There are athelete-punishing marathons, feats of spandexed agility and moments of community-bolstering brilliance. And then there's the Idiotarod, which is kindof none of the above and, then again, kindof all of the above.
"It's basically organized chaos and you're laughing for an entire hour and a half," says Richard Handy, who is putting together the Asheville Idiotarod, the first local version of the 5K shopping-cart race.
Handy, who lived in New York City for seven years prior to moving to Asheville last year, has competed in the N.Y.Idiotarod. "It's a staple thing up there," he says. Based vaguely on the extreme sport Iditarod — the annual 1,150 mile sled dog race across Alaska — the Idiotarod trades sleds for grocery carts and physical fitness for goofy costumes and sabatoguing pranks. Says Web site www.ashevilleidiotarod.com: "The Idiotarod is essentially the same thing [as the Iditarod], except we'll cover like a 5K and instead of dogs we use people (idiots) and instead of sleds, we use shopping carts (super pods of wonder), which are extremely efficient, by the way. So essentially it's the same, but according to my mom it's way cooler — and my mom knows."
And now Asheville take its place among a dozen or so other Idiotarod locales. "2007 was the last one I was in in New York.," Handy says. "The cops were always trying to figure out what was going on, so the organizers would switch the location at the last minute. There was an unorganized start; you had to find your own route so people were on every street just trying to get to the finish line."
In costumes. In teams of five. Pushing a shopping cart decorated to look like anything from a trailer to a cow. And then there were the saboteurs: "Everyone was shooting everything from shaving cream to water balloons to super-soakers," Handy remembers.
Unlike the N.Y. race, the Asheville Idiotarod has the City's stamp of approval. That's not meant to detract from the event's unorthodox leanings. "Acceptable trickery," according to the rules list, includes "Sending over a team of supermodels, male or female, to distract [competitors] from their allowable start time." Another example? "The team in D.C. one year set up a fake road block claiming to be officials, and would not let teams go until they had sung a Britney Spears song on the street." Being on the up-and-up is intended to further the good works resulting from all the hijinx. The Asheville Idiotarod was envisioned by Handy as a means to help his other passion: Nonprofit advancement.
Proceeds from the race benefit the newly-forming 12 Day Project (also masterminded by Handy), which structures and promotes community and nonprofit volunteerism. The volunteer projects take place one weekend each month. Volunteers donate six hours of their time for which they receive a discount benefit card that can be used at local businesses.
"Of all the places in the country, this seems like a place that could benefit from something like that," Handy says of the program. "A lot of people here like to support local businesses. This encourages ownership in community." Along with the volunteerism and buying local aspects, the 12 Day Project will also include a barter and freecycle (a network where people can get rid of or acquire cast off items for free) programs.
Though Handy could have aligned himself with a preexisting charitable organization, he chose to create the 12 Day Project because he "felt like there was a simpler way to do [all of this] while benefitting local businesses at the same time."
What isn't simple is racing a decorated grocery cart along Asheville's Riverside Drive. To make sure the race is no easy feat, challenges have been added which team members must complete before crossing the finish line. These tasks include acquiring items for a MANNA Food Bank grocery list en route and assisting with the mulching of a community garden (hint: be prepared with a team shovel). Awards include The Hoff (to the team that displays the most awesomeness), The Chuck Norris (to the team that kicks ass) and The Zoolander (to the really, really, really ridiculously good-looking cart). But the race finishing, challenge completing and prize winning aren't all: There's an after-party at The Wedge Brewery with live music by Levi Douglas and Zach Blew. As the Asheville Idiotarod Web site puts it, "Feel free to shake your spandex, dress, fish costume, toga or whatever the heck else you might be wearing."
who: The Asheville Idiotarod
what: 5K shopping cart race to benefit The 12 Day Project
where: Riverside Drive; After-party at The Wedge Brewery
when: Sunday, Nov. 22 (11 a.m., $100 per team entry fee. www.ashevilleidiotarod.com)