Eye on the Trail: Summer Camp – Teachers Live Dream

Teachers who use Iditarod as a theme for education in their classrooms gathered to participate in hands on learning this week at the 2014 Iditarod Summer Camp for Teachers. Participants are from Wisconsin, New York, Iowa, South Dakota, Maryland and Indiana. These teachers will return home with a sled filled of ideas about using Iditarod in their classrooms to motivate students and capture their interests. Sled might be figurative but for sure they’ve had many experiences and much collaboration with other educators that has filled their minds and sparked their creative juices when it comes to planning lessons and building standard’s based curriculum.

Upon arriving in Alaska, the teachers are immersed in the sled dog culture at Dream A Dream Dog Farm operated by Vern Halter in Willow, AK. Halter, a Yukon Quest Champion, John Beargrease Champion and an 18 time Iditarod Finisher operates a musher training and education center. He’s got plenty of impressive mushing credentials championships in grueling distance races and nine top tem Iditarod finishes. Over the years Halter has claimed nearly $300,000 in Iditarod prize money. Halter has a excellent line of dogs in his kennel and now focuses on training and equipping mushers for The Last Great Race. Halter will have two apprentice mushers on the trail during the 2015 race.

While at Halter’s Dream A Dream, teachers participated in hands on learning opportunities with dog care and puppy training. Experiencing the loving demeanor of the sled dog and seeing the athleticism was a study of contrasts and enjoyed by all. Each participant had the opportunity to boot and harness dogs, hook dogs up to the gangline for a run, ride along on a training run, feed the dogs and clean the dog yard. Giving love-ups to the adult dogs was a close second to the favorite activity of taking the eight puppies on their daily walks.

Teacher sessions were presented by educators who have served as the Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™ as well as the current Teacher on the Trail. Terrie Hanke who served on the trail in 2006 presented “Character & Counting.” Jen Reiter, Teacher on the Trail for the 2014 race presented “Lessons from the Trail.” Erin Montgomery who’ll travel the trail in 2015 presented, “Journey Through Iditarod.” Participants in the conference received ideas for every subject and every grade level to take home to their classrooms.

Rookie musher Philip Walters visited with the teachers at the conference about his journey to the Iditarod Trail in 2015. Walters is a middle school band director in the Anchorage Public Schools. Walters finds great similarities between his dog team and his band and it goes far deeper than the concept of mushing and a band both being the ultimate of team activities. Walters tells his students it’s a great compliment when I compare you to my sled dogs as I love dogs as much or more than most people love their own children.

Cindy Abbott spoke to the teachers about her quest for the Iditarod finisher’s belt buckle. Abbott has attempted Iditarod in both 2012 and 2013. Injuries caused her to scratch both years. Abbott’s injuries have healed and she’ll be running a team from Halter’s kennel. Cindy has climbed Mt. Everest and when she completes Iditarod, she’ll be the only woman to have accomplished both feats.

A couple of old timers met with the teachers and shared stories and history from the very beginning of Iditarod. Joe May won the 1980 Iditarod in 14 days, 7 hours, 11 minutes and 51 seconds and received a purse of $12,000. A lot of things have changed with the race over the years and speed is one. Compare Joe’s winning time from 1980 to Marcelle Fressineau’s Red Lantern time of 2014, 13 days, 4 hour, 42 minutes and 8 seconds. May said another huge improvement in the race was when Iditarod started flying straw out to the checkpoints. Along with Joe May was Raine Hall , Iditarod’s very first employee. Hall managed the office and edited the race magazine, the Iditarod Runner. Hall, May and others are working on a book, Iditarod, the First Ten Years – An Anthology. The anthology will help preserve the colorful beginnings of the Last Great Race and is due out in December.

Barbara Redington has a soft spot in her heart for the Junior Iditarod. She spent time with the teachers telling stories of the shorter version of The Last Great Race for teens between the ages of 14 and 17. The Junior Iditarod isn’t quite as old as the Iditarod as 2014 marking the 37th running of the Junior race compared to the 42nd Iditarod. Redington has run the Junior race herself claiming the Red Lantern in 1977. Both of the Redington sons, Ryan and Ray Jr. have run the Junior Iditarod as well as Iditarod. Wanting to support youth, Lynden Transportation sponsors the Junior Iditarod and provides funds for scholarships and special awards.

Iditarod finisher, Lisbet Norris, is signing up for her second run to Nome at the picnic on the last Saturday of June. Lisbet runs a pure bread Siberian Husky team. Her family operates the oldest Siberian kennel in the world. The teachers visited with Lisbet at her kennel, met her Iditarod team and heard Lisbet’s story about her rookie run to Nome.

To know where you’re headed, you need to understand your past. Katie Mangelsdorf has written a book about Joe Redington Sr., “Champion of Alaskan Huskies.” Joe is credited with being the “Father of the Iditarod.” Katie shared stories with the teachers about Joe’s life and his personal qualities that made Joe such a unique, respected and resourceful individual. With the information that Katie shared, the teachers have a tremendous background about the founder of The Last Great Race and the race itself.

Throughout the week, Vern Halter presented basic mushing information for the teachers. Through all of the trail talk and activities, teachers had opportunities to understand the necessary strategies of mushers. The final test before leaving Dream A Dream was to create and present a run rest schedule up to the twenty-four hour mandatory rest for Cindy Abbott who’ll be running out of Halter’s kennel in the 2015. The teachers were also asked to determine the length of the twenty-four hour layover with start differential for bib 31 out of 73 mushers. Finally, the teachers were asked to pick the top ten finishers for the 2015 race. Lots of assumptions were made for that part of the test as musher signup doesn’t begin until Saturday, June 28th.