What do mushers eat? How cold or hot is it? And why are there fewer runners?


We are now several days into this year’s Iditarod Trail sled dog race, and a winner should emerge by the middle of next week.

We asked what readers wanted to know about the Iditarod and compiled a series of questions and answers for this article. Is there anything that interests you? Let us know in the form at the bottom of this story.

I know competitors send dog food and supplies ahead of time, but what about themselves? Do mushers get a hot meal at checkpoints or do they eat cold food that they send with dog food?

Mushers will also include food for themselves in their supplies, and they will eat cold or hot food that they heat up themselves. Each musher is required to carry a portable stove and a large pot capable of boiling at least 3 gallons of water during the race – they could heat the food this way, or if there is hot water or a microwave at a checkpoint, they could use it. to heat up their food.

Typically, mushers send food they can eat quickly: snacks they can tear up and easily access, or higher-calorie meals that can be tossed into boiling water from a pot while they prepare dog food. You might see vacuum sealed packages of soup, pasta, pizza, stroganoffs, etc. There might also be more elaborate fare for a pick-me-up – something to look forward to. For example, a few years ago, Martin Buser ate beef tenderloin and rice that were stored in vacuum-sealed bags, which were reheated in a pan of boiling water.

Later in the race, mushers will often start depositing the food they’ve sent into common areas at checkpoints, and it’s not uncommon to see other runners digging into the pile of food looking for of treats or a variety.

At many community checkpoints, food is delivered by volunteers. That could mean big pots of moose soup put out in the community hall in Galena, or the hospital crew tending the stove in Unalakleet cooking pancakes and bacon for the mushers around the clock. However, food donations tend to come out ahead of the pack and often dwindle as the days go by. Thus, mushers in the middle and back of the peloton sometimes do not benefit from the same gaps.

I have seen the number of mushers decrease in recent years. What are the contributing reasons?

There are many reasons. For one thing, it’s getting more and more expensive to run the Iditarod competitively or recreationally. Prices for everything from premium dog food to shipping costs are higher than before.

Alaska’s economy also has a lot to do with it. When Alaska experiences a recession, as we did for a few years before the pandemic upended our economic recovery, it can limit the amount of money available from sponsors to support mushers or fund prize money. When the purse of the race is smaller, some mushers may compare the amount of money needed to get to the starting line against the amount they have the potential to earn, and decide that is not enough. .

The economy is most acute in rural Alaska, where the costs of everything are much higher. Over the decades the Iditarod has seen a shrinking share of bush mushers compete, with the race list dominated by people living and training along the road network, where goods and energy are cheaper, and the travel logistics to move dog teams. are much simpler.

[The superstar, the veteran, the doofus: Meet 5 of the dogs racing in this year’s Iditarod]

Over the past two years, however, COVID-19 has been a big reason the racetrack has shrunk. Travel logistics for out-of-state or overseas competitors are extremely complicated and expensive, if at all possible. And some would-be riders might have decided the circumstances weren’t safe enough. A musher has publicly attributed the 2022 Iditarod vaccination requirement as the reason he was pulling out before the race.

How does a musher signal emergency help?

As part of their mandatory equipment, mushers wear an emergency device where they can signal that they need help. Activating it means they must withdraw from the race, depending on the Rules of the Iditarod. But he alerts officials who mobilize resources to rescue them and their teams of dogs, usually by snowmobile if the weather is harsh.

For example, in 2018 Scott Janssen and Jim Lanier used the SOS button on a GPS device to call for help after Lanier and his team got stuck in a notoriously windy area between White Mountain and Safety. Striped lanyard for health and safety reasons; Janssen pulled out and ended his run so he could see his friend safely in Nome. They were taken to safety by snowmobile and flown by helicopter to Nome. (Here is their gripping account of what happened.) More recently, in 2020, three mushers had to be rescued after they found themselves on a section of the trail flooded by seawater outside the point of Security controle. They were transported to Nome in a helicopter.

Do mushers carry drinking water?

Many do, yes. Hydration is quite an important factor to balance for mushers, as it can be difficult to get enough fluids even if you’re sweating and burning calories during runs. Keep in mind that competitors, their gear, and their sleds are in pretty extreme cold for long periods of time, and mushers are often bundled up in gloves and mittens.

That is to say: the water bottles freeze. The same goes for your fingers if you try to screw and unscrew a small metal cap as your sled bounces over hillocks. So you see some pretty neat hydration rigs, like store-bought metal water bottles modified to be super insulated with long plastic straws sticking out of the top – that way mushers can sip without having to to play with corks and so on.

Most of the time, mushers will send bottles of Gatorade in their carrier bags with all their dog food. The frozen drinks are then tossed into the same pots of boiling water used for cooking dog food, so they can thaw. It’s about finding efficiencies.

[As a child, Kailyn Davis imagined having a dog team. Now, she’s in the midst of her first Iditarod.]

What is the temperature range that mushers will typically experience on the trail?

It depends on the year. Generally, if the temperature remains in the range of minus 20 to plus 25, it is considered about normal for the course.

At the extremely cold end, nighttime temperatures in the range of 40 degrees below freezing to 60 below are not unheard of. Once the mercury begins to reach the minus 30 range, it begins to create exceptionally difficult conditions: body parts begin to ache, fluids and ointments do not behave normally, and equipment may begin to break down. or break down.

The coldest stretches tend to be on the north side of the Alaska Range in the interior regions along the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers. Temperatures along the Norton Sound coast are generally not as low, but the wind can be much more intense. This brings some pretty brutal wind chill, especially from Unalakleet to Shaktoolik and Koyuk.

On the other hand, hot temperatures cause their own havoc. It’s not uncommon for temperatures to soar above 32 degrees, and especially if the midday sun is blazing, this can melt snow and ice along the trail and be unpleasant for dogs. . The 2013 race saw abnormally high (and unreasonable) temperatures, with mushers complaining it reached nearly 50 degrees. Lance Mackey described his team as going “slower than drool” on some of those hot runs.


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