Connection Across the Miles

Ready at the START to hand out the Trail Mail. Photo Credit: J. Westrich

This morning, at the Willow Restart, I had the privilege of handing out the Trail Mail to each musher. Trail Mail is required gear. Mushers carry a small cachet of letters in their sled the entire length of the Trail, and present it in Nome to be postmarked and returned to original sender. It is a great program from the IditarodEDU that connects classes, the Iditarod, and the mushers around the world through mail.  

Why mail? The tradition of mushers carrying mail harkens back to the days when the Iditarod National Trail was used as a transportation route across interior Alaska to deliver goods, medicine, supplies, and mail.  The mail was an essential mode of communication between those living in Alaska and their loved ones far away. Long before the days of text, facetime, or even a simple phone call, the mail helped bring people together and create connections with home and loved ones. 

Giving Trail Mail to Musher Hunter Keefe (I rode with him as an Iditarider!) Photo Credit: J. Westrich

Handing off the Trail Mail packet to musher Eric Kelly (I dog handled for him today!) Photo Credit: J. Westrich

While the mail symbolizes connection to home and family, There are other ways that those traveling to Nome keep connected. I’ll be traveling with Duffy, the small version of the original stuffed dog that started my family journey with Iditarod. I also have letters from some of my 3rd grade students – one for each day I’m out there – to keep me motivated, encouraged, and to remind me of the support back home. On one Iditarod several years ago musher Matt Failor shared that he took Eagle Scout coins on the Trail, a connection to his passion for Boy Scouts and a reminder of the dedication it took to become an Eagle Scout himself. At the musher banquet the announcer mentioned that Jason Mackey will be taking his brother’s ashes down the trail, a final honoring of the late, great Lance Mackey, 4-time Iditarod Champion. This is a deep, symbolic, and emotional example. Carrying something down the trail enhances the connection to home; it is an important reminder of what was left behind and what is in the future in Nome. 

Every musher taking off at the START is carrying Trail Mail! Photo Credit: J. Westrich

Mail is an amazing way to communicate, an art form falling by the wayside in the tech savvy world of LOL and BTW.  Trail Mail connects the race to the history of the Iditarod Trial as each musher racing today harnesses the spirit of those who traveled hundred years ago to bring people news of their loves ones in Alaska.  Trail Mail connects us to each other, musher and fans, educators, and students together sharing an enormous love of dog sled racing that squeezes into one small envelope.

Library Learning: I’m heading for the Trail in the morning, so my next post will be from a checkpoint!  While on the Trail I’m going to pause Library Learning and focus on what is happening during the race!  

Here is the final answer to the QUESTION from Saturday:

ANSWER for March 4: The farthest distance on the Southern Route between checkpoints is 85 miles from Kaltag to Unalakleet!