Friday, February 28th, 2014

10:15 pm

Downtown Anchorage

Streets are cool, quiet, dark, and lonely.  Anticipation hangs in the air.  Dogs rest in their kennels, while mushers toss in their beds.  The minutes pass, drawing each spectator, musher and dog closer to the morning.

Before dawn, plows will contradict themselves and cover the streets with snow.  As daylight wearily makes its way over the mountains the streets will wake up as well.  First a few people will venture out to see the transformation that has occurred in the darkness. Then an explosion, causing an avalanche of people to fill the streets.

Anticipation of the big day starts with a pile of snow, sitting in the cool, quiet, dark and lonely street.

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Mark

The Musher’s Code

What would bring a 52 year old Alaskan mortician and a 30 year old Jamaican security guard together?  What would make them shed tears with each other? How would these two men, from such extremely different walks of life ever strike up a friendship?

The Iditarod.


(If you are an Iditarod Insider I suggest you watch the video entitled, “Jannsen’s Full Interview.”  I won’t be hurt if you stop reading and watch it now.  After all, it’s a first hand account of the story that I’m about to share.)

I have been following the Iditarod for years.  I have watched countless hours of Insider videos, as well as every documentary I can get my hands on.  But every year I learn something new.  This year, after being there, I witnessed the depth of competition and companionship, fortitude and friendship, rivalry and relationship that the mushers experience on the trail.  I saw with my own eyes what makes this such an amazing event.  I understood exactly why this is called “The Last Great Race.”

Scott Jannsen wrapped his sled around a tree, and only remembers waking up two hours later with his dogs surrounding him, covered in a layer of snow.  Somewhat shaken he continued on his way.  Iditarod mushers don’t give up easily.  Unfortunately his trip went from bad to worse.  Falling through the ice and having a dog’s line break followed, but it wasn’t until he broke his ankle that he realized he was in trouble. Unable to get up he lay on the ice for 45 minutes thinking the worst… hypothermia.

Then he heard the sound of another team.  “Help!” He mustered all the strength he had left. “Help!”

“Ya, Mon,  What are you doing, laying there on the ice?” came the response from Newton Marshall.

In the interview Jannsen described how Marshall saved his life.  He said, “So Newton did everything I had asked him to do, except for…”  He went on to explain that once Marshall had helped him into his sleeping bag, secured and fed his dogs, he reminded Marshall that this was a race, and that he needed to go.  Newton Marshall would not listen.  He waited until help arrived.

They shed tears together and the friendship was strengthened.  This is not the end of the story, but it’s not the beginning either.  A couple of years earlier Marshall came into a checkpoint without his headlamp on.  He had forgotten his batteries!  Jannsen gave him batteries.  This is what mushers do.

While listening to this interview I learned something that was obviously a part of the “musher’s code,” but that I had never heard verbalized before.  Jannsen explained that mushers can only receive help from other mushers!  They lend everything from batteries to sleds to each other.  They will give up their place along the trail to help out another musher who is in trouble.

Friendships cross age, race and gender.  When you meet the mushers you can feel it.

It was an honor to be a part this race, and I will take these lessons with me as I continue my own race with family, friends and coworkers.

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Mark

Where will this journey take me?

DSC_8356My first entry I talked to you about my journey.  This journey I shared with you was a fascinating experience.  I was able to travel to Alaska, meet many legends, both human and dog, and represent my school and community.  I can’t express to you in words the value of this journey.  I am so excited to share this adventure with my students.

I have been home almost a week now and have been reflecting this whole time.  As we follow this race in my classroom I am able to share firsthand with my students the different aspects of the great state of Alaska.  I can share information and show pictures of the landscape, homes, culture, history, people, dogs, but most importantly I get to share the next part of my journey with them.  My journey to learn with them.DSC_8947

This experience taught me a great deal.  It taught me you will always meet new influential people….and dogs.  It taught me you are never finished learning.  It taught me that life is an adventure and you should relish every minute of it.  It also taught me that no matter how hard you work, how much you dedicate yourself, or how talented you are; you may not accomplish your goal, and that’s o.k.  I learned this last reality from the many mushers that had to scratch from the race due to conditions.  I look forward to seeing where they go with their journey.DSC_8487

DSC_8087This experience left me humbled.  It was amazing to see all the people involved in this great race.  The legends of this race who bring their stories and history to us.  The mushers whom we idolize because of their hard work and determination.  The over 1500 volunteers whom without them this race couldn’t happen.  The vets whom take care of the dogs.  Of course, the dogs whom we love and adore.  It’s all about the dogs!DSC_7771

Where will this journey take me?

Posted in Erin

The Best Things in Life

Teacher Friends Are the Best!

The best things in life are the people we love, the places we’ve been and the memories we’ve made along the way. When I think about the last few weeks and my amazing Iditarod adventure, I can’t help but think about the people, the places and the memories I will have for the rest of my life. There are so many wonderful people who have made my time in Alaska feel like I am visiting friends and family. I have found the Iditarod attracts a certain type of person.  They typically have an adventurous attitude, a love for animals and a love for the human spirit.  I am grateful to have these new and renewed friendships to bring back to Ohio with me.

Sunset From Hotel Window

One cannot think of Alaska without picturing snow covered mountains and breathtaking views. Being able to share that beautiful landscape with my students through Skype, truly allowed me to share the beauty of Alaska with them first hand. It is the most amazing place I have ever been and I am amazed by the beauty outside my hotel room window in Anchorage.

Mrs. Wyckoff Iditarod 2014

Reflecting back on my adventure, I know I will carry these memories with me wherever I go.  Some of my favorite memories are sitting on the corner of Cordova watching the Ceremonial Start, watching the Re-start from a snowbank along the Iditarod Trail and working in RaceStats the first night of the race.  Now that I have returned to Ohio, I am humbled by all the students and teachers who have followed my posts, cheered me on and shared in my journey.  I will forever treasure the memories and friends I have made along this amazing adventure!

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Shannon

A Picture Tells a Story

Hanging Out With FriendsThis is what it is all about: the future.  When Joe Redington, Sr. created this long distance race called the Iditarod, he wanted future generations to know and love Alaskan Husky sled dogs.  At the re-start of the race, this little guy was hanging out with his friends watching a favorite video.  He was content and happy to be spending the morning sitting in the dog trailer with his dog friends.  Over the years, technology may continue to change, but the love of the Alaskan Husky will continue to grow for generations yet to come!

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Shannon

A Picture Tells a Story

lead dogThe calm before the storm.  That’s all I can think of when I look at this picture.  If you have never been around sled dogs when they are in preparation to make their journey along the trail, the sound and experience is beyond words.  There are a vast amount of stories going on in this one picture, but the one adventure that stands out most is the dog all alone on the end of the gang line.

What do you think is going on in his head?  I wish you could have seen him just about a minute before I snapped this photo.  This lead dog was hooked to the end of the gang line. He appeared especially excited.  How could he not be excited?  There are dogs everywhere, he is being hooked up for the journey of his life, his favorite musher is 25 feet away getting his buddies.  What more could he ask for?

Just one minute before I shot this, he was jumping up and down and trying to start the race without his friends.  His owner calmly walked up to him and said, “sit,” very quietly.  This dog, without hesitation, sat down and did not move.  I watched him for at least 15 minutes sit there and just gaze around the dog lot.

As I was talking with Susan Whiton today, former musher, she was explaining a little more to me about lead dogs.  Most mushers will teach their lead dogs to not move when they are hooked to the gang line.  As soon as that musher told his lead dog to sit, he sat.  That is discipline and a special bond between dog and owner.  You can tell how much respect both have for each other in the way the musher spoke to his dog and in how the dog responded to the command immediately.

This whole week has been all about the dogs.  This picture shows it all.  This adorable dog is preparing to embark on the journey of a lifetime, and he is going to be doing it all with his best friend in a sled not far behind him.  I am very envious.

Posted in Erin

Going Home

???????????????????????????????In some ways it feels like I just arrived here and in other ways like I have been here all my life.  I think that is what a place like Alaska does to people.  The beauty that surrounds a person here is new at every turn, yet it is home in a way that even home will never be.  It’s really hard to describe.  You have to experience it to truly understand.

As I rode home from Willow after the restart today I was reminded of that Yupik quote from the Anchorage Museum wall. (If you didn’t read my first post, it’s not too late.)





Translated it means:

“What you do not see,

Do not hear,

Do not experience,

You will never really know.”

The adventure had just begun when I first saw this quote.  I stared at it thinking, “What does this mean for me right now?  What does this mean for me this week?”

Today I saw, heard and experienced something that I had never truly known before.  I have taught the Iditarod for years from a place of distant interest and admiration.

But the sound of the Alaskan husky today was deafening.  I could feel the vibrations from their barking in my feet.

The sight of the Alaskan husky jumping and pulling with the desire that only comes from sheer pleasure, and the look of determination in their eyes was undeniable.

Being dragged by these powerful creatures that weigh one quarter of what I do can only be truly known and understood when experienced at the start of The Last Great Race.

So now I return home with a great privilege and responsibility.  My goal is to bring this experience to life for my readers and my students in a way that only a first hand account can do.  (One degree of separation is better than two or three, right?)

Maybe it will be the excitement in my eyes.

Maybe it will be the intensity of my voice.

Maybe it will be the connection of this experience that

will carry over.

Wish me luck.  This is not going to be easy.

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Mark

Musher Mount Rushmore

DSC_8763Today I stood toe to toe with several musher icons, some about to begin their journey across Alaska.  I cannot describe to you the feeling that I had as I wandered through the dog lot.  As I listened to the dogs bark, scream, and howl, chills went down my spine.  I’m not even running the race.  Can you imagine the excitement and feeling these mushers were having?  Walking around I couldn’t help but think of why many of these people got into mushing.  I thought about why I picked up tennis.  It was because of the influential tennis legends that I grew up adoring.  They made a tremendous impact on me and on the sport.

What or who made an impact on your journey? Mount Rushmore is a memorial dedicated to four presidents who have made an impact on our great nation.  George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are the four presidents on Mount Rushmore.  What an astonishing group of people.


While hiking around the dog lot today I posed the following question to a handful of mushing legends, “if you had to create a Mount Rushmore based on mushers, who would you choose?”  Some of the mushers I spoke with were; Aliy Zirkle, Vern Halter, Jon Van Zyle, Susan Whiton, and Cindy Abbott.  Several of the same names came up often and some seldom.  Of course, Joe Redington, Sr. made the list.  He is the reason we have this great race.  Other names that made the list were; Rick Swenson, Susan Butcher, Herbie Nayokpuk, Mary Shields, Lance Mackey, Emmitt Peters, and Granite the dog.  These names have made a remarkable impact of the sport of mushing.  Aily Zirkle mader her own personal Mount Rushmore out of three of her dogs; Quito, Pedro, Skunk, and Dee Dee Jonrowe.

Dog Mount Rushmore???

Dog Mount Rushmore???

Talk about a great lesson for the classroom!  You can literally do this with any topic, any subject, and have great discussions.  With the Iditarod this lesson would require quite a bit of research.  One person I spoke with said it would be necessary for them to make a pro and con chart.  Even long time mushing legends really had to think about who they would choose.  I told a couple of them that this was their assignment on the trail and I expected an answer when they returned.

Who would you choose for your Musher Mount Rushmore?

Future musher??

Future musher??

Posted in Erin

Pack Up That Sled

This is it, we are out of here!  I am switching hotels to be at Iditarod headquarters in Anchorage for the remainder of my trip, and I started packing my bags last night.  As I pack my suitcases I can’t help but think of all the packing going on behind the scenes today for the race. Switching things from one bag to another, going through all the drawers, separating things I will need from the things I won’t need anymore and trying to fit it all in limited space is a stressful and tedious job. I can only imagine what the mushers are going through right now.

Yesterday I was able to speak to Jodi Bailey about how mushers pack everything for the race.  She told me that packing was one of her jobs this year since she wasn’t running the race.  Her husband, Dan Kaduce, will be running from Dew Claw Kennel with bib #5. Jodi explained she kept checking and rechecking to make sure everything was packed, even though she knew Dan would check his own list.  The mushers have a list of mandatory gear that they are required to carry, as well as many other additional supplies the teams will need out on the trail.

Nicolas PetitOne of my concerns when packing my suitcases is weight.  I know that when I fly home I want my suitcases to weigh under 50 pounds, however,  the mushers are all very concerned about the weight of their sleds for a different reason.  The lighter the sled, the faster they can go.

There are so many mathematical calculations possible when it comes to what goes into the sled, the weight of the sled and the size of the sled.  Each musher has different preferences and ideas when it comes to  their own dogsled.  Kelly Maixner's SledLast year, there were two mushers who decided to attach external cookers to their sled.  Dallas Seavey makes his sled out of hockey sticks.  There are mushers who prefer to have an attached seat, and those who prefer to only stand.  This year we are seeing several modified sleds that have additional compartments attached to the back.  There are attachable dog crates, cookers, boxes and storage units.  Will these calculated choices make a difference? There is only one place to find the answer to that question: the finish line in Nome! Are your bags packed yet?

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Shannon | Tagged

Dog Team Coming!

The most popular phrase of the day is, “Dog Team Coming!” Kristy BeringtonThis morning I was up early to get down to 4th Avenue for a picture under the 2014 Iditarod banner.  The snow had been put down during the night and the dog trucks were pulling in to get set up.  Each musher lines up according to the number they pulled out of the mukluk on Thursday.  The lowest numbers are parked the farthest away and have to go several blocks before they reach the start line.  After tons of pictures and walking around to see everyone preparing for the ride, I headed down to the corner to get a good spot to take it all in.

Robert BundtzenSitting on the side of a snow bank, I was able to see every musher as they made the turn and headed down Cordova Avenue.  I was told that this corner is famous for spills.  However, I didn’t see a single musher lose a rider or take a spill.  What I did see was one amazing team of athletes after another, parading past fans with an Idita-rider in the sled having the time of their lives.  Each Idita-rider bids for the spot on the sled.  I can only imagine what it would be like to ride in the basket of the sled.  If you were an Idita-rider, what do you think the ride would be like?  This would be a wonderful subject to use for creative writing lessons in your classroom. Students could describe what they believe an Idita-rider would experience along the trail. They could also write a newspaper article by pretending to interview them after their ride.

Below is a one minute video of the ceremonial start.


Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Shannon


We all have heroes, don’t we?  Today was the ceremonial start of the Iditarod, and I was fortunate enough to be in Anchorage to watch it.  It was an incredible honor for me because I was able to watch many of my heroes in action.  Driving a team of dogs from Anchorage to Nome is a big enough reason to call any of these men and women a hero. The physical, mental, and emotional strength that it takes to finish this race is found in few people.

However, there is more to it than that.  It’s their stories.  As I watched them lead (or follow) their dogs down 4th Street today, I kept replaying the stories that I knew of these mushers in my mind. Here are a few details that might lead you to consider making these people your heroes as well…


Charley Bejna is from Addison, Illinois.  That’s very far from Alaska, but not far from my home.  Charley is 40 years old and has only been training since 2011.  It’s amazing to think that someone can learn enough about mushing in that amount of time to race 1000 miles across Alaska.  Charley is also a type 1 diabetic, making the challenge that much greater.  When I met him he immediately said, “When I get back I’ll come and speak to your class.”  What an inspiration!


I’ve only heard great things about Dee Dee Jonrowe since arriving in Alaska.  It’s almost impossible to describe this little woman and her enormous heart.  Her love for her dogs and her enthusiasm for life is contagious.  Even after fighting breast cancer years ago, and approaching her 60th birthday she still finishes in the top 10.  This is a woman who never gives up.


Dallas Seavey is the youngest musher to have won the Iditarod.  When I met Dallas this week I met a young man who was proud of his accomplishments and confident, but not arrogant.  He was not embarrassed or ashamed of his shortcomings, and spoke freely about them.  Many young people in his position would have no time for an old teacher from Chicago, yet he sat and talked with me like we had been friends for years.


Ever since I heard Cindy Abbot’s story last year I have been inspired by her.  She will be the first person ever to have climbed Mount Everest, and finished the iditarod!  But there is more to her story.  Cindy has a rare disease called Wegener’s Granulomatosis.  A lesser person would never attempt the things that she has accomplished.  Rather, they would use this disease as an excuse.  Last year she rode over 600 miles of the Iditarod trail with a broken pelvis!  Amazingly it did not break her spirit.



Newton Marshall. Take one look at this man’s face and you’ll know he’s different from the other mushers.  Then watch him groove down 4th street and you can’t help but laugh out loud.  Newton is from Jamaica.  Yes, Jamaica, the Caribbean Island.  The warmth of Newton’s island spirit radiates from him, and you wish that you could spend a day hanging out with him sipping pineapple juice and shooting the tropical breeze.  It takes a pretty special person to leave the beaches of Jamaica for the frozen tundra of Alaska… on purpose.

These are only a few of the heroes in this race.  Each musher has a story to tell. It’s your job to find one that touches your heart.  It shouldn’t be too hard.

Remember… they are people just like you.

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Mark

For the Love of Dogs

I am in heaven here in Alaska.  I cannot express to you how much I love dogs.  I literally can’t go anywhere without seeing a dog.  DSC_8746Even in this hotel there is a conference on “Ski for light,” so there are over 50 guide dogs in the hotel.  When we trek through the streets, dogs.  We visit kennels, dogs.  The ceremonial start of the race, dogs.  Walking the streets after the start, people dressed as dogs.  Dogs, dogs, and more dogs.  All I have been hearing this week is that this is all about the dogs.  Anytime a musher is given credit for being exceptional at what he or she does, they all respond the same, “it’s the dogs.”

Today is the day the dogs will begin the journey they live for.  Their journey to be an Iditarod sled dog begins as a pup.  These adorable puppies start running free right away. It is important for the puppies to be able to just run and get used to running.  DSC_2821I had the opportunity to join some puppies on their “puppy walks” this summer while at Vern Halter’s Dream a Dream Dog Farm.  Soon they will be introduced to the harness to get used to the feeling.  Shortly after that they will start getting acquainted with their teammates.

These mushers take extraordinary care of their dogs.  You can tell how much this love is returned to the musher by how devoted the dogs are to them.  These dogs are trusted to journey across over 1000 miles of rugged terrain with their “parent” on a sled behind them.  I know if I was making this journey, I would want my 16 best friends to take me.  The bond these mushers have with their dogs is unbelievable.  These dogs are kind, energetic, loving, honest, trustworthy, hardworking, loyal, and much more than words can express.

Plain and simple, these dogs are heroes.  There is an outstanding book written by Shelley Gill, titled Alaska’s Dog Heroes.  You know I bought this book.  It is a children’s book, however, I believe you can use this in your classroom with any age.  Think about doing a lesson on heroes; read the story, choose a dog hero, compare/contrast the two heroes. That is just one idea that can be done.

Below are some pictures of some of the dogs beginning their journey today.

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I created a short video of some of the ceremonial start from today.

Posted in Erin


Today we listened to some fascinating speakers talk about the founder and history of the  Iditarod, as well as what is happening today.  Did you know there are at least 1600 people who volunteer for this race?  Even more amazing is that sometimes there are more people volunteering than they are able to use!  So after listening to all of this information I had to go take a walk.  I wanted to process all that I had been hearing.

The water on the sidewalks was turning to ice again and I was watching my every step.  Things were getting slippery.  All of the sudden I realized I had spent many minutes walking through the city without even looking up.  Then I remembered the mountains.  “Soon they will be gone,” I thought.  “I leave in a few more days.”

So I started to think about my focus.  As I walked I was focusing on the snow that had turned black from the gravel, sand and pollution that had contaminated it since it had fallen.  I wasn’t focusing on the majesty of the backdrop that surrounded the city.  I realized that my camera does the same thing sometimes.

DSC02611     ???????????????????????????????

These two pictures are taken of the same subject, at the same time.  The only difference is the focus.  What can you see in the first picture?  What can you see in the second?  As I walked I looked for other opportunities to prove my point.

???????????????????????????????    ???????????????????????????????

Then I thought about what my camera was focusing on.  The subject was a smaller, and insignificant item in the front of the picture rather than the scenery.  I was losing the details of those glorious mountains because I was looking at a fire hydrant!  Something was terribly wrong.

Then I turned a corner, and I gasped!  All of the sudden I wasn’t thinking about the ice beneath my feet anymore.  My only thought was, “Quick… before it’s gone!”

DSC02642     DSC02641   

My final two pictures are almost beyond belief.  I took these two pictures through a chain link fence.  The sun had set and I knew the colors would soon fade. They were taken seconds apart without moving the camera.  The only difference?

Focus.  When I focused on the mountains, the chain link fence disappeared completely from the photograph!

I walked away and thought about the founder of the Iditarod dog sled race, Joe Reddington Jr.  If he had focused on the obstacles instead of the goal, this race would never have happened.  If he had focused on his own hardships and failures the historic Iditarod trail would have disappeared.  If he had focused on the small and the insignificant, we would have lost the amazing animal known as the Alaskan husky forever.

What are you focusing on today?  Is it something that you will look back on with a sense of great accomplishment?  Is it something that you will share with the world around you?  Or is it something that is small and insignificant?  It is never to late to refocus.  I promise the view will be worth it.

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates


PRIDE.  Perseverence.  Respect.  Integrity.  Discipline.  Excellence.  These five words represent expectations that the students and faculty at my school strive towards (Camanche Middle School).  This acronym is a code you could live by on your journey.   It unquestionably is a code that Joe Redington, Sr. followed on his journey.


Today I had the pleasure to listen to author, Katie Mangesldorf.  Katie wrote Champion of an Alaskan Husky, a book about Joe Redington, Sr., father of the Iditarod.  It took Katie 14 long years to write this book.  She was in the process of writing the book as she was a teacher.  She was able to finish the book when she retired.  She told a fascinating story about Joe.

Joe’s journey to Alaska began when he read The Call of the Wild, by Jack London.  Joe loved books and the library was his favorite place.  According to Katie, Jack London’s book was Joe’s connection to Alaska.  Joe finally made his way to Alaska in 1948.  He worked in rescue and reclamation.  This job required him to bring back crashed planes, helicopters, bodies, etc. using his sled dog teams.

Joe started to see the use of the sled dog and mushing decline due to the invention of the snow machine.  Joe wanted to find a way to rejuvenate dog sledding.  He had the idea to create a race using sled dogs.  After meeting Dorothy Page, that idea became a reality.  She too had an idea for a race.  Her idea was to have this race commemorate the 100 year birthday of the purchase of Alaska from Russia.  This race happened in February of 1967.  The purse for this race was $25,000.  The race was a 2-day race between Wasilla and Knik.  28 miles the first day, 28 miles back.

Joe wanted to expand this race and increase the prize money.  He had an idea to have the race finish in Iditarod.  Many people questioned “where the heck is Iditarod?”  A friend mentioned to him, “how about Nome?”  That was it, Nome it was going to be.  The race would journey through the small villages along the trail to promote sled dog racing.  The first Iditarod race was in 1973.  Joe was unable to participate due to lack of funds.  He had lack of funds because he himself was funding the race and the purse.  The purse in 1973 was $50,000.  Wow, this really sparked an interest and definitely started to rejuvenate sled dog racing in Alaska.

*Side note: Iditarod once was the largest town in Alaska.  It was a large gold town during the gold rush in Alaska.

In addition to starting the Iditarod in Alaska, Joe became to only person to summit Denali with a team of dogs.  When Joe indicated he wanted to complete this journey, many people said it could not be done.  Joe didn’t let his dream die.  A great quote from Joe that should be shared with your students is “never give in to your fears.”  Joe didn’t give in.  Instead he dove right in and followed that code I spoke of earlier, PRIDE. Encourage your students to do this.  To read more about Joe’s story about climbing Denali with his team of dogs, read Katie’s book, Champion of Alaskan Huskies.  This is a great book to use in your classroom, 4th grade and higher.

Something that really stuck with me that Katie said today was something Joe’s father said to him.  Joe had wonderful handwriting, and oh yeah, only a 6th grade education.  His father told him, “make sure your writing is legible, so that everyone knows it is you.”  I love it!  Be proud of yourself and show PRIDE in everything you do.  You only live once, you need to make the most of your journey.


Joe ran his last Iditarod race in 1997 at the age of 80 years old.  At 80 years old he ran his 3rd fastest Iditarod race!  Sadly, Joe passed away from cancer in 1999.  Joe’s journey will live on forever through the Iditarod.

Posted in Erin

It’s All About the Dogs!

Today has gone to the dogs! The amount of time and planning that goes into every detail of the Iditarod is astounding, especially when it comes to the care and treatment of the dogs.  When you think of the Iditarod you can’t help but think of a beautiful Malamute or Siberian Husky. However, the typical Alaskan husky is more of a mongrel or mutt.  We have spent the day learning about all kinds of Iditarod volunteers. It is amazing how many of them involve dogs!

There are specific volunteers that are trained for a variety of jobs that deal directly with the care of the dogs.  The most important group of volunteers are the Veterinarians.  This year there will be approximately 53 veterinarians working along the race trail.  They have been in Anchorage receiving additional training, checking each individual dog and preparing to hit the trail.  Some additional volunteers that work with the dogs are the dropped dog volunteers, dog handlers and the pee team.  The pee team travels along the race trail randomly drug testing teams of dogs.  The tests follow the same chain of command that the Olympics used.  The dropped dog volunteers are assigned to a location and receive training prior to working with the dogs.  Dogs can be dropped for a number of reasons. A dog could have an illness or injury, it could be a strategic move, a preventative move or that the musher doesn’t want the speed or power of a larger team.

The job that I have been trained for is to be a dog handler.  This morning we began by taking a class on the safety procedures and requirements of a dog handler. The most important requirement is the safety of the dogs.  In order to keep the dogs safe, dog handlers can not wear earrings, lanyards, pins or anything that might fall off and harm the dogs.  When it comes to shoes, no spikes or anything that could possibly poke the dogs feet are permitted.As a dog handler my job is to help get the team to the start line.  My job depends on what the musher needs to keep the dogs safe, whether I am holding on to a dog or assisting to move the team to the line. I now have my dog handlers card and can’t wait to help in the dog lot for the official race start.

Aliy Zirkle said it best, “It’s all about the dogs!”

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Shannon | Tagged ,

Mushers and Mukluks

The countdown is on and it’s almost time for the 2014 Iditarod Race!  To prepare for the race, mushers are attending last minute meetings to discuss trail conditions, meeting their Idita-Riders and drawing their bib numbers at the musher banquet in Anchorage tonight.  This is an exciting time for fans, teachers and students.  We will finally know the starting order of our favorite mushers and see what the competition looks like in person.

Pulling Out a NumberEach musher draws a bib number out of the mukluk at the banquet to determine the starting order for the actual race. One question you may be asking is, what is a mukluk?  According to wikipedia: Mukluks are a soft boot traditionally made of reindeer skin or sealskin and were originally worn by Arctic aboriginal people, including the Inuit  and Yupik.  It is tradition for mushers to pull their starting numbers out of a beautiful mukluk for the Iditarod.  After attending the musher banquet last year, I decided I had to have my own pair of mukluks.  My mukluks have quickly become my favorite boot of choice while walking around Anchorage.  They have also been used  in my classroom to draw out our mushers for the Iditarod prior to bringing them to Alaska.

The Iditarod MuklukOnce each musher has drawn their bib number, the starting times can be computed.  The mushers leave the start line in two-minute increments starting with bib number 2.   The differential time is added to their required 24-hour rest. In order to determine when mushers can leave after their 24-hour rest you need to add the required rest time of 24-hours plus the starting differential to the arrival time to determine the out time.

It’s amazing to see each musher walk on stage, thank their families and sponsors and reach into that mukluk. The mushers take Friday to prepare for the race and take care of last minute details.  Saturday morning they will line up to head through downtown Anchorage wearing their new bib numbers and waving to the crowd.  We are just a few days away from race day! I will be there waving back from the front row, wearing my mukluks!

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Shannon

My Selfie Photo Journal

I’ve never really taken a selfie before.  Of course, it’s never too late to try something new.

According to the Oxford Dictionary online a selfie is, “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.”

I realize that my pictures were not taken with a smartphone or webcam, but they were taken with a self timer, making them taken by myself and of myself. They are now being uploaded to this blog.  So, for the purpose of my journal, I think they will work.

I thought it would be fun to combine the love of the selfie shared by many young people and a little bit of what I have been learning in Alaska this week.  I’m calling this My Selfie Photo Journal.


Christmas lights in February?  Why not?  Winter in Alaska is usually colder, harsher and longer than it is in other places in the United States.  (Notice that I said “usually.”)  The darkness certainly lasts longer.  I took this picture at 7:15 in the morning.  The sun will not show its face for another two hours today!  According to a friend living in Eagle River, the mayor of his town made a formal request that everybody leave their Christmas lights on throughout these dark months.  I guess it’s a way to brighten up the dark days of winter until the sun decides to return in full force!

(What are some of the things that you do to brighten your winter days?)


This mural was painted on the side of a building.  Every town, city and village has something that it is known for around the world.  Whales have been extremely important to Alaskan natives.  Many years ago one whale could mean the survival of an entire village through the harsh winter months.

(What is your area of the world known for?)


This is a sculpture of Balto at the Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla.  Similar to the mural above, sculptures are used to remind us of important events and people (or other characters) in the history of a place.  Although Balto certainly could never have run the serum to Nome without the other 160 dogs, he has come to symbolize the heroic act these dogs played in saving the town from the diphtheria epidemic.  Otherwise it could have killed thousands in 1925.

(Who is an important person to you?  Remember, people don’t have to be famous to be important.  Maybe, like Balto, your important “person” is not a person at all!)


Here I am in front of a dog truck at the Iditarod headquarters.  The mushers have to bring their dogs to headquarters for checkups before the beginning of the race.  Each dog has a physical, blood test, and EKG.  This is a lot of work for the mushers.  It’s also very expensive.  However, they do it year after year because they love it.  Mushing is a way of life.

(What is something you do because you love it that may cost a lot of money and may not be easy?  Why do you choose to do it?)


When I applied for Iditarod Teacher On The Trail™ it was more than a passing thought or one more thing I hoped to add to a list of accomplishments.

Helen Keller once said, “Life is a daring adventure or nothing.”  This trip has been part of my adventure.  It has been part of my life story.  I’m not going to say this was easy. Actually, it has been a lot of work.  However, I will be forever changed because of my time here in Alaska.

(Have you had an experience that has changed you forever?  If so, what was it?  If not, think of something you would love to accomplish, do, or see in your lifetime.  Think big.  Really, really big.)

Write a selfie journal.  Take pictures or draw them.  Remember that your life is an adventure.  Live it to the fullest.

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Mark

Journey of a Lifetime

A journey takes preparation, a great deal of preparation.

What you categorize as a journey of a lifetime may be different from another persons. Angie Taggart experienced her journey of a lifetime, twice.  Angie has finished the Iditarod in 2011 and 2013.  I had the opportunity to visit with Angie this afternoon.


Angie grew up in Ketchikan, Alaska.  Angie has been a teacher for over 10 years.  Angie’s journey of a lifetime truly began in 2001.  This is the year she was a dog handler for a musher.  You must qualify to run the Iditarod race.  In order to qualify, you must complete 500 miles in sanctioned sled-dog races.  Angie completed this part of her journey on April 3, 2009.  Next up….the Iditarod!

When the 2008-09 school year was over, Angie began her training for the race.  She of course, took the next school year off to train.  In order to complete the journey of a lifetime, you must literally train every single day for almost an entire year.  This training journey began in May for Angie, in Skagway, Alaska.  In the fall, she moved to Willow, Alaska to live in a small one-room cabin with no running water.  She continued her training with four-wheelers.  At the first snow she began training with the sled.  Training sled dogs is probably the toughest sport an individual can train for.  Angie lost a total of 30 pounds while training and eating all the time.  For a total of nine months, Angie trained for this journey.  Some mushers train with others.  Angie trained completely alone.  Alone in her cabin.  Alone with the dogs.  Alone in the wilderness.  Training alone may seem very tough, and it is, but it is tremendously helpful.  When you run the Iditarod you are out on that trail entirely alone.  She worked with a total of 24 dogs.  She had two 12-dog teams that she would rotate working with.  Angie would take a much-needed one day off per week.  This was necessary for her and her dogs both to get rest.  At times when she didn’t think she could go anymore, it was her dogs that pushed her through.

On March 19, 2011, at 4:49 p.m., Angie completed her journey of a lifetime.  She became the first person from Ketchikan to complete the Iditarod.  She came in 43rd place with a time of 13 days, 1 hour, 49 minutes, and 24 seconds.  She became the 105th woman to finish this “Last Great Race.”

CNN did a four-part series of videos on Angie during the race.  She wore a camera during the entire race.  I have included one of the videos below for you to check out.  You can find the other videos here.

Angie ran the Iditarod again in 2013.  She finished 48th with a time of 12 days, 8 hours, 50 minutes, and 3 seconds.  Angie continues to run her dogs for fun.  In fact, some of her dogs are racing this year without her, but instead with Jan Steves.  There is talk she may race the Iditarod again in 2016…..let’s hope.

Journeys and dreams can happen with a great deal of determination, sacrifice, and preparation.


*Angie is currently teaching P.E. in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Erin


What do you think makes a good leader?

Today I visited Vern Halter’s Dream A Dream Kennel.  The dogs were very excited  to meet us.  They howled, jumped, and ran in circles hoping to be noticed.  The energy at the kennel was electric.  Actually, it was somewhat overwhelming.


Then I noticed a dog that seemed very out of place.


She was quiet.  I would say she was even timid.  In fact, she appeared to be afraid of the other dogs that surrounded her.  I watched her from a distance before I cautiously approached her.


Her eyes had a story to tell.  I couldn’t read her, but she seemed deep in thought. I was sure that this dog would not be running the Iditarod trail next week.  She didn’t have enough energy and strength.

DSC02449 I stayed with her for a while enjoying her quiet spirit in the midst of the chaos.

A short time later we were told that it was time to get on the bus.  We were headed back to the city.  I almost left without turning around, but I had to know more about this dog.

I pulled Vern aside and asked the dog’s name.  He walked down to the end of the dog yard with me, past the howling, jumping, running dogs to where she sat.

“Her name is Ohm,” he said with a smile.  “She will be one of Cindy’s leaders next week.  In fact when she was just two years old Art Church didn’t want to take her on the trail, but he gave in… After the race he said she was the best leader he had ever seen.”

All of the sudden I could read the look in her eyes.  It wasn’t fear or even timidity.  I was wrong.  It was quiet resolve.  It was strength of character.  It was as if she knew the challenge and the responsibility of the weeks ahead, and she was determined to keep the other dogs and Cindy safe.

And I thought, “A good leader is the one who doesn’t allow the chaotic circumstances of the world around her to steal her inner peace.”

And like Vern, I smiled.

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Mark

Safety is Top Priority

Today’s adventure began at Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla, where the parking lot was the place to be!  Charley BejnaThere were dog trucks lined up on both sides waiting for Vet Checks. Every dog entered in the Iditarod race must go through a series of vet checks prior to the race.  The safety of the dogs is the number one priority to the musher and to race officials.  Each dog receives an ECG evaluation to check for heart abnormalities. They have pre-race blood tests and each dog must have a microchip implant.

Hans Gatt's Dog Getting ECGWhile observing the vet checks, I was able to go in the vet trailer and watch Hans Gatt’s dogs get their ECG’s. Each dog was brought into the trailer and had blood drawn.  The dogs loved having their head rubbed during this process. Next, they were placed on the ECG table and hooked up to the ECG monitor.  Several people would help keep the dog calm, including the owner.  Hans sat at the dog’s head and spoke to the dog during the entire process.  All of the tests that are done on the dogs are to be sure the dogs are safe to travel down the trail.  If a dog has any medical concerns, injuries or heart abnormalities, they are not permitted to enter the race.

Safety seemed to the be the theme of the day!  The veterinarians spoke to every musher, asking questions about the dog’s health, eating habits, shot records and training runs. Each dog is given a physical by a team of veterinarians to ensure it will be ready for race day.

Cindy Abbott's Safety Gear

Cindy Abbott’s Safety Gear

Our last stop of the day was Dream a Dream Dog Farm owned by Vern Halter.  He is currently training Cindy Abbott for this year’s race. He made some adjustments to Cindy’s sled such as attaching chains around the runners.  This will hopefully slow down her speed as she travels across the ice.  One of Cindy’s concerns is falling off the sled and injuring herself.  Cindy showed us some of the safety gear she will be wearing in this year’s race. She has a helmet, elbow pads and a cushioned girdle. This gear is typically worn by snowboarders, however Cindy will be wearing it to protect herself if she falls down.  It’s amazing to think how much time is spent on preventing injuries.  The goal of the Iditarod race is to keep the dogs and mushers as safe as they can be.

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Shannon

The Quest for the Iditarod

Of course, I am going to write about Cindy Abbott.  Today one of our stops took us to the Dream a Dream dog farm operated by Vern Halter.  It was here I was able to see Cindy Abbott.  My class has been following Cindy’s journey to complete the Iditarod since the beginning of school.  Cindy is an outstanding role model for a student.


I first met Cindy this past summer at the musher sign up picnic at Iditarod Headquarters. At the picnic, mushers are able to sign up for the race.  Cindy was the fifth musher to sign up.  I introduced myself to Cindy and immediately found out that we both have teaching in common.  Cindy is a teacher at Cal-State Fullerton.  I talked with Cindy about my class following her journey and communicating with her during the race.   She thought it was an excellent idea.

My students have learned a great deal about Cindy during this school year.  Cindy has been on quite the journey heading into this year’s Iditarod.  After many years of having undiagnosed medical issues, Cindy was finally diagnosed with a rare disease, Wegener’s Granulomatosis.  According to the Mayo Clinic, Wegener’s Granulomatosis is an uncommon disorder that causes inflammation of your blood vessels, which in turn restricts blood flow to various organs.  Cindy has gone through some major medical issues and is functionally blind in one eye!  For Cindy, this disease has not once disrupted her journey.

This modest and tough woman has summited Mt. Everest, the highest mountain in the world!  Cindy climbed Mt. Everest and is running the Iditarod all to raise awareness for rare diseases.  Not if, but when Cindy crosses under the Burled Arch in Nome, she will become the first woman to climb Mt. Everest and complete the Iditarod!  Talk about an incredible woman.

Oh yeah, remember how I said she was tough?  Last year she attempted the Iditarod, but had to withdraw about half way into this 1000 plus mile race.  On a training run prior to the race Cindy fell and injured her hip/pelvis.  She started the race and was going through some unbearable pain.  She was approximately 345 miles from Nome when she had to stop.  Come to find out, she had a broken pelvis this entire time.  Wow!

My class has done several lessons involving Cindy.  One lesson we did was to research all about Cindy.  After completing the research, the students made a movie trailer about her quest.  You can watch the video below.  This can be done in any classroom and with any musher.  Students can choose their favorite musher, do research, and create a movie trailer.  We used iMovie to create our trailer.

Below is another video my class made for Cindy titled The Night Before the Iditarod.

I am so excited to see Cindy finally complete a journey that has been in the making for quite some time.  She has put so much hard work and tears into this journey, she definitely deserves it.  Her determination and the fact that she NEVER gives up makes her an excellent role model.  I wish her nothing but the best as she begins her journey across Alaska.

Please check out Cindy’s website Reaching Beyond the Clouds to learn more about her journey and her disease.  Also, her book, Reaching Beyond the Clouds.  From Undiagnosed to Climbing Mt. Everest, is a must read.

Posted in Erin

The Allure of a Siberian Husky


I think I am beginning to understand.  The more time I spend with these animals the clearer the problem becomes.

Today we visited the home, art studio, and kennel of Jon and Jona Van Zyle.  We spent a long time interacting with their beautiful Siberian Huskies.  The allure of these dogs is almost too hard to resist.  “I would love to take one of these beautiful creatures home,” I thought.  And there it was staring me in the face.

How many times have you heard someone say, “I’d love to own a husky,” or, “If I could have any dog in the world, it would be a Siberian Husky?”  Maybe you have even said it yourself.

The problem is that we don’t do our research.  If we did, we would learn a few things very quickly.

  • Siberians are large dogs with a lot of energy.
  • Siberians are extremely intelligent.
  • Not only do Siberians like to run; they need to run.
  • Siberians are very social animals.
  • Siberians have a double thick coat of fur.

What would a little research show us about the needs of a Siberian Husky?  Think about it and write a list before you read on.


What did you come up with?

Maybe you realized that Siberians need a lot space to run.  They need to be walked frequently and for long distances (Even in sub zero temperatures.)  Did you think about the importance of social interaction with other dogs as well as humans, or that their thick fur coats will need a lot of attention? (Especially if you plan on keeping one in your house.)

Now it’s time to weigh the pros and cons.  You’re on your own for this one, because only you know your situation.

But remember, every year huge numbers of huskies end up in shelters, or even worse, they have been killed by cars.

Huskies run.  It is what they were created for.  Without being restrained they will disappear. If you leave them alone, even if they are fenced in, they will find a way out.  Remember, they are social and they will do what it takes to find company.  Unfortunately they don’t know that they should look both ways before crossing a street.

So after watching these amazing creatures I returned to my reality having enjoyed The Van Zyles’ Huskies. I knew they wouldn’t be happy in my home.

However, I didn’t walk away empty handed:

???????????????????????????????a couple of beautiful paintings…


a gorgeous view of the mountains…


and a handful of new canine friends.  

Overall, a pretty good day in Alaska, don’t you think?

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Mark

Transforming Teachers into Mushers

The 2014 Iditarod Winter Teacher Conference kicked off on Monday evening at the ExxonMobil Pre-Conference Social at the Hilton.  ExxonMobil, our partner in Iditarod Education invited teachers, administrators and area educational representatives to attend the pre-conference social as a special way to get us ready for the start of the race.  Each of us share a common goal, to help students reach their highest potential.

Mrs. Wyckoff & Dallas Seavey

Mrs. Wyckoff & Dallas Seavey

Our speaker for the evening was Dallas Seavey, who in 2012, became the youngest musher to win the Iditarod. Dallas shared how he trains his puppies to be champion sled dogs and what it takes to be a musher.  My favorite quote from Dallas was: “It’s about developing that dog in the best possible way to help him reach his highest potential; that’s my goal.  Now, if I do that successfully with all of my dogs, the race team comes naturally.”  I believe teachers could easily say the same thing about our students.

Cotton Object-Based Learning

Cotton Object-Based Learning

Today we were able to learn all about being a rookie, object-based learning and Iditarod Math and Mapping.  Each 2015 Finalist gave a presentation and shared activities they use in their classrooms.  It’s amazing how much we can learn from each other.  We investigated cotton, wrote poems, used mapping skills to take notes and learned what it takes to be a great musher.

So, where do all great mushers go? To the kennel, of course!

Mrs. Wyckoff at Van Zyle Kennel

Mrs. Wyckoff at Van Zyle Kennel

We headed out to Jon and Jona Van Zyle’s kennel and art studio.  Jon Van Zyle is the official artist of the Iditarod and creates beautiful images that appear on the Iditarod poster each year.  Upon entering the kennel it is easy to see where Jon gets his inspiration; we were quickly greeted with dog kisses and wagging tails.  The Van Zyles have Siberian huskies who love to look for dog snacks and chase squeaky balls.  With this adventure, the transformation from teacher to musher has begun!

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Shannon

Jon Van Zyle’s Journey

Yesterday I spoke of the many journeys I saw on a short walk around the “solar system.” menjonThis afternoon we visited the dog kennel/art studio of Jon and Jona Van Zyle.  I had the pleasure to tour their home this summer while I was in Alaska.  I knew how incredible it was in the summer.  It is just as beautiful, if not more, in the winter.  As listening to Jon speak and observing him throughout the evening I realized this man has taken quite the journey in his life.

Jon started his mushing journey back in 1958.  He completed the Iditarod in 1976 and 1979.  Besides finishing one of the toughest races in the world, Jon is a world-famous nametagartist.  His journey as a fascinating artist has taken him to many spectacular places.  Since 1979, Jon has been the official artist of the Iditarod.  Jon creates the official poster of the Iditarod each year.  Jon also does illustrations for children’s books.

Walking around the Van Zyle kennel and home you can observe a great deal of journeys.  In the Van Zyle kennel there a remaining eight dogs, all of whom are retired.  Eight may seem like quite a lot of dogs to you, but not to my uncle David (who has 10-ish) or a musher.  These eight dogs have finished their journey as mushing dogs.  Even when Jon was finished as an Iditarod musher, he and his wife continued to mush for enjoyment. Lately, that journey too, has come to an end.


The Van Zyles have had numerous amounts of dogs through the years.  You can see how many dog journeys

have come to an end in the picture of the shed dedicated to all of their dogs that have passed.  Jon and Jona’s dogs’ journeys as mushing dogs may have come to an end, but boy they sure do have a ton of energy.  They are living a tremendous life with the Van Zyles.

As artists and wonderful tour guides, their journey is far from over.  As Jon continues to

bless us with his wonderful art his journey will continue.  Through is art, his journey will live on forever.






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Posted in Erin

Look on the Bright Side…

DSC02152People talk a lot about the sun in Anchorage.  It’s February, and sunlight is the hot topic of conversation these days.

In Chicago we wish we saw more sun during the winter months.  Clouds tend to dominate the sky day after day.  However, our conversations tend to be limited to, “No sun again today,” or, “I hear the clouds are going to clear up by the end of the week.”

In Alaska, conversations about the sun are a lot more varied.  They are more important as well.  I was talking to a man the other day who told me that he spent hours driving around in February before he decided on a house.  Along with number of bedrooms and the size of the backyard, he was looking for something very specific in February.  Mountains tend to block the sun.  The lower you live in a valley the longer you wait for the sun to stream through your windows.  He was looking for sunlight.  Then he showed me how the sunlight streams into his living room window from just above the mountains.


Above you see a chart that describes the hours of sunlight in Anchorage.  How many hours of sunlight do you get in December?  Unless you live north of Anchorage it certainly will be more!  Think about how sunlight affects your daily life.  Everything from the plants that you grow, to how you feel can be affected by sunlight.  Some people even suffer from seasonal affective disorder because they do not get enough of the suns rays in the winter!(write a list.  You will be amazed at all of the ways that sunlight is important to you.) 

The next time you go outside take a look up at the sky.  Appreciate every minute of sunlight that your day includes.  Always remember to look on the bright side!

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Mark

What is your “Journey?”

This morning we were given our “challenge.”  Our challenge was to take a journey through the planets.  There is a walking scale model of the solar system in Anchorage called the Planet Walk.  Our journey launched off at the Sun.  As we wandered through “space,” my mind started to wander.  I started imagining this entire trip as a journey. enter Today I am entering or beginning my journey.  My journey is to be chosen as the 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.  On our adventure I continually thought of all the journeys that are going on here in Anchorage.  My first thought immediately went to the mushers who are preparing to begin their journey across Alaska this Saturday.  When you begin a journey, there is a great deal of preparation.  Many of these mushers began their journey to cross Alaska a year ago.  My journey began approximately a year ago when the idea of applying for this first crossed my mind.

As we were walking I heard and saw a couple jets in the sky.  Come to find out we are very close to an Air Force base.  These two jets were on a journey themselves.  I imagine they were carrying out training missions.  Again, my thought went to what the pilots of these two jets had to do to prepare for their journey.  I can’t imagine all the prepping for these pilots.  Their journey may have only lasted an hour today, but the preparation is incredible.

Another journey I saw was a man on his way to work.  This man was on his bike, yes, a bicycle.  This journey takes preparation as well.  In the pictures take a look at his tires, his gloves, his clothes, etc.  We saw people on walks with their dogs, of course a favorite of mine.  If you know me at all, you know I was loving on those dogs.

On the way back I thought about an additional journey a select few make.  We were able to see Denali across the inlet.  While looking at Denali I thought of the few that have attempted and succeeded to summit this mountain.  The preparation for this is unimaginable.  I am envious of those who have been able to complete this adventure.  I have a friend, who is also an Iditarod musher (Cindy Abbott), who has summited Mt. Everest.

As I close this entry I continue to think about my journey ahead.  It is an honorable and awe-inspiring experience that I look forward to accomplishing.

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Planet Walker

Have you ever wanted to visit another planet or travel at the speed of light?  This morning I was able to accomplish both of these tasks in beautiful downtown Anchorage, Alaska.  The challenge was to walk from the Sun to as many planets as we could possibly visit along the Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk.  Having been to Anchorage before, my first thought was, how did I miss an entire Solar System in downtown Anchorage?

Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk

Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk

The walk is a scaled model of our solar system and allows walkers to experience the relative size of the planets and their distance from the Sun.  On this scale, each step equals the distance light travels in one second (300,000 kilometers or 186,000 miles).  The first stop on the tour is at the Sun on the corner of 5th Avenue and G Street. Each planet station shows the relative size of the planet and their distance from the Sun. Which means in about 45 minutes I walked from the Sun to Jupiter!

The Legend of the Sleeping Lady

The Legend of the Sleeping Lady

What does one see while walking from the Sun to Jupiter?  As I walked from planet to planet I was truly amazed by the landscape surrounding this beautiful city.  This morning I was able to see snow covered mountains, including Mount Denali and the Sleeping Lady.  I have heard the story about the Sleeping Lady but had never seen her in person.  You can read all about this Native Alaskan Folk Tale here.  Would you like to see the Sleeping Lady in real time?  You can click here and access the webcam mounted on top of the Hilton Anchorage Hotel and see if she is out.

We continued walking  along the coastal trail until we reached Jupiter.  In order to reach Pluto we would have to continue walking about four and a half hours.  Not to worry, I was able to make it back to Earth in only a matter of minutes,  which officially makes me a Planet Walker!

This lesson could easily tie in with my Geo Mushing lesson where students make a scaled paper globe.  Geo Mushing

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Shannon

Introducing Mrs. Wyckoff

What happens when a teacher from Ohio wishes her students could experience life in Alaska?

Mrs. Wyckoff at the Junior Iditarod

Mrs. Wyckoff at the Junior Iditarod

She applies to be the 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail so she can report back to them from Alaska in person!  During the past month my students at Willard High School have been able to experience Alaskan temperatures first hand.  The biggest difference is Alaskan weather in Ohio causes schools, factories and roads to close! Whereas in Alaska, it is just another day! In fact, as I look out the window of my hotel, it is obvious that the weather here doesn’t slow anyone down- Alaskans thrive in cold temperatures.

Mrs. Wyckoff

Mrs. Wyckoff

My quest to become the 2015 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail  is embodied in one of my favorite quotes.  “If your DREAMS don’t scare you, they are not BIG enough!” My dreams have brought me back to Alaska to share how I have used the Iditarod in my classroom to increase student performance, teach Common Core Standards and increase STEM.  My current teaching assignment allows me to teach students with multiple disabilities in grades 7-12 and Senior Project.  Whether it is learning new vocabulary, graphing data or performing science experiments, the Iditarod provides a common theme that encourages students to learn new things.

My students begin their Iditarod adventures on the first day of school, and our race continues long after the Red Lantern Award is given out.  It grabs their attention and motivates them to not only try new things but to work hard to be better students, citizens and team players. That is what this adventure is all about: stepping onto the sled, grabbing on to a rich background of amazing teachers and dreaming BIG DREAMS.

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Shannon

Welcome to Alaska!

After spending an entire day in airports and airplanes, I am happy to say I have finally made it to Alaska.  My journey began in Moline with a 1 hour delay.  After a 26-minute flight to Chicago I spent about 4 hours wandering around O’Hare airport.  I read a book, watched my Hawkeyes lose a close game to Wisconsin, people watched, ate lunch, and finally boarded my next plane to Seattle.  My layover in Seattle was a short one, about an hour.  Just enough time to grab dinner and head to my gate.  After about 15 hours I made it to Anchorage.

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There is a festival in Anchorage each year called the Fur Rendezvous, Alaska’s biggest winter festival.  Sunday we headed down to see what was going on.  We checked out all the snow sculptures.  There were some incredible sculptures.  One of my favorite sculptures was of the Minion.  I was also able to catch the finals of the World Championship sprint sled dog races.  Wow, talk about fast.  These dogs were going around 20 mph, where in the Iditarod the dogs will be going around 10 mph.  Also at the Fur Rondy we had the opportunity to do the blanket toss.  The blanket toss is a native tradition.  It was exciting to see the kids line up and have the chance to be tossed up in the air.  I was delighted to participate in this exciting native tradition.

We met up with Diane Johnson tonight at the Millenium Hotel to discuss the schedule for the week.  I’m very excited to begin this week.

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There’s Something Different





Less than 24 hours after arriving in Anchorage I stand in the Anchorage Museum staring at this jumble of letters. I keep thinking, “Is this truly a language? It’s so different from anything I’ve seen before.”

So much of what I am seeing is similar to the town in which I live. Restaurants and strip malls line the streets. People move briskly past one another, covering every inch of their skin from the bitter winter air. And let’s not forget the snow.

However, I am constantly being reminded that there is something strangely different about Anchorage, Alaska. Maybe it is the backdrop of mountains that loom over the city from all directions. Maybe it is the wildlife that wanders in from the surrounding wilderness.

No. There is something bigger.

Culture.  Alaska has really embraced their native cultures, and there are many of them.

On the map you can see numerous Alaskan native cultures labeled in yellow.


As I walk the streets of Anchorage I see echoes of these cultures everywhere.

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(Above) A Traditional Blanket Toss.

???????????????????????????????(Left) This man is holding a Baleen from a whale.

(Below) A young boy displaying two muskrat furs for sale at an auction.


That’s it.  This culture that is so foreign to me feels rich and old.  Some of these traditions have been happening for thousands of years.

As I walk away from that jumble of letters on the museum wall, I smile.  Although I can’t pronounce a single word that was written, the translation of those words is a universal truth.  I am seeing, hearing, and experiencing this for the first time.

 “What you do not see,

Do not hear,

Do not experience,

You will never really know.”

Anders Apassingok, St. Lawrence Island Yupik

Posted in 2014 Iditarod News and Updates, Mark