- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

ANVIK, ALASKA (AP) - Two-time defending champion Lance Mackey reached the Yukon River first in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, earning a gourmet meal and a pile of cash.

He didn’t feel much like celebrating.

Mackey said Friday he made a mistake that could have knocked him out of the competition.

He dozed off while riding his sled after leaving the Shageluk checkpoint on the way to Anvik, about 500 miles from the finish in Nome. When he awoke, he was up a slough without a trail marker in sight.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “It very well could have cost me the race right there.”

Mackey was forced to do something every musher hates _ turn the dog team around.

“When I turned them around they didn’t dig that,” he said. “It really demoralizes their attitude when you spin them around in the trail like that.”

Mackey said the dogs showed their displeasure with him when he finally got them back on the Iditarod trail. They went half as fast.

Mackey still pulled into Anvik hours ahead of his closest competitor.

“It is all about gambling at times,” Mackey said of his speedy 115-mile run from Takotna to Iditarod. He did it in 12 hours and 34 minutes.

His run from Iditarod to Anvik wasn’t as spectacular, but that was where he dozed off, got lost and had to turn around. Mackey said he lost at least an hour.

“The dogs were just cruising along at a nice clip. It was going so good it was scary and now I know why,” Mackey said. “That was just a self-inflicted body blow.”

Mackey estimates that since the 1,100-mile race began on Sunday he has slept no more than a dozen hours.

Fatigue can do funny things to long-distance mushers, Mackey said. On Thursday night, he was riding the sled and saw a girl sitting by the side of the trail doing something, probably knitting.

“She laughed at me, waved, and I went by her and she was gone,” Mackey said of his hallucination. “You just laugh.”

In Anvik, Mackey sat down to what looked like a mirage, but wasn’t _ an eight-course meal where $3,500 was on display in a large gold miner’s pan _ his winnings for being the first musher to reach the Yukon River.

Mackey asked that half of his dinner be waiting for fellow Iditarod musher and friend Aaron Burmeister, who had been leading until Mackey passed him between Ophir and Iditarod.

“That is definitely worth the wait,” Mackey said as he bit into an appetizer of braised pork belly.

After a few more courses, including the main entree of rib-eye steak with a blueberry demi-glaze and a dessert of strawberries finished in Grand Marnier liqueur, Mackey left the hall to get some sleep.

He knows there is still a lot of racing to do before Nome. He’s keeping his eye on 2004 Iditarod champion Mitch Seavey and four-time champion Jeff King, who was second to Mackey last year. Both are positioned nicely, Mackey said.

King, Sebastian Schnuelle and Burmeister also left Shaguluk on Friday afternoon, all about nine hours after Mackey left.

Norwegian musher Bjornar Andersen was reunited with his dog team Friday after withdrawing from the race the previous day. Andersen scratched after a nasty accident but race spokesman Chas St. George said he had been released from the hospital and was preparing to return home to Norway.

“He’s doing good,” St. George said.

As for the $3,500, Mackey said he would like to buy something for himself but has a feeling it won’t work out that way.

“I’m sure my wife already has plans for it,” he said.

The winner in this year’s race will receive $69,000 and a new truck. The $610,000 purse is paid to the top 30 finishers. Sixty-seven teams began the race. Three have scratched.

____

On the Net:

https://www.iditarod.com

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