When Lance Mackey won the Yukon Quest and I'rod back to back I asked "How in doG's name did he do that?? Within days the naysayers were claiming it was just a matter of luck, the right dogs with the right musher on the right trails at the right time. Further, they claimed he couldn't possibly do it again.
Well, care to guess what happened? Yep, he did it again, arriving in Nome at 2:46 this morning. It was a RACE, too. Denali Park's Jeff King dogged him throughout the second half of the race applying a degree of pressure that even Mackey wasn't sure he could endure.
Here is a quotation from an article in this morning's edition of the Anchorage Daily News:
Along the trail, King tried to rattle Mackey by traveling so close behind that Mackey could hear King's iPod playing through the battery-powered speakers the Denali Park musher draped over his chest.
"What do you have hooked up to your stereo,'' Mackey asked at point.
"Is it that loud?'' King said.
On the flats, too, there was no doubt, Kings dog's were faster. But at the end, when the mushers were confronted by two difficult climbs, Mackey's gritty canines showed their stuff.
On the trail from Elim to White Mountain on the Bering Sea coast, climbing up over the 1,000 foot summit in the Kwiktalik Mountains that mushers know as "Little McKinley,'' Mackey put time on King's dogs. And again in the Topkok Hills out of White Mountain on the stretch run to Nome, he pulled away, building on what had been a 57-minute lead at the 8-hour, mandatory, White Mountain stop.
Most of that lead he stole with a bit of craftiness one might not expect from a lunch-bucket musher in a dirty red snowsuit. Maybe that worked to his advantage. King certainly never risked napping for long on the Bering Sea coast when Doug Swingley was in the game with his disciplined, machine-like teams.
The four-time champ from Lincoln, Mont., however, called it a career this year. The body was still capable, he said, but as a fifty-something musher he just couldn't harness the self-discipline to compete at the level he thought his dog team deserved. King, too, is a fifty-something musher. Two years ago, he became the oldest ever to win the Iditarod.
This year he dozed in Elim while the 37-year-old Mackey sneaked away onto the trail to gain 54 of the 57 minutes in that crucial lead at White Mountain.
King had expected Mackey to rest his dogs for at least a couple hours in Elim. King thought that would give him enough time to steal a nap after days with little sleep.
He got the nap all right, but Mackey got the lead.
When King woke, his competition was long gone. His reaction?
"Pissed,'' he said in an interview before leaving White Mountain for Nome. "If this race would have been longer, that manuever would have been more incidental. But where it happened, I told him it was the (game-winning) Hail Mary pass.''
Mackey acted as if to stay in Elim for a time, all the while keeping an eye on King. When King's eyes closed, Mackey figured it wouldn't be long until the bespectacled, bifocaled musher from Denali Park was sawing logs. And with that, Mackey tiptoed out of the village.
"He pulled it off,'' King said.
For the second time in this Iditarod, too, it should be noted.
That last observation might have been the only thing Mackey got wrong in the whole race. On the last leg of the race to Nome, Mackey's team showed it was even better than he thought. His dogs were faster there than King's.
They sealed the deal on Iditarod 2008 by making the all-important, 50-mile run over the hills between White Mountain and the last checkpoint at Safety about 10 minutes faster than King's dogs.Last year's back to back wins of the two longest sled dog races on earth was enough to put Mr. Mackey on top of the mushing world's highest pedestal, but this morning's win pours cement around his feet to glue him into that lofty position.
Best of all, it ain't over yet. On March 26th Mackey and King will again hit the trail, competing against 13 other 'top of their game' mushers for a $100,000.00 winner-take-all purse in the All Alaska Sweepstakes.
Can Lance capture a triple crown that won't repeated for at least another 25 years? No one yet knows, but I already have the leader board for the Sweepstakes bookmarked on my computer, and I can hardly wait to see what happens next. Stay tuned, because it is truly GAME ON!!!