The Race Restart

Sunday, March 6, 2016 –Day 9

4.JPGThe restart of the Iditarod occurred today in Willow, Alaska. Willow is about an hour and a half north of Anchorage. A group of us took the bus to Willow to experience the restart. Upon arrival I met up with Sara Lamont, who is one of the coordinators of the dog handling part of the race, and I talked with her about the process at the restart. The responsibilities of a dog handler are to help control a team of dogs from the truck unloading area to the actual start of the race. This involves holding on tightly to the gang line by pulling the rope back to keep the very excited dogs from taking off down the track. The teams have to be lined up in the correct order and walked to the starting gate. The dogs are very excited and are jumping high in the air. They want to take off and run. Some mushers proceed slowly to the gate, while others get their teams moving quickly across the frozen lake which means the handlers have to be able to run in slippery conditions for a long distance while holding on to a rope. It is also very important not to step on the dogs’ feet as this could severely injure a dog and result in the animal being removed from the race. Working as a dog handler was a new experience for me, and it was one that I was eager to try. During the course of the day, I worked as a dog handler for both Jessie Royer (number 3 from Montana) and Dag Olsen (number 35 from Norway). I will elaborate on this terrific experience at a later time.

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GPS Tracking Device

At midnight tonight I am going to “pull an all-nighter” and work a communication shift from midnight to 6:00 am at the Lakefront Hotel. Important race information is going to be transmitted from the remote checkpoints to this command center, and I will be one of the many people available to process the information. The following day I am going to fly on a “red eye” flight back to Logan airport. A “red eye” flight is an overnight flight that leaves in the afternoon and arrives in the morning the next day. I will have to find time to sleep along the way! Anyhow, I am going to try and snooze now.

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The Ride of a Lifetime!

Saturday, March 5, 2016 – Day 8



Riding as a passenger in the sled of the musher Trent Herbst along the main street of downtown Anchorage in the Iditarod Ceremonial Race Start was amazing. The video of this ride is on the website and was broadcast on TV in Alaska. My dog, Hickory, was able to enjoy this video back home in Boston!

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Trent is a fourth grade teacher from Idaho, and we immediately connected. After our ride, I hopped in his truck with his handlers and dogs and helped him take his gear to Northern Air Cargo at the airport. One dog, Hornet, rode in the cab with us because Trent discovered that this dog was allergic to the hay that lined each bed in the trailer. Trent shipped dog crates to Nome and the sled, which I rode in and his students made, to the McGrath checkpoint. From there we went out to eat and talked about mushing, teaching, and his life adventures. This was truly a highlight of the trip for me. To learn more about Trent, watch this terrific YouTube video.

I met the Governor of Alaska, William “Bill” Walker, and spoke with him while on live TV. Here is a picture that was taken with the Governor at the starting line.

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Deedee Jonrowe is an inspirational 62 year old female musher who is entering her 34th Iditarod race. Sixteen of her starts have resulted in top ten finishes. One of the many things Deedee is known for is her highly publicized battle with breast cancer. She wears an all pink outfit when racing to support this cause. She had a very difficult year as she lost her home and all of her belongings during the Sockeye wildfire fire. Thankfully, all of her dogs survived. During my conversation with her she mentioned that she is planning on running in the Boston Marathon this year. I am a big fan of hers and look forward to continuing to support her enthusiastically!

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I then visited the extraordinary art collection in the Alaskan Native Medical Center. The art displayed in this collection represents the diverse native cultures of Alaska. The art reflects pride in Alaska’s rich cultural heritage. I only wish that I had more time to appreciate this artwork. The following pictures do not do this magnificent collection justice.

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This is a beaded vest made of smoked moose hide, glass beads, horn, and beaver fur. Underneath is a pair of mukluks (boots).

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Alutiig kayak paddle and Tlingit canoe paddle


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Woman sewing a gut parka doll.

Made of fabric, wood, human hair, grass, rawhide, and sea mammal gut.

Dog Handler Certification

Friday, March 4, 2016 – Day 7

I had a terrific conversation with  author Katie Mangelsdorf. She wrote the book Champion of Alaskan Huskies, Joe Redington Sr., Father of the Iditarod, in which she “busted” a number of myths about the Iditarod. Before I left for Alaska I purchased this book and began reading it. Did you know that the Iditarod was not started to commemorate the delivery of the diphtheria antitoxin to Nome in 1925? Joe Redington, Sr. realized the need to preserve the culture of sled dogs and their use in Alaska and also wanted the Iditarod Trial to be recognized as a National Historic Trail. These two important reasons led to the establishment of the Iditarod sled dog race. The following quote reflects an important theme in the book. “I wanted a story that showed them how a person’s experiences and how they think through these experiences determines what they accomplish in life.”

I received a great quote yesterday from Trent Herbst, and it reflects a philosophy that he has about life. “Make, create, construct and teach others to do the same.” Additionally,  Trent’s friend, Ed Stielstra, left a quote on our Dexter Southfield banner which says,  “Live like someone left the gate open.” What do these quotes mean to you?

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Musher, Aliy Zirkle

I participated in a class and became certified as an official dog handler. The responsibilities of a dog handler include being part of a team of volunteers who carefully help guide each dog team to the starting line of a race. I learned how to handle these elite athletes with compassion and respect. We were given a number of specific instructions. Do not wear spiked shoes, dangling earrings, or any sharp pins that may injure a dog. Make sure not to step on the dogs’ paws. The ground will be very slippery, and the footing will be unsteady. If you fall, let go of the line and make sure to roll safely away from the team. Making the mistake of not rolling away and remaining where you fall will result in  being trampled by the following dogs and run over by the heavy sled. The sled will be starting and stopping as it proceeds to the starting line. After rolling to the side of the trail, get up off the ground and run to catch up with the sled and regain your position. During the training session I matched myself up with the lead dog. I led the entire team around the icy parking lot while also keeping my eye on the musher. When the musher held his hand up, I yelled, “Whoa!” and stopped the lead dog and team while keeping the gang line taut.

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Jeff Schultz, the official photographer of the Iditarod, arranged an official photo shoot with me and  a very cute puppy.


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Trent Herbst

Thursday, March 3, 2016 –Day 6

Answer to yesterday’s question:

Kristy Berington – blue headband on left

Anna Berington – red headband on right

My day began at 6:30 am (10:30 Eastern Standard Time) with a Skype session with Dexter Classes Four and Five. Thanks to the support of Mr. Williams and Mr. Levasseur at school, the boys were able to ask me questions about my experiences, and I was able to let them know about many of the interesting events that I have attended and teachers that I have met from both the US and from around the world. Yesterday I was in a car with teachers from Alaska, Illinois, South Korea, and Virginia. I had a long conversation with a man named Gary from the remote Alaskan village of Shaktoolik. I was fascinated to learn about his culture and thought about how different it was from my experiences. I learned, like many of the villages in remote Alaska, this town is not connected to a road system. Transportation to and from the town is by airplane, snow machine, dog sled, and by boat when the port is free of ice.

During the conference I learned from Jen Reiter, a previous Teacher on the Trail™, that dogs that live in areas of really cold weather have five important adaptations that allow them the survive. 1) These dogs have two coats of fur, an inner coat and an outer coat. Jen described this as wearing a warm fleece under an outer raincoat shell. 2) These dogs have paws which are extra tough. Booties are worn not to protect the pads, but rather to prevent balls of snow and ice from forming between the pads. 3) When the dogs sleep they keep their nose warm with their large, bushy tail. 4) These dogs have extra-long tongues which allows them to cool down when running. 5) The blood circulation system is also a little different. The blood in the dog remains warm during the entire circulation process, instead of moving from warm to cool as it does in humans.

An interesting handwriting exercise that Jen conducts with her class involves a bucket of ice water. She has her students place their hands in a bucket of ice water, and then she has them write a paragraph. The idea is to demonstrate how the very cold temperatures affects the mushers’ ability to perform a task. DXSF 4 students are able to add a new challenge to Monday’s spelling/ cursive handwriting homework assignment!

Today I was able to meet Trent Herbst, who is one of the mushers competing in the 2016 Iditarod. Trent is a fourth grade teacher from Ketchum, Idaho. He attended the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse and majored in Education. He has taught in Argentina, Dominican Republic, Germany, and Switzerland before settling in Idaho. To learn more about Trent and his dog team, visit his webpage

Trent was teaching his class yesterday and had his handler drive his dogs from Idaho to Alaska. He received permission from his school to take a few days off to race in the Iditarod. Most of the race will occur during his spring break. Wow!

I have been looking forward to speaking with Trent about his 4th grade class, the curriculum he follows, his world travels, and his unique experience participating in the Iditarod. Trent does conduct a lot of STEM activities in the classroom. As a learning activity in school, he has his students build their own dogsleds and actually use them. Students research a design, gather the necessary material, build the sleds by hand and then actually attach them to sled dogs and go for a ride. How much fun is that! See the video of this project on his webpage.

In the evening we attended the Musher Drawing Banquet at the Dena’ina Convention Center in Anchorage. At this dinner event, each musher participating in the race was called up on stage in the order he or she signed up for the race. The mushers are then given an opportunity to speak and thank their sponsors, friends and family members who have supported them as they prepare for the race. Additionally, each person puts his or her hand into a large boot and randomly draws a number that will be the person’s starting order. The Iditarod race has a staggered start. This means that starting at 10:00 am on Sunday morning, the mushers start at 2 minute intervals. Does this mean that the first musher to leave has a huge advantage? No! During the mandatory 24 hour rest the second to last musher to leave has to wait 24 hours and two minutes. The third to last musher to leave has to wait 24 hours and four minutes. The fourth to last musher to leave has to wait 24 hours and 6 minutes. This pattern continues all the way to the first musher. Thus, the first musher to cross the finish line in Nome is the winner of the race.

Iditarod Insider

Dexter Southfield teachers and students have access to a special service called the Iditarod Insider. On this site there are live broadcasts during the race and video clips from past races that include interviews with various mushers. Additionally, one can watch live broadcasts of the ceremonial start, the race start, and the finish. The mushers will be carrying GPS trackers during the race. It will be possible to identify the location of the mushers at any time during the race by using the GPS Tracker Program.

How are we able to use this program?

Step 1) Visit and log into the Community Login. Visit the Resources tab and locate the Iditarod Insider tab. The username and password for our account are available here. (I can’t post this information in my blog because the service is only available to our school.)

To use the Iditarod Insider, visit Then, on the top right side of the blue banner, locate the section labeled “log in”.

Iditarod Headquarters

Wednesday, March 2, 2016 – Day 5

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Early this morning we took an exciting trip to the Iditarod Headquarters located in Wasilla, Alaska. We viewed trophies, displays and photos from past Iditarod races. Did you know that the closest Iditarod finish was in 1978? Dick Mackey finished one second ahead of Rick Swenson. Mackey won because the nose of his lead dog crossed the finish line first! Did you know there is one five time winner of the Iditarod? – Rick Swenson won in 1977, 1979, 1981, 1982, and 1991.

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Additionally, at the Headquarters, veterinarians were checking all of the dogs participating in the race. The health and safety of the dogs are a top priority for everyone involved in the race. Each dog is carefully examined from head to toe. Dogs are microchipped to assist veterinarians identify each dog during the race which is essential in the coordination of health records. In this picture a veterinarian is carefully checking the paw of a dog as she proceeds through the health examination.

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We learned the important parts of the health examination.

H – Heart and Hydration

A – Attitude and Appetite

W – Weight

L- Legs and Lungs

At the veterinarians check I met two mushers who are also sisters. Are you able to identify these mushers and tell them apart?

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In the afternoon we traveled to the kennel and homestead of Iditarod veteran Matt Failor. We were able to experience a working kennel. Matt reviewed the mandatory equipment mushers are required to carry with them during the race: sleeping bag, snowshoes, ax, 8 dog booties per dog, cooker and pot to boil water, veterinarian’s notebook, fuel, cable to secure dogs, emergency dog food, and Iditarod promotional material. A memorable quote from Matt was, “If you take care of the dogs, then they will take care of you.”

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