The Iditarod Diaries
How the 30-year-young Alaskan trek turned to a new breed of substrate to document 2001 results or 30 years, the course, which spans 1,161 miles of Alaskan wilderness, beckons more than 60 dog sled teams, each hungry to conquer the title of Iditarod champion and the $50,000 first-prize purse. The trek is one of the most challenging, historically rich sporting events. Mushers (the sled drivers) from countries far and wide team with faithful canine companions to cross treacherous mountains, rolling rivers and miles of desolate tundra. Victory is sweet for winners of this highly anticipated sporting event, long ago dubbed "The Last Great Race."
Leader of the pack
Monitoring the race's milestones is a team of officials that faces the elements alongside the athletes and their canine friends. This team of adjudicators records a wealth of information during their journey, including historical records and veterinarian reports. The weather is often harsh during the race festivities, and managing documents can be precarious in the face of blizzard conditions. This year's race officials sought to provide its team of statisticians and judges with a paper-based solution that would stand up to the elements—and the test of time.
"Preserving the diaries and check sheets through difficult weather conditions has been a major concern of ours," explains Greg Bill, the 2001 Iditarod executive director. "Because the mushers and checkers are out on the trail 24 hours a day, it is important that the diaries and check sheets hold up through all types of weather. We need to make sure that the collected data remains in great shape, because that data is sent to race headquarters for review. We need it to be legible and accurate."
Diary of a musher
The diaries, authored by the mushers, are a staple in the sled bag. They're used to record the dogs' eating habits and sleeping patterns during the course of the race. The information is monitored by a team of vets stationed at 26 checkpoints along the way. In the past, the best way to protect this essential data was to wrap the diary in plastic and wear it beneath the musher's clothing, or devising a similar plastic-wrapper adhered to the sled itself.
At each checkpoint, mushers must sign in with an official checker, who inspects the contents of their sled bags and reviews the diaries. "I think that the dogs received better care because their information was protected and remained legible throughout the race," remarks Dr. Stuart Nel-son, chief veterinarian for the Iditarod 2001.
"The care and welfare of the dogs is para-mount in this race. This year's diaries and check sheets," Nelson adds, "eliminated the worry associated with wear-and-tear and erroneous information."
A synthetic solution
This year, the officials' records and mushers' diaries were created from synthetic paper manufactured by Yupo. The substrate is designed to be waterproof, tear resistant and environmentally friendly. The "paper," made of category 5 polypropylene plastic film, is recyclable and, when incinerated, yields water, carbon dioxide and ash, according to Yupo.
"We went with YUPO synthetic paper because we needed a substrate that was exceptionally durable and highly functional," notes Bill.
And the investment paid off, according to three-time champion musher, Jeff King: "This is the first time Iditarod used a waterproof paper, and there has not been a single entry lost or damaged as a result. Due to the durability of the diaries, the data accuracy is incredibly high. If we hadn't used these diaries, 25 percent of the sled teams would have lost data."
-Gretchen A. Kirby