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The 2010 Iditarod

Mr. Byrd is representing Dexter School and Southfield School in Alaska at the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. The following reports were sent from Mr. Byrd during his trip.

Day 1 Saturday, February 27, 9:00 AM EST Ready To Go

Do I have everything? Camera, camcorder, computer, and all the power cords? Plane ticket? Enough warm clothes?

Miss Walsh made a great Iditarod 2010 banner for me, and Mr. Mulliken made an engraved dog bone to present to the Iditarod Education Director. Mr. Williams gave me a note for my musher, Michael Williams, Jr. Thank you, Mr. Thomas, for helping to organize the trip.

Do you notice my sled dog in training in my first picture?

I arrived at my destination, Anchorage, Alaska, at 11:00 PM EST (Eastern Standard Time) which is 7:00 PM Alaskan, local time. There is a four hour time difference between Anchorage, Alaska and Boston, Massachusetts. It was dark, and I could not see the view. I did learn that the sun is rising six minutes earlier each day and setting six minutes later. By the end of my trip, there will be almost 1.5 more hours in the day of sunlight. Have you noticed the extra sunlight? Alaskans notice the extra light because there is little sunlight in the winter.

Tomorrow, after the United States plays Canada in the Olympic gold medal hockey game, I plan to see the Dog Sled Sprint Races and the Reindeer Run in downtown Anchorage. I’ll let you know who wins the sprint race.

Mr. Byrd

Day 2 Sunday, February 28

I watched the United States Olympic Hockey Team play Canada at a restaurant called the “Peanut Farm.” There were more big TV’s than I have ever seen. What a game!!! Mr. Thompson must be very happy.

I then went to the Fur Rendezvous, or Fur Rondy, as it’s named. It is a celebration of the fur traders who gather to sell their furs and to enjoy the company of their fellow trappers. There were a lot of fur hats and coats.

A Yupik Eskimo was wearing a squirrel fur coat which her mother made in the early 1960s. This coat is almost 50 years old. The daughter was very proud of both her mother and this coat.

In one photograph I am feeding a reindeer. Look at the size of his antlers. In the reindeer race, people try to outrun the reindeer. In another image the ‘Queen of the Rondy’ is winning the race.

Do you see the blanket toss? The blanket is made of walrus hides. On the count of three, we sent this girl ten feet in the air. Inupiat Eskimos use the blanket to toss one of the men high in the air to look for whales.

The ice sculpture depicts an Eskimo fishing in his kayak for halibut. Notice the halibut’s two eyes are on the same side the head.

In the last image, a group of Yupik Eskimos sing during the ptarmigan dance. This is a hunting dance. The ptarmigan is similar to a grouse or pheasant. The drums are made out of walrus gut.

Mr. Byrd

Day 3: Monday, March 1

This morning, I visited Portage Glacier in the Kenai Peninsula. Along the road there were avalanche warning signs. Even though it was raining, we managed to see a Dahl sheep and my first bald eagle. I could not see the glacier because of the rain and fog. I have yet to see a moose!

In Anchorage, at the Native American Medical Center, I visited a museum of native art. In the picture, notice the carving on the whale vertebrae and the scapula. Look at the beautiful kayak made from walrus skins. Can you imagine paddling out to sea in that small boat? I was able to buy some baleen to bring back to the science room. Baleen hangs from the upper jaw of baleen whales and serves as a strainer that catches plankton while a whale is feeding. Only American Natives are allowed to create artwork from baleen, ivory and whale bone.

In another image, I am skiing in Hatcher Pass. I went about six miles. As you can see from the picture, the weather had changed from the morning. I had to pass through Wasilla on the way to Hatcher Pass. I did not see Sarah Palin. There were no Moose in Hatcher, either.

Mr. Byrd

 Day 4 March 2, Tuesday

In the lobby of the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage, there are a few stuffed animals on display. These animals include a musk ox, a Dahl sheep, a polar bear, and a black bear. I also saw a bronze sculpture of Leonhard Sappala and Togo. Leonhard was a very important musher, and Togo was his favorite lead dog.

I took a trip to visit the kennel of Jon and Jonna Van Zyle. They have twenty dogs. The white dog’s name is Sorin, and the black husky is named Hardtac. Hardtac is thirteen years old and has run the Iditarod with Jeff King five times. Jon and Jonna Van Zyle let the dogs have recess when we visited their kennel. That meant the dogs were let off of their leashes, and they could run around like 1st graders. The dogs also got their exercise on a special dog tread mill. The dogs ran for twenty minutes while we were there, and two dogs were even racing each other.

Jon Van Zyle is the Iditarod artist as well as a musher. He and his wife go on 600 mile trips on the dog sled. They camp along the way and have to send extra dog food ahead to a post office because it is too heavy to carry. The mail man throws the food on the roof of the post office to keep it cold and away from the animals.

Mr. Byrd

Day 5: Wednesday, March 3
Iditarod Headquarters and Martin Buser’s Kennel

What a great day! In the morning I went with a group of teachers to the Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla to watch the veterinarians check the dogs. I met a German and a Norwegian vet. Both had volunteered to check the dogs’ medical records. I saw the trophy for the winner and the Red Lantern Trophy for the final finisher. I met Jason Barron. Mr. Kirk rode with Jason Barron during the Ceremonial Race Start. Pat Moon, a rookie musher from Chicago, is a Red Sox fan. I saw a huge, very old sled that was used in the first Iditarod by a musher named Rod Perry. He had some wonderful stories about the early Iditarod races.

In the afternoon we went to visit Martin Buser’s dog kennel. Martin Buser is a four time Iditarod champion. Martin had eighteen dogs hooked onto a gang line and was preparing to go on a 40 mile run. The dogs were all howling because they were very excited to go on this trip. The dogs are very lovable, and I could not resist holding and petting them. Mr. Mulliken made a wooden dog bone that I presented to Diane Johnson, the Iditarod Education Director.

Mr. Byrd

Day 6 Thursday, March 4

In the morning, on the way to the Iditarod Teachers’ Conference, I finally saw a moose! He was next to the hotel where the Iditarod workshops are being held. The nearby people and dogs caused him to run away. I met my musher, Michael Williams, Jr. He is a Boston Red Sox fan just like his father. He speaks very quietly. This is a custom of the Yupik. Another custom is that the children do not look the elders in the eye. However, he did look at me when he was talking. He is a rookie, participating in his first Iditarod race. Michael Williams, Jr. will be racing dogs that are between the ages of three and seven. Fifteen of his sixteen dogs have participated in the Iditarod before this year. He has two lead dogs named Emo and Blackie. He will alternate these two special dogs in the lead position. I had lunch with the mushers Cim Smyth and Ramey Smyth. Last year Cim finished in sixth place and Ramey finished in ninth place. I also met Jim Lanier, a musher who is a retired doctor.

Tonight I am going to the mushers’ banquet where the starting order of the race will be determined. The starting numbers will be placed in a mukluk, which is a soft boot made out of reindeer skin or sealskin. Each musher will draw a number out of the mukluk to determine his or her starting position.

I just returned from the banquet. Michael Williams, Jr. will be the 59th person starting the race!

Mr. Byrd

Day 7 Friday, March 5

Today, during the Iditarod Teachers’ Conference, we listened to a presentation by the musher and four time Iditarod Champion, Jeff King. Jeff is the one in this picture speaking about his experiences in his early Iditarod races. Properly training the dogs by practicing the basics and earning the respect of these magnificent animals are important parts of having a successful team that works well together as one unit. This will be Jeff’s 31st race, and he announced that he will retire after this year. During the Ceremonial Race Start tomorrow, he will have a child from the Make –A-Wish Foundation as a passenger on his sled. I am looking forward to riding with Michael Williams, Jr. during this Ceremonial Race Start. Our sled will travel down the snow covered roads of Anchorage and take us out into the woods during an eleven mile trip.

During the conference today, I met a teacher from Ketchikan, which is a town south of Juneau, the capital of Alaska. Next year she is planning to take a year off from teaching and race in the Iditarod. Her name is Angie Taggart.

A fourth grade teacher, Trent Herbst, had a terrific workshop on some of the Iditarod projects that are being completed in his class. Trent is racing this year in the Iditarod, and his starting position is 60, which is one after Michael Williams, Jr. Trent’s students actually built two Iditarod racing sleds in class and packed the food drop bags that their teacher will use in the race. There are two food drop bags on the wall in the hallway at School next to my reports. Trent also showed us a movie of his students being towed in sleds that they made during class.

Good news! I saw another moose today!

Mr. Byrd

Day 8 Saturday, March 6 The Ceremonial Race Start

Today I was a passenger in the sled of Michael Williams, Jr. during the Ceremonial Race Start. Last night trucks brought in snow to cover the streets of downtown Anchorage for the start today. We started in the 59th position. It was very exciting to hear all of the dogs howling with enthusiasm when we arrived. Michael Williams, Jr. used a hatchet to chop up the sticks of dog food used to feed his team.

I was able to meet the Williams family before we left on our trip. There were nine family members on hand to support Michael. His father and sister are in one of the pictures that I sent back to school.

Do you think the dogs are ready to go? The dogs were as quiet as could be until they were hitched to the gang line. Then the symphony of sounds began. The dogs would jump and howl and pull. Then once they were released at the start it was all business and no noise but the pitter patters of tiny feet. What an incredible experience to travel with these magnificent animals.

Mr. Byrd

Day 9 Sunday, March 7 Re-Start

The day after the Ceremonial Race Start in Anchorage is the real start of the race or the re-start. The re-start takes place about 80 miles north of Anchorage on a frozen lake in a town called Willow. With our VIP badges, we were able to enter the waiting area for the mushers. We saw Michael Williams, Jr’s. truck and sled and met with his family. His number and starting position is 59. The mushers start at two minute intervals. He did not have to set up his team until number 52 had started. His mother and father helped him to put on his bib. He walked down the gang line and gave each dog an encouraging word, just like a coach would cheer on his team. His mother, who was wearing a beautiful otter coat that she made, gave him a supportive hug. Then he said good bye to his niece, who cried after he started the race.

We wish Michael Williams, Jr. good luck during the race, and we look forward to following his progress at school. I am going to be flying back to Boston in the near future. I will see you soon!

Mr. Byrd