they are just plain fun.  The first three games posted are named after the three types of bears that live in Alaska, Black Bear, Brown Bear, and White Bear.  All three are line games, which simply means that all participants are moving toward the same goal at the same time.  Children really enjoy these games, especially when the teacher or counselor assumes the role of being “it.”  Also from this camp I have included one tag game, Dog Yard Tag.  Tag games are great because everyone is involved and active, the emphasis on winning and losing is greatly diminished, and generally none of the players are singled out for not doing well.  This makes tag games an excellent choice for any physical education class.

The first lessons I’m posting from MUSH! Iditarod Quest! can be used in physical education class but also meet educational standards addressed in character education.  These relay and team races are designed to get campers and students involved in laughing, having fun, and learning about some of the chores that are involved in taking care of a dog sled team.

These games are suitable for all elementary grade levels; however, recommended grade levels are provided for each game.  As with all successful activities be sure to: 1) Teach game procedures, 2) Model how to play the game, 3) Discuss how to tag without causing injury, and 4) Allow students to agree that the game will be much more fun if everyone is fair and honest.

The eight games I used at camp:

I hope these games will enhance your Iditarod units!

Math Lessons and Activities

Math Activities and Lessons  by Kim Slade, 2007 Teacher on the Trail™

This PDF booklet contains math activities for all ages. This packet was put together in 2007 for Wells Fargo.  The packet was sent to schools in Alaska.  The lessons and activities can be easily adapted to any race year and used for any grade level.

Iditarod Teacher’s Tool by 2007 Teacher on the TrailTM Kim Slade.

Physical Education, Games, and Activities

That’s the Name of the Game Compiled by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

A common thread between all cultures is that everyone plays games. As you look at the games of different cultures, you will notice that while they may be different in materials used or in variations of rules, many of them are quite similar to a game your students can identify with.

That’s the Name of the Game

Iceberg to Iceberg by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Using teamwork and planning, a “dogteam” gets each dog from one iceberg to the next until they reach the mainland where they can be hooked up to the gangline to continue the race.

Iceberg to Iceberg (P.E.)


Iditarod Warm Ups! By Terrie Hanke, 2006 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Cover the distance to Nome by counting laps jogged for warm-up as miles. Students decide how many days it will take the class to finish the race. They create a strategy to reach their goal much that same as the mushers do for the race. The class keeps track of their progress on a large wall map. Students give a report each day on the trail conditions, terrain and weather for the portion of the trail that will be covered.


Checkpoint Physical Fitness by Terrie Hanke, 2006 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Students run, jog or walk for a predetermined amount of time and intensity around the gym.  When time is up students choose a checkpoint to go to. A student rolls the die to determine what exercise the group will do. All students perform the exercise.  Repeat.

Checkpoint Fitness

Iditarod Trail Relay Activities by Terrie Hanke, 2006 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Create checkpoints in a large outdoor area. Each checkpoint will have a team oriented or relay type activity that will advance the team to the next checkpoint or must be completed before the team can move to the next checkpoint. Iditarod Trail can be scaled to take only 1 period of Physical Education or can be used as a multi-class activity taking a longer period of time. See Other Information and Notes. For a large-scale activity, ask
parents to volunteer as checkpoint worker.

Iditarod Trail Relay Activities


Idita-Aerobics by Terrie Hanke, 2006 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Students will participate in aerobic activity and progress along the Iditarod trail using minutes as miles. To follow the F.I.T. Principle, students should participate in aerobic activity 3 to 5 times per week for 30 minutes while working in his/her target zone. For each minute of aerobic activity, the student moves 1 mile closer to Nome. The first student to arrive in Nome is the Idit-aerobics Champion. The final student to arrive receives the Red Lantern Award. Students may accumulate aerobic minutes by participating in aerobic activity outside of class. Create a verification system for outside activity.



Iditarod Scavenger Hunt by Terrie Hanke, 2006 Teacher on the Trail™

Participants work as a team to collect items and checkpoint cards while enjoying aerobic workouts.

Iditarod Scavenger or Checkpoint Hunt

Character Education- Life Skills- Assets

The following lessons are in PDF format.  They can be adapted for use at any grade level as part of character education, life skills, and behavior studies.


Citizenship:  What it Takes by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Using Iditarod Insider video segments, students will watch mushers, pilots, veterinarians, volunteers, or other Iditarod personnel in situations along the trail and observe how they exhibit good character into handle the situations.  Topic: responsibility – listening, following directions, asking a question, being a good example, dependability

What it Takes – citizenship (character ed)

Stewardship:  What it Takes by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Using Iditarod Insider, students will watch mushers, pilots, veterinarians, volunteers, or other Iditarod personnel in situations along the trail and observe how they exhibit good character into handle the situations.  Topic: stewardship: the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care i.e., stewardship of our natural resources

What it Takes – stewardship (character ed)

Teaching Respect:  What it Takes by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Using Iditarod Insider, students will watch mushers, pilots, veterinarians, volunteers, or other Iditarod personnel in situations along the trail and observe how they exhibit good character into handle the situations.   Topic: respect – apologizing, dealing with embarrassment, joining in, offering help, accepting consequences, respect for others, self-respect, tolerance, respect for authority

What it Takes – respect (character education)


Charitable Giving:  Service Learning by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail ™

Lesson Summary: Students will learn that many mushers in the Iditarod take the commitment of the race an extra step by supporting a charitable organization or illness research project through their race efforts. Some students may choose to participate in service learning or supporting charitable organizations in their communities.  Discipline / Subject: community service/character education/service learning

Christmas – the season of giving-service learning
Worksheet: Mushers Charitable Organizations/Causes

Evaluating Personal Goals and Attributes:  Your Personal Slogan by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Students will discuss the Iditarod slogan “The Last Great Race on Earth” in relation to what it states about the Iditarod. Then they will create their own personal slogan to reflect who they are as a person.  Topic: students self-description, self evaluation, goal setting

Your Personal Slogan

Developing a Positive Attitude by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Using Iditarod Insider video segments, students will watch mushers, pilots, veterinarians, volunteers, or other Iditarod personnel in situations along the trail and observe how they exhibit good character into handle the situations.  Topic: positive attitude – accepting a compliment, giving a compliment, dealing with boredom, reacting to failure, thankfulness, positive speech

What it Takes – positive attitude (character ed)

Self Control, Self Respect:  What it Takes by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Using Iditarod Insider, students will watch mushers, pilots, veterinarians, volunteers, or other Iditarod personnel in situations along the trail and observe how they exhibit good character into handle the situations.  Topic: self-control/self-discipline: completing assignments, relaxing, accepting “no”, learning from discipline, patience, keeping a good conscience

What it Takes – self-control, self-respect

Responsibility in the Classroom Using Required Gear by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

As mushers arrive at checkpoints along the trail, the checker goes through a list of required items for each one. In order to be able to continue the race, the musher must meet certain requirements.  Classroom ‘required’ gear is developed to help students be more respectful and responsible

Classroom Checker’s Reports (classroom management)


Responsibility:  What it Takes by Jane Blaile, Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Using Iditarod Insider, students will watch mushers, pilots, veterinarians, volunteers, or other Iditarod personnel in situations along the trail and observe how they exhibit good character into handle the situations.  Topic: responsibility – listening, following directions, asking a question, being a good example, dependability

What it Takes – responsibility

Goal Setting: What it Takes by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Using Iditarod Insider segments, students will watch mushers, pilots, veterinarians, volunteers, or other Iditarod personnel in situations along the trail and observe how they exhibit good character into handle the situations.  Topic: goal setting – setting goals, facing challenges, having hopes and dreams

What it Takes – goal setting (character education)

What it Takes to be Healthy and Happy by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Students will reflect on intrinsic qualities of people, contrast that to physical or skills abilities, and design an award for someone in their life celebrating his/her character.  Topic: appreciation of others’ intrinsic qualities and personality traits

And The Nominees Are (character education)
Worksheet: scoring rubric


Reflections on Cultural Perception by Jane Blaile, 2008 Teacher on the Trail™

Lesson Summary: Students will conduct a scavenger hunt to collect place names of their area that reflect the identity of it, the culture of it, and how others perceive it.  Topic: culture and identity, perception of culture, diversity

Take a Left on Cactus Road (cultural influence)
Worksheet: scavenger hunt checklist

8 Traits of Iditarod by Terrie Hanke, 2006 Teacher on the Trail™

8 Traits of Iditarod

I=  Innovation

D= Diligence

I= Integrity

T= Team Work

A= Attitude

R= Respect

O= Optimism

D= Determination

8 Traits of Iditarod Articles:  Click here

EIGHT Traits of IDITAROD (PDF Document, Lesson Plan)

Reaching New Heights

Team building. That’s what I always assumed was the intention of school and community groups going to “high ropes courses.” In my mind it was taking a group of incoming freshmen, for example, and, through this shared experience, helping them get to know their fellow classmates. It seemed like a great idea, but I didn’t have a clue what the actual experience was like until I met Scott Frickson at Fort Richardson Army Base in Anchorage, Alaska.

Scott is an officer in the Alaska National Guard having served two tours of duty in Iraq as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot. He is currently on an equally challenging mission working with the Stay on Track program. This mission or program is two-fold; first and foremost, Scott educates young people in the community and schools to make the kind of choices that lead to a healthy lifestyle free of alcohol and drugs. The second part of his mission is operating the rope challenge course. It provides a great opportunity for young people to learn outdoor skills, individual and collective team building skills, and leadership training. Scott uses this course to help kids realize that they can do what seems physically impossible. He then segues this experience empowering teenagers to make the tough social/emotional decisions they face each day concerning the use of alcohol and drugs.

To make sure the four educators representing the Iditarod Summer Camp for Teachers (of which I was one) had a full understanding of the Stay on Track program, Scott not only gave us an energetic presentation and allowed us to watch a group on the ropes course, but he actually had us participate! The four of us learned first-hand that the ropes course is about team building and a whole lot more. We learned to be confident in our equipment, in our teammates, and in ourselves. We learned to take risks, to attempt things we had never tried before, and to succeed. We were indeed empowered! And it was so much fun!

Together the Alaska National Guard and the Iditarod Education Department will be working on several projects during the 2008-2009 school year. Log in to learn more about the projects that will help students in Alaska and around the world move down the trail to success. As Scott Frickson showed us, learning to accomplish things you had previously thought impossible is an important step in gaining control of your life.

Iditarod Education Director Diane Johnson and 2009 Teacher on the Trail Cathy Walters Prepare to Meet in the Middle!

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Iditarod Education Director Diane Johnson and 2009 Teacher on the Trail Cathy Walters Prepare to Meet in the Middle!

The 2009 Iditarod Sign Ups

The official sign-up for the Iditarod dogsled race is neither formal nor dramatic.  It is certainly not glamorous.  There is no red carpet, no limos, no ceremony of any kind.  The setting is outdoors at the Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla, AK.  There is a tent pavilion with a couple of tables under it.  A few officials sit on folding chairs behind the table and the mushers come up one at a time to sign in and pay their entry fee.  It could be your local road race.  About the only real drama is generated by the morning drawing of two musher’s names-those drawn from the rotating barrel have their entry fee waived, no small amount of savings ($4000!).  More about that later.

But it is exciting just to be there.  These mushers are the stars of their sport, the best in the world.  They come not just from Alaska, but also Norway, Switzerland, Germany, Canada, Japan, and of course, the lower forty-eight states (as far south as Tennessee!).  They seem almost superhuman because what they manage in the course of 1,000+ miles is an endurance feat few of us can even imagine from the confines of our cozy lives: we who are challenged by getting our car started in the morning, its windshield scraped and the interior heated up before we can drive a few miles to work in the morning.  And even if we like 20 below zero, well, there are all those dogs to care for-the training, the feeding, the veterinarian bills, the pooper-scoopers…  You don’t have to be hardy, you have to be a frontiersman (or frontierswoman)-a pioneer.  You have to embrace hardship and savor adversity the way most of us view a good game of tennis or a 5K run.

And so, while these mushers look enough like ordinary people, standing around, laughing and talking to each other and the officials, mostly old friends by now, they are remarkable men and women made of sterner stuff than most of us.  Being around people like this has a way of making us all feel the possibilities, the potential that we have, but seldom tap.

Plus, there they are!  You can talk with them, pose with them, sometimes actually hang out with them: Rick Swenson, Jeff King, Martin Buser, Lance Mackey, Dee Dee Jonrowe, Mitch Seavey, Aliy Zirkle…All the stars, the winners, the heroes.  Sometimes your real flesh and blood hero is standing right there, talking to you.  Try that with Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods…

One of the mushers whose career I have followed is Martin Buser, four time winner and course record holder.  He originally hails from Switzerland and now runs a beautiful kennel in Willow, where he gives tours and instruction.  In fact, Martin happened to be there leading a tour when the $4000 drawing was made Saturday morning.  The first name out of the barrel was-yep, Martin Buser.  Oh, boy!  Except that you have to be present to win the fee waiver.  Oops…  From out of the crowd, Dee Dee Jonrowe voiced aloud what everyone else was thinking: “I hope that was a good tour…”

But these things have a way of working out.  The name drawn in his place was Mike Williams, a well-liked and respected community leader from Aniak, Alaska who is deeply involved in the affairs of Native Alaskans.  I know he is thankful that Martin chose to honor his commitment at his kennel!

But more importantly, a total of sixty-eight mushers signed up for the race today.  Many more will sign-up before the November 30th deadline.  Organizers expect the entries to approach one hundred teams again this year.

Please check in next week for news from North Carolina.  I will be sharing information and lessons from Get Up and Play! and Mush! Iditarod Quest, two day camps that I teach at Carolina Day School’s day-camp, Summer Quest.  These lessons are great for both camp and classroom!

Drawing for the $4000 free entry fee

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Drawing for the $4000 free entry fee

More Camp Adventures

With each passing day of the Iditarod Summer Camp, the attending teachers were building their knowledge base about the Iditarod and Alaska.  This conference was also affirming what these “campers” already knew:  the Iditarod is an amazing tool for capturing the interest of students and motivating them to learn.  These campers, all full-time teachers during the school year, use this theme to help enrich and define curriculum back home.

Thursday’s fieldtrips and Friday’s speakers continued to be enlightening and entertaining.  We spent Thursday morning at the The Alaska Native Heritage Center and the afternoon at the Joe Redington exhibit at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.  Friday we heard from a wide variety of dynamic presenters: Alaskan educator Shannon Keene, race volunteer Sonny Chambers, the K-9 Fairies, Arctic explorer and dog musher Pam Flowers, and Iditarod Chief Veterinarian Dr. Stuart Nelson, Jr.

Every day I would hear campers exclaim, “This has been my favorite day of camp!”  And that’s the way it was-every day was the best!  I’ve given you a fairly detailed account of the “official” camp itinerary and just how amazing it was for all the campers.  But there were other pieces of the camp experience that were very special too.  This group of campers came together because they share a common passion, a passion for teaching, and they have found that using the Iditarod as a theme of instruction works.  This common thread united this group in a very special way.  We swapped curriculum ideas, we shared stories, and we made memories together at camp and during after hours adventures.  There were trips to glaciers, plane rides to Mount McKinley, dining at the Wildflower Café in Talkeetna.  We hiked whenever possible to see wildflowers and amazing vistas wherever we looked.  There were also moose and dall sheep sightings-the list goes on and on.  I can safely say for all the campers that it was the trip of a lifetime.

But camp did not end on Friday.  There was the Volunteer Picnic and 2009 Iditarod Sign Up on Saturday, June 28!  It was great to see who was participating in “The Last Great Race on Earth” this year and then mingle a little afterward.  Altogether, I cannot imagine a more complete, exciting or beneficial trip.

“Campers” in front of The Alaska Native Heritage Center

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“Campers” in front of The Alaska Native Heritage Center

Jon and Jona Van Zyle

When you arrive at Jon and Jona Van Zyle’s home you quickly realize that being an artist involves a good deal more than just painting pictures.  Jon does paint pictures, beautiful scenes of Alaska and dog sledding.  In fact, Jon has been the official artist of the Iditarod since 1978.  Each year he creates a new painting to be made into the poster for this special event, and he has illustrated many books about the race and the region.

At their home, Jon’s and Jona’s artistic gifts can be seen everywhere.  There are dog booties on the gate, multi-colored umbrellas providing shade in the dog yard, and statuary of all sizes tucked into beautifully landscaped gardens.  Inside there are bouquets of flowers amidst Alaskan artifacts, Jona’s intricate and lovely beaded boxes, and Jon’s gorgeous paintings.  This place is their home, art gallery, and kennel.

Along with providing the group with fine food and beverages, Jon and Jona took the time to personalize each book and print purchased, chatting with each one of the conference attendees like we were long lost friends.  They made us feel completely at home.   They also shared what was priceless to this group: their personal stories and connections to dog sledding and the Iditarod.

To show our thanks and appreciation for their hospitality we sang them a song.  I wrote this song about Jon as part of a lesson that leads into teaching students how to draw their own mush art.  I had presented this song and drawing lesson to conference participants earlier in the week.  They were then challenged to finish the drawing by Wednesday so that Jon and Jona could judge their work.  The winner would receive a prize.  Ever gracious and kind, the Van Zyles picked one winner, but gave a prize to every participant.

Dream a Dream

Picture this:  A beautiful two-story log home surrounded by a bed and breakfast, a veterinary clinic, and spacious dog kennel, all nestled into a fairytale green forest with burbling streams below a deep, deep blue Alaskan sky.  And this gorgeous place really exists: the Dream a Dream Dog Farm is the home and work place of veteran Iditarod musher Vern Halter and his veterinarian wife, Susan Whiton. Moreover, this is the setting for the first three days of the 2008 Idita-Summer Camp for Teachers.

We did think we were dreaming when we woke each morning to the eerie sounds of howling dogs!  The  “campers” rushed to the dog yard for the first chore of the day.  We had the pleasure of taking Prop, Strut, Fuselage, and Ailerone for their morning walk.  It sounds like we were taking parts of an airplane out of the dog yard, but that’s not the case.  Each liter of pups in a mushing kennel is named by a common theme.  This liter was indeed named after airplane parts.  Their mother’s name is East-can you guess the theme of that liter?

During our three days at Dream a Dream we were spellbound by the life-changing stories of Teachers on the Trail, Terrie Hanke, Jane Blaile, and Diane Johnson.  Diane also shared information about new programs the Iditarod Education Department will be working on this coming year concerning rookie mushers and weather alerts.  Vern led sessions teaching us all about mushing, equipment, and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.  To put what we had learned into practice, teachers were put into groups and challenged to plan their own run/rest race strategy and then explain their choices.  We were instructed on how to harness and bootie dogs, and then we were tested to see which group was most efficient.  Vern completed our kennel experience by giving us cart rides with the dogs and feeding us in high fashion with a fabulous salmon dinner.

These speakers alone would have made for a wonderful Iditarod Camp, but Vern and education director Diane Johnson planned for others to contribute to our “dream” experience.  Gary Paulson, veteran Iditarod musher and award-winning author, shared his life’s journey and how he moved into the world of dogs and mushing.  Sue Allen, a local high-school physical education teacher and musher, beautifully summed-up the significant lessons she learned in running Martin Buser’s puppy team this year and related this experience to a greater understanding in working with her students.  We were packing up our gear when Dee Dee Jonrowe, our last speaker, arrived.  Dee Dee shared the highs and lows of her 25 years of competing in the Iditarod.  One conference member cried tears of joy in being able to hear and talk to this woman she held in such high regard.  This was a dream come true.

After three days and many dreams fulfilled we left the Dream a Dream Dog Farm headed for our next adventure.

Dream a Dream “Fairytale Green Forest”

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Dream a Dream “Fairytale Green Forest”

Making Connections

Lance Mackey was in his element.  Surrounded by women, talking, laughing, signing autographs—as two-time defending champion, this was where he wanted to be on this cool summer day: at the sign-up for the 2009 Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Race.  And this is where these women—and one man!—wanted to be as well.  As attendees of the Idita-Summer Camp for Educators, they were at Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla, Alaska to watch Lance and his fellow mushers step up to the registration table and sign in.

This is a great place to talk, schmooze, get autographs, and just generally bask in the excitement of seeing the best mushers in the world all in one place.  The atmosphere is relaxed and yet festive.  There is none of the pressure and anxiety of the race itself.  Here these men and woman were available and willing to chat, pose for pictures, sign autographs, and answer questions of the conference attendees.  They were, in fact, eager to do so-these are their fans, not many of whom make it all the way to Alaska to meet them personally.  It is a rare opportunity for all involved.

This is only one of the wonderful moments in the week of sights, sounds and activities of the Idita-Summer Camp for Educators, one of two conferences offered each year by the Iditarod Education Department.

The Iditarod is an event that is so magical that it captures the hearts and minds of students, teachers, race fans, and mushers alike.  It is an exciting and unique event that can be used as a theme of instruction to teach standards-based lessons in every academic area.  For those attending, it is a rare opportunity to experience first-hand the “magic” of “The Last Great Race on Earth.”  During this weeklong conference, participants had the opportunity to meet and hear the stories of volunteers, veterinarians, race fans, authors, and, of course, mushers and their dogs.

Over the next few days, I will be posting articles that will give you a glimpse of this wonderful conference and the world of dogsled racing in Alaska.  Come along and experience the magic with us!

Cathy gets autograph of Aliy Zirkle.

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Cathy gets autograph of Aliy Zirkle.


This topic has been on my mind since before I left Nome. As I started reflecting on how to answer the question I knew I was going to hear…”What was your favorite part of the trip?”  And I have heard it, and I have answered it a little differently each time, but in all honesty, I can easily tell you that my favorite part of the trip was the gift of people.

I was showered with opportunities to meet and talk to people.  And while I really didn’t engage in world-changing discussions with any one of them, each conversation was precious to me.  I absorbed the words and savored the moments to talk to…

Lavon Barve, race judge, as he regaled me with stories of the Iditarod “back in the day” when they tried drying out booties with Blaz-o.  Mark Nordman, race marshall, recalling the year that he and a group other Iditarod finishers agreeing to cross the finish line at exactly the same time.  In Nome, Aliy Zirkle, noticed my Phoenix Suns sweatshirt and telling me that the Suns are her favorite team.  And her dad,  Doug Zirkle as we stood along the trail in Ruby hour after hour chatting.  Al Marple, race judge, sharing stories of native friends of his in Koyuk.  Martin Buser, as he fed his dogs in Cripple, asking me how I was enjoying my journey.  When I told Mike Owens that I just wanted to hug Melissa every time I saw her in a checkpoint, and he said, “You should have!”  Lance Mackey with me in line to get something to eat at the gym in Nikolai when I told him that I use him as an inspiration for students to work hard and follow their dreams saying, “That’s good if it helps someone.”  Peter Bartlett and Ryan Redington telling me their advice for young people who want to follow their dreams.  Cim Smyth, pulling in to Kaltag, asking me how I was doing.  Jeff King explaining the book Mawson’s Will, his favorite, to me in the Russian import store in Nome.  And again, Jeff King catching me off guard in White Mountain with a quote he said I should know because I’m a teacher…but I didn’t! Trent Herbst, musher and 4th grade teacher, at the musher meeting offering to send me his ideas for using the Iditarod in the classroom.  Rick Swenson sitting down beside me at the table in McGrath, telling me his story, explaining his perspective.  In Takotna I met Ellie Claus’s dad and asked him to let her know that in my classroom every year, I use a magazine article she wrote.  And the list just goes on and on…

I have the tangibles—souvenirs and pictures, but the memories of the people and time I spent with them are the most precious gift of all.

My Mind on Things North

My Mind on Things North

by Jane Blaile

Physically, I am back home.  But my mind and heart still have pieces in Alaska – with the people I met and at the places I was.  On the trail every day, I’d wake up and have to ask myself, “Where am I?”  That has happened to me several days since I’ve been back!  One day I woke up thinking about where I was.  When I realized I was home in Phoenix, I asked myself, “Is the Iditarod over?”  I guess some of my thoughts are still catching up with me.  I have had dreams about mushers traveling along the trail and being at checkpoints.Everything around me reminds me of my experience. I thought a bumper sticker promoting the county sheriff’s department stated “Honorary Musher”.  But it said “Honorary Member”.  When I was checking things off a list with my daughter, I told her I was being the “checker”.  Playing cribbage with my husband and father-in-law, I pointed out that the two highest scorers were Lance Mackey and Jeff King and the last was the Red Lantern winner.  Those are silly, but true examples!  I suppose my family and friends might tire of the Iditarod references, but I never will.  My experience along the trail is over, but my experience of the Iditarod is not.

Sleeping Spots Along the Trail

by Jane Blaile

All of my 8 different sleeping spots along the trail were pretty good spots. I stayed overnight at Yentna Station, Skwentna, Nikolai, McGrath, Takotna, Ruby, Kaltag, Unalakleet, and Nome. They had one or more of these qualities: on a carpeted floor, in a school, in a gym, or on a mattress or pad. They also had these qualities: multiple people in the same place (sometimes MANY) and lots of noises (talking, snoring, shouting, shuffling gear, sirens, doors opening and closing, etc.) I am appreciative of each and every one and felt very lucky to have the spots I did. I’ve attached pictures of some of them but don’t have Yentna Station, Nikolai or Skwentna.

A Very Common Thread

by Jane Blaile

As I’ve been traveling along the trail, I’ve met people who have things in common with me, such as other teachers, people who have relatives in the Phoenix, AZ area, and even people who live there themselves.  This morning, I was talking to volunteer veterinarian Paul Nader.  He was talking about his work at a zoo.  Assuming the zoo veterinarian group enrollment might be small, I asked him where he worked.  And when he told me, I mentioned that my brother was the head veterinarian at the St. Louis Zoo, in Missouri.  It is a prominent zoo and I knew he’d have known about it.  Well, when I told him my brother’s name, Paul said he knew him very well.  They talk on the phone about lemur care, one of my brother’s areas of expertise.  That has got to be one of the neatest connections I have made up here…someone who knows one of my family members.  And we meet in Nome, AK….over 3,000 miles from my home.  Iditarod surprises continue!

A Perspective at the End

By Jane Blaile

This afternoon I visited Nome Elementary school.  I had taken the school presentation I’d been doing previous to my trail experience and changed it somewhat.  I kept the part about Arizona but changed the “what I’m going to do” part to “what I did and saw”.  I was told the students would LOVE to see my trail pictures, so I was excited to share.  But you know what?  I didn’t just get to share here; I learned here.
Luckily, I had the foresight to put in pictures of Melissa Owens, Nome’s hometown girl.  They all knew who she was and were happy to see her in pictures.

In my first presentation to the 1st and 2nd graders, the students were getting excited each time I showed a trail village or town.  They would call out the names in a familiar and fond way.  Afterwards, the teachers apologized for their enthusiasm, noting many of them had relatives in and had visited those villages.  That wasn’t something I’d encountered before. So showing those pictures wasn’t so much as introducing the places, as sharing in their visits there.

Next, I spoke with 4th and 5th graders.  When the slide of the start in Anchorage came up, a little girl in the first row said, “That is my uncle!”  It was a picture of Louis Nelson, Sr.  That comment reversed my perspective from the one giving information to being honored to receive it.  I shared with her that I felt he was a kind and friendly person.

And the oldest group, the 6th graders, shared with me the ingredients of Eskimo ice cream.  The pictures of me trying the native foods I ate in Galena will raise a different reaction from students in other states; here I felt the students were proud that I had shared in their ways.
I left Nome Elementary feeling warmly welcomed and very connected to the students and teachers there.  Rather than giving just one more rote presentation to groups of nameless students, I had been given glimpses into their lives, and even shared experiences with them.

Finisher’s Banquet

by Jane Blaile

Only 3 mushers remain on the trail. Tomorrow the 36th Iditarod will be over. There will be a red lantern winner. But many mushers and dogs won’t be leaving here until later this week. There are many logistical considerations to getting dog teams flown out of Nome. It is expensive, there aren’t a lot of airline options, and some airlines have specific requirements, such as crate size. Well, when you have 1,000s of dogs needing a ride home, it can get a little complicated.
This morning I attended the musher service at the Covenant Church just at the finish line on Front Street. What a moving experience to sit with my pilot, Danny, Jeff Schultz, Dee Dee Jonrowe, Aliy Zirkle, Ed Stilestra, and the Lanier family. Aliy and Dee Dee told some of their experiences on the trail and Jim Lanier and his family sang.

This afternoon was the finisher’s banquet. It was packed into the rec center. The food was exquisite – provided by the Millenium Hotel in Anchorage. I couldn’t believe I was sitting there actually participating in it; each year previous, I have eagerly waited for the pictures and news to come out on the website. I put out my quilt squares to have the mushers sign as they exited the stage after their award presentation and got all but the 3 mushers still on the trail. I will treasure the quilt those squares will become.

My journey here is ending; I’m OK with that. The race is ending, and I have been a part of it from start to finish, so I’m able to come to some closure on this. Tomorrow I will visit Nome Elementary School and Tuesday I go back to Anchorage to wrap things up with the Iditarod Education Department. Thursday I return to Phoenix, just in time for Easter weekend.

I am contemplating how I will continue to be part of Iditarod; it will always be a part of me.

The Ice Classic


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  By Jane Blaile

Are you wondering what goes on in Nome when Iditarod Mushers are arriving?
Here are pictures of one of the special Iditarod week activities.

Front Street, Nome, Alaska


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Jane in Nome! Which way to the next adventure?

Welcome to Nome!

The Dog Yard in Nome, AK

The dog yard in Nome, AK is a wonderful place!

On the Edge

by Jane Blaile

Right when I finished my last posting this morning, I was about to find something to eat for lunch when I got the message that Danny was going to fly to Diomede Island, and if I wanted to go, I should be at the airport by 1:00. So, I raced back to the church where I’m staying and got geared up. Where is Diomede Island? Actually, there are two, Big Diomede and Little Diomede. They are located in the Bering Strait; Little Diomede is U.S., Big Diomede is Russian. They are separated by just over 2 miles of water and the International Dateline. This area of Alaska is beautiful. There are hills and sharp rock mountains, lots of rivers and valleys, and ice along the coast. The wind was blowing fairly hard, and we had a few bumps, but mostly it was a spectacular day. We passed a military post and the whaling village of Wales. As we approached the island, it was apparent that we weren’t going to be able to land due to wind, blowing snow, and unsure ice conditions. The village didn’t have the airstrip cleared, so that was evidence that it wasn’t OK to land. So we circled around, which actually put us over the date line and into Russia a little!

Afterwards, we went flying across the Seward Peninsula with our eyes peeled for polar bears. We didn’t end up seeing any; but our trip led us to the village of Shishmaref. Now, I never expected to visit Shishmaref, that’s for sure! It’s only 10 miles south of the Arctic Circle! And, since the sea is frozen solid, I didn’t know it was an island. Danny found out where the pastor lives, and we went in and visited. That certainly was unique to my journey here. There is a quilt through the Common Thread Quilt project at the school, but being Saturday, I wasn’t able to see it.

On leaving Shishmaref, we were headed towards Serpentine Hot Springs, but since bad weather might have been rolling in to Nome, we went ahead and came back. What an extraordinary flight we had. I just stared in awe at the vast, white wilderness of Alaska….spotting moose and herds of caribou along the way.

A Day of Surprises

by Jane Blaile

Why would I expect today to be any different than any other day I’ve been here? It held wonderful surprises as previous days have done. Doing my laundry at the senior center wasn’t so much a surprise as a humorous little anecdote to my morning.

Surprise #1: I found a native made nativity scene. It’s made of fired and painted clay.

Surprise #2: When I went to the rec center to watch the basketball tournament, two women’s teams were playing. It was fun.

Surprise #3: I walked back down to Front Street just in time to see Benoit Gerard arrive in 49th place.

Surprise #4: When I went into the logistics room, I saw that a pilot was flying to Koyuk and asked if there was space for me, which there was.

Surprise #5: We saw musk ox.

Surprise #6: We had time to stop our plane at Safety and visit the roadhouse.

Surprise #7: When I visited the Koyuk checkpoint, a lady there volunteered to take me to the school to deliver my books and I found one the Common Thread quilts there.

Surprise #8: We got to deliver 2 dropped dogs back to Nome. My journey continues.

Watch the slide show!

Meet Tom

by Jane Blaile

Tom is the manager of the Safety roadhouse. He’s there for Iditarod and in the summer. Originally, he comes from King Island in the Bering Strait; currently, he lives in Nome. When I heard him talking about hunting walrus, I started asking him about it. He hunts them by boat. His boat is 26 feet long. In past times, his boat would have been described as 2 ½ skins long, walrus skins, that is. He then said his grandfather had a boat 4 skins long. When he gets a walrus, he takes all he can to use and eat. Tom commented that kids today don’t know enough about how to get things; he titled the thesis for his anthropology degree “Trading in Your Harpoon for a Shopping Cart”. So, he is a college educated man. His family moved to Nome in the 1940s when the school on King Island was taken away. Although he used to visit there, no one lives there anymore. His was a whaling community along with Wales, Waiwright, Barrow, and a few others. Each whaling village was allowed a specific amount of whales, walruses, etc. to catch for subsistence living. He explained that when he attended school, he used to get hit on the knuckles for speaking his native tongue. So, he and his cousin made a vow to preserve and use their language, which they did. Furthermore, he can understand Eskimo people across Northern Canada and Alaska. His children love their native ways, even though they don’t all live nearby anymore. When he can, he sends them boxes of native food: seal, walrus, greens collected from the area. Oh, and here’s another interesting fact about Tom. His eyes are blue. When I mentioned that I’d noticed he has blue eyes, he just laughed and said, “That happens sometimes.” Meeting Tom was the highlight of my day. Nice to meet you, Tom.

Enjoying Nome

By Jane Blaile


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Hi! It is me, Jane!

Besides watching mushers come in, I have been enjoying Nome, AK. Yesterday I went to the big craft fair that is held here every year about this time. The craftsmanship displayed there was exquisite. If I lived in a cooler place and/or participated regularly in winter activities, I would have spent a fortune on warm weather clothing. The woven quivit hats and head bands were soft and beautiful. For your hands you could find stunning mitts made of seal skin and trimmed with other fur. Nothing beats animal skins and fur for warmth. I also visited the Russian import store. The man who owns the store sat and talked to me, telling stories about the people and the places in the books on his shelves. He was fascinating to listen to. I bought 3 Alaskana books, and am going back today for 4 more. That will have to be in a box I send back to Phoenix. And, of course, I needed to go to the Nome National Forest. It floats away when the sea ice melts, so how do you think it got there?

Talk to Strangers

Usually, you should never talk to strangers, but during the Iditarod, everyone who is part of the race is definitely someone you should talk to. And then they aren’t strangers anymore!

In Takotna, I asked a woman to take a picture of me. We got to talking and I found out that she and her husband are friends of Dick and Jan Newton, who run the Takotna checkpoint. They were traveling the Iditarod Trail on snow machine all the way to Nome AND BACK! I ran into them in the checkpoint and they were always friendly and struck up a conversation with me, which is so appreciated when you are alone somewhere very different and far from home. Again, in Unalakleet, we met at the Unk Bunkhouse. Then they weren’t strangers anymore, but Iditarod friends. They had ridden that far and Dick Newton was with them, too. So, when I arrived in Nome late Monday night, it was nice to see their familiar faces again. I sat with them at a table in the mini-convention center. Jennifer, the wife, was playing cribbage with Dick, and 2 other men I didn’t know. After I introduced myself, one of the men said, “My son was the Teacher on the Trail one year.” Well, Jeff Peterson has been the only male teacher yet, so I knew exactly who he was talking about. His name is Randy Peterson. We had a little conversation about the program, etc., and he even said he had been at Jeff’s house when he called me to tell me I’d been selected.

The next day I came across Randy again playing cribbage with someone who was going to leave, so he invited me to play. I had time, so I did. The Peterson family is related the Jeff and Donna King; Randy was waiting for Donna to come and pick him up. Ellen King and a friend came over to our table and sat. Randy introduced us. Then a young man sat beside me and Randy announced we would teach them how to play cribbage. I introduced myself to the boy, and he introduced himself to me as Nikolai. When I asked if he was Nikolai Buser, he said he was. So, here I am in Nome, Alaska playing cards with a fellow Teacher on the Trail’s father, Ellen King, and Nikolia Buser, like we have been friends all our lives.

I find it’s that way all over Alaska. People are warm, welcoming, and hardly anyone is a stranger. So, if you attend an Iditarod – talk to strangers! You never know who you’ll meet.

She’s Home in Nome

By Jane Blaile
Melissa Owens, a Nome native, who turned 18 just a few weeks ago, on February 18, crossed the finish line this morning. She was down to 6 dogs and she was looking dazed and exhausted, so the enthusiastic and loudly cheering crowd must have been a boost for her.


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She's Home in Nome

Advice From Mushers

by Jane Blaile

Did you ever have to quit or drop out of something? It was probably a hard decision, but you knew it was what you had to do. And maybe it was disappointing – you’d worked hard and gave your best, but you just couldn’t do it…YET. Think about the mushers who’ve scratched. You know they have worked and prepared to go for it; you know they wanted to finish; you know they definitely didn’t want to scratch, but they did. Why? The Iditarod is a living, breathing thing. No one knows when they go out there what will happen. Each day is different – the weather, how the dogs feel, how the musher feels, how the trail is….and on and on.In Unalakleet, I talked to 2 mushers who had to scratch – Ryan Redington and Peter Bartlett. I told them my message of “Live Your Dreams” and asked them what they would say to people who want to live their dreams.

Ryan, in his quiet, understated way said, “Keep at it.” Now, that isn’t a long speech, but it tells it all. Keep at it.

Peter Bartlett added a dimension to it. He said that if it is something you know you want and have in your heart, you should go for it and not listen to people who tell you differently. Go for it.

Think about a dream of yours, right now. Keep at it! Go for it!

Talking Books With Jeff

by Jane Blaile

This afternoon, I went back to a Russian import store I had visited last night. I was looking for more books about Alaska adventures and people. I walked in the door and standing in the entry was Jeff King. I asked him about his book signing here in Nome tomorrow. His wife, Donna, said she’d been to that store and wanted him to see it. She likes the dolls. I said I was looking for more books about Alaska and headed toward the back of the store where the owner was. I was giving him my list of titles, when Jeff asked me what kind of books I was looking for and when I told him, he asked me if I had ever read a book called Karluk. The store owner brought it off the shelf. It was actually a story that is in tandem with another title I’d selected, so I kept it. And I asked Jeff if he likes to read. He really, really enjoys reading, especially Arctic adventure books. In fact, he collects first edition Arctic and Alaska books. So we continued to talk about books he’d read and explorations such as Norman Vaughn’s. And so I spent 10 minutes in a book store talking about books, a favorite subject of both mine and Jeff’s. It’s part of my journey.


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Race to Nome

Nome. I’m here in Nome. And it is midnight – Wednesday now. The 2008 Iditarod race will be won in a matter of hours. If Jeff King wins, he will tie the all time number of wins. If Lance Mackey wins, he will blow the mushing world out of the water having won both the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod 2 years in a row.

I started in Unalakleet this morning, but we left before noon to go to Elim. On the way, we spotted 2 red fox running around on the tundra. I wish I had had more time there, but during my short stay, I accomplished a lot. I found the Big Read books to deliver to Elim Aniguiin School and got a ride up there. It was a half day, so the students were leaving just as I arrived, but the staff and remaining students were very warm, friendly, and welcoming. I was led to Nick Schollmeier, a 4/5 teacher who was a quilt recipient through the Common Thread Quilt Project. He is as excited about the race as anyone, and eager to make connections to students “outside”. His students have been following my journals, and they came up to me knowing my name. It was really moving. I had to run out fairly quickly to fly out, but had enough time to take great pictures at the checkpoint just as Rick Swenson was pulling in.

After that, we stopped in Golovin. Again, we saw a fox below. Golovin is no longer a checkpoint along the trail, but the trail runs right along it. Jeff had to take a quick portrait photo, so Danny and I didn’t even get out of the plane.

Next stop – White Mountain. We arrived about 1 p.m. Lance’s allowed out time was 4:53 and Jeff’s was 5:50. The mood was calm at the checkpoint and supportive in the village. The sun was shining brightly on this village located on the steep banks of the Fish River. Planes were landing on the ice just beside the hole in the ice for mushers to get water. Both mushers bootied up and took off amidst a small crowd of onlookers.

Since Jeff wanted to take pictures of King along the trail, he had Danny and I BOTH jump on the snow machine he was borrowing. It must have been a funny sight, Jeff driving at high speed with me sandwiched in-between him and Danny Davidson. We raced along the trail and stopped just before some lightly dusted rock outcroppings which make an excellent background for race pictures.

We got a ride up to the airstrip, me in a toboggan behind the snow machine, and flew out towards Nome. It’s fascinating to watch the trail from the air. When Jeff or Danny spots a racer, they say, “Dog team!” just like the checkpoint volunteers do when they spot a team coming in. We first saw Jeff and then further up, we spotted Lance. One of the fascinations with flying over the trail is that from up there, you are able to see multiple teams and how far apart they are from each other, but the mushers often do not know that based on their perspective on the ground. We saw one more fox then, making our total 5 for today.

Having passed over Safety, we started looking for musk ox. They had been spotted in the area recently. And do you know, we found a herd of about 15? It was outstanding!

Seeing Nome brought mixed feelings for me; I am excited to see the finishers, but this signals the end of my journey here. I can’t wait to participate in the fun Iditarod week activities (I’m mushing a dog team here Friday.), but I’m not used to so many cars, buildings, etc It will be great to go home to my family, but I will sorely miss my traveling companions, Jeff and Danny, and all the great people I’ve been seeing hopscotch along the trail as we do.

As I was sitting here writing, someone asked me how my journey has been. I said, “It’s indescribable, but one that I will enjoy for many years to come.” This experience will stay with me forever.

Watch the slide show of images.

Race to Nome Images

Watch the slide show.

The Beginning

By Jane Blaile

You might think that this article should be titled “The Finish”. But that is one aspect of the Iditarod that makes it unique from other races. The first musher to finish is definitely the first place winner, but EVERYONE who crosses the line is to be celebrated and commended. And that will be days from now.

So, the chute was lined with fans and media last night. I went out at 1:45 a.m. to secure a good place along the fence, but not too much later, Mark Nordman, race marshal pulled me into the media chute right at the burled arches. It was a magical moment; maybe it was even more magical than last year. Lance’s dogs loped into the chute, happy and energetic. The cheers, whistles, screams, and applause filled the bitter cold air with warmth and good wishes. For the second time in my journey, I had tears in my eyes.

Lance Mackey is a story of pure grit, determination, and desire. He works hard and long to achieve what he does and he does it in an “average Joe” way. He spent quite awhile up there at the finish, talking with media, being presented his winning “check”, and posing for the Golden Harness picture with Handsome and Larry. The whole time he was smiling, happy, and positive. When he spoke with Governor Palin, he though outside of himself and congratulated her on her upcoming family addition. He then walked to the mini-convention center down the street. Tired and hungry, he graciously answered all questions while trying to eat a little and drink some water. You can watch his, Jeff King’s, and other musher interviews through the Insider video clips.

Miracle? Magical? Maybe, but mostly it’s just Mackey!


by Jane Blaile

It’s a lot of fun being here in Nome to see the finishers. The festivities last for days. The town offers a wide variety of special Iditarod week events, such as a native craft fair, basketball tournament, 3-dog sled races, and Girl Scout pancake breakfasts. I will definitely try to do as many of those as I can!Today brought in another round of finishers. Yes, the crowds of cheering fans have diminished, and that is unfortunate. Now, mushers will get a focused group of people waiting and cheering for them, the people who are close to and mean a lot to them included. It’s emotional to see them being greeted by wives, children, friends, etc. There are long hugs and big smiles. One notable finish was when Sebastian Schnuelle slid into the chute just feet in front of Zack Steer. It was somewhat important in that it delineated Sebastian as in the top 10, and Zack not. Later, Rick Swenson came in 12th. That’s so good for him because his last 2 races he placed 25th and 26th.

I missed Jessie’s finish. That’s because I was flying down the river on the back of Jeff’s snow machine! He invited me to go along with him, so I did. I put on all my layers and drug out the Arctic mittens. Boy, was I glad I did! We had to race down the trail to catch up with Jessie Royer and then zip on a bit further to find Dee Dee. It was a ton of fun, but honestly, I was holding on as tightly as I could, and still felt like I was about to bounced off a couple of times. And when we stopped, I saw that I was frosted with snow

It is such a different world out there on the trial. The mushers and the team move quietly; all you hear are gentle commands, dogs breathing, and sled runners sliding along. It is really quite peaceful.

We zoomed back toward the finish, launched up a snow bank, stopping just beside Front Street. We jumped off in time to see Dee Dee enter the chute. Very cool!

Writing assignment: study the various words that describe our movement on the snow machine. Pick an overused action verb such as: say, talk, walk, lift, look, and use a thesaurus to make a list of more descriptive synonyms for it.

Trail Veterinarians

drtate1.jpg by Jane Blaile

The trail veterinarians, headed by Stu Nelson, are some of the hardest working volunteers out here.  There must always be a veterinarian (or two, or three, or four) available to check incoming teams, care for dropped dogs, sign off vet books, etc.  I have met veterinarians from all over the world and the U.S.  Some are here from Australia, Kansas City, Michigan, Tenneessee, and multiple other places.  Many are returning volunteers, having come here for years to stand out in the cold and wind to make sure the Iditarod athletes are in good hands.  This picture is of me with Dr. Gayle Tate for Ms. Bartholemew’s class at Short Mountain School.Click on images for a larger picture:

Iditarod Air Force Pilot Adventure

by Jane Blaile

Sunday was a very eventful day for long time Iditarod Air Force pilot Joe Pendergrass. He shared this story with me. He had 10 dogs in his plane, flying from Ruby to McGrath. For their and any passenger’s safety, the dogs are hooked to a cable in the plane. One of the 10 dogs he was carrying got loose and started running from the front, over the other dogs, and to the back. Oh, no! On one trip to the back, he got the cord from one of the headsets wrapped around him. So Joe unbuckled his seat belt and climbed over the seat REALLY QUICKLY and unplugged the headset, and returned to the pilot seat safely. Wow! The loose dog then climbed over the cargo net and got into the extended baggage compartment all the way in the back of the plane. That changed the weight and balance of the plane, so Joe had to push extra hard on the yoke to compensate.

Gee! As if that wasn’t enough already, his door popped open because the dogs were leaning against it really hard. Yikes! He couldn’t get it closed without pulling the dogs away from it. Just about the time he thought everything was going to be OK (What more could possibly happen?) a dog had diarrhea and it went all over the engine cover and back panel and side walls. Ew!

This story has a happy ending. When Joe arrived in McGrath, he got his engine cover and plane cleaned up. Yeah!

Will this make Joe think twice about volunteering for next year’s Iditarod? Not a chance. He is a dedicated race volunteer and this just adds to his list of experiences to share as he sits around the tables with others and their stories of the trail.

Writing: Notice the use of interjections. Use interjections to describe a memorable event for you.

Unk and Louie

by Jane Blaile

This morning I went to the Bering Strait School District and participated in their student broadcast team videoconferencing with schools across the nation. It was a lot of fun. Afterwards, I slipped out and met the principal at the elementary school. They were very gracious and allowed me to use the school wireless to upload messages and pictures.I hung around the checkpoint awhile and chatted with William Kleedhen, Ed Stielstra, and Louis Nelson, Sr.

img_1615.jpg It was a joy to hear Louie talk about his run, about past runs, and about meeting old friends along the trail. One of his sons has had to scratch, but another one is behind him. Ed Stielstra says he is having lots of fun, which is what it is all about.

We hopped into the plane and flew off to Shaktoolik to see what was going on.

Watch the slide show!


by Jane Blaile

After lunch today, Danny took Jeff to Shaktoolik for some pictures and I went along. We passed over what I think is one of the most beautiful parts of the Iditarod Trail, the Blueberry Hills. It’s a hilly area along the Bering Sea coast. The Bering Sea is frozen part of the way out, but not completely. We landed on a slough on one side of Shaktoolik. It sits on a narrow spit of land between the sea and the slough. It’s one long, straight road. Just one road with houses and buildings on both sides. And it was all I’d heard and read it would be: windy, windy, and windy! It’s definitely the coldest I’ve been yet.

After taking some pictures around the checkpoint, I walked down to the store. When I returned, I was introduced to the principal of the school, and she took me to the school to get a picture of the quilt they received.

Watch the slide show.

Ice Geometry

by Jane Blaile

Look carefully a these pictures of the Bering Sea ice. Can you identify geometric shapes such as: pentagon, trapezoid, rhombus, rectangle, isosceles triangle, equilateral triangle, diamond, …?

Click on images for a larger picture:


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The Bering Sea

by Jane Blaile

frozbersea1.jpg We left Kaltag just when a window of opportunity opened weatherwise. There had been a low ceiling and blowing snow earlier, but we made it without any trouble at all. Getting out at the airport, I didn’t notice anything special about Unalakleet. But when I stepped out in the front of the airport, I saw the frozen Bering Sea. The words of Hobo Jim in Yankee Whaler came to mind, “Look away, to the Bering Sea.” The Bering Sea…the Bering Strait – things that conjure up memories of news stories from the 70s. Things that raise history lessons of migrations of native people. Things that project images of crab fishermen dumping piles of crab onto a sea washed deck. The Bering Sea-the Bering Strait.

Words that echo of a place far, far away, which I never believed I would see. The Bering Sea – the Bering Strait, frozen into huge chunks of ice feet thick which in turn are frozen together. A body of water that presents challenges to those who wish to harvest its produce. A body of water that allows access to its rich wildlife.

The Bering Sea.

Kaltag at Sunrise

by Jane Blaile

Kaltag is really a wonderful place to be. The village is on a flat on the banks of the Yukon River. The people here are very warm, welcoming, and friendly. Mushers are starting to come in regularly now. Most are staying for a short rest; a few mushers are going through. One of the best parts about being here is you can stand right at the point where the mushers rise up off the river into the town and see about 2 ½ miles down the trail. So, a speck appears and moves every so slowly, almost as if it’s not moving at all. At first you are sure you see a person, but the dogs don’t become clear until the team comes much closer to the bank.

Martin Buser asked me how I was enjoying my trip and Cim Smyth commented that I look tired. I said I wasn’t near as tired as he is. He said he had a bad start to his run; he had the flu and thought he was going “to croak” (his words)

Mitch Seavey is here with a small team of dogs, only 9, and wondering how the rest of the race is going to pan out for him. Jessie Royer and Martin Buser just left and Rick Swenson is getting ready to go.

Oh, speaking about Rick Swenson, he was getting repacked and asked Danny Davidson and me if we wanted some food he was going to leave behind. Boy, did we jump on that. We had shrimp in butter with lemon and garlic and it was outstanding! These mushers send out good stuff to eat.

As Cim Smyth was being led to is parking spot, I noticed a big bunch of booties his dogs had taken off. Yes, his dogs took them off; I saw them pulling the Velcro tabs to release the booties. So, I picked them up, carried them back to the school and washed all the booties I’ve collected so far. I have enough for every student in my class, my daughters, and a few extras as well.


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by Jane Blaile

This place, named because of the wind here, is intriguing. As I walked through town along the coastline, I looked at the blurred sunshine, felt the biting wind, and wondered about the stories of the people here. Who are the people that get into these indestructible boats to fish the icy seas? Are the buildings and houses brightly colored to liven up the grey, snowblown winter landscape? What did the beginnings of Unalakleet look like?

Watch the slide show!

You Gotta Love Lance


by Jane Blaile

Shortly after I got to Unalakleet, I wandered down to the checkpoint. Lance Mackey had arrived just previous and was getting his dogs bedded down. He was surrounded by media and fans, and in his usual affable way, he charmed them all. Inside the checkpoint, he was interviewed by a student from the Bering Strait School District.
I asked Chick, a Bering Strait School District technology leader, to show me where the new coffee shop in town was. So, we walked down the street and he pointed out the building where I’ll go tomorrow to participate in video conferencing. We get to the coffee shop and are next to order when Lance Mackey walked in. He is so tired and just wants a HUGE cup of coffee, but he entertains questions and holds a discussion with us. He was given a large mocha, but he didn’t care for it – just wanted a regular cup of coffee with LOTS of cream and sugar. He’s such a regular guy – working hard for his dreams – honoring the people who support the race. He said he thinks it’s important to talk to people because he knows the race is for them.

You gotta love Lance!

Pie in Takotna

by Jane Blaile

img_1220.jpg The big question is, how was the pie in Takotna? Well, the 4 kinds I tasted were wonderful! Banana cream, pumpkin, apple, and blueberry.


  Watch the slide show!

by Jane Blaile

The flight to Ruby was nice – there was a little weather in the way about 15 miles out, but nothing that stopped us from getting there safely. Jeff and I set our gear on the side of the runway in the snow and started walking toward the village. We hadn’t got all that far when a man in a pickup truck said he could take us back up to get our gear and then into the village. It’s almost a 2 mile walk, downhill all the way, which isn’t too bad if you have to do it. Every walk in Ruby is either up or down hill, you can’t avoid either.

Lance Mackey had already arrived and Jeff King was arriving just as we were. Right away I went up to the school with my box of books from The Big Read project. The principal greeted me warmly and invited me to be part of their day’s activities. They had just finished testing week and were having a kind of special day with painting, tie-dying, pizza lunch, and book prizes. For about 10 minutes, I spoke to the students about what I’d been doing and seeing as well as what it’s like where I live in Arizona.

After lunch was a special contest – fire-building and S’more making. There are 32 students in the school, and they were all divided into teams of mixed grades and ages. The assignment: be the first group to build a fire and have everyone assemble a S’more. They literally took firewood, matches, starting material, and S’more ingredients to the parking lot and held the contest. How fun it was!

It was an early release day, so everyone went home at 11:30. I gladly walked the 1.5 miles back down to the checkpoint because it was a sunny, warm day. It was 25 and no wind. I glanced up and was met with the sight of the frozen Mighty Yukon River. Now, I’ve lived along the banks of the Mississippi and it never struck me as this. The vast expanse of snaking snow-covered river took my breathe away. I took lots of pictures, but it cannot be captured that way.

Meeting people at the checkpoints is one of my favorite things here. And today I met Doug Zirkle, Aliy Zirkle’s father. I took a journey for myself, walking around the village, visiting the store, etc. Jeff Schultz, the photographer I am flying along the trail with, was going to go out onto the river to catch Lance Mackey as he left and invited me to ride along. What a kick that was! We sat on the river and as Lance came down out of the village, Jeff shot wildly. Then he jumped back on the snow machine and we went racing up the trail in front of him and stopped again to take pictures as he passed. It was really exciting! On the way back into town, we went up to the village cemetery. I think it was the most beautiful cemetery I’ve ever seen. A little later, we went back to the river to see Jeff King go. Just watching mushers come in, hearing them tell their trail stories, watching them work, seeing vets check dogs, watching race judges and volunteers direct and place teams in the narrow places of the village, listening to stories, knowing what’s going on not in a few minutes after it happens, but AS it happens – that is my journey.

Ruby in the Morning


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by Jane Blaile

It’s snowing. It’s a soft, gently falling, beautiful and quiet snow. The one drawback is it makes flying a little more difficult. So, I might be in Ruby awhile longer. No worries, though. It was very, very quiet at the checkpoint when I arrived this morning. I took advantage of the time and called my family using my satellite phone for the first time. It sure was great to hear their voices and get caught up on the news in Phoenix. Then I walked over to offer my help to the vets at the dropped dog line. They needed help getting the dogs off the line, walked around a little, and put back on the line. Walking serves two purposes – it gives them exercise, keeping them from getting stiff and it allows them to go to the bathroom somewhere away from their beds. They were such sweet dogs. If one didn’t get up with prompting from the leash, I would lift it up to a standing position and then walk with it. The dog transport plane won’t be arriving until around noon, so the dogs got a chance to eat some. They gobbled their kibble mixed with hot water. And after that bite to eat, they were sitting up and singing some of their dog songs, feeling full and happy. Pretty soon they will need to be walked again before the plane ride, so I will help if I’m around. I also got the chance to be a checker for Rudi Niggemeier. The checker identifies the musher by bib number and name, counts and verifies the number of dogs on the team, asks if the musher is staying for a mandatory layover, and gets the musher’s signature.

Click on images for a larger picture:

Aurora Borealis

by Jane Blaile

northern-lights.jpg I just had an experience that rivals no other I’ve ever had in my life. An Iditarod Air Force pilot stopped by the school to say there was a glimmer of hope for an Aurora show. I threw on my boots and anorak, a hat on my wet hair and ran outside. As soon as I stepped out the door, tears came to my eyes as I saw the pictures come to life. No picture or video can do justice to standing underneath the Northern Lights as they wave, grow, shrink, shimmer, and “dance”. I stood in the road and just watched excitedly pointing and saying things you would hear a child say at a circus…”Look!” “Over there!” “Wow!” “I can’t believe it!” What a gift.

Moving on Down the Road

Watch the slide show!

by Jane Blaile

I didn’t get to help with the dropped dogs again because we flew out of Ruby before lunch and touched down in Galena. There was a real spirit of excitement there – like the whole town came out. In fact, Jon Korta’s family was out there, his wife running the checkpoint. The mushers come into the community hall parking lot and then down a short hill to the parking area. Their drop bags and other things were at the top of the hill, so the volunteers loaded toboggans with their drop bags and slid them down hill. I helped with a few mushers’ bags: Aliy Zirkle, Hugh Neff, and Rohn Buser.

At the parking area, the drug testing team was there collecting samples. They are checking for steroids, analgesics, performance enhancing drugs, and others.

We headed off to Nulato next. That is a really neat place. There is an old section and a new section. The school is located just off the Yukon River and the mushers are led to the ball field to park. Lance had left already, but Jeff King, Paul Gebhardt, and Mitch Seavey were there. The gym is open for mushers to sleep and eat in, and there are signs all over the walls supporting the mushers. Rick Swenson showed up and Jeff King left as we were there.

Next stop, Kaltag. We watched Lance and Jeff traveling along the river on our way. We are staying at the school just up the road from the checkpoint. Lance blew through, taking abut 5 minutes to grab his things and go, with Jeff not far behind in coming in.

Click on images for a larger picture:

Meet Guy

by Jane Blaile

guythedog.jpg Meet Guy. He is 5 years old and runs on Ed Iten’s team. Guy is a good lead dog, but today he was running in the team for a little relaxation. He is on his back getting ointment and booties on his feet. Ed rolls his dogs over for this; it makes it much easier for him and they love the added tummy rubs. Look in my Lessons and Articles section for Guy’s picture.

McGrath to Takotna to McGrath to Cripple to Takotna


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by Jane Blaile

This morning I woke up on the school floor where I slept and instead of the 3 people who began sleeping there, I saw 2 or 3 additional bodies sleeping soundly. I hauled my gear back down to the Iditarod logistics building. I wanted to eat breakfast before I left, and my pilot was there. At 8 o’clock, we headed to the airport and took off for Takotna. It was a beautiful, clear morning – moose chomping on the willows were easily visible. When you see a larger moose next to a smaller moose, you are usually looking at a cow and calf. Takotna has 2 runways…one is way up high on the top of the hill above the village, and one is on the river; it is a very winding river, so the runway is short. I was uncertain as to whether or not I’d be staying over in Takotna, but after a few minutes of looking around, I was convinced. It is a beautiful spot nestled along the river – today’s sunshine make it dazzle. Many, many mushers were inside. As soon as I stepped in the door, Ed Stilestra spoke to me about my trip. He is a really sociable and kind man. Then Blake Freking said hello as well. A lot of them are taking their 24 hour layovers there, so they have time to relax and unwind to be rested and talkative. Shortly after that, I trotted up to the school. There are 11 students in the school, 3rd – 11thgrade. Of course, they aren’t having class while the Iditarod runs through, but I met the principal/teacher, Bob Asher. He gave me some history of the school. They have received their quilt from the outside, which I hope to get a picture of later today. Later today? Right now I am sitting in the air terminal in McGrath again. It is 11 a.m. Why am I here again? Well, since the runway in Takotna is short and has a lot of snow on it, too much weight in the plane makes it hard to take off, so Danny took me out first and brought me here. He’s on his way back with Jeff Schultz and then we will all take off from here where the runway is long and well groomed. We are going to Cripple. Jeff Schultz will be shooting pictures there and I just want to see it. It’s a mysterious place which only exists as an Iditarod checkpoint. There is a village of Cripple, but it is not the same place. After visiting Cripple, I will return to Takotna – and PIE!

Click on images for a larger picture:


Watch the slide show!

by Jane Blaile

Cripple. Stark beauty. Stark as in utter, absolute, and total. Oddly, maybe, Cripple is one checkpoint I had a strong desire to see. I know there isn’t a village or a school there; that is why. How often do you get to visit a place so distant, that no one lives there? Our flight there took me over Ophir and the abandoned gold mines, piles of tailings now resembling sugar loaves. The sights when we landed in Cripple: a tent being scaled by a monkey with lawn chair and palm trees in front of it, Bureau of Land Management “cabins” with tropical decorations on the doors, lots of food drop bags, straw and HEET. And vast expanses of frozen over wetlands with small pine trees dotting the area. Quiet, quiet, quiet. Earlier today Dee Dee Jonrowe surprised herself when she became the first musher to the halfway point and won $3,000 in gold nuggets. She was there as were Martin and Rohn Buser, Paul Gebhardt, and Hugh Neff. Paul Gebhardt was rested and regrouping after he had taken a wrong turn and lost valuable hours on the trail. The mushers were nested amongst the evergreens, enjoying peace and quiet, a serene setting. We were invited for lunch – one of the cabins, which this year will become permanent for the first time, was stocked with shelves, Coleman stoves, a table, and food. There was even a volunteer cook there. A bologna sandwich and chicken noodle soup were a luxury meal. I watched Dee Dee talking to the race judge there an wandered over to the parked mushers. Martin Buser was there wearing a tropical shirt. I complimented him on his shirt and how it fit into the “theme” of Cripple. He explained that it was Wasilla High School colors. Then he asked, “So how is the Target Teacher on the Trail enjoying her journey?” And I answered as best I could emphasizing the wonder of it all, but not really being able to express my feelings in words. Rohn was parked beside him, so I chatted with him a little as well. The serenity, peace, and pastoral feeling of Cripple will remain with me forever. A side trip worth every minute…

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I Did the Iditarod Trail

by Jane Blaile

Well, at least 5 miles of it! The folks here in Takotna think it’s important for the Teacher on the Trail to actually get to experience the trail from ground’s eye view, not just the air. So Frankie, a volunteer here, took it up on herself to find me a ride down the actual trail. Terry has a 2-seater snow machine and he volunteered to take me along the trail. I was thrilled, so I put on all my layers and jumped on! As we passed trail markers in the twilight, I tried to put myself in the place of the mushers – relaxing, looking ahead for the next marker, enjoying the multiple shades of the blue twilight, listening to the quietness. It was hypnotizing. Experiencing Alaska’s most remote wilderness not through a glass window, but by being in it. The bond between the dogs and the musher must be astounding because they experience such a moving event together. Each dog becomes a part of the musher’s experience and the emotions of it. Doing a monumental task together makes the team one. Impressive. On our return 5 miles, we pulled over to let musher pass. In the darkness the musher’s headlamp turned each dog into a silhouette…a running, breathing silhouette. We sat in silence as team went by just as silently. It was incredible to see.Other lessons I learned: your mind might easily wander as you stare into the night looking for the next marker, the Takotna River flows into the Kuskokwim, and snow on the side of the road can be as deep as your waist. (Yup, I learned that one by experience!)

Meet Ptarmigan

by Jane Blaile

img_1231.jpg Meet Ptarmigan. She is a 3 year old dog on Rich Corcoran’s team. She is usually a wheel dog, but can do most team positions with good leaders. (see pictures under lessons and articles)

Meet Big Ben


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by Jane Blaile

Meet Big Ben. He’s a 5 year old dog from Ed Stielstra’s team. He is a good leader, but does well in all positions. And you can tell from the pictures (under lessons and articles) that he likes to pose for the camera!

A Day in Nikolai


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by Jane Blaile

This morning I was taken to Nikolai. I jumped out of the plane, put my gear bag on my back and my computer backpack on my front and trotted into this Athabascan village of 70 people. My first stop was the Iditarod comms cabin (communications) to check in. I left my gear bag there and went down to the checkpoint to meet the race judge and to see what the status of mushers was. The first musher, Kjetil Backen, was on his way. A local woman was taking guesses on what the minutes of the time for the first musher would be. Half of the proceeds went to the church here, Russian Orthodox, and the other half went to the winner.Since I was going to have awhile, I went back up to the school. By the way, you can see the checkpoint from the classroom window. I found one of the teachers, introduced myself and sat down for awhile to talk. Alaska is part of the public library’s Big Read program, and I delivered a small box of books to the school which contained the selected title To Kill a Mockingbird.

The elementary students, there are 4, came in the room and we played a few rounds of Old Maid. Then they needed to get back to their lessons, so I went to the gym to take a picture of the quilt they received. While I was there, I heard the announcement of the first musher arriving, so I geared up as fast as I could (which I’m not too fast at yet) and started to the checkpoint. A man on a 4-wheeler stopped and offered me a ride – so I jumped on the back and off we went the short path to the river.

I stayed down there taking pictures and watching the front runners come in before I went back to the school to work on writing. And all day that is what I did – went to the river, where the mushers were arriving and leaving and back to the school, where the mushers were in the gym eating, visiting, sleeping. I love this part of being here…sitting around listening to the mushers tell their stories about their runs, their dogs, their plans…

Around dinner time, I went back to the checkpoint and offered my help. The vets needed help delivering dropped dogs to the line, which was up the road a ways, so I started helping with that. Around 10 o’clock p.m. I decided I needed to try to sleep and maybe write a little. The teacher had offered me the classroom floor to sleep on and given me a thick mat, so I was very, very comfortable.

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Dropped Dogs

by Jane Blaile

Dropped dogs. What is it all about? I worked with the vets in Nikolai and asked a lot of questions so I understood it. When a musher stays in a checkpoint, each dog is examined by a vet. The vets listen to their lungs and their heart rate. They check their legs for soreness and stiffness. Each dog has its temperature taken and is checked for hydration and overall attitude. They ask questions to best assess the dog’s health. Mushers can ask about specific conditions as well. Either the musher or the vet can suggest dropping a dog. I was told that the mushers really appreciate the veterinarians and are willing to listen to their recommendations. Sometimes a decision to drop is delayed until the rest is over because sometimes rest is all a dog needs to be able to go on. When the decision to drop was made, a form was filled out indicating the reasons. Then I unhooked a dog from the gangline, hooked it to a lead and led it up the path to the dropped dog line. These dogs might have leg, shoulder, or wrist injuries. Or they might be have upset stomachs. Some have just become too tired to continue.

They all are sad that they must leave their team. So I talked to them encouragingly, trying to use their names, and gently led them up the road. After I attached them to the drop line, I gave them straw and food, ruffled their hair, looked them in the eye and told them to have a good rest. They need to know they are important and going to be OK.

Where are more pictures?

by Jane Blaile

For pictures to go with these messages, go to my “Lesson Plans and Articles” page.

(Due to: Technical Difficulties on the Trail!)

Subbing in Nikolai – Working in McGrath

by Jane Blaile

When I went into the gym this morning, there were anoraks, boots, bags of food, and headlamps strewn all over. I remember hearing the radio announcing mushers coming and going all night – these random articles were proof of their arrivals. My classroom’s adopted rookie musher, Jennifer Freking, and her husband, Blake, were sitting at a table scrutinizing the current race standings.
As I was journaling, I was asked to help work with the elementary students this morning, since one of the teachers was ill at home. This was great, because they had scheduled a video conference with the school in Missouri that had received a quilt through the Common Thread Quilt Project. So, each student decided on a question to ask the 2nd graders at Christ Community Lutheran School in St. Louis, MO. Then when they dialed in we held a video conference. The 2nd graders asked about mushers in Nikolai and about the life in the village of Nikolai. The students from Top of the Kuskokwim School asked the St. Louis children about what they do in their free time, what they eat for breakfast, how they get to school, and what kinds of animals live wild in Missouri.

When it was brunch break time, I geared up and went down to the checkpoint until it was time for me to leave. I flew to McGrath. At the airport, I was hooking up my bag to a leash, preparing to drag it through town, when an Iditarod volunteer offered to carry it to logistics for me. I arrived there just in time for lunch, and I was starving. Back on the road with my gear back, computer backpack, and a box of books for the school through The Big Read program sponsored by public libraries nationwide.

At the school, I found rooms full of crews from Discovery channel and other things, and one with a teacher. She graciously directed me to the room where I’ll be staying with the Insider crew. When she said she’d received her quilt, I was so happy! There is no school the rest of this week because of the Iditarod coming through, so I’m not able to speak formally to the students, but I took a picture of the quilt with the receiving teacher.

I hustled to the checkpoint and checked in with the comms people before hanging around outside, waiting for mushers, seeing which teams were there, and introducing myself to various Iditarod volunteers. I had the honor of meeting Lavon Barve, a former Iditarod musher who first ran in 1975, whose last run was in 1997. He entered 14 Iditarods and placed in the top 10 eight of those times, three top 20s, 2 scratches and a 22nd place. His best place was 3rd in 1990.

After dinner at the checkpoint, I’m going to stay and volunteer as needed tonight. They expect a busy time just after dark, and all helping hands are welcome. It’s not cold now, but it will get cooler as the night goes on.

Meeting in McGrath

  Watch the slide show!

by Jane Blaile

Tonight turned out to be a fascinating night so far. Not so many mushers arrived, but I have met and talked to some of the greatest people. I grabbed dinner at the checkpoint and was glancing over the current race printout when Rick Swenson sat across and over one spot from me. He picked up an old newspaper, and I said, “Do you want to look at this, Rick?” He asked me how I knew his name and when I told him I was the current Teacher on the Trail for the Iditarod, he understood. So, he got up and got his meal, then returned to the seat directly across from me saying, “So, tell me about Phoenix and what you are doing.” Just like that. Well, I did tell him and we started discussing so many things about the Iditarod, but also about him. He told me about growing up and how he got started into dog mushing, about the checkpoints along the northern route, about his children and where they lived…just an outstanding conversation. One thing he said, which I thought was insightful was, “The Iditarod is not just a sled dog race. It’s a cultural event.”

Outside, I introduced myself to the checkers and vets, offering to help in any way I could. Somehow it surfaced that one of the checkers has done extensive bear research in Alaska. So, I asked as many questions as I could about bears. There are only 8 species of bears in the entire world, 3 live in the northern hemisphere, and 5 in the southern. Our three species are: brown bears, black bears, and polar bears. Grizzly bears and Kodiak bears are varied brown bears. Polar bears are the largest species of bear in the world weighing up to 3,000 pounds.

Dallas Seavey pulled in on a snow machine with a friend behind. He was giving an update on how far out the next musher was and asking about getting snow machine parts and gas.

Blake and Jennifer Freking from Finland, MN arrived and stopped briefly to grab supplies. Blake is a veteran, but Jennifer is a rookie. They are running their Siberian teams the whole way together.

There were 2 vets near with whom I struck up a conversation. I asked them how they got into veterinary medicine. One vet is from Australia, one from Kansas. Each had a completely different story on how he got started, but they both had the same philosophy about how it should be done today.

There was a National Guard Public Relations officer there describing his work in Iraq; how he was a combat photographer and has pictures that tell the whole story.

I introduced myself to the race judge here. His name is Lavon Barve. I knew he was an Iditarod runner, and I told him I knew about him. He is a very humble man, but after I asked questions about past Iditarods, etc., he slowly began telling stories. He first ran in 1975, and his last run was in 1997. He entered 14 Iditarods and placed in the top 10 eight of those times, three top 20s, 2 scratches and a 22nd place. His best place was 3rd in 1990. He talked of 70 pound sleds, and improvements in clothing. He told how mushers suits would freeze into one solid piece and some mushers would have to scratch because they couldn’t get out of their suits. And he spoke of booties – some old versions collecting snow and ice until each one weighed upwards of 5 pounds…about trying to defrost them with Blaz-o….He mentioned his first place Yukon Quest finish, too. And he talked…

Meeting people in McGrath.

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Planes, Trains, and Snowmobiles


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by Jane Blaile

Monday night at Skwentna, I worked on the ice until 3:30 a.m. I knew I’d have a long day ahead of me the next day, so I decided to get some sleep. When I went into the checkpoint cabin, I saw a musher sleeping with his head on my bag; I had to have my sleeping bag, so I gently slid it out from under his head and he kept on sleeping. I took my bag upstairs to the middle room between volunteer sleeping rooms and there were 2 spots left. One was between two sleeping mushers who had drifted close together. The other was next to a sleeper and a wall, so I decided to lay my bag out there. It was an interesting night, but all just part of the experience. For instance, I didn’t grab my sleeping pad because there was something already on the floor, and I was sorry because sleeping on a hardwood floor isn’t very comfortable at all. Also, I think we all were snoring, myself included. J And mushers’ alarms were going off at all hours of the night because they wanted to get up and get going. And of course, each time dogs were harnessed to leave, they sang their awesome songs. I slept most of 3 hours and got up.

No same person was in the room as when I left except me. I got my shoes back on and my sleeping bag rolled up tightly to leave space for someone else. After a big bowl of hot oatmeal, I went down to the river to see what had transpired. It was an entirely different place, seemingly empty after the chaos of the previous night. There were about 8 teams still resting or having just arrived. I had helped get many of them in or through, but missed some of the excitement of teams being harnessed and taking off. After hanging out at the checkpoint cabin, hearing mushers telling of losing the trail or sticking to their schedules or one of many other popular checkpoint discussions, I heard a pilot show up to take the 9 dropped dogs. The vet said she needed help holding dogs in sleds to get them to the airplane, so I eagerly volunteered, geared up again and headed down to the river. I sat in a flat sled attached to the back of a snow machine and the vet put a dog in my lap. He really didn’t want to be there, and remember how strong these dogs are, so I had to firmly grasp his collar with my full grip and hang on to the cable he was staked out with. About halfway through he gave up and just lay with his head in my lap. Then a ride back for another round. The sweet little girl I got the second time completely curled up and lay heavily in my lap. She was warm and completely relaxed the entire time.

As soon as I got back to the bank, I heard the sound I’d been waiting for…my pilot, Danny Davidson, calling ‘Teacher, teacher, this is Sherpa 1″. That means I’m landing and you need to meet me at the airstrip. So, I run inside, grab my gear and throw it onto the back of the snow machine a driver was taking me on. And I said, “Ok, let’s make it a fun one.” , to which he said, “Are you serious?” So, I had a thrilling ride to the airstrip, nearly being tossed or tipped off the side several times due to speed. It was quite a rush!

Danny told me Jeff Schultz was in Finger Lake, so he’d drop me off at Rainy Pass and then go back to get Jeff. As it turns out, that didn’t happen for several reasons. One was that I asked to see Finger Lake checkpoint even though I wouldn’t stay there. Mainly, a front rolled in and people weren’t flying to the pass today. But that didn’t stop Danny – he took us to McGrath by circumventing the weather.

The trip there was amazing. The clouds and mountains, glaciers and a glimpse of Denali, trains the size of commas across a page of paper, and brilliant sunlight. I was still very tired, so I finally dozed off and woke up only just before we touched down in McGrath where it was snowing and cold. McGrath is usually the first colder spot on the trail. We got our stuff to Iditarod logistics and unloaded. I was sent to find a bunk upstairs – a real mattress. The first thing I did was to get my posting updated. I’m lucky to have had a comfortable place to stay and a hot shower, an unexpected luxury. Great food, camaraderie, and time to work – things I am thankful for.

Next up – Nikolai, Takotna, and McGrath!

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Nome or Bust

by Jane Blaile

nomeorbust8.jpg Right now I’m sitting in Skwentna checkpoint. That seems like such a far stretch from where I started this morning – and it is a stretch in ways of distance, location, culture, etc. The latest update is Lance Mackey was first out of Yentna and we are expecting the first mushers between 8 and 9 o’clock.

I woke up very early and got my things organized one more time, leaving a suitcase at the hotel and loading my trail bags into my car. The drive to Willow was beautiful as always and the space on the lake marked off for mushers was much bigger to accommodate the record number this year – 95 started today. G.B. Jones scratched after the ceremonial start yesterday.

The weather was mild and the sun came out for awhile to help warm things up. There was a great positive energy on the lake. Mushers were calm; their sleds were loaded and waiting when it was start time. After watching the first 17 mushers, I headed back to the car to get a ride from my niece, Sarah and her husband, Doug, to the Willow airstrip for my flight to Skwentna checkpoint. And off I went on my journey of a lifetime.

Flying over remote Alaska is like floating through a dream. Beautiful, smooth mounds of snow. Snow banks perforated by moose hooves. Stands of spruce trees lightly dusted with snow, reminiscent of Christmas trees adorned with tinsel. Over Skwentna, the bales of hay wrapped in blue plastic look like disconnected railroad cars lined up along the river; a train which ends in a pyramid of HEET cases. The buildings which we go into are submerged halfway into the snow.

The checkpoint is actually on the Skwentna River, but just up the river bank is where the buildings are, such as the outhouse and the post office. This is a busy checkpoint because many mushers come through very close together.

In log cabin, is the checkpoint where the Skwentna Sweeties work tirelessly cooking delicious homemade food for volunteers and mushers. All over there are snacks and drinks, and even fresh baked cookies. There is Tang on the table; Tang is a past sponsor of the Iditarod. And a quote from someone here, “It isn’t the Iditarod without Tang.”

Wood stoves keep the inside very toasty – there are veterinarians and communications workers as well as the Insider crew and other volunteers here. During the night it will transform into a very different place.