Lance Mackey, of Fairbanks, talks with Yukon Quest race veterinarian Monica Pacheco Duran on Monday, Jan. 4, 2013, in Pelly Crossing, Yukon. Mackey has struggled to keep his team healthy during the early stages of the Quest, dropping four dogs at Carmacks. Photo by Jeff Richardson, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
PELLY CROSSING, Yukon — Lance Mackey approached the 2013 Yukon Quest as a chance for revival. In its early stages, the race has instead been a puzzle for the four-time champion.
Mackey, looking discouraged Monday morning while resting at the McCabe Creek cabin along the Quest trail, said he’s still trying to figure out what’s ailing his weary team — and, just as importantly, how to recover from it.
The Fairbanks musher dropped a total of five dogs on Sunday and Monday, leaving him with a nine-dog team, the smallest in the field. They hadn’t been eating well, which led to weight loss and concerns about dehydration.
“They’re getting small fast,” Mackey said. “They started off not eating, and it’s pretty hard to go fast with no fuel.”
Even at the first checkpoint in Braeburn, Mackey said his dogs were struggling with warm temperatures on the trail.
At both McCabe and Pelly, where he arrived in 11th place, Mackey spent long stretches talking with veterinarians while checking over his team, looking for answers.
“It’s going to be hard to go far like this,” he said at McCabe.
It’s a dispiriting start for Mackey, who entered the Quest with high hopes for his season. He won the Quest four consecutive years from 2005-08 but posted second- and third-place finishes, respectively, during his runs in 2010 and 2012.
Speaking before the race, Mackey said he was optimistic this year’s team could take him back to the top. Younger dogs were finally stepping up to replace some of his aging veterans.
“Absolutely I know things can happen, but this is a team that can help me regain myself,” he said at the time.
Other high-profile mushers had a much less eventful day. Defending champion Hugh Neff, of Tok, continued to lead the pack of 26 teams through the Scroggie Creek rest stop, the last milestone before Dawson City.
Neff was being followed by Allen Moore, Jake Berkowitz, Brent Sass and the leading rookie so far in this year’s race, Scott Smith.
One of them should get to Dawson City today, where the first musher to the Gold Rush city will be in position to claim 4 ounces of placer gold. The Quest’s Dawson City Award — worth more than $6,000 in current gold prices — goes to the first competitor to arrive at the halfway point city and go on to finish the race.
The race also had its first scratch. Veteran musher Ed Abrahamson of Fairbanks dropped out of the race Monday evening at Carmacks, 177 miles into the race, according to a Quest news release. No reason was given in the news release.
Dog drops were also starting to pile up for some teams at the Pelly Crossing checkpoint. Normand Casavant had dropped four dogs from his team by the time he departed, and Kelley Griffin, Cody Strathe, Darrin Lee and Dyan Bergen had each dropped three.