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A Look At Chiditarod 09

By Kate Gardiner in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 9, 2009 5:50PM

No one knows - yet - how many tons of food were collected during the local mobile food drive known as the Chiditarod this year - but more than 500 participants spent a cold, damp Saturday afternoon hauling at least 25 pounds of food per team over the finish line. The Chiditarod, now in its fourth year, attracts costumed teams from all over the country to compete against each other in a five venue bar tour of the city's Near West Side.

The race draws on the Iditarod - Alaska's famed dog sledding race - by requiring teams to have four "dogs" out in front and a "musher" behind the cart, as well as tasks and checkins along the way. This year's 103 teams came from as far away as Alabama and California. The art of the cart was a facet too: teams were obliged to costume and modify their carts as best they could - two teams featured built-in grills and cooked en-route - to reflect their team name.

The winner for best costume? Team Richard Simmons - five white guys dressed up in short-shorts and afros. But it's not entirely about the public drunkenness, acts of sabotage and the costumes - the drive brought at least 1,500 pounds of food (thanks to one ambitious team) to the Chicago Anti-Hunger Federation this year - and expects the scales to tip well past that when final results are released later this week.

Organizer Liz Campanella is married to one of the race's founders, and served as a judge this year. She said the race was crazy - even to get registered. Campanella said event organizers had to cap participation at 100 teams because of venue restrictions - but it was worth it. From her perch at Cobra Lounge, judging the costumes and competition, Campanella said, "People look forward to this all year - it's totally worth it."

At the event's after party and awards ceremony, more than 500 people filled both floors of the Bottom Lounge. Teams tired from the long race refreshed themselves with beer, while their soggy costumes fell to the floor in pieces.