Bookworms Hear Chilling Alaskan Tales
Having spent their week engaged in a virtual tour of tourist hot spots across the United States, students at Forbes Road Elementary finished up their “road trip” Friday with cool tales about Alaska and the greatest race on earth – the Iditarod.
Greeted by Herb Brambley and his sled dogs, Scout and Lobo, Forbes Road’s little bookworms learned the 2010 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail first took an interest in sled-dog racing after being inspired by a book entitled, “The Cruelest Miles.”
The book, penned by Gay and Laney Salisbury, outlines a 674- mile dogsled journey that brought a much-needed diphtheria serum to the residents of Nome, Alaska. It wasn’t long after putting down the read that Brambley began acquiring his own Siberian and Alaskan huskies, constructing a sled and training his team in the confines of the Buchanan State Forest.
Sharing photographs of his dogs in training, Brambley stated Lobo happened to be the runt of his littler but, as time passed, was instrumental in teaching him how to properly pull a sled. Brambley added many Iditarod mushers refer to Siberian huskies, such as Lobo, as “slowberians” because they do not possess the speed of an Alaskan husky. As a result, only one or two teams of Siberians typically grace the start line of the 1,000-mile Iditarod race that now winds its way from Willow to Nome.
Brambley said the Iditarod trail itself once served as mail route, but due to its course through swampy terrain, it is typically inaccessible during the summer months. He was fortunate enough to travel by bush plane and snow machines, known in the Lower 48 as snowmobiles, to perform his duties as Target’s Teacher on the Trail.
While stopping at various checkpoints and schools along the Iditarod, he sang songs, distributed books to local children and learned first- hand about the Alaskan way of life. Brambley told the students on Friday about the Native Alaskan cultures of the Athabascan, Inupiat, Yupik, Tlingit and Aleut people as well as how they trade products distinctive to their regions.
Brambley’s visits to Alaska also allowed him to meet up with some of the top mushers in the world. Brambley was fortunate to briefly serve as a handler for New Jersey resident Kim Darst, who later found herself stranded in a blizzard while lead dog, Cotton, suffered from hypothermia. Darst pulled out of the race when she called race officials to aid in her dog’s recovery.
Her story paved the way for Brambley’s first book entitled, “Cotton’s Tale: A True Iditarod Story.” Copies of Brambley’s book were available for students and their families, who got an overview of proper sled gear ranging from snowshoes and dog booties to a cooker and sleeping bag to finish out the presentation.