There is a popular quote that states, “It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later”. These words couldn’t be more relevant as I sit down to write my final post as Teacher on the Trail™. It’s hard to believe that it was during the Summer of 2019, when I started working on my application. Since then, the Iditarod has been a huge part of my life. I traveled to Anchorage as a finalist in March of 2020, and then received “the phone call” in April that I had been selected as the 2021 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™.
Over the last three years, this journey has taken me through a myriad of emotions. Everything from elation upon receiving that first phone call, to nervousness when trying to pack for an entire month in the arctic, to disappointment when testing positive for Covid in Anchorage, and then humbled and honored every minute on the trail; just to name a few.
This race is all about the dogs and they are simply some of the most incredible living beings on this planet. However, for me, it’s the people that really make this race come alive. I am forever in awe of the time, effort, planning, resourcefulness, and (as I have talked about in numerous posts) camaraderie of those involved with this sport and event. It is the people that I will never forget, and with whom I hope to remain in contact for years to come.
As most (if not all) Teachers on the Trail™ have been told, this experience is life-changing. With that said, I want to devote some of this post to thanking some of the people who helped make this one of the greatest and most amazing experiences of my life. There is no question that I cannot begin this list with anyone except my family. To my amazing wife, Emily, who is my rock, who supported me this entire time, who held everything together while I was away, and cared for our 2 young girls. And for also being my first “editor” on all of my posts. Also thank you to my girls, Alexis and Riley for being OK with me leaving, and Gramps for coming to stay with all of them while I was away.
My EDU “family”
To Jane Holmes, for breathing a new life into the EDU program, seeing me through the first 2 years in this together, and for all of the opportunities that you provided for me. It was truly an amazing experience.
To Terrie Hanke, where to begin… For being my writing inspiration, talking so frequently on the phone about any and everything, mentoring me through the last 2 years, and always doing whatever possible to help make my journey the best one possible.
To Sara Lamont, for your OVERWHELMING generosity, care, helpfulness and support from pictures, to small gifts for my family, to food and drinks while I was quarantined. You are such an important piece of Iditarod EDU.
To Heidi Sloan, for being my reader for not just one, but 2 years! Thank you for your time and kind words along the way.
To Barb and Julia Redington, for welcoming me to the Junior Iditarod. Also for persevering to make the race happen after moving it to Cantwell on short notice. And finally for making this event so incredible, and one that I did not fully understand until experiencing it first hand.
To Emily Dinges, for putting me to work, making sure I got out on a snow machine, introducing me to the amazing trail crew, offering me different responsibilities and most importantly, making me feel like a small part of the race.
To Dr. Phil Meyer, for the impromptu ride back from Cantwell, the great talk the entire ride home, and the offer to visit your home. I just wish I had more time to do so.
To Whitney McLaren, for letting me tag along, giving me camera pointers, showing me good locations and making the whole experience better by getting me out on the trail every day. Then again in Nome, for taking me on the trail again and arranging a ride for me on a dogsled – one of the highlights of the entire experience.
To the incomparable Debski, for always being able to put together an amazing meal for all of the volunteers, and for those times that you threw something together during the non-meal times for me (and always giving me a hard time about it).
To Sabrina Volcke and the other vet techs for letting me hang out with you in Nome and giving me the opportunity to ride in the back of a truck with a bunch of dogs on multiple occasions.
To Wes Erb, for being willing to take me on a very last minute ride to White Mountain to fly some dogs to Nome and filming my handing off of the Red Lantern.
To Katie Cullen, for giving an unofficial driving tour of Nome, helping me try to figure out the old Maynard hospital location and giving me some incredible things to take back to my classroom.
To “GCI Bob”, for being my ride around Nome when needed, for allowing me to tag along with you under the arch, and all those late night chats while I was working on my posts.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, to Mark Nordman for your kindness and willingness to help me with a few of my projects. “Voices of the Volunteers” simply would not have been possible without your guidance. Thank you for also putting on such a great event and managing everything that has happened with the races over the past 2 years.
As I said in my first volunteer post; the Iditarod would not even be possible without the help of the volunteers. So thank you to all of the volunteers who gave up their vacation or retirement time, and time away from families to help continue to make this race go. A special thank you to those volunteers who took some of their time to talk with me for my posts; Richard Burnham, Martha Dobson, Jennifer Dowling, Dan Harrelson, Karin Hendrickson, Monte Mabry, Spencer Pape, Wayne Randolph, and Jeff Schultz.
To the mushers and their teams who help make the Iditarod the exciting event that it continues to be. A special thank you to those mushers who also took their time to speak with me for my “Moments with Mushers” piece: Anna Berington, Martin Buser, Jeff Deeter, Matthew Failor, Pam Flowers, Dick Mackey, Dan Seavey, and Aliy Zirkle.
Lastly, to the entire Iditarod organization and the volunteers for putting on an inspirational event that captures the hearts of so many (both young and old) around the world. The Iditarod is an event like no other, blending competition with real world survival in some of the toughest, yet most beautiful environments on Earth. To be a small part of this iconic race is both an honor and privilege that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
With that said, my final task as Teacher on the Trail™ was to pick out 3 “takeaways” or “memorable moments” from this whole experience that stood out to me. That is nearly an impossible task given all of the incredible opportunities with which I have been blessed. So, instead of trying to choose, I am going to heed the words of Terrie Hanke, as I have done so many times; “Pictures speak a thousand words”. So here are some of the most memorable moments – in pictures – from my journey over the past few years. What a journey it was…