Juneau teen blazes Iditarod Trail to learn about snow, science

Posted: Thursday, March 09, 2000

A Juneau teen-ager will be on the Iditarod trail this week, but instead of mushing, he'll be driving.

Jesse Salsman, soon to be 15, is one of four students who, along with several adults, will ride snowmachines on the trail from Galena to Nome starting Friday as part of a Galena School District project.

``It's something I actually wanted to do my whole life,'' Salsman said. ``I'm a real outdoorsy kind of kid. The idea of riding snowmobiles through the middle of nowhere is something I'd really like to do.''

Salsman, a freshman, is one of 122 Juneau students in the Galena School District's home-school program, which enrolls 3,600 at-home students statewide.

The district's Iditarod 2000 Classroom project has sent one group out for the first part of the trail, to Galena, a town of 500. The snowmachiners are trailing the mushers.

Salsman's group will pick up from Galena. They expect to cover the roughly 400 miles in about five days. He'll fly back from Nome on March 15.

They'll stop in the Athabascan Indian and Inupiat Eskimo villages along the trail, meeting the local schoolchildren. If they can't stay overnight in a school, they'll sleep in tents or make snow caves.

``From my experiences, they'll be received very positively and taken care of,'' said Bob Kuhn, a teacher and manager for Galena's Southeast office in Juneau. He lived in Alaska's Interior for 16 years, including eight in villages along the trail.

The students' academic work includes taking measurements of the weather and snow condition, studying the physics of friction through the different types of sled runners, and writing journals for the project's Web page.

They'll also use the global positioning system to track where they are and send the coordinates to the Web site, where Galena city students will create a map. Journalism students there also talked to five mushers before the race and posted those interviews.

If Bush villages are new to Salsman, so are snowmachines. He's never ridden one before, he said, but he'll get some training in Galena before setting out. And he's familiar with the outdoors from the Frostbite Challenge in White Pass, Yukon Territory, where participants make snow caves, and from more than 40 campouts with the Boy Scouts.

Salsman, a Juneau Empire paper carrier, used his earnings to buy a season's pass at Eaglecrest Ski Area. And he hunts, backpacks and cycles.

``We're so proud, we're going to pop,'' said mom Janice Salsman. ``What an exciting adventure for my son. Not many kids get to go on this kind of adventure.''

Knowing the temperatures could dip to minus 60, she's concerned about frostbite, but said she knows he's in good hands.

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race committee said it's hazardous to ride snowmachines on the trail. Frames can break, even on heavy-duty rigs. And more than a few people have overturned in open water, the committee warned in its media guide.

Students already have had some problems, but none that serious. Their Web site said the first team has been out of touch and one snowmachine had broken down.

To reach the project's Web page, go to www.galenaalaska.org.

for the Galena School District page. Click on city schools and then the Iditarod 2000 Classroom.

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