- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

ANVIK, ALASKA (AP) - Defending champion Lance Mackey is maintaining his lead in the Iditarod with one-third of the race to go.

Mackey reached Eagle Island at 8:33 a.m. Saturday after a 60-mile ride from Grayling. That means he has covered 701 miles, with 421 left to go.

Sebastian Schnuelle, winner of last month’s 1,000-mile Yukon Quest race, was in second place. He left Grayling at 3:05 a.m. Saturday. Aaron Burmeister followed two minutes later.

Mackey overcame a mistake Friday that he said could have cost him the race. After leaving the Shageluk checkpoint, he dozed off and took a wrong turn. He was forced to backtrack, costing him two hours.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

ANVIK, Alaska (AP) _ Four-time champion Jeff King moved into the lead in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race but he probably won’t remain there long.

Two-time defending champion Lance Mackey is on the move.

King arrived at the Anvik checkpoint more than seven hours after Mackey. Instead of resting his team, he moved through.

“I’m out of here,” King said, as he pulled his snow hook and headed out on the frozen Yukon River. “I’m about to be in the lead.”

Mackey rested his team for eight hours in Anvik. In doing so, he satisfied one of two eight-hour stops teams are required to take during the race. The other one must be taken at White Mountain near the finish in Nome.

Soon after King took off, Sebastian Schnuelle arrived in Anvik, followed shortly by Aaron Burmeister. Both mushers moved through while Mackey prepared to hit the Iditarod trail again.

When the eight-hour requirement is taken into consideration, Mackey actually has a substantial lead in the race, about 7 1/2 hours in front of the other three teams.

For being the first musher to reach the Yukon, Mackey was given a gourmet meal and $3,500.

When Mackey arrived in Anvik, he said he’d made a mistake on the trail that could end up costing him the race.

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

“I couldn’t believe it,” Mackey 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.

“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 King, who was second to Mackey last year. Both are positioned nicely, Mackey said.

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.


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