Coffee, devotion help fuel Iditarod

Posted: Thursday, March 04, 2004

WASILLA Iditarod fans know the guts and stamina required to complete the 1,100-mile mile sled dog race across Alaska wilderness, but do they realize how critical coffee is for fueling what's often called the last great race?

The exact count from last year: 25,312 cups went down the human hatch to either jump-start a groggy musher or tame an edgy volunteer in a race that doesn't sleep for days.

Stan Hooley, executive director of the Iditarod Trail Committee, recently shared such background tidbits on the world famous dog race. And speaking of bite-size portions, Hooley said 90 tons of dog food is deployed along the trail.

In the matter of canine comfort, 1,600 straw and hay bales and 108,000 dog booties are doled out, Hooley said.

Iditarod sled dogs are not your normal, perhaps lumpy, household pet. Hooley said the canine athletes may be the strongest endurance athletes on the planet.

''A 45-pound sled dog burns 11,000 calories a day and that's eight times as much on a pound-per-pound basis as a Tour de France cyclist, obviously another high performance athlete,'' Hooley said.

A sled dog can easily pull three times its own weight. A 16-dog team has almost 2 1/4 tons of pulling power. What makes the sled dog so strong is its large heart-to-body-weight ratio, Hooley said. It gives the dogs the blood-pumping capability to complete long runs.

Humans on the trail, however, need good directions to complete the race. Hooley said 13,500 laths or sticks mark the trail between Wasilla and Nome, and 10,800 feet of surveyor tape hangs in the trees along riverbeds.

''People still get lost,'' Hooley said. ''I don't know how, but they still do.''

Loads of fans are watching from the comfort of their computer rooms. Some 110 million hits to the Iditarod Web site came were recorded during the last 21-day race, Hooley said.

The Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated the economic impact for the city on race start day last year at $6.8 million, Hooley said.

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