Thursday dawned bright and early and started off with my formal presentation to the conference attendees. I had already spoken to the teachers about some ways to stay connected during the conference, but this was my big performance! I tweaked the presentation I did for the National Council for Social Studies Conference earlier this year in New Orleans. I traced the history of the trail from its use by the native people through this year and presented Social Studies and Math lessons that tied into each period in the trail’s history. I talked a lot about my boys, and Nathan, and of course Monica – I’m sure lots of ears were burning!
The rest of the day was spent engaged in other people’s presentations. I picked up some pretty cool Science and STEM activities – not sure how I will incorporate them in yet, but I’ll work on that!
Of course, the highlight of the day was attending the Musher Banquet! Each year, on the Thursday night before the race, mushers, families and fans gather together for an evening of music, friendship, and feasting. The evening begins with a mini-concert by Hobo Jim – the highlight of which is of course, The Iditarod Trail Song. This year he apologized several times as he was sounding and feeling a little hoarse. I thought he sounded great – but knowing how many times he has to perform between now and the Finisher’s Banquet in Nome – it’s going to be a long few weeks if he doesn’t feel better soon! The tables were set with centerpieces sent in from kids around the country… including our beautiful ones from Gilman!
People had time to visit with one another, and I was thrilled that I finally got to give Monica a big hug! Some sad news from Team Zappa, superstar pup Dweezil hurt his leg in his last training run and won’t be able to hit the trail this year. Monica is devastated, she was so looking forward to taking this journey with him. But, she also realizes that it’s good it happened now and not on the trail where she’d have to drop him at a checkpoint, and that he’s young…. still really young, so he has a lot of time to take that trip to Nome. Tim apparently decided he didn’t want to leave Dweezil alone, so instead he sent Monica to the banquet alone. Knowing what little I know about Tim, I’m sure that it wasn’t a hard choice for him to make. He later told me he made “to the front door.” I don’t think he is a fan of big crowds! Monica had to hit the mall for some clothes to wear to the banquet on her way to the banquet. I think she found the perfect shirt – it says “Stay Calm and Mush On!”
Once people had some time for visiting, the yummy banquet was served while some presentations were made, videos were shown, and auctions were held…. and then, just after dessert, it was time for the main event – the starting order draw! One at a time, the mushers’ names were announced and they made their way to the stage. They reached their hand into the mukluk and drew out a small chip with a number on it. They would make their way to the podium, thank their sponsors and say a few words and then announce their starting number.
I was pretty nervous by this point. Knowing that I was riding tag sled for Nathan at the ceremonial start, I was hoping for a good draw on his part. The thing that kept running through my head was last year’s ceremonial start. Last year, you’ll remember, there was no snow in Anchorage either. They created the trail for the Ceremonial Start. And because of the warm weather and in fact the rain, the trail didn’t hold up. I remember standing at the starting line and hearing the sleds scrape the concrete by about sled number twelve. I remember hearing story after story of musher and tag sled drive biting it on the horrible trail. I was selfishly hoping for a low number and hoping there would still be a trail to ride on when we went out. Nathan was hoping to pull number two. I was not too thrilled about that…. that’s a lot of pressure! To be the first one out? Gulp! Remember, the number one musher is an honorary musher – the Junior Iditarod Champion, and technically they go out about 15 minutes before the race actually starts. I was hoping for something like 6 or 8!
Monica actually went to the stage before Nathan. She drew number 8. A great draw! And she managed to make me tear up as she thanked the boys and I from the stage! I know she appreciates all that we do for her, but I’m not quite sure she has ever really grasped just how much she means to me and the boys. She has truly been the greatest joy to work with. She answers our endless questions, Skypes with us multiple times a year, and shows my kids what it means to be passionate about a cause, what it means to persevere, and what it truly means to be a winner. Monica has taught us all so many invaluable lessons, I can never repay her for all she has done for us. And, not only did she thank us from the stage, but also in the program for the banquet!
So Nathan finally got his turn and he drew number 4! He was happy, I was happy. We would go out sandwiched between Jessie Royer and Allen Moore – no pressure (ha ha!). I am quite sure they both have “professional” tag sled drivers! A few more tears – he also thought to thank us from the stage. Working with Nathan has taught me so much, and he’s so willing to let me jump in and experience things from his point of view. From building his website, to helping with vet checks, to letting me ride tag sled – he’s really given me a glimpse into what it takes to get a team to Nome and I’ll be forever grateful to him for letting me hang around… after all I’m just some silly teacher who happened to be assigned as his IditaRider in his rookie year!
Once the mushers had their numbers, they made their way through the autograph chute. Every year it seems that the autograph line gets longer and longer! I have to give a special shout out to Nicole Schartz’s daughter who rocked the autograph line for my class! She was a trooper and got our poster signed by every musher who came through the line!
So what was my major important job at this event? Tonight I was the Iditarod Social Media Reporter and reported out all the draw numbers…. I pretty much looked like this most of the night:
Oh – and yes, that’s Jansen telling me that I looked like “this” all night long!
The dogs are checked, the starting order is set, all we need now is a starting line and a ceremonial trail and we’ll be good to go!