Iditarod: Mackey cuts rest, extends lead over King
By RACHEL D’ORO
Associated Press Writer
NOME, Alaska — Three-time defending champion Lance Mackey is poised to claim his fourth consecutive win in the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race over a route beset by bitter cold.
Mackey was the first out of the checkpoint of Elim, 123 miles from the finish line in Nome and 28 miles from the next checkpoint at the Inupiat Eskimo village of Golovin. Mackey left Elim at 1:06 p.m. Alaska Daylight Time Monday.
Earlier in the day, he was running two hours ahead of four-time champion Jeff King when he left the checkpoint at the Eskimo village of Koyuk with 12 dogs.
“Let’s do this,” the 39-year-old Fairbanks musher told his team, ruffling one dog’s head before taking off — a scene captured in the race’s online video magazine, the “Iditarod Insider.”
King, 54, who has said this is his last Iditarod, left Koyuk with 13 dogs after resting his team an hour longer than Mackey.
King was followed out by Canada’s Hans Gatt, fresh off his fourth win in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race. Mackey has won that race four consecutive times, including twice when he also won the Iditarod several weeks later. He was runner-up in the Quest this year.
On Monday, Anchorage rookie Emil Churchin became the 14th musher to scratch from the Iditarod.
The 57 remaining teams will continue up the Bering Sea coastline, sometimes traveling on the frozen ice in temperatures that were more than 30 degrees below zero early Monday. This stretch is notorious for fierce winds that can create whiteout conditions in ground storms.
Mackey, a throat cancer survivor, has undergone treatments that left him with circulation problems that make him prone to being cold, and he was feeling it Monday. He had planned on continuing to Elim but stopped in Koyuk to warm up.
“My poor toes and my fingers,” he said in an Iditarod Insider video.
Gatt, of the Yukon Territory’s Whitehorse, also was struggling with the cold, especially in his hands, as he pulled into Koyuk. Asked if he planned to stay a bit, the 51-year-old musher said, “Oh, yeah,” in a shaky voice.
Following Gatt into Koyuk were Ken Anderson of Fairbanks and Hugh Neff of Tok.
Meanwhile, a 3-year-old dog in rookie Justin Savidis’ team has been found after being lost for nearly five days. The dog was reunited with Savidis late Sunday after being spotted near McGrath and lured in with a salmon carcass. The dog was lost between Nikolai and McGrath after apparently squirming free from his harness.
The front-runners could begin arriving in Nome as early as Tuesday. They must still take a mandatory eight-hour rest in White Mountain, 77 miles from Nome.
And though the race is nearing its conclusion for the leaders, anything can still happen.
In the 2008 race, Mackey and King were leading neck and neck for much of the route until they reached Elim. That’s where Mackey pulled off a stunt that proved to be the turning point.
Mackey arrived at the checkpoint three minutes ahead of his rival, drank coffee and made a show of settling in for a nap. He told checkpoint volunteers to wake him in an hour and — with King snoring — sneaked out of the checkpoint 70 minutes ahead of his opponent.
This year’s race is the first in Iditarod history where mushers were being tested for drugs and alcohol. WorkSafe, an Anchorage-based drug testing company that sponsors the Iditarod, is providing the service.
Company president Matthew Fagnani said testing is random and taking place for all mushers either on the trail or in Nome. He would not elaborate, saying the information was confidential.
Any positive results will be reviewed and could lead to penalties, such as disqualification.
Mackey has been open about using medical marijuana in past Iditarods. He said he is honoring the drug rule, which has existed in some form since 1984 but was never strictly enforced. Dogs have been tested for performance enhancers since 1994.