The Iditarod Conference for Educator’s began Tuesday morning and we heard from some incredible speakers. Andrea “Finney” Aufder-Heyde pioneered the Teacher on the Trail program. What a fantastic teacher – she spoke with such passion and shared her adventures of traveling to remote parts of Alaska as she followed the Iditarod in 1999. Finney has been an integral part of the program and is an inspiration.
We also heard from Nancy Yoshida, a rookie in the 2009 Iditarod who had to scratch after crashing her sled while attempting the Happy River “steps,” one of the most treacherous parts of the race. It was interesting to hear about the training and prep work it takes to get ready for the Iditarod; it was heart-breaking to hear how her Iditarod dream ended after crashing her sled. In the turmoil of the crash, one of her dogs (Nigel) ran off, so she scratched at the next check point and set out to find him. Nancy wrote a book, “Nigel’s Choice,” about her experience in the race, and searching for Nigel, who she found safe and sound a few days later.
Our next speaker was Angie Taggert, a teacher from Alaska who was a rookie last year. Angie made it all the way to Nome, one of only a handful of rookies who finished the race in 2011. Angie took a lot of video during the race for CNN who developed a four part video series about her Iditarod run. She is amazing!
In the afternoon we traveled to Jon Van Zyle’s home – he is the official artist of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The scenery on the way was just incredible. For the first time, the sun came out so we could see the mountains all around us.
The Van Zyle’s have a kennel of Siberian huskies that “provide companionship, transportation, adventures, and inspiration for much of their art.” What a neat place! The Van Zyle’s opened their home to us – look how deep the snow is! Behind the house is a kennel for their huskies. We were able to walk around and pet the dogs, and then they let them run loose and the dogs were so excited, running around and greeting the teachers. They have a training wheel that allows the dogs to run as much as they want.
We went into their studio/home – what a haven for creativity! Their home was full of paints, photos, and all kinds of projects, including a wall of Iditarod related photos they have collected over the years. I loved this mask that was part native American and part polar bear.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped to see the Fur Rondy snow sculptures. A little boy was trying to lick this giant banana split when we first got there 😉
From the front of our hotel we could see the Fur Rondy carnival, so I went over to take some pictures. Well, once I got there, I thought, “I’ll bet I could get some awesome pictures from the top of that Ferris Wheel!” Best $4 I’ve ever spent – what an incredible experience to see Anchorage from the top of a Ferris Wheel while it’s snowing. Here’s a link to the video on youtube!