Each year before the racers hit the trail toward Nome, Alaska, each musher ships out close to 2,000 pounds of food and supplies across the 22 Iditarod checkpoints. Included in this nearly one ton of supplies that are dropped along the trail are food for the dogs, food for the mushers, and any other supplies that the mushers deem as necessary as they travel the nearly 1,000 miles North. These supplies are packed into the “Iditarod food drop bags” labeled with the name of the destination checkpoint.
Iditarod food drop bags are collected about 3 weeks before the race begins and are distributed across Alaska by airplane. Commercial cargo flights, as well as a fleet of volunteer bush pilots known as the Iditarod Air-force, are utilized to deliver the Iditarod food drop bags since the race is entirely off the road system. Mushers pay the freight charges for this delivery service which run about 50 cents per pound.
A team’s schedule will dictate how their food and supplies are distributed. Race rules mandate that at least 50 pounds of food must be sent to every checkpoint. Mushers typically send 80 to 100 pounds to major checkpoints, and twice that amount to any checkpoint that they want the option of taking their mandatory 24-hour layover at.
The dog kibble is pre-measured and the frozen meat is pre-sliced so that feeding is quick and easy during the race. Most meat “snacks” are cut to about the size and width of half a slice of bread so that they can either be quickly melted in hot water for “sled dog soup” or passed out as easy to eat frozen snacks. Mushers put great effort into providing their team with as many meat options as they can. Some of the most common meats on the trail are beef, chicken, lamb, beaver, turkey skins, beef fat, and pork bellies. A sled dog racing Iditarod burns between 12,000 to 15,000 calories a day!
The trail meals for the mushers are single portions of any food- lasagna, slices of pizza, stir-fry, barbecue sandwiches, breakfast burritos, and pretty much anything that can be vacuum sealed and frozen. Most commonly that meal is tossed into the dog food cooker water to thaw while the musher does other chores. Once the water reaches boiling, the meal is fished out, and the water is poured over the frozen meat to make the dog soup. Sports drinks, water bottles, and juice pouches are also shipped out and thawed in the same way. Any bottles that are shipped must be opened and a few ounces of liquid poured out prior to freezing or the lid or bottle will break when the liquid freezes and expands.
Since most mushers don’t stop long enough to dry their gear, included in these bag drops are new gloves, socks, and boot liners for each checkpoint as well as a fresh set of booties for the dogs. Dog massage liniments, paw ointment, hand warmers, and candy bars are other essentials for each camp to keep these racers and their mushers in tip-top shape! It’s obvious that since each team is different that the above items aren’t going to be 100% accurate from team to team, but this gives you an idea as to the immense amount of preparation and planning that goes into a race like this. The mantra of ‘better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it’ is certainly in full effect if someone plans to bear the brunt of an Alaskan winter all alone on the trail, with little to no support, and oftentimes encountering brutal weather conditions. Now, when you cheer your favorite musher, you’ll have a better idea as to what might be in those familiar white Iditarod food drop bags you’re going to see in this year’s photos!
Author: Kale Casey, CEO North America
Non-stop dogwear North America
24850 West Gratiot Drive – Mile Marker 73
PO Box 1038
Willow, Alaska 99688