The Iditarod Dog Sled race is a test of human and dog endurance through one of the coldest, fiercest, and most inhospitable climates known on the planet. During the race, temperatures along the Alaskan trail from Anchorage to Nome can plunge as low as minus 100˚F (-73˚C); teams mush through howling winds and white-out blizzard conditions. Frostbite is a given. Competition is fierce.
And yet, the Alaskan race admits few of the obstacles of the modern world: no asphalt, no absent minded motorists, no buses, cyclists, or curbs, no pot-holes or construction zones, no soccer moms, no taxi drivers or text-walkers, nor any city bridges, ill-conceived intersections, or ominous and towering hi-rise buildings. The Portland (Oregon) Urban Iditarod is a true test of the modern urbanite’s capacity to navigate the often turbulent and megalomaniacal tribulations of inter-city commuting.
Originating in 2001, the Portland Iditarod is held every March to coincide with the Alaskan dog sled race. Beginning with only 8 registered teams in 2001, the event has burgeoned to over one-hundred teams today. In the Portland version, entering teams each have a theme and dress in costume. Their “sleds” are rigged shopping carts and other uniquely crafted vessels retrofitted to cope with the shifting and unpredictable urban terrain. The “dogs” are groups of city folk tethered to their “sleds” by whatever method available: rope, bungee, twine, harness. The themes, costumes, and designs invoke a sense of creativity that amalgamates popular culture, social and political critique, and often-times boarders on the absurd.
The race itself is less of a competition than it is a phenomenon. There is no declared winner for the first to cross some predetermined finish line. According to KATU News in Portland, “There are no winners. There are no losers. There are just a bunch of belligerent people”. The route for the race changes every year and usually covers roughly 4 miles throughout the city, including 4 or 5 checkpoints where participants stop to enjoy music and to share in strong drink and revelry.
The Keep Portland Weird website describes the Urban Iditarod as:
“… teams of barking humans [that] negotiate through the unrelenting and unforgiving dangers of Portland’s urban frontier. As an incentive to run, dogs and mushers alike will have several ‘rest stops’ to replenish lost fluids and discuss tales of mayhem. The course is over four miles, so dogs and mushers alike need to be ready and able to run their tails off.”
This photo essay was made during the 2009 and 2010 Urban Iditarod events in the streets of Portland, Oregon (USA).