Teresa's Blog

Alaskan Adventures with Teresa


Final Thoughts – A Picture Speaks A Thousand Words

“A picture is worth a thousand words, but memories are priceless.” ~Anonymous

The last challenge of this part of my journey is to select a picture that summarizes my Iditarod journey!  This challenge was harder than I ever thought it would be!

As I sit in my empty home in Pennsylvania flipping through pictures on my computer, all the pictures seem to be a distant memory.  How can this be, I was just in Alaska less than a week ago.  I want to go back to Alaska. I want to be there in the excitement and the community of people and dogs.

The picture that I finally selected is two of Jessie Holmes dogs at the restart.  It was minutes before they left on a journey that not many people or dogs will ever have the chance to take.  A journey of a life time, that some have a chance to take more than once.

I chose this picture because of the numerous meanings that come to mind for me.

 The first thing that comes to mind is the idea of community and friendship.  While an adventure can be taken by one, it is so much sweeter with friends new and old.  My Iditarod and Alaskan journey started a few years ago with a friend from home, Liz Schaszberger.  She was willing to go on a summer adventure with me.  We were fortunate enough to attend the ITC EDU summer conference and then travel across Alaska, because I had thought this was a once in a life time trip to Alaska.  I was wrong!  I have now taken the journey to Alaska two more times and each time I reunite with old friends and have invited many more friends to join in on the team!  The love of the Iditarod brings us all together!

The second reason that I selected this picture is because of the excitement that it fires up inside of me!  This journey has been a dream for me. I can only imagine the excitement that the dogs have as their journey and adventure is about to start.  They have a chance to spend the next week or so with their best friends and their favorite human!  There is something so peaceful about the challenge of be alone in the wilderness without all of the craziness that is happening in the world around all of us, at this time!

The third reason that I selected this picture is because of the emotions that the dogs are showing.  I am at times the dog in the forefront.  I am calm and taking in the adventure as a Teacher on the Trail ™ finalist.  Then at other times I am the second dog pulling so hard for the possibility for the next part of the journey and not wanting this adventure to end as just one of the finalist!  I want to pull and run for my “Nome”!

Thanks for all of the support and I hope to share many more adventures with each and every one of you!  Mush on my fellow Iditarod followers!

How can this picture be used in the classroom?

  • Students could write a story from the point of view of the dogs.
  • Students could write questions about what they notice or wonder about the picture.
  • Students could infer why the dogs are harnessed and where they are going.
  • Students could write math problems based on the picture.

Day 9 – My Finish is their Start

This part of my journey is finished, and the mushers have just begun.

In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take. ~ Winston Porter Thornton

What a chance it was, and what an experience I have had over the last week.  I know the end is very near, and I will be leaving my temporary office!

Makeshift office for the week. My office hours were from 10:00 – 12:00

What an experience it has been! I have made the most of every moment, and today was a long day of behind the scene work! I stated my day at midnight, but let’s be honest the day before never ended. Jim, Bridget, and I spent a 6 hour shift working communications for the Iditarod.  This was an eye opening experience from behind the scene.  Our job was to update the standings for each of the mushers as they came in and out of the different checkpoint throughout the night.  We had times where we were just watching the mushers on the GPS, making phone calls to wake up checkpoints, and then there were times we were busy updating the website with data received from the check points.  There is so much behind the scene work that goes on that no one would ever know.  The communications depart is like the school secretary, they do much more than we will ever know, thanks Peggy. Thanks to everyone who volunteers their time and has a smile while doing it!

Makeshift communication headquarters

At 6:30 am it was finally off to bed! I cannot tell you the last time that I pulled an all-nighter.  I thought I would be dragging, but I am not bad!  It has been an unreal experience and I am so excited to be able to bring all of my pictures and experiences back to the classroom!  This has been not only a great experience for me, but for my students and my community! Dreams are worth dreaming, even if they are scary! Thanks for all of the support and believing in my dreams with me!

While I will be leaving Alaska for now, I know that we will meet again! Until then rest easy and reach for your dreams!

Day 8 – These are the DOG days!

“Be happy in anticipation of what’s coming” ~ Abraham Hicks

As the dogs and mushers waited with anticipation for their turn at the start line I was wondering what they were thinking!  Are the mushers filled with fear, anxiety, relief, joy, or just sheer excitement?  As I walked about the dog yard photographing the dogs I saw many different emotions. 

As the teams were lined up for the adventure of a lifetime they started to become more and more amped.  As the dogs became amped, the excitement continued to rise up in me.  I have made it here and the race is about to begin.  I had to stop so many times and remind myself to take it in and enjoy every moment.   

It was a busy day filled with excitement and snow! There was so much snow!  It was said that this was the most snow that they had at the start in the last 10 years.  After the mushers had left for the trail, the challenge was getting all of the empty dog trailers and trucks out of the dog yard.  It was great to see people helping people.

The next few days will bring lots more excitement for the dogs and mushers! I wish I could be there, but the Insider will have to do for now! Run hard my friends!

Day 7 – What do you do with a dream?

Do you run from your dreams? Or do you allow them to embrace you?

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they are too small.” ~Richard Branson

We all have dreams and sometimes we achieve them and sometimes we fail, but we at least need to chase our dreams.  Today was a dream of mine that had become a reality!  I have attended the teacher summer camp for two years, and have wanted to apply for the Teacher on the Trail (TM), but that always seemed like a dream that would never become a reality.  Now it is a reality and I am living my dream! As I walked the streets I had to remember to put the phone and camera down and just be here in the moment and take it all in.  I was so excited to be here to see Gabe Durham start a dream of hers.  I was able to meet her at the summer sign ups and now see her start her race happy and healthy with all of her dogs was a dream come true for her I am sure.

I also was able to see Jesse Holmes this summer at the sign ups and now I see him on the street with all of his dogs.  They were so well controlled and you could tell that he and his team had worked hard yet another year to reach the dream of completing another Iditarod race. A dream is not something you sit back and let happen, you have to work hard and put in the work to see it come true!

Jesse signing up for the 2020 Iditarod

 Today during the race I had the opportunity to be a handlers and I was matched up with Anna Berington.  Talk about a dream come true!  I was able to meet her and see her kennel this summer at camp. I saw and heard about how she and Kristy run their kennel and now I am helping her guide her team to the start line.  What a surreal moment!  As I stood with her dogs I had to stop my mind and let this dream soak into my being.  I stopped and looked around, and boy am I glad I had the sunglasses on, because my eyes started to well with tears knowing that this dream was now a reality. I have worked so hard over the last few months applying and getting things ready in my classroom to leave for a few days, and now the dream is here!

Dreams are hard and dreams can be messy, but that does not mean that you should not dream. What is a dream that you have? Are you willing to put in the work for your dream? Dreams are not always easy, but I believe that they are worth every minute. Keep dreaming!

Day 7 – Bonus

After all of the volunteering Jim, Bridget, and myself decided that we needed to take part in everything Alaskan! So, we signed up for the Running of the Reindeer. This is a fundraiser organized by the Fur Rondy to raise money for Toys for Totes. They raised over $200,000. It was a great time and fun for all ages!

Then in the evening we were able to visit the Alaska Zoo, in Anchorage. It was fun to look at all of the different animals, that are not native to the lower 48. Enjoy a few of the pictures from the evening.

Day 6 – Here’s a Volunteer, There’s a Volunteer, Everywhere There’s a Volunteer

“Alone we can do little, together we can do so much!”  ~Helen Keller

How many volunteers does it take to make the Iditarod a success?  Today was a day when the reality of the sheer number of volunteers needed to run this amazing race came to the forefront for me! We started out the day with Jenny Ittner sharing how she used the Iditarod in her classroom.  While I have been using the Iditarod in my classroom for many years, I love learning about how other classrooms use the race. I was inspired and really excited to go home a try a few of the ideas.  Jenny reminded us that we are all mushers and that each year we get a new litter of puppies to train and learn how and where they work best.  One of the activities that she encourages her students to do is volunteer their time to help a musher.  They create fundraisers and thank you gifts for those who support the kennel.  These students may not be physically here for the race, they had a hand in volunteering and making the race be a success for their musher!

After the presentation I headed to dog handling training.  This is the part that has me excited. I have been told that if I was going to take part in anything, that I needed to be a dog handler!  We learned the ins and outs of dog handling during our hour training.  The dogs are full of energy and ready to go, so as a dog handler I need to be on my toes ready to go.  The dogs are the most important part of the race and they will be given the utmost care from the mushers and dog handlers.  After learning all about the requirements and expectations of a dog handler we had a chance to test out our skills.  I was not sure how I would do running on a sheet of ice, covered with snow to make you think it was safe, but I survived and ended up with my certification.   I can now officially be a volunteer dog handler for the ceremonial start and the restart.  Sara and Rae did an outstanding job organizing all of the dog handlers, as well Wayne Curtis as our volunteer handler instructor.  I am so excited to be able to have a hand at volunteering. 

Then in the afternoon I had a chance to learn from Stu Nelson.  He shared all of the work that he and his 57 volunteer veterinarians do in order for the dogs to be ready for the start of the race.  They have already put in many hours before most people even start to think about the race.  The veterinarians have completed blood draws, EKGs, and overall physicals for each of the dogs.  Take a moment and think about the fact that there are 57 mushers and each of them have selected 14 dogs, but they can bring up to 20 dogs to the vet check.  That is a whole lot of joints, legs, paws, and teeth.  Some of the volunteer veterinarians have already been flown to their checkpoints.   With the anticipated snow in the next day or so the veterinarians were being flown to check points to insure they are there to meet the mushers and their dogs.  There are about 3-4 veterinarians that will be at most checkpoints.  I am again amazed at how many volunteers there are and the organization that goes into the race before the first dogs have even sprinted over the starting line.

Late in the afternoon I had my final training before the start of the Iditarod.  I was trained in the communications of the race.  Reece Roberts, Jennifer Dowling, and Alan Zhou have worked so hard for the start of the race.  I learned that they are trying a new way of organizing and keeping track of all of the mushers’ data on a Google Drive to help streamline the process.  While this sounds amazing there was a lot of work that has taken place over the last year to make sure that everything will run smoothly over the next few weeks.  This will be challenging at times because of the lack of internet access at some of the checkpoints.  Now that the three of them have everything ready and organized, they are ready for the hundreds of volunteers that are willing to step in and help out over the next two weeks.  Without all of volunteers we would not be able to keep a close eye on the race from our living rooms and classrooms!

Throughout the day the thing that continued to stick out to me was the number of volunteers.  I was not able to get an exact number, but I know that it has to be over a 1,000 or more people in the end that have helped make this race what it will be tomorrow and in the weeks to come. In one of my trainings I meet a volunteer from Australia. He said that this was his first time volunteering and it was on his bucket list to come volunteer. How amazing is it that people are willing to come from all over the world to help out with this amazing race!

We so often only think about the mushers and the dogs out on the trail, but we need to remember that the real heroes of the race are all of the volunteers that have made this race what it is today.  We all have to be willing to work together to do great things!

What is a way that you can volunteer your time for this race for an event in your own community?

Day 5 – Walk 1,049 Miles in Their Shoes (Or Booties

I am finally on Alaska’s time and the morning came way too soon!  Today was another day filled to the brim with excitement and learning.  We started the day off at the Alaska Native Medical Center.  I was in awe of the center and what it does for the native people of Alaska. While it does do amazing things for the native people, they have to travel from all over the state to get the help that they need.  Some natives travel as far as Barrow, Alaska!

As we walked through the center, the building was buzzing with people and families! We spent most of our time learning about the displays on each of the five floors.  The native item that caught my eye in each of the displays were the shoes.  If you know me personally, you would know that I love shoes!  You can learn a lot about a person from looking at their shoes.  As I looked at each of the different styles of shoes I wondered what child, person, or elder might have worn the shoes similar to those in the display cases.  Each shoe has a different purpose, but the fact is each of the shoes are important. Each person in the village would have a job that needed to be done in order to survive.  Look over each of the beautiful and uniquely designed shoe.  What do you believe the person might have done in the village, based on the different style of shoe?  What would their life be like?  Our classrooms are just like these villages.  Each student in our classroom has a different job and purpose, but our classrooms would not be the same without each and every one of them. 

After looking at each of the different styles of shoes you could have your students predict what the person’s job might have been.  You could encourage your students to design a shoe to work best for them in their dream job and allow students to guess their dream job based on their designed shoe.

Then after a relaxing lunch with my fellow teachers and a few presentations we were off to another unsurreal evening. It was time for the meet and greet and the musher’s banquet.  The meet and greet was awesome! We had a chance to rub shoulders with some of the toughest people that I will ever meet. These men and women will be facing some of the biggest challenges of their life in the next few days.  I cannot imagine being in their shoes and not knowing what path lies ahead of them.  I also think of their dogs and the fun that they are about to embark on in the next few days.  What would it be like to be in their booties?  They get to spend the next few weeks with their best friends playing in the snow and doing what they love to do every day and all day!

May each of these mushers have the shoes to get the job done!

Day 4 – It is all about the DOGS

On a frosty Wednesday morning we set out for the Iditarod Headquarters to watch the vet checks. When I say cold I mean cold for Pennsylvania at a -6 degree Fahrenheit and with colder feels! This is the kind of temperatures where you are asked if your snot is freezing in your nose, from friends back home.

This was a day that I have been waiting for, for weeks with anticipation.  I have read about vet checks, listened to vets and mushers, and now I have a chance to witness with my own two wondering eyes what really goes down at vet checks.  The most important thing you need know is the dogs are loved.  As I watched all the dogs make their way out of the trucks and trailers each one was called by name.  The mushers know each of their personalities.  I had a chance to meet a few of Karin Hendrickson’s dogs and Rebel (if my memory works) became a quick friend of mine.  She said she was surprised because he was a shy guy and usually doesn’t want anything to do with new people.  I felt privileged to get to know him, if only just a little while.  Each and every one of those dogs is known by name and loved!!

Rebel and I hanging out!

As I continued to watch and listen in on the vet checks I was amazing at the detail that went into each dog.  The vets had a checklist for each of the dogs.  The mushers were watching and answering any questions that the vets may have.  The number of volunteers and organization to make all of the vet checks happen is fascinating. Everyone was working together to make the process run smoothly.

After the vet check we moved on to our afternoon with more dogs in the dog yard.  We headed off to Matthew Failor’s Kennel, The 17th Dog, to spend time with the dogs.  I am like a kid in a candy store.  I could have set on the snow covered ground all day loving on the dogs.

Then in the late afternoon we headed back to Birchwood Camp for something NEW and LIFE CHANGING! I have always encouraged students to try new things, but I am not always one to take my own advice with an audience of experts, but here goes nothing!!  We met up with the ACHILL staff for a few lessons in snow sports.  We first learned about skijoring from Kale Kasey.  Seeing that I have never cross country skied, there was no way I was going to be given a dog to hook on to my waist.  So, I headed out on a short cross country ski trail of my own.  It was peaceful beauty, with all of the tall snow covered trees surrounding me! There are no pictures because I was to busy being in the moment and taking it all in!  I could have continued going for a while, but I was too excited for my first try at dog sledding.  It was a DREAM come TRUE! I was going to get my chance on the back of the sled.  To say I was not nervous at the start would be a lie, but I was not about to let the nerves stop me from this experience!  Once we were out on the trail I just could not help but take in all of the views. There is nothing I love more in the world then trees, mountains and snow.  It brings so much peace to a crazy world.  As we were moving along the trail I could not help to think of all of the mushers about to head out on the journey of a lifetime.  I now know a little of why they do what they do!  I think the “sled dog bug” might have bit me! I need to do this again!!

Evening dog sledding experience!

I challenge each of you to find something that scares you, and then do it!! You only live once and your time can be short, so make the most of it!

Day 3: Starting the Summitt

While we had a day filled with many awesome presentations I want to focus on a few of the ideas I gleaned from the day to share. A picture is worth a thousand words. Terri Hanke had shared a picture from a vet book of Susan Allen.  We were asked to create as many math questions as we could from this one picture.

Susan Adams vet book

Some of the questions shared were:

  • What is the average age of her team?
  • What fraction of the dogs are girls?
  • What fraction of the dogs are boys?
  • How many booties would be needed for all of her dogs?
  • What is the total cost of the booties?
  • What would the human age of the dogs be?
  • How many boy dogs are there?
  • How many girl dogs are there?
  • How many booties would be required for the team?

This activity had me thinking of ways that I could use a picture in my classroom, for students to work on asking questions.  What are math questions that come to mind after looking at the picture below?

I loved our time that we were able to spend with a few of the ACHILL (Alaskan Care and Husbandry Instruction for Lifelong Learning) teachers, and learn from them and their experiences in the native villages.  I am in awe of how they work in such small villages and the obstacles that their students face.  I love how they are able to use sled dogs in the school to help teach students character and responsibilities.  While learning about character and responsibilities they are also learning about their culture and ancestors.  The Iditarod race was created my Joe Redington, so that the art of sled dog racing would not be forgotten and a thing of the past.  What are things in your family history that are lost?  What could you do to change that in your family or community?  I challenge you to get out and interview the elders in your community to learn from them and their experiences.  I know that we each have a rich history and we just need make sure that it is not forgotten.     

Day 2: Take the Road Less Traveled

“Because the greatest part of a road trip isn’t arriving at your destination. It’s all the wild stuff that happens along the way.” — Emma Chase

Today we had a chance to talk with the selection committee and share more about ourselves. It was great to talk with former Teacher on the Trails (TM) and discuss the possibility of what the year could look like. I am blessed to be apart of this awesome organization that not many have had a chance to be apart of in the last 20 plus years.

In the late afternoon Bridget, Jim, and myself had a chance to explore the town by the best mode of transportation, our own two feet. We walked out into the brisk air with no plan, but to see the views and take in the experience. After a few quick steps we decided to take a snow covered street because we saw a breathtaking site of the mountains. We continued to walk until the street ended, and the view only got better.

End of the street view!

We continued to walk and as walked we noticed a freshly plowed path. We looked at each other, and said, “why not”. We walked and had no idea where we were going. As we continued to walk the sun was starting to set. At one point the curiosity got the best of us and we needed to see what the view was like from the open field. The moment I stepped off the path I went knee deep. Well I started, so I needed to finish. I continued to walk in knee deep snow for about 3 minutes to make it to an open area with tranquil views. Sometimes you have to take the trail less trailed, or make your own trail for the best parts of life.

Another surreal part of the day was signing up as an official volunteer for the Iditarod. I remember just a year ago I was watching the ceremonial start from my living room in Pennsylvania, and wanted to be there so bad, and now I am here. I am not just watching but taking part in the experience.

Day 1: Jump on the Train!

Jump on the Alaskan Railroad for the trip of a lifetime!

Today we jumped on the figurative train, of our Alaskan journey.  Jim, Bridget, and I left late this beautiful snowy afternoon with Sarah to explore and learn more of the history that Alaska brings to our nation.  So many times we take for granted what history is in our own backyard.  Being in Alaska I love learning of the history, hard work, and the determination that has been put into making this the state, that it is today.  

One of the bits of history that jumped out to me was the Alaska Railroad.  I have spent all of my life living by a railroad track and they have always seemed to fascinate me as a child. Now whenever I am traveling I love to see the different railroads. I also made the connection of the railroad because of the history of the 1925 serum run that saved the children and people of Nome. The Alaska Railroad act of March 12, 1914 was a remarkable legislation that changed how the government was able to control the building of the railroad.  The only other railroad system owned by the government was the Panama Railroad.  The president was able to select the route.  It was believed that Alaska was a “storehouse” waiting to be unlocked, all that was needed was transportation.

The railroad was not to exceed 1,000 miles, but the mission of the railroad was:

  • Connect a harbor on the Pacific Ocean to navigable rivers in interior Alaska;
  • Connect the coal fields, agricultural lands, mineral deposits, and other valuable resources of Alaska to a harbor;
  • Provide settlement;
  • Provide transportation of coal for the Army and Navy;
  • Provide transportation of troops, arms, and war munitions; and
  • Provide transportation for the U.S. mail, passengers, and property.

On a warm Sunday afternoon on July 15, 1923, President Warren G. Harding, tapped the golden spike as well and pounding the iron replacement to complete the mission.  The Alaska Railroad now went from Seward to Fairbanks, Alaska. The train was an important part of the serum run as well the sled dogs.

Below are some sample problems of how you could use the railroad in math problem solving and math challenges.

  • How many railroad ties would be needed for the 1,000 miles of track if the railroad used 3,000 ties per mile?
  • If you used 3,000 ties are used per mile, what would be the spacing between each of the ties?
  • In 1925 the serum needed to get to Nome, but the railroad only was able to get it to Nenana?  If Nome was another 674 miles how many more railroad ties and track would be needed?

Railroad building downtown Anchorage.
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