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Dr. Tim Hunt Explains The Iditarod Trail Food Drop

By Dr. Tim Hunt
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Running a 1000-miles race requires a lot of material, food and gear, which you cannot haul from the start of the Iditarod Trail, obviously. With roughly 21 checkpoints or locations where your gear and food is staged spread out roughly equally along the trail, there is quite a bit of logistics and planning required.

Mushers have only three locations where stopping is required, the rest are at the discretion of each musher and their strategy.  With this said, how the food drops are then planned comes into play and the bags are built according to what may be needed at each checkpoint -- based on the plan in place for that dog team as it arrives at each location.  This is not a perfect science but it is one that is usually fairly close to what is needed at each theoretical stop.

For example, if you plan to stay at one location for six hours, that may require a slightly different amount of food versus one where you are going through and not stopping at all.  There is a base minimum of food that has to be at each stop and each bag has a limit of 50 pounds. There is a maximum of 3 bags per checkpoint.

This year we have a total of 44 bags going out to the various checkpoints and here is an example of what is included in one bag:

  • 10 pounds of beef
  • 10 pounds of chicken
  • 10 pounds of salmon
  • 2 1/2 pounds of beef fat
  • 8 pounds of Momentum dry food
  • 150 dog booties for their feet
  • 2 pairs of gloves
  • 1 pair of socks
  • bottled water and bottled orange juice
  • 3 vacuum packed frozen meals for the musher and the dog
  • hand warmer and ointment for dog feet
  • vitamin pack for dogs
  • bag of snacks for musher to use on next leg of race
  • runner plastic for sled
  • return bag for items non-food items that aren't used 

And then there is a second bag with much of the same food items, except for 10 pounds of an ocean fish called sheefish and 10 pounds of turkey skins. Some locations even require a third bag due to a long stop or the next leg requires camping out on the trail.  This year's race will have at least seven camp-out sites for the team on the trail (no cabin, etc.), which will require much more gear and food to be hauled from the previous checkpoint.

In total, about 1,500 pounds of food and gear is loaded into the 44 bags and that goes to each location via a small plane that lands on the snow(the plane has skiis underneath) and stationed accordingly.  Straw and fuel for our cookers (the device to boil water and then use to melt all the frozen food for dogs and humans) is supplied by the race committee. There certainly is a great deal of logistical magic on all ends.

The dogs will be going through about 12,000 to 14,000 calories per day, much of which is supplied by fat. These dogs are truly amazing athletic machines that are made for this kind of work.

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Voted America's Favorite Veterinarian in 2014, Dr. Tim Hunt provides expert content to Voyce. His role with Voyce is one example of the many terrific expert partners that have dog-specific content featured in the Voyce member portal. To join the Voyce Experience, click here.