The Quest For Fire team from Portland's 2008 Idiotarod
Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.  

This week’s entry: Idiotarod

What it’s about: The Iditarod is a grueling sled dog race through more than 1,000 miles of Alaskan wilderness, considered one of the most difficult tests of endurance ever devised. This is not that race. The Idiotarod is a race in which teams of five “idiots” race in modified shopping carts through major U.S. cities, usually in costume, resulting in a combination Halloween parade and soapbox derby for quasi-adults.

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Strangest fact: Idiotarod events aren’t the only venue for shopping-cart races. Murray Siple’s 2008 documentary Carts Of Darkness observes a group of homeless men in Vancouver who race downhill in shopping carts, claiming to reach speeds of over 40 mph (except in metric, because, Canada). Siple had directed videos of, and participated in, extreme sports, before losing the use of his limbs in a car accident. Carts was his first film after the accident, and he credited the film with allowing him to experience the thrill of competition vicariously. The film won a Leo Award (the British Columbia-specific Oscars) for Best Documentary.

Biggest controversy: Unlike virtually every sporting event not involving the New England Patriots, cheating is actually encouraged. Types of sabotage prevalent in the race include giving other racers false route information, placing obstacles in front of other competitors’ carts, or throwing marbles all over the road like James Bond’s Aston Martin laying down an oil slick.

Thing we were happiest to learn: Shopping-cart racing in costume is a long and proud tradition. The first Idiotarod was run in San Francisco in 1994, although it was then called the “Urban Iditarod.” Since then, the race has spread to at least 20 cities in the U.S. and Canada. Some, like Portland, Oregon’s, incorporate a pub crawl into the festivities. Other cities race for charity: the Windy City’s race, the Chiditarod, claims to be “probably the world’s largest mobile food drive” (way to hedge your bets, Chicago), with contestants and onlookers donating to the city’s food pantries.

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Thing we were unhappiest to learn: There are some issues with the race’s name. Some eschew Idiotarod for the more grandiose and misleading “Urban Iditarod,” and the races who do use the name Idiotarod do so at their peril. In 2014, the actual Alaskan Iditarod sued the New York City race for trademark infringement (although not, ironically, any of the “Urban Iditarod” races). The NYC organizers dismissed the letter as frivolous, but changed the name of the 2014 event to “Idiotarodorama,” which got nicknamed “The Desistarod.”

The Platypus, which won the kinetic scupture East Coast Championship in Baltimore in 2011

Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: The Idiotarod is far from the only bizarre race being run. Others include wok racing, which involves sliding down a bobsled track on a wok, either alone or in teams of four (racers also wear ladles on their feet for protection); wife-carrying, a Finnish annual event in which men race through an obstacle course while carrying a woman (the rules do not require them to be married, although the rules do mandate that “all participants must enjoy themselves”); and a kinetic sculpture race, in which participants race a human-powered mobile art project across pavement, sand, hills, mud, and water.

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Further down the wormhole: Like the Idiotarod itself, your trip down the Wiki Wormhole doesn’t need to be long to be significant. Next week we’ll make a very short leap to the heart of the Idiotarod, the humble shopping cart.