Geeky Ways to Love the Iditarod: Build a Better Dog Sled

GeekMom Travel
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Image Jessamyn

Talk about an amazing race. The Iditarod dog sled competition, which started Saturday,  stretches more than a thousand miles from Anchorage to Nome, crossing some of the toughest terrain in the world under some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Mushers come from all over the world to compete, but, at its heart, the last great race is a unique competition that captures the very essence of what it means to be an Alaskan. It’s about grit and perseverance, survival and courage. The race also symbolizes compassion and responsibility for our fellow human beings as it commemorates the heroic efforts of a group of mushers who ran the life-saving serum needed to treat Nome’s diphtheria outbreak in 1925.

And there are so many ways to geek out on the Iditarod!

To start, try your hand at building a sled out of anything you have on hand. Others have used Lego bricks and plastic wrap, but we used a broken down laundry hamper.

Some things you may want to consider:

–runners for your musher to stand on
–a space for provisions to sustain you and your dogs
–a harness system for your dogs to pull the sled
–how to improve your sled’s performance
–wheels if you live in a climate without snow

We connected Sherlock and Watson, our little rat terriers, to our sled. Sherlock turned around and stared at the sled, then flatly refused to pull. Watson, the better sport, enthusiastically pulled Sherlock around our house, which led to lots of crashes and barking and laughter.

If you do build a sled, be sure to take photos and send them in to the Build A Better Sled project.

Teachers-Guide-Mystery-on-the-iditarod-trailThere are plenty of other ways to learn with your kids through the Iditarod. You can follow the racers by visiting the Anchorage Daily News each day or check in with ESPN. The official website has a section for teachers filled with learning activities.

You can track the progress of the mushers, do some math, learn some grammar, stage a reader’s theater, and study all kinds of science pertaining to the race. Or you might read about Libby Riddle, the first woman to win the Iditarod, one of the many first-hand accounts of running the race including one by Gary Paulsen, or build a learning unit around The Mystery on the Iditarod Trail. Finally, there are many videos about the race, including Balto.

Sled dog racing is the only professional sport in which women and men compete against each other equally. While many women have run and won the race, Susan Butcher was one of my childhood heroes.  Susan was an amazing four-time winner who, with other women, inspired a common saying and t-shirt slogan.

Alaska – where men are men and women win the Iditarod.

For most of you, Alaska is a strange and far-off place and you probably think I’m joking when I tell you that they didn’t cancel recess until it was -25F. Think that’s tough?  Next time your kids are hoping for a snow day, you can tell them that my elementary didn’t close until the thermometer hit -55F. Building a sled is a great way for me to share with my son – and your kids – a little piece of what it was like to grow up there. There are so many life lessons to take from the Iditarod.

But if your kids learn nothing else, remember: we don’t eat yellow snow.

 

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5 thoughts on “Geeky Ways to Love the Iditarod: Build a Better Dog Sled

  1. Iditarod = serious animal abuse. Institutionalized dog torture. It’s great that we’re encouraging romanticizing this for our kids now…

    1. Honestly, that really depends on the musher. There have been serious cases of animal abuse in the past, but they’ve always been discovered by the trail vets. These dogs have mandatory checkups at several points along the trail, and many mushers will scratch (quit) if their dogs can’t handle it or are getting sick. They’re required to scratch if they lose a certain number off their team because of injury or illness. There are mandatory rest periods at several checkpoints, for the benefit of both dogs and mushers.

      Have you ever seen these dogs? They’re born to run. Several people have to hold onto the leads of the sled to keep them from going before everything is ready. And they’re happy, jumping up and down and barking. The Iditarod isn’t animal abuse. Abuse would be stopping them from running, and keeping them cooped up in a house somewhere.

      1. Sled dogging on its own is not animal abuse. The iditarod is, absolutely, 100%. Don’t pretend it isn’t. The fact that having a race go by where there are no fatalities is such a notable event just goes to prove this point.

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