No other contest in history tests the mettle of man and mutt like the famed Iditarod. The annual competition pits dozens of teams of the most brazened thrill seekers on a 1,000-mile trek from Anchorage to Nome — a sled ride that toes a fine, frozen line between death and greatness.
This year, you can catch the heat of the action of the 2015 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race from the comfort of your home on Iditarod Unleashed on The Sportsman Channel, the Official Network of the Iditarod, beginning March 19 at 9 p.m. EST.
But the elements aren't the only thing mushers have to battle during the Last Great Race on Earth.
Every dog owner understands that poop is just part of the program; however, sled dog owners take it to a far higher plane.
With an Iditarod team starting at 16 dogs, a kennel maintains two or three times that many. Bottom line, that's plenty of poop.
Back in the 1990s, a biologist-turned-musher witnessed his dogs getting dysentery on the trail. Having an idea for a remedy, he asked other dog owners in western Alaska to ship him poop.
The new stuff was lightly mixed into the team's food months before the race. As the former biologist thought, this extra ingredient helped adjust the dogs' digestive systems so they would not get sick from the local bacteria.
Poop is the one of the prime indicators of a dog's heath on the trail, just as it is for dog owners everywhere. Champion musher Dallas Seavey regularly examines his dogs' excrement for color, shape, volume and even hardness to the touch.
This year's mild temperatures increased the unpleasantness of scoopers throughout central and southeast Alaska. As Monica Zappa pointed out, "What really stinks is when poop thaws and then refreezes. You have chip it out of the ice with a shovel or even an axe." Zappa recommends keeping your mouth closed when doing this.
By the Numbers
If you have about 50 dogs in a yard, you may go through 15 tons of food (not including supplemental diets of salmon and moose meat). That 30,000 pounds of kibble get digested and turned into as much as 8,000 pounds of poop to be picked up.
This is an important consideration for anyone thinking about becoming a musher. Working in a dog yard is the first step. An entry-level job often is advertised as a "Dog Handler," and pay typically consists of a dry cabin, meals and about $1,000 per month. Responsibilities include picking up that poop twice a day and hauling water in five gallon buckets most of each day. Every musher on the planet has gone through this apprenticeship.
In turn, you will get the chance to mush, even in the summer riding an ATV or a wheel cart.
See the full Iditarod Unleashed schedule: