Any athlete requires food, and the same goes for the dogs that run the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

On Wednesday, Air Land Transport in Anchorage began the first of many trips workers will make as the musher food drop started, 16 days before the race officially begins in Willow. Earlier this month, transport began for more than 1,000 bales of straw on which dogs will sleep at the trail's checkpoints.

Race marshal Mark Nordman outlined the food-delivery process.

"All our mushers get food drop bags; they each have a checkpoint name on them," Nordman said. "They fill them with supplies, they bring them in here, they drop them off; they're weighed, they put bypass mail stickers on them, put a security tag on the bag, then they go over to the separate checkpoint whether it's Anvik, Unalakleet or Koyuk. Then we ship them out: they go over to the bypass mail system, to our hubs, and 28 airplanes fly them into place." 

It's an important, strategic time, and many mushers are on hand to see the process through. Veteran Charley Bejna, entering his seventh Iditarod, expects to take 1,900 pounds of supplies and food for his animals.

"I've got spreadsheets for the northern route, the southern route, the Fairbanks route, and that helps me out as far as planning what to put where," he said. "And usually when I'm out on the trail, if I think I'm short food I'll take some notes. I'll say, 'Hey, I need more at Grayling,' or 'I need more at Kaltag.'"

Any leftovers from mushers' dog food go to fellow dog owners who live along the Iditarod trail.

The shipping rules are essentially the same as the airport: a 50-pound maximum per bag. There's also a security issue, after the possibility of food tampering arose in connection with tramadol found in musher Dallas Seavey's team during the 2017 race. The Iditarod has since apologized to the four-time champion, who is running the Finnmarksløpet in Norway during the Iditarod for a second year.

Food bags are now identified with a security tag. While nothing is 100 percent, they offer an additional layer of protection. 

"We're not in an NFL stadium so our venue is so large, but everything we can do to make sure nobody's tampered with these bags, we'll continue to do that," Nordman said.

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