Many mushers have set personal records this year, finishing the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in their best times ever. That includes Nenana musher Jason Mackey, who shaved about 21 hours off his finish time from last year.
Mackey finished just shy of the top 20, but had even higher goals for himself at the beginning of the race.
Through the excitement of the ceremonial start in Anchorage, he seemed calm and confident.
“This team can win,” Mackey said. “Hands down, it’s the nicest team I’ve ever drove.”
Noticeably absent from the field this year was Mackey’s brother, four-time Iditarod champion Lance Mackey, who said it was difficult for him to be at the Anchorage celebration.
“This is where my heart is at, this is something I love to do as much or more than anyone on this planet,” Lance Mackey said. “It’s hard to be here with the people I’m used to being around.”
Lance Mackey made the decision not to run the Iditarod a few months ago, citing concern for his hands, which have been impacted severely by Raynaud’s disease that makes them extremely sensitive to the cold.
“It’s emotional for him, it’s emotional for me, for the whole family, his fans,” Jason Mackey said. “He is tough, but he’s only human.”
As Jason Mackey began his journey to Nome, he knew right away his team had speed.
“These guys want to move,” he said in an interview in Manley Hot Springs, the second checkpoint. “The vets went over them, twisting, pulling, wrenching on them and everyone is sound. So they’re moving sound. They’re 100 percent.”
He pulled toward the head of the pack—14th in to Tanana, sixth into Ruby, eighth to Galena.
“Its time to slow them down,” Jason Mackey said in Tanana. “I’m where I want to be. I’m up front, that was important to get in this front group now I can just maintain it.”
He soon realized his dogs might be going too fast. He said the team was not prepared to stay at the front and “it was either back off in Nulato or take them to the airport and that wasn’t an option,” Jason Mackey said.
“To keep that momentum going and that speed, that’s how you have to train, and I don’t train like that,” he laughed. “I knew the team had speed, just as much speed as anyone’s and it would have been great had the race only been 600 miles.”
His team made it the full 1,000 miles to Nome, just not as quickly as he’d hoped. Jason Mackey crossed the burled arch in nine days, six hours and 19 minutes — his best finish yet.
“It was a good race,” he said. “I anticipated a little bit more but next year I will be prepared.”
Jason Mackey’s dream is to be an Iditarod champion and he said with a new training schedule, he expects to be a top contender once again.