Friday, 29 March 2013

Anatomy of a Checkpoint

I thought before I wrote some blogs about my experiences on the Iditarod Trail I'd explain some about checkpoints and how they run - the 'Anatomy of a Checkpoint', so to speak.

Iditarod has 21 checkpoints. They vary in 'available services' from the waterless/electricity-less 'camp' of Eagle Island to the 'full service' villages of McGrath and Takotna. With a little of everything in between.

Each checkpoint has it's own character and personality - which means that most mushers have their favorites to visit.

With the exception of Finger Lake, mushers can send 'drop bags' filled with resupplies to everywhere. In fact, they are required to send at least 60 lbs of food and gear to each location. Drop bags are piled into big piles and covered with snow, straw and tarps to keep them cold and keep the critters from raiding them prior to the race.

Volunteers sort the bags prior to the teams arriving so they are easy to find - and to make sure all that were sent arrived.

The other important features about checkpoints to a musher are water, sleeping quarters, and food options.

Water is available in 3 'forms' to mushers - hot water, cold water, or snow.  Of course, hot water makes mushers deliriously happy as it takes way less effort and time, but in many checkpoints that just isn't possible! Even having a whole chopped or augured out in a lake or river is better then having to melt snow, which is time (and fuel) consuming!!

Sleeping options can vary from a BED to a warm spot on the floor to a tent and food options and food options may be a meal or a pot of boiling water to throw a 'boil in a bag' meal in.

'Staffing' -

Each checkpoint on Iditarod is run by a group of remarkable volunteers.

The 'Comms' folks are responsible for all of the checkpoints 'communication'. Tracking down officials and staff, sending out musher in and out times, keeping track of who is on the trail on the way over ... and much more.
Oh and did I mention that in a pinch they also help park dog teams, act as checkers, prepare food, and much more. 

'Checkers' are the folks checking in dog teams, doing bag checks, parking dog teams (which is very tough work!!), raking straw and in most checkpoints these days dragging drop bags, straw and often even water to the mushers. 'Head checkers' are often locals from the community.

The vets are pretty self explanatory. A vet watches each team come into a checkpoint and they work with the mushers to ensure the wonderful care that Iditarod is known for! They are also responsible for caring for drop dogs until they can be flown out of checkpoints and get turned back over to their musher's handlers.

Finally is the race judge. The race judge oversees it all. They are responsible that all is running within the rules and up to the race standards. That might mean tracking down a shovel (or using that shovel), checking in teams, sorting out race rule infractions, helping park teams, working with the locals, etc, etc, etc, etc

In all honesty, while I have always been appreciative of the volunteers that put together and man checkpoints for Iditarod mushers, I had NO CLUE how much went into making a checkpoint run smoothly - NO CLUE!!!
There is ZERO doubt in my mind now that the true heroes of this race are not just the dogs, but the volunteers that give so much for very little recognition and appreciation. I am in awe of you all!!!


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