KETCHIKAN - An elementary school teacher is embarking on a trail that she hopes will lead to fulfilling her Iditarod dream.
Angie Taggart, a teacher at the Houghtaling Elementary School, has signed up for the Knik 200 to prepare herself for entering the big race in 2010. The 200-mile Iditarod qualifier is scheduled for early January.
"I'm finally going to start doing my couple of races to qualify for Iditarod," Taggart said.
Taggart has dreamed about mushing in the Iditarod since at least 2000 when she taught school in the Western Alaska village of Pitkas Point.
While there, she traveled to see the Iditarod, and listened to mushers talk about their experiences on the trail.
"I was like, 'Hmmm, I wonder what it would be like to be a musher, or to help a musher,'" Taggart said.
When Taggert finished at Pitkas Point, she went to work as a dog handler for DeeDee Jonrowe from August 2000 through May 2001.
Her main job was training puppies, and it wasn't easy.
"It was a lot of hard work - 12-14 hour days, six days a week," Taggart said. "There were a lot of days when all I did was get up, do my chores, the job, running the dogs, and basically went back to sleep and then did it again."
Taggert said she grew to love being out with the dogs in beautiful scenery, hearing their feet running over the snow.
"You feel like you're just out there - just you and God and the dogs," she said. "It's really peaceful."
Well, it wasn't always peaceful. Dogs have minds of their own.
"They're always in control. You just make them think you're in control, but they always have one up on you. If I fall off, they're gone." she said. "There were days - bad days - when I got drug behind the sled."
Taggert got bit by the dogsledding bug. She began talking about the Iditarod after returning to teach in Ketchikan.
About five years ago, she became friends with Ray Redington Jr., a dog sled racer whose grandfather, Joe Redington, is known as the "father of the Iditarod."
Ray Redington had an Iditarod-themed shop in Ketchikan during the summer season that year.
"That's how we got to know him," Taggart said. "We became good friends with them over the summer, and have stayed in touch ever since."
Taggart is leasing a 12-dog team from Redington to run the Knik 200, she said.
"This will be my first time in a race, in an official race, with 12 powerful dogs," she said. "Basically, I'll have 10 days to acquaint myself with the animals that will be pulling me 200 miles across frozen land."
If the Knik 200 turns out well, Taggart will sign up for a 300-mile race to accumulate the 500-mile total required for entering the Iditarod.
"I might run this 200-mile race and say, 'Well, that was a great experience. Time to hang up my mukluks and go home,'" she said. "We'll see what happens."