Five Horses of the Apocalypse. Double Down Red Squad. Glitter Motion. These team names won't be found at an NFL or NBA game or any other professional sporting event -- except one. They are just some of 100-plus teams that entered last year's Idiotarod, a 5-mile race modeled after the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog races but with a few changes: There are no dogs, just a team of five people, four of whom are required to be tethered to a shopping cart while a fifth person "mushes" them through the boroughs of New York City. Originating in San Francisco more than 10 years ago, the Idiotarod made its way to New York City in 2003 and to Washington, D.C. and Portland last year. The contest seems simple enough at first: Be the first team to get from Point A to Point B, while stopping at two checkpoints for 15 minutes. While the basics of the race are simple, different cities have adapted different rules. Four of the five members of any team participating in the Portland race must run in front of the cart, dog-sled style. The D.C. race organizers changed the number of team members from five to six, and New Yorkers this year are required to complete various challenges at each checkpoint.
Sometimes referred to the "Urban Iditarod" in cities such as San Francisco and Portland, the Idiotarod is anything but a normal race. In addition to the "racing," teams are encouraged to outdo one another's costumes, carts and names to win the coveted "Best in Show" prize. Last year found Team COBRA (Carts of Brooklyn Racing Association) taking home that prize. The team members wore red jumpsuits with a black cobra screen printed on the back, and had 4-foot oversized cobras riding on top of their specially modified carts, complete with the ability to breathe fire. Carts (and contestants) are also outfitted with various ways to sabotage other teams. Picture the tricks of the Batmobile or KITT on a shoestring budget: Slinging mayonnaise, creating fake checkpoints, chaining carts together, throwing marbles and blocking the walkway entrance of the Manhattan Bridge with another shopping cart are all par for the course. It's a Cannonball Run anyone can participate in, only at 3 miles per hour and in the dead of winter. The race is made more challenging by the two checkpoints, both of which happen to be bars. Teams are required to stay for 15 minutes at each one, where some fraternizing with the enemy may occur over a drink or two, and then it is immediately back to the race.
Judges stamp you as you enter and check your stamp when you leave, because with a race like this, there is no honor system. Naturally, it is perfectly acceptable to bribe these judges with various products purchased from the bar to let you leave even sooner and get back to the race. Of course, the race has those who are just out for a good time. Bar Back Mountain, a team who turned their shopping cart into a fully functioning bar, were one of those groups in 2006. However, that team met its own Rocky moment when the fully loaded beer keg inside the cart was seized by police, only after they had already run with it from the start of the race at Fort Greene Park all the way down to the Gotham side of the Manhattan Bridge. After the race, onlookers, judges, organizers and runners can partake in the afterparty, this year featuring live music by Gowanus Corral, the Impulse, Flaming Fire and others. The big moment, however, is the announcing of the winners -- this year, the Web site says there are only awards for fourth, fifth and sixth place: no rewarding anyone in shape. Of course, deception is par for the course when it comes to the Idiotarod, so there is a chance the Web site could be lying. The Idiotarod 2007 takes place Jan. 27 in New York City and March 3 in Portland and Washington, D.C.
See cartsofbrooklyn.com for more information.