Tuesday, February 28th – Van Zyle & Fur Rondy

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! 

Finney, me, Angie Taggart

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.

scenery is just breathtaking!

snow everywhere!

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. 

Touring the Van Zyle Kennel

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.

inside their home

at the Fur Rondy Snow Sculpture contest

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 😉

Fur Rondy Carnival

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!

Posted in "Fur Rondy", Iditarod | 1 Comment

Monday, February 27th – Reindeer Sausage & A Sled Dog Ride

Reindeer Sausage??

The day started with a bit of a disappointment as the weather made it impossible to make it to Seward for the Iditaride Exit Glacier trip.  So, I decided to grab breakfast and then head out to explore downtown Anchorage.  The breakfast buffet included something you won’t find in Chesterfield:  reindeer sausage.  I tried a small bite but kept hearing Burl Ives singing, “you know, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and Vixen . . .” so, I decided I could not eat it but it is very popular here!


Fur Rendezvous Festival

After breakfast I put on my brand new boots and headed out into the falling snow.  The hotel is not far from where the Iditarod starting line will occur this weekend, so that was my first stop.  The Fur Rendezvous Festival is going on all this week, and there is a huge banner spanning the street.  The starting line for the Iditarod is right under the banner.

Balto Statue at Iditarod Starting Line


On the left side of the street is a statue of Balto, one of the lead dogs in The Great Serum Race of 1925.  Balto was the lead sled dog in the last leg of the relay of dog teams to deliver diptheria vaccine to Nome.  There was quite a bit of controversey over the statue as many felt Togo, Leonhard Seppala’s lead dog, was the true hero of the race as Seppala and Togo covered the longest and most dangerous portion of the relay.

The snow continued to fall as I enjoyed my walk around downtown.  One local told me some areas have received over 36 inches of snow in the past 30 hours! Here’s a pic of Town Square Park and an incredible ice sculpture in the park.

Town Park & Ice Sculpture

I ventured into a Visitor’s Center and picked up a schedule for the Fur Rondy Festival. There are all kinds of activities going on all week long including dog sled rides.  Woohoo!  What a lot of fun!  I have a video but cannot load it directly into the blog without purchasing an upgrade (bummer!).  Soooo, students, I have uploaded it to our Edmodo page, so be sure to check it out!  I’ve also uploaded it to youtube so everyone else can see it – click here.  I loved the sound of the snow beneath the runners while on the sled and hope I have another opportunity to ride while I am here!


Posted in Iditarod | 8 Comments

Sunday, February 26th – On my way!

At the Richmond airport

It’s not easy to get to Anchorage from Richmond!  It all started with a very early flight (my family is awesome – they all got up and trekked to the airport with me at 4:00 a.m. to see me off!).  The first leg to Washington D.C. was fairly smooth after they solved what the pilot termed, “a minor computer problem.”  It was a tiny, tiny plane though and I was happy to land safely in D.C.

From there I had a 6 hour flight to Seattle.  Six hours is a long time but thankfully it was fairly smooth.  There was a lot of cloud cover during much of the flight, but every now and then there would be a break and WOW! What a view!  As we got closer and closer to Seattle the flat land turned to mountains with LOTS of snow.

Flight to Seattle

The Seattle airport was packed!  After grabbing a $10 sandwich (yikes!) I boarded the last leg of the flight to Anchorage.  This leg was about 3 and a half hours and was much, much bumpier than the one to Seattle.  The cloud cover was very thick and we left Seattle in snow and arrived into Anchorage under a blizzard warning.  Some areas got up to 2 feet of snow although it was just a light snow in Anchorage.

I had planned to drive to Seward tomorrow to participate in an Exit Glacier tour with the Seavey’s, but the weather is too treacherous to attempt what is already a dangerous 2 hour drive.  I’m so disappointed as I was really looking forward to it, but the Fur Rondy Festival is going on in Anchorage so I will check that out instead!

I’m all settled in the hotel and it’s still snowing – the view from my hotel room is amazing.  There’s a train that runs behind the hotel – not sure if you can see it but the water is all ice!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 8 Comments

The Adventure of a lifetime!

I am off to Alaska!  One of my wonderful former students, Vince Babashak, nominated me for an REB Award for Teaching Excellence  and I won!  I am off to Anchorage, Alaska for the 2012 Iditarod Winter Conference for Educators.  What an incredible opportunity – I’ve incorporated a technology-rich Iditarod unit in my curriculum for years as it lends itself easily to real-world, problem solving activities that thoroughly engage students.  Students select a musher to follow in the race; since all mushers now carry GPS systems, we are able to track musher progress live during the race.  Students research their mushers on the Internet and create online portfolios to showcase what they learn during the race.  They blog as if they are their mushers, integrating what is really happening on the trail with their blogs.  They also create a video about their musher, complete an independent project and then tie it all together in a VoiceThread.  You can read more about the unit here!

Attending the Winter Iditarod Educator’s Conference will provide an opportunity to meet with other educators who integrate the Iditarod into their curriculum and to learn from STEM experts how to develop problem-based lessons that will engage my students.  I’m also going to volunteer at the Ceremonial start on Saturday and at the Official Re-start on Sunday, and then travel to Talkeetna and fly out to the Rainy Pass checkpoint!  I’ll be updating this blog so my students and others can follow along on this adventure of a lifetime!

Posted in Iditarod, Uncategorized | 11 Comments