The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race starts next month.
But before mushers and their sled dogs take off on the race to Nome, there’s a lot of preparation to do — and that includes getting teams’ supplies to the remote communities along the trail.
On Wednesday, mushers dropped off their food and gear in Anchorage, so it could be sorted and flown to race checkpoints.
Chugiak musher Jim Lanier brought 64 bags of food and gear to send out to the Iditarod trail. Together, the bags weighed nearly 2,500 pounds.
Packing all of that gear, he said, is a challenge.
“This is the 21st time I’ve done it for Iditarod, and it’s always a huge job,” said 79-year-old Lanier, the oldest musher in this year’s race.
Lanier joined a stream of mushers who hauled truckloads of bags to a cavernous building in South Anchorage. Volunteers then weighed and sorted the bags, readying them for flights to the remote communities and ghost towns that serve as race checkpoints along the trail. It’s part of the massive web of logistics to prepare for the annual 1,000-mile sled dog race.
Iditarod race marshal Mark Nordman said each team usually sends about 1,500 to 2,700 pounds of supplies to the trail ahead of the race. The bags contain a little bit of everything, he said.
“From personal clothing to extra runner plastic to, of course, the most important thing: the dog food,” he said.
Nordman described getting those bags ready as a “huge chore.”
“So many people say that the hardest part about Iditarod is getting your drop bags together, because everything is portioned out how you want it for your team, and different size booties and plastic — everything else that they need on their trip to Nome,” he said.
To pack, mushers need to map out where they might need more food for longer breaks.
Willow musher Linwood Fiedler said he also considers the weather.
“I’ve done this race a bunch, and I’ve gotten stuck at checkpoints where there is no going forward. There is no trail,” he said. “And so being able to calculate, to be able to sit in Unalakleet for a day if there’s a coastal storm, that sort of thing is part of the equation as well.”
Fiedler brought about 1,800 pounds of supplies to Anchorage on Wednesday. He packed a couple thousand dog booties, plus batteries, plastic sled runners and food, he said.
The food for his dogs includes frozen beef and pork. For himself, it’s vacuum-sealed meals made by his wife, Cathy.
“I kind of like spicy things, like chile relleno and some lasagna with a little zip in it, that sort of thing,” he said. “She makes killer chili.”
For Lanier, it’s all about trail mix.
“I open a little package and pour it into my mitt, and then I can extract one little kernel of trail mix — a nut or an M&M or whatever — at a time and chew on it,” he said. “The process of chewing really helps to stay awake.”
Lanier wrote a check for nearly $1,400 to send his food and gear to the trail. He’ll reunite with the bags next month.
The Iditarod begins with a ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 7, followed by the official race start in Willow the next day.
Lanier and Fiedler are among the 57 mushers signed up to compete.