Moments with Mushers: Camaraderie


As educators we know that at the beginning of each year, it is critical to develop a good sense of community within our classrooms. Teamwork, integrity, and respect are all important qualities we want in each of our students. We make sure that every voice in our room is heard and valued. We encourage everyone to make mistakes; it is only from our mistakes that we truly learn. We build each other up and help those that might feel a bit shy and reserved, to come out of their shell. Becoming one bigger community, team or family.

Camaraderie between Jim Lannier and Calvin Daugherty a Jr. Musher. Probably better known as mentoring but so very important in developing the next generation of mushers. Photo credit: Terrie Hanke

This is one of the things that I have always loved and admired about the sport of dog mushing and the Iditarod. Everyone involved in this race and sport is part of one large community and one family. These mushers take care of each other, support each other and push each other to do their best – even during the race itself. Yes, they are competing against each other, and want to do the best they can; but they are always willing to help a fellow musher in need. However, you can only get a true sense of these things from the mushers themselves. 

This photo if from inside the Unalakleet checkpoint. Lance Mackey and Seth Barnes are talking and sharing in the great food that the checkpoint is known for. Photo Credit: Terrie Hanke

We, as teachers, can use these accounts from the trail, and apply their stories as examples in our classrooms. I have heard many examples of mushers helping each other DURING the race, even though they are competing against each other. Even during the “off season”, they sometimes share dogs to help each other build their kennels. Here are some of their stories of camaraderie from the trail. You can apply them in your own classroom to help set the tone for the year!


As told by Anna Berington:

“My entire mushing career has been a camaraderie. Whether it’s with my sister and her husband or my boyfriend and my dogs. It’s constant teamwork. It is great to share the trail with so many great dog people, from volunteers to racers.”


As told by Dick Mackey:

“In the 2nd year of the race, there were 5 of us that left Rainy Pass lodge; Ramey Redington, Joee Redington, Jerry Riley, Carl Huntington and myself. We didn’t go through Dalzell Gorge until 1977, we continued and went through what they call ‘Hells Gate’, and continued down the Koyukuk River to the Rohn checkpoint and we get out there in the middle of nowhere, and in those first few years, nobody ran after dark. About 7:00 in the morning you would take off, and by 5 in the afternoon you would say, ‘well let’s find a good place to camp’. So about 5 of us got out in the middle of nowhere, and it was blowing and snowing and it was really cold; it was extremely cold. So we decided to make camp and it got colder and colder and colder and pretty soon we put all the dogs together and we put the sleds in a circle. We knew it was really unusually cold and windy and it became almost a survival situation. The next day or two when we got to the Rohn checkpoint, the HAM radio operators were there and they say, ‘you know it was -130 degrees below zero chill factor?’ I guess I can honestly say that the 5 of us, we thought about, ‘Are we going to survive through this?’ It was a bad situation, and we all did, and if I remember right, I think all 5 of us finished and got to Nome that year. 

The camaraderie between the mushers you know… everybody talks about the Iditarod patch and your belt buckle and today, you might not know the names after all these years. But they are wearing the Iditarod finisher’s belt buckle and you are now part of the family, and they are still helping each other out. When I was running there was a great deal of friendship between the mushers and they would help each other out.” 


As told by Matthew Failor:

“There are usually several [stories of camaraderie] that take place each year for me on the trail. One of the stories that popped into my head was from my first Iditarod in 2012, and I’ve told a few people about it, but it’s probably a little buried just because it’s almost a decade old now. I was working for Martin Buser. My rookie run was 2012 and we did the Northern route, and we had 16 dogs, which were all yearlings, and when I was in Shaktoolik I had 14 dogs. I was traveling with Jamiee High who was running a puppy/kind of adult team, she was running Dee Dee Jonrowe’s dogs, and there was another musher there named Hank Debruin, who was from Canada, and he had I believe Siberian Huskies. It was Hank’s, I believe, second try and his first try, he did not finish the race. He kind of got caught in a storm and had to come back to Shaktoolik. Jamiee and I arrived when he was coming back, which seems like a regular occurrence on Iditarod… there is a storm, or high winds and teams can’t make it across Shaktoolik and they try several times. 

Well, when Jamiee and I were sitting there, we were trying to figure out when we were going to leave, and Hank asked if we could all travel together, and we happily said yes. His dogs couldn’t find the trail, the wind had blown it to a point where it wasn’t really visible. Jamiee and I were both rookies, so we had never really been out there before. But we figured that we could work together. I would go out in front, and Hank would be in the middle, and Jamiee would kind of follow up the rear and we all 3 had different types of teams. I had a very high energy, raw, fast group of Martin Buser puppies that like to go 10 MPH all the time. Hank had some Siberians, so they were a little bit slower, and Jamiee’s team was fast but I would say they were in between Hank’s and mine. Trying to stay together was rather tricky, and so we set out together all 3 of us. It took a lot longer for us to travel together than had we done it solo. There was a lot of stopping, and making sure that the next team is finding our tracks. There are a few spots before you get down on the sea ice where you crest a small hill and you drop down the other side, and you have to wait and see if the other team is coming. There was a lot of stop and go. But we all 3 made it onto the sea ice and then Hank gave us the thumbs up, saying that he and his dogs got into a good groove and they had seen the trail and he thanked us for our efforts, and Jamiee and I continued on. Hank ended up finishing the entire race and he got his belt buckle that year, and I don’t think he has run it ever since. So we were pretty excited and happy to be able to help somebody out. It was a big deal, but we weren’t racing for money, we weren’t racing to get in the top… anything, we just wanted to finish the race so we were able to help a fellow musher, and that makes you feel good.”


As told by Martin Buser discussing the The “Elim 11” from the 2020 Iditarod:

“We left a couple of times. We left twice in a rumble line, it was all somewhat planned. It was one of those situations where because of the weather and the trail conditions, we had to work together. Not just the 11 dog teams but the race committee and the local people. It was a complex enough situation where we wouldn’t have made it unless all of those resources pooled and worked together because the trail that we ended up using had not been used all year. The overland trail, the so called mail trail/the trail in the hills, was just too deep for a single snow machine let alone a dog team to break out for 40 miles to White Mountain, so I knew we all had to work together. And we did. The trail sweeps, the people who bring up the trail from behind the last dog team, they were every bit as important to the equation as the local trail breakers that were searching and eventually finding the trail overland because the postal trail was just not travelable, it was in 2 to 3 feet of water, so nobody could make it that way. It was one of those “typical” Iditarod adventures that we must do as the race was going on. But the funny sidebar to me was that we were doing that, we were the only sport in the world that was still going on. That was pretty cool. But like I said, we had to work together and we ended up taking a different route, which rarely happens, that the entire field doesn’t take the same route to Nome. But short of swimming, we just couldn’t, we couldn’t go along the coast. So it just became a 2 day ordeal of very interesting situations.”


Teachers: Use some of these stories to spark a conversation in your classrooms about building your own classroom community! They could even help to develop some class goals or expectations!