Musher Lance Mackey has signed up for the Fur Rendezvous Open World Championhip sled dog races.
Mackey, of Fairbanks, is best known as a long-distance wilderness musher, having won both the Iditarod and Yukon Quest sled dog races four times each. He is sitting out both this year. The Rondy race, which takes place Feb. 21-23 this year, is a sprint race totaling 75 miles, much of it through urban Anchorage, where city streets are blocked off to accommodate the event.
The Anchorage race is considered the granddaddy of Alaska sled dog racing, Mackey told the Daily News. "The Rondy is why the Iditarod and Yukon Quest exist," he said. "I was born and bred in this state and it's one of those races I've never done."
The decision to sign up was made in the past few days, he said. "I was at the starting line of the Yukon Quest a couple of days ago and some folks were saying the Rondy only had a handful of mushers. Well, I got a nice puppy team here at home not doing anything, and I'm not just letting them lay around doing nothing."
Mackey has continued mushing despite physical problems related to cancer, having lost the last of his teeth last month. "Right at the moment it's a lot of dental stuff," he said. "My jawbones are weak. I'm looking at posts and implants but before they can do that I'll go six-eight months with no teeth. I have a set of dentures. They're not exactly easy to get used to. But it's not easy to get used to running around with no teeth, either."
Mackey said he's been paying for the costly treatments out of his own pocket, not having insurance that covers dental care. "As a musher, I've had no insurance right from the get-go."
"I knew last year at the end of the Iditarod that this was coming. But at the moment I have to say I'm on the mend, both mentally and physically. I'll be fine if it don't kill me."
His "puppy team" will be composed mostly of dogs that turned 1 year old in January, he said. They showed speed in a 50-mile race in December, he said, but he doesn't expect them to set any records at Rondy.
"I have a very fast team for Iditarod or mid-distance races. But I have a VW bus compared to the Ferraris those guys (Rondy mushers) are racing.
"I fully expect to be the very last person to finish. I'm asking to start last. What I hope I don't do is get in the way of the professional sprint teams that are there."
As early as 2010, the last time he won the Iditarod, Mackey was talking about throttling back his grueling distance race schedule and imagined himself experimenting with other big-name sled dog contests.
"I might go over to Russia and do a race over there. I might be in Wyoming ... I want to really do the Fur Rondy and the North American," he said that year in Anchorage, days before outdueling Jeff King for a fourth strait Iditarod victory.
Mackey has struggled to crack the top 20 finishers in the past three races, placing 19th in 2013. One of his few remaining teeth fell out on the trail as he ate a piece of fudge.
Reach Mike Dunham at email@example.com or 257-4332.
Outside Magazine: Lance Mackey: The World's Toughest Athlete
By MIKE DUNHAM