by Kevin Wells
Sunday, March 14, 2010
UNALAKLEET, Alaska -- Cool conditions and fiery competition are creating an atmosphere for what could be a memorable home stretch of this year's Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Throughout his three-year Iditarod reign, Mackey has achieved what all Iditarod contenders merely aspire to: the ability to maintain strength in a dog team on short rest.
Mackey usurped the lead from King in Iditarod 38 thanks to a 132-mile run from Nulato all the way to Unalakleet. More importantly, he did so faster than any team in the lead.
"He wants to win badly," Mackey said. "Well, I'm going to keep him from winning badly, you know? I mean, I love the guy, don't get me wrong, but -- I still need (a) new Dodge truck."
A Mackey victory in 2010 would be an unprecedented fourth in a row. It would also deny King a record-tying fifth win overall. Mackey admits the rivalry has intensified beyond playful remarks.
"He left Ruby again with a nice smart-ass comment toward me again," Mackey said. "And Mitch (Seavey) heard it, he said, ‘Well, that wasn't necessary -- it was uncalled for.' And all it did was fire me up a little bit."
The Iditarod is sizzling as well, approaching a fictitious-sounding, near-record pace. Leaders commonly arrive at the coast of Norton Sound Sunday afternoon. Mackey, King, Hugh Neff and Hans Gatt are driving each other as well as their teams.
By early morning leaders departed for Shaktoolik separated by minutes, not hours -- two challengers threatening two dynasties, although Neff and Gatt say they may have been deflated by Mackey's long run.
"I think (Mackey's) just trying to make a statement because -- by the way he's been treated this year by some people in the Iditarod," Neff said. "He wants people to know who's the king of this race."
"Any thought I have to win this is pretty much out the window," Gatt said. "But Lance was making a move last night, because I don't think anybody else is willing to do stuff like that."
With 200 miles still to go, there's still time to counteract a lead. Glory awaits the musher who can best manage a dog team, the often brutal coastal winds -- and his or her own emotions.