What happens to unused drop bags on the Iditarod?
At every checkpoint along the Iditarod Trail, mushers have all the supplies they need waiting for them. Often they blow right through checkpoints in an effort to be the first to the burled arch in Nome.
"Many people do their eight-hour [rest] in Shageluk and then they come here," Anvik checkpoint trail crew member Dave Wartinbee said. "They come through here, which is only 25 miles away, the dogs are really fresh, they don't want to stop. So they left their bags and said they don't want to touch them."
The untouched bags are then placed in a pile and gone and sifted through by trail crew members.
"In each bag the musher has the opportunity to leave a return bag," Wartinbee said. "In the return bag are items the musher would like back. Things like booties for the dogs, socks for the musher, extra [dog food] pans."
In Anvik, musher Robert Redington left a few extra items he'd like back.
"He left a couple harnesses," Wartinbee said. "He dropped, or returned, two dogs. So they were taken off and this way he doesn't have to carry them on the trail. Also, this is a piece of his gang line, a metal cable with plastic over it."
The return bags are separated from the rest and eventually shipped to Anchorage where the mushers get them back. The remaining items in each bag are gone through one by one.
"We have some food that we already opened so we have access to that," trail crew member Kirk Weber said. "Here's a bag of kibble for the returned dogs [in Anvik], we feed them at least three times a day."
The dog food not saved is given to the village for their own dogs.
"If they have a big enough freezer they could feed their dogs for a whole year," Anvik checkpoint judge Judy Currier said. "We also have some meat that thawed over there. We'll let the people decide what to do with it. Some will use it for trapping."
Any human food found in the bags and still in good condition is taken into the checkpoint for the volunteers.
The trail crew goes through the bags when they can. It usually takes them two days after the final musher arrives at the checkpoint before their job is done. The whole idea is to get the community cleaned up and to get the mushers their items back.
"This is their town and we are visitors," Wartinbee said. "We want it to look like they want it to look like and as nice as it was when we got here."
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