Western Alaska Recap

This is Aliy… checking in. The trip was amazing. Seriously amazing. I was extremely fortunate to be welcomed with open arms and big smiles to Golovin, Elim and White Mountain. It is hard to talk about each village in one post because they are three unique towns with their own spectacular individuals. But, I’ll try.

My school presentations were fun and exhausting. I spent all day at each school. I told my sister, who is the librarian at Two Rivers Elementary, that I can not imagine teaching every single day. Running Iditarod is tough but keeping up with the enthusiastic youth of Alaska is nearly impossible.

I read books to the youngest students. My favorite book to read the 1st through 2nd graders was the Itchy Little Musk Ox by Tricia Brown. It was especially poignant as there was a small herd of musk ox across Golovin Bay while I was there. I should mention that all the books I brought to the villages were purchased by ExxonMobil - so a big thanks to them!

Tricia Brown autographed her book for 'the herd in Golovin'; The kids loved it!

After the book reading, I asked the kids if they wanted to hear the names of my dogs. I got a resounding: YES!

After naming my dogs, I handed out a stuffed toy husky to each youngster K to 2nd grade (we had enough for Golovin and Elim.) The deal that I made with most of the youngsters is that they had to come up with a name for their pup. Then they could only bring home their pup if they wrote its name on a sheet of paper and gave it to me. Fair, right?

The names of the pups from the Golovin Kindergarten class are: Balto Sparky Moses, Sparky Balto Moses, Annie, Snowflake, Beauty, Max, KingKong and Douglas.
The names of the pups from White Mountain Kindergarten to 2nd grade are: Max, Kyeary, Apex, Raf, Champ, Steel, Teeny, Scooby, Strong, Bruno, Cinderella, Max(2), Nicole, Pink and Molly.
I didn't get any names from any preschoolers.

This pup is Molly; Pups stayed in 'kennels' until they were brought home.

I enjoyed all the names but “Matson” stood out the most since my sponsor, Matson shipping, was the one who donated these toy stuffed huskys. Thanks Matson! They were more of a hit that you could imagine.

I didn’t know that 3rd to 5th graders had as much energy as they do. If I did I would not have planned a “Iditarod Spelling Relay Race” at every school. I am not in my ‘best fitness’ currently so the relays wore me out. But… they were extremely fun. First off, I split up each class into random teams named: Kodiak, Commando and Scooby.

3-2-1 GO!

A child has to dress up in my mushing parka (yes… the real one), put on my fur hat and fur mitts. Then they (and I) raced together through willow bushes (other children with their hands in the air) to a chair on the other side of the gym. After sitting down, each kid needed to spell a word correctly then we ran back through the bushes (the bushes were a little more challenging to navigate than regular willow bushes with grabbing hands and tripping feet!) Each competitor then handed my mushing gear off to the next child on their team. We timed the teams and had 1st and 2nd (and sometimes 3rd.) Every team got awesome awards: Iditarod buttons and stickers. Thanks ITC for that donation!

There were not a lot of middle schoolers in any of the villages. But, I enjoyed sharing my personal videos from Iditarod as well as some of the Iditarod Insider videos. The ITC activated the schools’ Insider accounts so that I could show past videos. Everyone enjoyed watching me camped on the sea ice between Shaktoolik and Koyok! If they didn’t realize that I was crazy before that, they did then! I handed out books to these kids as well as Iditarod buttons.

The high school kids are a tough and independent bunch. Sadly, I didn’t have much time with them in Golovin. In Elim, they sat in on my community talk which basically talked about my amazing run of 2nd places finishes. But in White Mountain I had just a little more time and I talked for an hour to 8th through 12th graders. Many of us remember high school as a challenging time. Lots going on with our heads, our bodies and society catches up to us (or we catch up to it). Anyhow, the White Mountain youth were incredibly thoughtful as they asked me questions about how it really felt to come in 2nd place by 2 minutes and 22 seconds. They also asked the about the attack on me on the Yukon River last year. I was sincere in telling them that a victim never forgets, we bring our experiences along with us for the rest of our lives. It’s often very tough to view our negative experiences in a rational manner even though most of the world is a rational place. I will never forget what happened during the attack and I won’t downplay it either. It is simply a part of me now.

I did have several books for the high schoolers. The book that seemed to have much significance was “Never Quit” by Jimmy Settle and Don Rearden. As it turned out Don donated the books to my trip as well as autographing them for each village. This meant a lot to the kids. One teenager came running back in the room with the book pointing to Don’s autograph. Pretty cool!

Even though I may not have spent enough quality time with the high school kids, I was joined on this trip by two women from the Lead On! Workshop. Rachel and Megan spent a great deal of time speaking about healthy relationships, peer pressure and challenges of being a teenager. They also handed out applications to anyone interested in attending the Youth Leadership Conference in November. There are two scholarships available for each of the three villages. I sure hope that six kids decide to attend because we need some more Alaskan leaders from Western Alaska!

One final comment:
I have a soft spot in my heart for Golovin. For 17 years I have come through this little town with my dog team. I always thought that I had done my best to greet everyone who stood out and welcomed me. But, Golovin is not a Checkpoint so as racers we spend very little time there. While visiting, I actually timed me walking through Golovin along the Iditarod Route and it took only 5 minutes and 37 seconds to get through town at 3mph. So imagine a dog team trotting at even 7 mph. We are literally in and out of the little village in no time. Here is the iditarod route in the summer time. I sped it up to 7.5 mph “dog team” sped (with a little bit of mathematical assistance from my dad) and here you go. This is how long it takes an Iditarod Dog Team to realistically travel through Golovin:

Anyhow, on my Golovin visit a woman approached me and said that her 9 year old son was very upset that he had asked for my autograph this year and I hadn't give it to him. She said; “I guess you were in a rush.” I was shocked, embarrassed and upset. I guess I wasn’t surprised but it pained me to think that I had been so callous.

I asked where I could find her son. I didn’t know what I could do to make up for this stupid and insensitive mistake. When she brought me to him, he whispered in her ear. She stood up and said “I’m sorry, he said that he did get your autograph… it must have been someone else.”

I can not describe the few minutes of utter shame that I felt when I thought I had ignored the small request of a 9 year old Iditarod fan. Trust me when I say: I will never let that happen. If I come in second place (again) due to the fact that I stopped for 2 minutes in Golovin to sign a poster, it will feel no worse than I did for those few minutes in Golovin.