Gold and Gertie’s lead Mackey astray

DAWSON CITY Lance Mackey should have been sleeping. But after winning four ounces of gold for being the first musher into Dawson, Diamond Tooth…

DAWSON CITY

Lance Mackey should have been sleeping.

But after winning four ounces of gold for being the first musher into Dawson, Diamond Tooth Gertie’s tempted the three-time Yukon Quest champ.

“On my way into Dawson, I was thinking about how I’d spend the 36-hour layover,” said Mackey, downing a glass of Crown Royal at the Eldorado Hotel late Thursday night.

“I was going to spend 10 hours eating, 10 hours sleeping and 16 hours on dog care,” he said.

“But I don’t have many issues with my dogs.

“So now I’m thinking, I’ll spend 10 hours on dog care, 10 hours drinking Crown Royal and 10 hours at Gerties.”

Mackey ran the 236 kilometres from Eagle to Dawson in two runs, only resting his dogs once.

He thought the move would put Fairbanks musher Ken Anderson way behind.

“I thought he was planning on camping twice,” he said.

Early Wednesday morning, Anderson and Mackey left Eagle only one minute apart.

A few miles later, Anderson passed Mackey.

“I start off slow, with fat, full-bellied dogs that just waddle along,” said Mackey.

“But he couldn’t stay in front of me.

“He was running and pumping like crazy to get up the hill and I was just riding the (sled) runners.”

Mackey followed Anderson over the glaciers on the way up 1,026-metre American Summit, and then blew past him.

“I’m faster,” said Mackey.

“So even if we run the same run-rest schedule, every time we stop, I’ll be at least half an hour ahead.”

But just after passing Fortymile, Mackey looked back and saw a headlamp behind him.

“My heart started racing,” he said.

“I didn’t start kicking and pushing, but there was adrenalin there.”

Mackey credits the bad trail into Dawson for the gold he plans on gambling at Gertie’s.

On a hard, fast trail Anderson’s dogs are faster, he said.

But between Fortymile and Dawson the 77-kilometre trail was soft and punchy.

“It had no bottom,” said Mackey. “Some of it was just put in today.”

Despite the bad trail conditions, Mackey’s dogs just kept on trucking.

“They’re consistent — uphill, downhill, in all situations,” he said.

Anderson arrived in Dawson 36 minutes behind Mackey, at 1:37 p.m.

But because of adjustments for the staggered start times, the two will be leaving Dawson only seven minutes apart.

Mackey was a bit surprised by the news.

“But I don’t need an eight-hour gap between us,” he said.

“It only takes one second to win.”

Anderson and Mackey are neighbours in Fairbanks.

“But we’re not best friends,” said Mackey.

“He’s out to get me, and I’m out to get him.”

Mackey has changed his race strategy this year after seeing how Anderson’s team is performing.

It’s tempting to stay just ahead of Anderson, he said.

“Not to take away from my competitors, but I could take it easy.

“And if I could hold back and reserve some energy, it would put less stress on the dogs who are going on to run Iditarod.”

But Mackey wants to get back to his original plan.

“If I keep running (Anderson’s) race, I’m setting myself up for disaster,” he said.

All it would take is a fresh snowfall after which Mackey would have to break trail for 160 kilometres, or for Anderson to sneak in a 10-hour run, he said.

“I have to get back to my style,” said Mackey.

“And (Anderson’s) going to have to alter his plans — he’s going to have a full plate.”

Mackey’s team can run 160 kilometres at a time, day after day, he said.

“I could leave and do five 12-hour runs and Ken would have his hands full — but that wouldn’t benefit the team at all.

“And I want a good looking team all standing up and eating snacks at the end of the race.”

Seven years ago, at the Copper Basin 300, Mackey’s first big race, he finished with only five dogs. “And they were weathered and in bad shape,” he said.

“It was embarrassing.”

Phil Meyer, who’s also a vet on this year’s Quest, told Mackey after the Copper Basin that he had “the most jalopy-looking team he’d ever seen.”

“And right then, I vowed never to race again just to race,” said Mackey.

“Where I finish is irrelevant —I want to finish with healthy, happy dogs.

“And since then the dogs have kept getting better and better.”

So have Mackey’s finishes.

Mackey arrived in Dawson with a dog in the sled. Willy tore a hamstring on the soft powdery trail.

This year’s Quest trail has been horrendous, said Mackey.

“I’ve had white-knuckle rides, but I’ve never been on a trail so rough in my life.

“It’s ridiculously brutal and physically demanding.”

When he crossed the finish line in Dawson, Mackey got a box of chocolates from his wife Tonya.

“Every year I try to figure out where he’s going to be on Valentine’s and get a box of chocolates in his drop bags,” she said. And this year, it worked out.

But Mackey didn’t remember the date.

“Valentine’s Day totally slipped my mind,” he said.

“It’s the furthest thing from my mind, but it’s not the furthest from hers — it kind of makes me feel guilty sometimes.

“But then, I have to do well in this race to be able to afford a box of chocolates.”

Brent Sass was the third musher into Dawson, arriving 11 hours after Mackey.

Tagish musher Michelle Phillips  was only 13 minutes behind him.

Dave Dalton came in half an hour later, at 1:34 a.m.

And Annie Lake’s Hugh Neff arrived at 6:52 Friday morning.