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Iditarod Mushers Wary of GPS Tracking
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Iditarod Mushers Wary of GPS Tracking


Iditarod Mushers Wary of GPS Tracking
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You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

The annual Iditarod Trail sled dog race is underway in Alaska, and for the first time, some of the teams are carrying global positioning systems. That means fans can follow the dog mushers progress along the 1,100-mile route, but some say it's not a good idea. From the Alaska public radio network, Libby Casey reports.

LIBBY CASEY: When the Iditarod started in Willow, Alaska last weekend, 18 of the 95 sleds were equipped with GPS trackers. The devices weigh two pounds and are tucked inside dog sleds or screwed onto the front. These units have one major difference from your average vehicle GPS system; the mushers can't see the information collected.

Instead it's beamed out by satellite and visitors to the Iditarod Web site, can see teams' speeds, location, and temperature. Ion Earth designed the units. Owner Jerry Miller says the data collected is unlocking some of the secrets of the race.

Mr. JERRY MILLER (Owner, Ion Earth): You can start seeing the rest and run cycles more clearly. You know, they made a run for two, three, four hours at the most, take two, three hours rest and keep going. So you see how a complex strategy can get deployed in this race.

CASEY: Strategies like deciding where to rest and for how long are tricks learned over years. Mushers aren't allowed to look online during the race to check up on the competition. But four-time champion Martin Buser says they will pour over the information long after the race is over.

Mr. MARTIN BUSER (Iditarod Champion): If you do your homework, within two years you'll have my southern and my northern ride down pat. We gave up some information, but hopefully the flipside of that of course is because it's going to be more exposure, it's going to be more interesting to race. It will hopefully result in a bigger purse, which hopefully will ultimately benefit the dogs.

CASEY: The Iditarod hopes to deploy the GPS units in every team's sled bag next year, but not all mushers want the trackers. Austrian-Canadian racer Hans Gatt is afraid they'll be used unfairly.

Mr. HANS GATT (Iditarod Racer): People say it wouldn't interfere with the race. I think it will. There's always people who try to find advantage using things like that.

CASEY: Gatt says during the race, mushers might sneak peeks at the Web site or get tips from people who've been online. Alaskan Zach Steer says he won't carry a tracker until it's mandatory.

Mr. ZACH STEER (Iditarod Racer): I'm a minimalist; I carry only what I need. If I don't use it twice a day every day, it's not in my sled. I'm wearing everything. I hardly carry any spare clothes. I mean I carry just enough food to get myself and my dogs to the next checkpoint, you know. Heaven forbid we ever got stuck in a storm.

CASEY: If Zach Steer does get caught in a storm, race officials won't know exactly where he is. He'll have to rely on his wilderness skills and his dogs. But Steer says that's why he loves the Iditarod so much.

For NPR News, I'm Libby Casey in Ruby, Alaska.

HANSEN: If you want to check out the race to see where the mushers are right now, just log on to the Web site

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