San Francisco Gets All Mushy For Iditarod In Urban Jungle

SAN FRANCISCO - If you want to run with the big dogs, you have to avoid the potholes . . . and the speeding buses . . . and the cable cars.

But whatever you do, don't miss the rest stops at the local bars. That's the motto for participants in this year's Urban Iditarod, the second-annual, only-in-San-Francisco take-off on Alaska's famous dog-sled race. Both races begin today.

"I've been to Alaska, and they've got some mighty fine dogs up there, but I'd like to see them try to outrun a public bus or dodge a cable car," says founder "Tundra" Tommy Marsh. "This race ain't no walk in the park!"

In Alaska, hundreds of well-trained dogs will begin pulling 60 mushers on what is likely to be a 10-day race across 1,150 miles of nature's harshest terrain.

Meanwhile, more than 20 "dog-sled" teams - consisting of people in canine costumes harnessed to shopping carts - are expected to mush their way through San Francisco's urban environment.

The 3 1/2-mile course is scheduled to start at a gentlemanly 11 a.m. in the city's Financial District, where the wind blows hard through the tight rows of high-rises.

The sled teams will wind their way through the traffic around Union Square, up and down the killer hills of Chinatown and North Beach and, finally, will find their way through the tourist mecca of Fisherman's Wharf before the race comes to an end in the gentle flats of the Marina District.

Following the lead of the Alaska original, there will be several mandatory rest stops - all at local bars.

Last year's winner finished in two hours and 15 minutes.

The runner-up says he and his team are hungry for victory.

"The field is pretty tough, but many of their barks are worse than their bites," musher Roy "Big Dog" Vella said.

Susan "Fifi" Kramer commented, "Each team has its own style. Some play to run, some run to play, and some just run around sniffing each other. It's San Francisco, after all."

The race is put together by Tom Marsh, 29, a business student at Stanford University. Participants use whatever shopping carts they can find on the streets, then return them to the appropriate stores at the end of the day.