Inside the creative chaos of the CHIditarod shopping cart race

Faces of Chicago
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In the annual CHIditarod, racing shopping carts morph into steamboats and other creations powered by costumed characters — and it’s all for a good cause. Meet the people of the CHIditarod in their own words:

Devin Breen, Co-Founder of CHIditarod
CHIditarod is a satirical play on the Iditarod, except instead of dogs you’ve got humans, and instead of sleds, you’ve got shopping carts, and instead of the frozen Tundra, you have the normally frozen streets of Chicago.

In 2005 I heard about an event in New York called the “Idiotarod,” and they were doing a costumed shopping cart race bar crawl and they were running around, but they kept having to run from the police, and so that was the inception of the idea of doing a food drive, doing something philanthropic for a charity. 

And in our first year in 2006, we had 24 teams. We raised about 900 pounds of food, fast forward 14 years later, this year we have 101 teams and last year we raised nearly 20,000 pounds of food. 

A team hands over their food donations for CHIditarod 2020

(According to race officials, in 2020 CHIditarod raised over 26,000 pounds of food and over $68,000 in direct donations.)

So teams grab their cart, they pull it with ropes behind them. You got one musher running behind. They all have routes and each go to five checkpoints, and each checkpoint happens to be a local neighborhood drinking establishments. So they’re all running around through West Town like crazy. 

And because the CHIditarod is part fundraiser, part food drive, part bar crawl, part race. part parade, part Talent Show, Beauty pageant, and everybody can find something within that, that really speaks to them and there’s so much opportunity for creative expression.

Team “Secret Gentlemen’s Club” built a movable steam boat for CHIditarod 2020

“We kinda keep raising the bar, seeing how far we can push a limited technology like shopping carts.” 

Dan Brown, Team Secret Gentlemen’s Club

Lauren Haynes, Team Nomeward Bound
So our team raised over $10,000 this year. Today, we’re less worried about the fundraising and more worried about like having a good time in our costumes.

Jake Cashman, Team There’s Waldo
A lot of our theme is around creating mischief. We’re going to give a wrong checkpoint sign. You have to bribe people; you’re supposed to do that, for the purpose of getting your cart out of a specific checkpoint sooner. Which you know, we only have like five hours to get through like eight miles of course.

There’s no, there’s no right way to do it. You know you kinda just drag through it. It’s just mass chaos, it’s a mass chaos event.

It’s just a really interesting combination of people who are art, people who are fundraising, people who are in it for every different reason.

Jake Cashman, and team “There’s Waldo” participate in the 2020 CHIditarod

Gary Norgren, Team Toga Toga Toga
When we first saw it, we didn’t know what was happening. It was absolutely crazy, people running all over town dressed up in all these crazy costumes.

We said to ourselves: We have to be a be part of this. We mark the first Saturday of every March, we reserve it to do CHIditarod. 

Devin Breen
It’s not just about costumes and carts and racing around. It’s about doing something great for our community. In the words of the police sergeant in 2008, he says to me, he goes, “you know you’re doing a good thing, but you’re doing it all wrong.” 

I really took that one to heart.

Editor’s Note: These interviews were edited for content

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