After they pulled into Carmacks three minutes apart, Quest champ Lance Mackey was ready to cuddle up with Ken Anderson.
“I’m going to sleep beside him and curl up right around him if I have to,” said Mackey.
“Because he’s not leaving without me.”
The pair had just come off a 16-hour run, and Anderson was already asleep.
“I’d prefer to have done it differently, if my neighbour was more patient,” said Mackey.
“But my competition’s antsy and he didn’t stop.”
The 169-kilometre run from Stepping Stone to Carmacks was so unexpected Anderson and Mackey arrived before the vets.
Mackey was ready to stop at McCabe Creek dog drop, 63 kilometres before Carmacks. But when there was no sign of Anderson, he decided he’d better keep going.
“I wasn’t willing to give it away,” he said.
“I just slowed down and started feeding every two hours — I could go 24 hours like that.”
Mackey has a faster team, but opted to stay behind Anderson, he said.
It’s always easier to follow a scent. And Mackey was playing catch-up for the three hours of rest he’d cut after getting lost outside Dawson City.
“Plus the river was all blown in,” he said. “So I was happy to see Ken in front of me.”
It’s going to be two long runs from Carmacks to the finish, said Mackey.
“And in a race like this, there’s minimal room for error.”
That’s what Anderson is counting on.
“He’s faster and will probably get there first,” said Anderson, emerging from the sleeping room, about 10 seconds after Mackey late Monday afternoon.
“But I’m banking on Lance’s notorious bad luck — he’s been lost in this race a few times.”
Anderson, looking like an astronaut with his beige body suit and hood, had purple fingers from dog lotion and a scab on his nose from his balaclava.
“It was an extraordinary long tough run,” he said.
“But it was my only chance of making any move.”
Anderson had hoped Mackey would camp, and fall behind.
“It was disappointing to come to the checkpoint and look back and see him coming behind me,” he said.
“He’s a solid musher and he’s definitely in the driver’s seat, but sometimes he has bad luck.”
Mackey woke up complaining about leg cramps, a frequent problem that keeps him from sleeping during the race.
“He woke up screaming,” said Anderson.
“I tried to help him out and hand him a water bottle.”
The two men are neighbours, but don’t spend too much time together.
However, they were chatting a bit while they ate at the Carmacks checkpoint.
Mackey races in black Carharts and a cotton turtle neck, while Anderson has the wicking suit.
“You’re not supposed to wear cotton, don’t your pants get wet?” said Anderson.
Mackey shook his head. “My long underwear keeps me dry.”
“I guess the key is a fast team, then you don’t have to worry about it,” said Anderson, changing his thin nylon socks. It’s the fist time he’d changed them since Fairbanks.
Anderson put the grimy pair in a plastic bag, then after some consideration, he decided to chuck them out.
His high-tech foam boots are actually designed for bare feet, he said, explaining the thin socks.
He’d bought a new pair of boots, but accidentally threw the old ones in the truck instead, and the liners are full of holes.
Mackey was complaining about losing one of the standing boards from his sled on the last run.
“It was so slick my foot kept sliding off, so I had no choice but to pedal — I worked harder than I have in the past, usually I just stand on the runners,” he said.
Mackey repaired it in Carmacks.
“I’m glad you fixed it,” said Anderson, with a laugh.
Both mushers are enjoying the stiff competition.
“I’ve never been in a race between just two people before,” said Anderson. “Usually in the Iditarod you’re racing everyone around you.”
A Quest rookie, he’s enjoying the trail and the whole experience and he’s going to give it all he’s got, he said.
Mackey was also feeding off the adrenalin.
“An eight-hour lead gets kind of boring,” he said, referring to the 2007 race.
“I have to stay on my toes — it’s bringing back feelings of why I do this.”
One the last couple runs, Mackey hopes he won’t have to start pedaling and running, like Anderson. But, if that’s what it takes, he’s ready to work.
“Mentally I can block out any pain or physical setbacks — it’s all or nothing.”
and who’s not
Mackey’s dogs, in their matching red coats were standing up eating their kibble, meat and soup with gusto on Monday evening.
Dishing out the meal, Mackey was talking with a crowd of locals, officials and tourists, when a couple of his dogs started growling and squabbling.
One quick word and the pair wagged their tails at him guiltily.
“The neutered ones are the grouchy ones,” said Mackey.
“But I guess that makes sense — I’d be grouchy too.”
They have no problems eating well, he added.
Beside him, Anderson’s team was still sleeping. Most didn’t even raise their heads to acknowledge the steaming bowls of food tucked into the straw beside them.
Eventually most of his dogs ate, but they ate slowly and didn’t drink their soup.
Back inside, Mackey was waiting a few hours for the team’s fatty meal to settle.
When it’s that hot out and the meal is so rich they need a bit of time, said Mackey, munching on scalloped potatoes and ham.
He only ate one plate of dinner, which is unusual.
“He must have lost 20 pounds this race,” said his wife and handler Tonya.
“Look at this pants, they were tight when he started.”
Mackey was mixing up a thermos of coffee that must have had at least 15 spoons of sugar dumped in it.
“I don’t even like the stuff,” he said.
Mackey rolled out of Carmacks 10 minutes ahead of Anderson.
He ran 124 kilometres straight to Braeburn in 10.5 hours, and pulled in 19 minutes ahead of Anderson.
The pair were expected to leave around 2 p.m. Tuesday.