Thursday, December 29, 2022

Iditarod Insider increases pricing

Iditarod Champion Mitch Seavey is interviewed
by Iditarod Insider at the 2019 Iditarod ReStart.
March 3, 2019. Willow, Alaska.
In an email sent out to Iditarod fans today, Iditarod Insider announced that they will increase the price of their subscriptions beginning January 1, 2023. The subscription based streaming service began in 2004 when video on the internet was just starting to really take root. The award winning team of Insider prides themselves of being passionate fans of the Last Great Race and the sport it showcases.

Much has changed from their humble beginnings nearly two decades ago, and with it has been a host of growing pains, but the service is one that fans cling to to keep up with the latest news from the trail. Insider now boasts live coverage in most of the checkpoints, as well as expert and color analysis as the race progresses. Each year's race gets its own documentary produced for purchase (or streaming through the subscription service). Along with video and livefeeds, Insider also provides access to the beloved GPS tracker. Gone are the days of waiting for twice a day updates (unless one was a HAM Radio operator), and heaven help anyone related to Insider if it goes down even briefly because fans are addicted to the information it provides.

While Insider has changed its pricing structure in the past, it was never forced to up the subscription price of the established tiers - they always were able to add a new tier/option for subscribers while keeping the original pricing stable. 2023 will be the first time every tier gets a price increase, but it's a needed one according to Insider.

"We appreciate your continued support in the Iditarod Community," the statement reads, "your support is what helps keep our mushers and four-legged friends doing what they love. For the first time in its 18 year history, we are nominally increasing the Insider subscription prices to reflect the growing cost of bringing these services to our fans. The subscription cost has not paralleled the rising costs of producing the Insider coverage since its inception."

During the 2022 "Town Hall" Zoom Meeting the Iditarod put on in December, Insider producer Greg Heister noted that neither he or any of his team were making money off of Insider, that all profits go directly to the race and that his crew are paid "significantly less than industry standards" suggesting the crew worked Insider out of love for the race and the people and dogs that make it happen. Insider has to pay for its own accommodations, food, and transportation. While, yes, they do use the Iditarod Air Force, they also run snow machines up and down and around the trail and - as we all know - fuel prices are exponentially higher this year. The pricing increases come as really no surprise, though there did not seem to be a hint of the increase during the Town Hall.

Price increases are as follows:
Ultimate Insider - Increase from $33.95 per year to $39.95 per year.
Ultimate Insider Plus - Increase from $39.95 per year to $49.95 per year.

Subscriptions purchased before January first will not be affected, but will see the price increase on their next renewal (June 2023).

To view the full email, click here.

What are your thoughts on the price increase? Will you be purchasing Insider this year? Tell me below in the comments!

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Lance Mackey named Honorary Musher for Iditarod 51

In a short statement released today by the Iditarod Trail Committee, the Last Great Race announced the 51st's running's Honorary Musher would be 4-time Iditarod Champion and Legend Lance Mackey. Lance Mackey dominated long distance mushing in Alaska from 2005-2010 when he won four consecutive Yukon Quest titles (2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008) and four consecutive Iditarod titles (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010) before a number of personal and health setbacks saw him drop in the rankings. The feat of winning those eight titles in the span of five seasons will most likely never be repeated.

The ITC wrote, "Lance was one of the Iditarod nation’s most colorful champions, exciting the crowds and his fans everywhere he went."

Lance was born into a mushing family, he often bragged that he ran his first sled dog race from inside his mother Kathie's womb. Lance's childhood was not your dreamy Norman Rockwell version of childhoods, but he spent a great deal of time watching, studying, and idolizing the men and women of the Iditarod as his father Dick Mackey helped Joe Redingtom start the Last Great Race. 

Lance's young adulthood was fraught with difficulties, most he would later say from his own doings, but when he packed up the wife and kids and moved to the Kenai Peninsula to start fresh, it wasn't long before he picked up stray and unwanted dogs and cobbled together a kennel. He would work hard to qualify for the race he grew up cherishing, and it was his rookie run in Iditarod when Mackey discovered something wasn't quite right. A trip to the doctor discovered he had a very aggressive form of throat cancer. 

Lance Mackey defied the odds and credited his recovery on his dogs. The dogs gave him extra reason to fight, as well as helped him heal. They needed him and he needed them just as much. Mackey was soon back on the runners and even entered the Iditarod just months after treatment (he would later say that wasn't the best of ideas). While Lance and team started to see success in mid distance races, and steadily climbed the standings in the Iditarod and Quest, most counted him out. Even after winning two Quest titles in 2005 and 2006, many did not believe as Lance did that he would be able to continue - and as long as he was winning the Quest it was believed he would never win Iditarod. Two thousand mile races less than a month apart, the experts all said, was impossible to win both. 

In 2007, Lance knew his time had come to prove everyone wrong. Drawing bib number 13 at the Iditarod bib draw the now three time Yukon Quest Champion KNEW he was going to be the 2007 Iditarod Champion. Both his father Dick and older brother Rick had won their Iditarod titles with lucky bib number 13. Lance believed his fate was sealed, and wouldn't you know it, Lance crossed the finish line in first... and would do so for the next three consecutive races. 

Lance reignited the imagination of mushing fans and mushers alike. He didn't have flashy sponsors, gear, or really much of anything but gumption. Mackey with his "Comeback Kennel" was a sort of throwback to his father's days of mushing, and the world ate it up. He would be nominated for an ESPY award, and be the focus of an award winning documentary.

When fans learned in 2021 that the musher was diagnosed with cancer again (a different type than the first) they rallied around the champion musher. Lance's 2020 was already difficult with the shame of testing positive for methamphetamine - for which he went to out of state treatment for - and the loss of his life partner Jenne in an ATV rollover accident leaving their two children without their mother. It just seemed totally unfair that, once again, things seemed stacked against him. Mackey remained quiet for the next year, with just a scattering of posts about car racing, a few kennel updates where the musher was quietly selling equipment and dogs, and a couple kid updates.

Then August of 2022, Lance gave a gut-wrenching interview with Iditarod Insider's Greg Heister. He was calling in from a hospital room where he revealed he had been in and out of the hospital all summer. The musher said he wasn't done fighting and that's exactly what he did up until the very end. When the news of his passing hit social media via a simple post by his father on Facebook, fans immediately took to sending condolences and tributes - and as Iditarod wrote to confirm that the beloved champion had passed fans immediately called for them to choose him as the 2023 Honorary Musher.

Iditarod heard those pleas, and they have chosen wisely. Jr. Iditarod, also, will have Lance as their honorary musher and members of the Mackey Family will be in attendance at the race. For the Iditarod, the Honorary Musher or their representative ride in the first sled out of the chute driven by that year's Jr Iditarod champion. In Lance's place his two youngest children, Atigun and Lozen, will ride in the sled through the 11 miles through Anchorage. 

You can read the press release here.

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Neff speaks to fans about Iditarod decision

Never one to let things go, Hugh Neff hasn't stayed quiet after he announced yesterday the Iditarod Review Board denied his application for the 2023 race. The former Yukon Quest Champion posted more details to his Facebook account citing how he and Jim Lanier knew that Iditarod would not let him run months ago. Neff planned to run dogs from Lanier's kennel again this year, and used their win in the Kobuk 440 as proof that his "forced scratch" from Iditarod 2022 was a farce. 

To hear Hugh's side of things is to hear one conspiracy after the other for the last decade or so. The Quest was out to get him. The Iditarod was out to get him (and in one race he suggested that Iditarod wanted to kill him when they wouldn't send a rescue team out in the middle of a storm out onto the Norton Sound to find the wayward musher). Different mushing clubs/associations who chose to deny him membership due to the Quest's decision to bar him from the 2019 race because of his dog's death in 2018 was found to be caused by musher negligence. So then the vet teams of races were out to get him. Mark Nordman, the musher's hinted, dislikes him and is jealous of him. And don't get him started on all of those fake mushers with tv deals (Seavey? Redington? Holmes?) he's following in the traditions of Alaska and real mushers whereas they're just about money. 

Neff's statement last night cited mushers by description and not name siding with him, stating they won't speak publicly for fear of retribution. In an odd sort of twist it seems Neff is trying to take a few pages out of Dallas Seavey's book after Seavey had to deal with the fall out of the Musher X scandal, with a big difference being mushers spoke out publicly for the musher. Even rivals who had not great things to say about the youngest Iditarod Champion wrote letters of support for Dallas. So far, if Hugh does have supporters in the community, they aren't coming forward.

In his statement on facebook the musher promised he is not going anywhere and plans to continue mushing in "Alaska's Greatland". A quick scan of mid distance race rosters does not show Hugh with any future races lined up.

Friday, December 2, 2022

Neff denied Iditarod entry

Hugh Neff navigates a turn in
Anchorage during the ceremonial 
start of Iditarod 50. March 6, 2022.
In a series of Facebook posts Friday night, Yukon Quest Champion Hugh Neff reported that his Iditarod Registration was rejected by the Race Board. The musher did not mince words and hinted at conspiracy against him as well as the kennel he plans to runs dogs out of - Jim Lanier's Northern Whites Kennel.

All entries for the Iditarod are reviewed by a committee which determines if a team meets the requirements - regardless of past experience on the trail. These decisions are not typically made public by the race other than approvals being posted to the roster. The committee takes in consideration kennel conditions, current races, as well as past Iditarods (when applicable).

Neff has had a string of concerns in the last few years stemming from the Yukon Quest barring him from racing the thousand mile race until he could requalify after they found him negligent in the death of his dog Boppy in the 2018 race. Other races, including Iditarod, followed suit in denying Hugh's entries in the 2019 season. 

Neff ran in the 2022 Iditarod but had to scratch in Ruby due to concern for his dogs. Controversy surrounded his scratch as the musher and the race differ on what happened with Neff accusing Mark Nordman of having a vendetta against him. 

This is a developing story.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Race season in Alaska begins in December

It's the most wonderful time of the year. With those holiday greetings, and sled dog race meetings, where loved ones are... wait... what?

That's right, race fans! We're into the first few races of the season! Can you believe it?! Weren't we just talking about Iditarod 50 last week? Okay, well, some of us are still talking about it all these months later. But, really, the race season in Alaska gets underway in just a few short days. 

While December does not host a lot of "big" races that are used to qualify for the super bowl of dog mushing (Iditarod), it's a way to shake loose the cobwebs and get into the racing mindset. This season we're hoping to see an exciting new series of races called the Delta Championship Series that kicks off - hopefully - the first weekend in December with a race simply titled "Season Opener".

So why do we see so few races in December? Simply put, weather and trail conditions. While, yes, most years we don't have to dream of a White Christmas in Alaska and the Yukon, the rivers aren't always quite as frozen as they need to be for teams to travel safely on them. Even if it's "just" a river crossing, teams and trail sweeps need to have confidence that the ice won't break out from underneath them. Overflow is also a concern, and no one wants to be wet in negative degree temperatures (which currently most of Alaska is experiencing).

So a few smaller, faster, more fun races happen to just get everyone back in the groove before mid-distance races really take off in January.

For Bethel's "Season Opener" race, it is set to be a 32 mile out and back fun run. Few details have been made public mainly because they are still observing and testing trail conditions. A decision to push back the race will happen by December 1, but if all goes to plan they will leave out of Bethel on Saturday, December 3, and follow the Atmautluak trail.

Should the Season Opener go off as planned the next races will be the Alpine Creek Excursion on Dec. 10, followed by the Holiday Classic (2nd race in Delta Championship series) on the 17th, and then the Two Rivers Solstice race on, well, the Solstice. 

For a list of most major races (ie Iditarod/Quest qualifiers, plus a few fan requests) be sure to bookmark my 2022-23 Race Schedule.

*And as an aside, Mushing Radio's podcasts will go to once a week through the race season. We're still working out the schedule so if you have an opinion hop on twitter and vote in the poll I've created that will run for the next five or so days. We will go to a weekly program instead of bi-weekly in January, and of course we'll have our daily coverage in March during the Iditarod.

Like what you see and want to make sure this blog and all the stalking... I mean reporting... can continue (and maybe even improve)? You are always welcome to "buy me a coffee/pizza" that really goes towards paying the monthly costs of internet and server usage. This blog has continued to grow and I am so thankful for each and every comment, pizza slice, and contribution my readers give. Y'all are awesome. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Covid vaccination recommended but not required for Iditarod 51

Riley Dyche wears a mask during the
ceremonial start in Anchorage, Alaska.
March 5, 2022.
Iditarod released a statement to fans, mushers, and media this weekend with an update to their Covid-19 Policy ahead of the 2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. After three years of ever changing plans (sometimes mid-race) to keep villages as well as participants in the race safe, the Iditarod has chosen to walk back some of the previous year's policy on what will be required of mushers in March. 

When Covid-19 broke in the US in 2020, the Iditarod was days into the race. In "the race bubble" where the outside world isn't even a thought, mushers and most volunteers had no idea what the rest of the world was dealing with. The first time teams - especially those in the lead - found out things had gotten bad "out there" was when race officials had to inform teams that checkpoints were changing or being done away with entirely to prevent possible exposure.

When the pandemic continued past a year and into 2021, everyone held their breath to figure out what Iditarod would do. The ITC worked diligently with the villages and came to the conclusion the safest thing to do was to run what would be called the Gold Trail Loop, a similar trail to what Joe Redington originally invisioned for the race before deciding to go to Nome. Teams ran to the ghost town of Iditarod and back staying away from most villages, and not allowing villagers into checkpoint areas in other. Vaccines were still up in the air for many and so quarantining pre-race was the standard requirement with testing every few days. 

In 2022, Iditarod required all mushers, personnel, and volunteers to be vaccinated by January 1 to be able to participate - there would be no exceptions. This caused several well known names to withdraw due to their stance on the vaccine or for medical reasons that kept them from being vaccinated. The race ran from Anchorage to Nome but bypassed the popular checkpoint of Takotna by request from community leaders who just could not take the chance of exposure. 

For participants in the 2022 race there was frustration over the written policies. It seemed to never be fully finalized and questions continued all the way up to race day and beyond. To see that the 2023 policy is still being worked out fully has given volunteers pause. Still, knowing that vaccination status would not have to be given has gotten many excited in Alaska and volunteer numbers could possibly increase from the last two years.

With a smaller roster so far for the 2023 race, fans often asked if it was the possible continuation of the vaccination mandate that was keeping teams from entering. While that does not appear to be a deciding factor for most, it could allow teams like Jessie Royer and Wade Marrs the opportunity to come back to the race they have been top contenders in. Neither is currently signed up for the 51st running of the race. Mushers must sign up by November 30 to make sure they do not have to pay a higher fee for late sign ups. Volunteer sign ups should begin sometime in November.

What do YOU think about the latest changes to the policy? Comment below with your thoughts.
And if you're feeling generous and want to help keep this blog going you can "buy me a slice of pizza".

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Jessie Holmes focusing on recovery

Musher Jessie Holmes made a statement tonight thanking everyone for their support after news broke earlier that he was in a "very bad" accident while helping recovery efforts in the Alaskan village of Golovin. Holmes is currently being treated in Anchorage after being medevac-ed first from Golovin to Nome and then onto Anchorage. 

"I wanted to take a moment to let everyone know how much I appreciate all the love, support, and prayers," the Life Below Zero star wrote. "I’m blessed to be surrounded by such great people and lucky to still be here."

Holmes was in Golovin with a team of Iditarod mushers who, independent of the race, traveled to the village earlier in the week to help clear debris and repair homes ahead of winter on Alaska's West Coast.

Golovin experienced extreme flooding over a week ago when the remnants of Typhoon Merbok slammed the Western Alaska Coast. The historic Iditarod checkpoint had storm surges bringing waves over 10 feet high i to the community. Many who were born and raised in the area said they had never experienced anything like what they were going through now. It was reported as being the most intense storm for the area in over 70 years.

Holmes accident occured when he, Richie Beattie, Brent Sass, and Jeff Deeter worked to pull wet insulation out from underneath a house. Deeter reported later that as Holmes lifted the floor with a crowbar the house caved in onto the musher turned volunteer. Jeff was not in the building at the time but heard Sass and Beattie calling out for their friend.

As Deeter ran back to see what had happened he found the two men digging furiously to rescue their friend shouting for someone to bring a knife. Jeff said that it took them over 3 minutes to get Jessie unburied. Holmes would find out he had a broken wrist, a broken arm, and broken ribs among other injuries. That he was able to stand and smile for a picture is mind boggling.

Like most in Alaska (especially mushers), Jessie has no insurance and he is looking at a lengthy recovery just as he is headed into his busy season. He will miss training time with his dogs which will affect his race schedule.

"My main goal now is to focus on my recovery and get back to my kennel," he wrote late Thursday.

Holmes is already entered in the 2023 Iditarod and it remains to be seen how the accident will factor into his decision to run or not. Jessie finished third in the 2022 race narrowly beating out Dan Kaduce.

The musher concluded his statement with a message for those recovering from the storm, "My heart remains with the people in Western Alaska and hope people will continue to remember and support these villages as winter fast approaches."

The villagers of Golovin set up a GoFundMe for Holmes.

To donate for the recovery efforts of all villages and towns affected by Typhoon Merbok, the Alaska Community Foundation set up a Western Alaska Disaster Recovery Fund.

Iditarod musher Jessie Holmes injured while helping in Golovin

Musher and reality tv star Jessie Holmes was in Golovin earlier this week to help with clean up efforts in the village of Golovin this week after the village went underwater by the remnants of Typhoon Merbok last week. Holmes, along with several other known mushers, were working in Golovin to clear up debris and restore homes damaged by the flooding.

Late yesterday news broke that the musher had been in an accident and had broken his wrist, injured his other arm, and -though he was able to stand and walk under his own power- was in a neck brace. Holmes was first flown to the hospital in Nome, the closest medical facility, before it was decided he needed to go to Anchorage for surgery which required a second medevac flight. 

Like many in Alaska, Jessie is without insurance. The musher will be required to foot most if not all of the bill and two medical flights isn't cheap. His friends set up a gofundme which has raised nearly twenty thousand dollars in less than 24 hours, and the amount keeps rising.

With Jessie were mushers Jeff Deeter, Richie Beattie, Aaron Burmeister, and reigning Iditarod champion Brent Sass. Golovin was a checkpoint of the Iditarod for many years before it was decided that it wasn't needed with the way the race has gotten faster so it is an "unofficial" checkpoint these days as teams pass through but there's not an official dog drop, bag drop, or vet team there. It's still near and dear to the mushers and fans of the race, however, and when news spread that Typhoon Merbok had done major damage along Western Alaska (a very rare occurrence) many started to check in with the villages they've learned so much about thanks to the race.

Thankfully no loss of life has been reported anywhere due to the storm surge, but there will be a long road ahead of Western Alaska as they rebuild. Shaktoolik lost their storm and sea barrier in the storm. Hooper Bay and Golovin are underwater. Nome's famed Front Street took a beating, and the famed Bering Sea Restaurant and Bar burned to the ground and caused damage to the historic Nugget Inn. Kotzebue and Bethel also saw flood damage.

Causing more concern than the physical damage is the destruction of many's food supply for winter. Subsistence is a way of life for Western Alaska and when the flood waters came and the power went out many lost whatever they had stored in their freezers. Fish, wild game, berries, all spoiled. The harvest season is nearly over and winter is headed fast toward the region. This isn't like going to the store after a hurricane sweeps in - there's no road system to get shelves stocked in these villages. Everything has to be barged or flown in and with the change of season means barges won't be an option for long.

The village of Golovin is very thankful for the help they've received and rallied around the injured musher last night sharing the gofundme on social media. 

To help out Western Alaska you can donate to the Alaska Community Foundation's Western Alaska Disaster Recovery Fund.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Mackey remembered as great dog man and friend

Family, friends, and fans gathered Saturday at the Janssen Funeral Home in Palmer to pay tribute to legendary distance musher Lance Mackey. Mackey passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer on September 8, he was 52. While the service was well attended in person, many tuned in worldwide via a zoom link that quickly filled to capacity (the limit was set at 100 which was met in minutes). Everyone dressed as one would expect to tribute an Alaskan Dog Man - jeans and clean shirts (many featuring Lance's Comeback Kennel logo). The two hour service went quickly.

Soon after the pastor spoke, sharing the traditional "funeral scriptures" as well as a heartfelt tribute that wasn't your standard reading of the Obituary, the podium was open to anyone who wanted to share stories. Many of the Mackey family spoke, including Lance's older brother Rick, and his younger brother Jason. While Rick managed to get through his story without becoming emotional, Jason acknowledged he wasn't going to be successful. Jason thanked everyone for coming, and was touched so many of Lance's competitors came - to which Jeff King yelled out "wouldn't miss it!"

Lance and Jason had a special bond as they were closest in age and grew up together, and the loss of Lance has affected Jason greatly. Jason told several stories on his older brother before choking up when he pointed out, "There was never a time... never a time that Lance couldn't handle whatever was thrown at him. ...until this time." He soon after went to leave the podium saying he couldn't finish to which you could hear the family encourage him saying he did great. Jason then did a 180, went back to the podium and began listing the mushing greats that had gone on before, he finished by saying "there's a hell of a race going on up there."

Several mushers also spoke, sharing stories of Lance in his early mushing career. Barb Redington also spoke about Lance's history with the Jr Iditarod as well as the Last Great Race. She asked Iditarod Champions to raise their hands and read off some of the names - including Doug Swingley - then asked the audience to raise their hand if they ever ran the Iditarod and many more hands went up. Barb finished by reading an excerpt of Danny Seavey's write up on Lance's 2015 Iditarod entitled "What the Hell does Lance do now?" It was incredibly moving.

It wasn't all mushers. Several fans/race volunteers spoke, one of Lance's neighbors spoke as well. His sisters, niece Brenda, and youngest brother also told stories. Lance Mackey's ex-wife Tonya got up wearing her Raider's hoodie in honor of Lance's favorite NFL team and spoke of their moving to the Kenai Peninsula and how quickly Lance grew his kennel of misfit dogs. 

The Mushin' Mortician Scott Janssen spoke last, wrapping up the service by sharing that during his hospital visits with Lance he often read Robert Service to Lance. He then shared a parody poem he (Scott) wrote after running the 2018 Iditarod about the race. He shared that Lance often asked him to read it to him. 

After the service the reception took place with more stories and memories. Outside Nic Petit gave dog cart rides, and attendees were given the opportunity to drive Lance's race car. Overall the perfect send off for one of Alaska's most beloved sports icons. 

Barbara Redington didn't just share stories on the podium, she brought her camera along and posted the photos of the service to facebook.

As the service ended Greg Heister posted in the livefeed chat that Iditarod Insider shared an interview they shot with Lance and encouraged everyone to go and watch.

Sunday evening the service was uploaded in its entirety to YouTube, you can view it here.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Lance Mackey's car racing community gives tribute

It isn't just the mushing community giving tribute to the mushing legend. In the years since his whirlwind dominance of the Iditarod and Quest trails, Lance turned to car racing. He raced on many tracks in Alaska and in the North Western part of the Lower 48. In fact, it was after a roll over accident on a track that Lance was diagnosed with the cancer than would ultimately take his life. Odd how poetic his life had been, he was diagnosed with his first round of cancer back in the early 2000s after he had trouble swallowing/talking while running the Iditarod. 

After his car racing facebook page "Below Zero Racing" posted of his passing, word of course spread quickly and tributes came in. Below are a sampling of the ones shared throughout the week.

When Lance's health made it impossible for him to drive, fellow musher who's now got the car racing bug Nicolas Petit took over driving Lance's car. He will continue to drive in Lance's memory and honor.

More tributes to Lance Mackey

As everyone prepare to say a final farewell to Iditarod and Quest champion Lance Mackey on Saturday, tributes to the mushing legend continue to be posted. Many heartfelt stories and memories shared by those in the community from all over the world. This is, in a way, a part two from last weekend's round up

Lance touched so many lives, most likely more than he could have even imagined, and it's easy to "fall down the rabbit hole" following the tributes and reading in the comments others chiming in with similar stories where the champion musher took time out of his life to reach out and encourage those he didn't even know. Like many cancer warriors, Lance responded to many fellow warriors as they reached out to tell of their own battle. Even with all of Lance's hardships, he never thought his problems and his life were above another, and that has never been so evident as this past week as so many shared stories of Lance this week. Saturday should have even more of those moments.

And as a reminder, the family set up a GoFundMe for Lance's two youngest children, if you would like to donate you can click this link.

Don't worry, there's more, just below the cut.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Alpine Creek 200 & 300 is no more

The Alpine Creek Sled Dog 200 & 300 races went on social media earlier today to announce that their races were discontinued. Citing lack of musher interest and concerns for funding, the race informed the mushing world that it had lost another Iditarod & Quest Qualifier.

The race was created to fill a void after a number of mid-distance races in Alaska disbanded. Because so many teams were then without a way to finish their required qualifiers for their Iditarod and Quest runs, the organizers of the Alpine Creek Excursion decided to do a longer mid-distance race to help fill the void.

The Alpine Creek Lodge where the race took place, is a home away from home for many teams during the early winter training months as it is one of the first areas to get good snow pack for sled training. They will, of course, remain open for teams to use them as a jumping off point to trails. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Mackey memorial service set for Saturday

According to the obituary posted today for Lance Mackey, the memorial service for the 4-time Iditarod and Yukon Quest champion will take place on September 17th at 2pm AKST in Palmer at the Janssen's MatSu Funeral Home.

For those unable to attend in person a Zoom meeting has been set up to broadcast a live feed of the memorial service. If you have issues and it asks for codes/passwords they are:

Meeting ID: 833 3200 7986
Passcode: 333879

Mackey passed way late at night on September 7, 2022 after a lengthy battle with cancer. The 52 year old musher left behind many family and friends including his two youngest children who lost their mother in 2020.

In lieu of flowers the family has set up an account for Atigun and Lozen's future.

Northrim Bank
Account: 3109153682
Routing: 125200934

You may also donate via the GoFundMe Lance's sister Kristin Elieff set up benefiting Atigun and Lozen. 

The family is also requesting stories and photos of Lance be sent to Aunt Kris to share with his young children. You can share them on her facebook post found here.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Mushing Community pays tribute to Lance Mackey

Lance Mackey comes off the sea ice.
Nome, AK. March 15, 2019.
In the past 48 hours or so, social media has been flooded with tributes to legendary musher Lance Mackey following his passing Wednesday night. The four time Iditarod and Yukon Quest Champion (consecutive wins for both with two years of winning both thousand mile races) passed away after a length battle with cancer. Lance was 52 at the time of his passing and leaves behind an adult daughter as well as his young son and daughter with partner Jenne whom they lost in a rollover ATV accident in 2020. 

Below is a sampling of tributes made public by his fellow mushers.

Friday, September 9, 2022

Mushing Legend Lance Mackey has passed away

Iditarod Champion Lance Mackey greets the crowd
at the Re-Start of Iditarod 47. Willow, AK. March 3, 2019.
Around 12:30am on September 8 a simple message appeared from Dick and Cathy Mackey's facebook page "Our son, Lance passed away this evening after a long battle with cancer. More from all the family later." News slowly spread as mushers and fans woke to the news. Lance Mackey passed away on September, he was 52 and leaves behind two young children who just two years ago lost their mother.

Lance Mackey was probably the most famous of one of mushing's "royal dynasties". Lance's father Dick was one of the original trail blazers who helped Joe Redington get the crazy idea of an Iditarod Trail sled dog race off the ground. Dick would go on to win the Iditarod in 1978 beating young buck Rick Swenson by one second. The teams ran down front street together and seemed to finish in a tie - thus making the race marshal to declare that the winning team was the nose of the first dog to cross the finish, and that was Mackey's lead dog. In 1983, it would be Lance's older brother Rick who would win the Iditarod, making history as the first second generation champion.

Lance's story has been well documented through the years. His autobiography is still available for purchase, and the 2013 documentary "The Great Alone" is available on DVD and on several streaming platforms. Mackey's life was hard, admittedly at times by his own doing, and he didn't always make the best choices. Lance was always an open book to those around him - including fans - and that made him one of the most personable mushers in the history of the sport. 

Just as Lance had returned to the sport of mushing, building a kennel seemingly on a whim after moving to Kasilof, Alaska (located on the Kenai Peninsula, and home to the start of the Tustumena 200). He started running the smaller races as he built up his home and his kennel in true Lance style (by the seat of his pants with scraps and throw aways). 

During his rookie run in the Iditarod in 2001, Lance felt a lump in his neck after realizing he was having trouble swallowing. He would soon be diagnosed with throat cancer, and at one point doctors did not expect him to pull through. But by the 2002 Iditarod, Lance was back on the runners with a tube into his stomach for food and sponsorship from his team of doctors. He would scratch in Ophir that year, but he was already solidifying his legend status - and he hadn't won anything yet.

Just three years later Lance would start his run of dominating the sport of long distance mushing. He would go on to win four consecutive Yukon Quests from 2005 to 2008, and four consecutive Iditarod titles from 2007 to 2010, a feat that will most likely never be replicated. Mackey proved that the same team of dogs could win back to back long distance races in the same year, and did so with old school mushing styles and methods. 

Mackey's first Iditarod win reinvigorated the imagination of mushing enthusiasts world wide. Lance was convinced he would win in 2007, especially after he drew lucky bib number thirteen - the same number both his father and brother wore the year they won. Talk about your Disney Fairytale story - he did just that. From there, we had the story of Lance dominating and infuriating his competitors in the Last Great Race. Many will remember the story of Lance sneaking out of the cabin in 2008 while Jeff King slept, solidifying his win against the "winningest musher". The two would be rivals for the next three years before Lance's string ended.

Lance's personal struggles reignited soon after his fourth Iditarod championship with the implosion of his marriage, and a string of financial problems. Like always, Lance was open with it all and didn't try to hide his struggles. After having to scratch from the 2016 race, Lance did not plan to run the race again - but like all of the other failed retirements of the Iditarod greats, he found himself back on the runners in 2019 just to have fun. His personal life was on the upswing again with a new partner Jenne and their two children. While his health was not the best, he just wanted to run the race and have fun. He came in 26th, and at the finisher's banquet won his entry fee into the 2020 race, so he signed up for 2020.

2020 would be a very difficult year for Lance. While he finished top 20 in the Iditarod, he would have it stripped away a couple months later when his drug test at the finish would come back showing he was on illegal drugs while racing. The musher once again was open and honest with fans, promising to get clean again. He would enter rehab and do the work. On his return to Alaska he would have just a brief bit of normalcy before he would lose Jenne in a single person ATV rollover accident. Lance was the one to find her on the trail. He was now a single dad of two little ones.

Lance chose to focus on his kids and in his hobby of car racing after that, and was enjoying racing cars in Alaska and Washington, when in the late summer of 2021 he was once again facing a cancer diagnosis. He chose to once again let the world in on his struggle and vowed to fight with every fiber and beat the cancer. By June of 2022 Lance would be in and out of the hospital and the outcome wasn't looking good. In August of 2022 he would give an interview to Iditarod Insider that gave an update on his condition. As always Lance was not ready to quit and was planning to fight to the end. 

That fight ended in the late hours of September 7 with family and friends at his side. 

And now the mushing world mourns. Tributes poured in all day on Thursday. Fans, photographers, journalists, politicians, and fellow mushers - some the bitterest of rivals - posted throughout the day favorite memories of the dog whisperer. If there was any question that Lance wasn't a beloved member of the mushing community, that can be put to rest now. One can only hope that Lance himself finally understood and accepted how much he meant to not just his fans, but his community.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Lance Mackey gives update on health

The mushing community and fandom heard from one of its greatest legends this past weekend when four-time Iditarod and Yukon Quest champion Lance Mackey spoke with Iditarod Insider's Greg Heister to give an update on the former champion's health. You may remember last year Mackey announced that his cancer had returned, but that didn't seem to slow Mackey down. Lance leased/sold his team to give the dogs a chance to run throughout the winter, and then focused on his health, family, and car racing. 

Fans didn't hear much from the musher himself, though every once in a while a friend posted pictures hanging out with the larger than life personality. Still, not much was being shared outside of his circle and as the mushing season of 2022 got underway many let it slip their mind that Lance was in another fight for his life. 

Rumblings of Lance's condition started to circulate in June as fans gathered at the Iditarod picnic. Whispers saying that Lance was "not doing well" was the worry no one seemed to want to say too loudly for fear of making it true. But true it seems to be as Lance Mackey would tell Greg Heister on August 4, 2022 that he'd been taken to first the MatSu Regional Hospital in Wasilla before being transferred to Providence Hospital in Anchorage right after Memorial Day weekend. 

By the end of June through the first part of August Mackey reported he had been in "hospitals or hospital like environments" sharing that when he wasn't in the hospital he was essentially bed ridden. While the two original "dark shadows" from his original diagnosis have been "taken care of" and are "gone," "other issues" have come up and "progressed rapidly." Lance also confessed that he does not want to know what his prognosis is, and that he feels like he has a lot of life left. He's on oxygen but says he can still walk - though he isn't getting around much right now - and says that he's lost at least thirty pounds and is "a rack of bones."

"I'm not scared of nothin'," Mackey told Heister, "It is what it is, and I ain't any more important than the rest of the people on this planet. When it's my stop, I'll get off the bus." He continued, "I'm more scared for my kids, you know, they've been a little traumatized," referring to the loss of their mother in 2020. Mackey's youngest son and daughter are staying with family while their dad is in the hospital. He's kept them away from most doctor visits, and they've only seen him a couple of times in the hospital. With their being so young he doesn't want them to be scared, and he doesn't want only negative feelings to be associated with doctors and hospitals. 

"It sucks, man, it sucks. I ain't gonna lie to you, it hurts, and it's a little bit emotional. But, it's reality, and you can't change that, ya know."

The interview runs just over 13 minutes with Heister, and the Iditarod chose to share the interview audio in full on their facebook page. You can listen to the full interview here.

After the interview was released, Lance Mackey took to his facebook page to share a condensed update saying much of the same as what the interview shared. 

When asked by Greg Heister if Lance had anything he wished to relay to his fans, Mackey spent a good deal of time apologizing for his "letting his supporters down" after 2020 when he tested positive for meth at the conclusion of the 2020 Iditarod. Lance acknowledged this was the first time he really had time to speak on it as he went from "the embarrassment" to going into rehab on the East Coast, to coming home and losing his partner-the mother of his children-Jenne. From there he was diagnosed with the return of his cancer. He hasn't fully spoken out about how sorry he was for letting everyone down.

Knowing Lances supportive fanbase, however, he need not worry about apologizing. Most who have followed his career know that he's been dealt a far crappier hand than most and they continue to encourage and pull for the king of comebacks. 

The entire mushing community is joining in pulling for Lance to make yet another comeback. 

Thursday, July 7, 2022

2022-23 Race Schedule

Race List

Alpine Creek Excursion Sled Dog Race
December 10, 2022

Knik 200*
January 7, 2023
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

MUSH Synnfjell
January 6, 2023
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race
January 7, 2023
Website / Facebook

Gunflint Mail Run
January 7, 2023
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Copper Basin 300*
January 14, 2023
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Alpine Creek 200/300*

Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race*
January 19, 2023
Website / Facebook 

Willow 300*
It's Complicated

Warm Lake Stage Race
January 25, 2023
Website / Facebook 

Kuskokwim 300*
January 26, 2023
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Pedigree Stage Stop Race
January 27, 2023
Website / Facebook

Idaho Sled Dog Challenge*
January 30, 2023
Website / Facebook 

John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon*
January 29, 2023
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

February 1, 2023
Website / Facebook 

Caledonia Classic
February 3, 2023
Website / Facebook

Lake Minnetonka Klondike Dog Derby
February 3, 2023
Website / Facebook

Yukon Quest Alaska*
February 4, 2023 

Willow Jr. 100
February 10, 2023
Website / Facebook

Yukon Quest Canada*
February 11, 2023 
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Goose Bay 150*
February 11, 2023

Bergebyløpet N70
February 12, 2023
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Amundsen Race*
February 23, 2023
Website / Facebook 

Race to the Sky*
February 10, 2023
Website / Facebook 

February 16, 2023
Website / Facebook 

Northern Pines Sled Dog Race
February 18, 2023
Website / Facebook 

Canadian Challenge*
February 21, 2023
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race
February 26, 2023
Website / Facebook

Two Rivers 100/200*

Junior Iditarod
February 25, 2023
Website / Facebook

CopperDog 150
March 3, 2023
Website / Twitter / Facebook

Iditarod 51*
March 4, 2023
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Can-Am Crown International*
March 4, 2023
Website / Facebook 

March 10, 2023
Website / Facebook 

Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Run*
March 9, 2023
Website / Twitter / Facebook 

Taaqpak 120
March 11, 2023
Website / Facebook

Hudson Bay Quest
March 15, 2023
Website / Facebook

Nome to Council 200*
TBA, March 2023

Kobuk 440*
April 6, 2023
Website / Facebook

Junior Kobuk 440
April 22, 2023
Website / Facebook

*Iditarod/Yukon Quest Qualifying Race

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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Iditarod Picnic and Musher Sign Ups

Saturday marked the unofficial start of the race season as volunteers and mushers gathered in Wasilla for the annual Iditarod picnic at the Race Headquarters. Unlike previous years, the picnic was sparsely attended by fans and mushers alike. Normally one could guarantee bumping into the biggest names of North American mushing past and present. Names like Dick Mackey, Raymie Redington, and Dan Seavey were a shoo in for the "old timers" who came to swap stories with each other (almost always the same trail stories they've shared for nearly fifty years), while names like Jeff King, Martin Buser, and Mitch Seavey kept people guessing if the "old dogs" had another win in them.

Instead, only one previous champion signed up Saturday - and did so via the web from a beach somewhere warm. Only 21 teams in total would be on the roster by the end of the day. While those in attendance joked that the low attendance of mushers would give those signing up a greater chance to win their entry fee back, there was a definite air of uncertainty about the event.

Also noticeably absent was Iditarod CEO Rob Urbach. Since joining the Iditarod in 2018, Urbach has attended every public event. The enthusiastic leader often hyped up the next season promising new ways to jump into the 21st century. Yet this year it was once again Chaz St. George as the face of the Iditarod at the event, and he quickly just thanked attendees before breezing through the musher drawings without going through the traditional announcement of number of sign ups and reading down the list.

Discussion of the day was obviously the lack of those signing up. Karin Hendrickson attended the picnic but did not sign up with a sigh suggesting there were too many unknowns for her to be sure she'd race this season. Hendrickson also pointed to financial insecurity being a big reason for a lot of teams. She was overheard saying that she knew of "at least" five kennels "getting out of dogs" because they could not afford to continue to keep up a kennel.

2018 Iditarod Champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom did not attend the picnic, but as the event rolled on those checking Facebook read the announcement the Norwegian made stating he was stepping back from long distance racing to focus on his "beautiful little family" and figuring out the "elusive Kuskokwim 300 win." Both five-time Iditarod Champion Dallas Seavey and Iditafan favorite Aaron Burmeister announced at the end of this year's race they, too, are taking time off for family both having children getting to the age of having their own interests outside of dad running Iditarod.

Iditarod 50 was a huge accomplishment for the race, and while fans felt that the race did not do enough to celebrate the milestone, it feels like this is a new wave for the race as a whole. It may be fitting that so many of the mushers that made the last fifty years memorable are absent at the beginning of the next fifty. It's clear that the race has changed a great deal from when Joe Redington and his merry band of mushing enthusiasts came up with the hairbrained idea that dogs could travel a thousand miles over an overgrown yet historic trail system. Today it's a streamlined machine of a race that travels in almost a blink of an eye.

Even with the quieter picnic, there were still many smiles and reasons to laugh and celebrate. With so few mushers needing their Iditarod picture for their website bios, Official Photographer (who is "retired" but still on hand to help) Jeff Schultz was mobbed several times by race fans asking for autographs to sign his work. Kristy Berington and Andy Pohl rode through the picnic on their tandem bike before returning a little while later with Anna to sign the Seeing Double racing kennel teams up for another go (Andy, of course, was there to take the photos). 

Jason Mackey was so excited to be able to sign up again that he showed up well before sign ups opened at 9:30am. The team that [wo]man the table said he was there before they showed up to set things up. Mackey, of course, is hoping to keep the family tradition of winning the Iditarod alive. Mackey's father Dick won the Iditarod, and then Jason's brothers Rick and Lance are also Iditarod champions. If Mackey draws bib number 13 at the musher's banquet this year you might as well just give him the win (Dick, Rick, and Lance all won their [in Lance's case first] Iditarods with the number).

Matthew Failor and Dan Kaduce both signed up - in part because they won a free entry fee for being the "Most Inspirational" (Matt) and winner of the "Humanitarian Award" (Dan). Liz Failor was on hand to snap photos of husband Matthew as well as give tips to KattiJo Deeter on how to fill out her application. That's right, last year's rookie who got stuck in a terrible storm and ended up scratching, KattiJo (who explained that it's "Katie Jo" but that her mother "was a terrible speller") Deeter is returning for another go at the belt buckle. Deeter proclaimed she would be very jealous if she hit that portion of trail and it was calm as "the first time rookies won't have to go through [what she did]!" Deeter was also having a hard time coming up with an answer for her occupation and her hobbies. There were plenty of peanut gallery members to help her out, however. Husband Jeff was on hand to swipe the credit card. 

At this time, only one team from Black Spruce Kennel will run this coming Iditarod. Jeff noted that the logistics "back home" are just too much with the both of them out on the trail and that when he races KattiJo "takes care of so much". He didn't say 100% absolutely not that he wouldn't run, but did stick to "at this time" there were no plans to run two teams like they did in 2022.

Overall, while the roster is Yukon Quest roster sized, fans should expect it to grow some before the end of the year (when the deadline to sign up is). There should be a lot of excitement as many of the teams that are often knocking on the door to get into the top ten will have a great chance of improving (in some cases drastically). Will Brent Sass be able to hold off the teams ready to make sure he doesn't repeat? Who has the best chance of taking home the prize? Those questions are being asked far too soon. The better question is - who do you think has plans to sign up but wants to keep us guessing for now?

To see all of my photos from the day you can view my facebook album.

Make sure to subscribe to Mushing Radio's podcasts as we'll be talking this week all about the Iditarod picnic and what it all means for the future of The Last Great Race.