Over the years while doing presentations I am always asked about what happens to the dog food and gear from our drop bags that we don't use.
First off, let me explain that mushers each send anywhere from about 1200 - 2700 lbs of dog food and gear out along the trail for the race (my drop bags were right around 1700lbs this year). The mushers sending out the larger amounts are sending out a 'buffer' to deal with any situation that may occur along the trail. Why don't we all do that??? Well, shipping costs money (about 75 cents/lb) and the stuff you are shipping cost too. So for many it is a 'money issue'.
Now back to all the extras! Iditarod rules state that no dog food can be sent home in your drop bags. All of the meat and kibble is left in the checkpoint and put to use for the local's dogs and dog teams. Really, the very least we can do for the villages that are so gracious and allow us to descend upon their homes. In the checkpoints like Rohn and Cripple where there are no 'locals' - save some wolves - either folks from a neighboring checkpoint may come and raid the leftovers or they are left out for the wolves and other critters to enjoy.
People food is a bit of a different story. Any 'boil in bag' meals, which is what most of us eat, are generally left in the checkpoints and set upon by the volunteers, vets and other checkpoint staff. I've had a few checkpoint staff over the years tell me that they beeline for my leftovers when I leave a checkpoint, as they really enjoy my meals! I like to hear that!!!! The biggest complaint I've heard over the years is 'Can't you label your meals so we know what we are eating???'. LOL. I always try to remember to do that now!!!
Snack items like chocolate bars, granola, etc is treated differently by all. Many send back everything they don't eat. I send some of it home, but generally leave my extra snack bag stuff for volunteers and in the villages, for the local kids. In fact, in some of the checkpoints where I know there are alot of kids, I send out alittle extra just for them!
One year, in a checkpoint that will remain unnamed, my cooker went 'mysteriously' missing. There had been alot of kids mulling around when I went inside and I was fairly certain that one of them had 'borrowed' my cooker so they could get a campfire going or some such thing. I called over to one of the kids still around, held up a big bag of candy and offered it as a 'reward' to anyone that found my cooker. Within 2 minutes my cooker was back in my hands. A bit of extra candy can get alot 'done' out on the trail!!!!
Extra gear - like changes of clothes, unused runner plastic, extra dog booties, used clothing, etc - is put into a 'return bag' with our name on it that Iditarod will get back to headquarters within a few weeks of the end of the race. Not everything always makes it back, but by far the majority of stuff does.
.....And now you know!