Mackey First Into Halfway Point
Friday, March 9th 2007, 7:00 am
By: News On 6
IDITAROD, Alaska (AP) _ Lance Mackey was the first to reach the halfway point in the 1,100-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, putting him on course to join his father and his brother as Iditarod champions.
But Paul Gebhardt, who finished third last year, was positioning himself Thursday as a spoiler _ just six minutes behind Mackey in reaching Iditarod, a once bustling gold mining community and now a ghost town of dilapidated and collapsed buildings.
Meanwhile, a search for rookie musher Deborah Bicknell, 61, of Juneau, was a success. The search was launched Thursday after Bicknell left the Rainy Pass checkpoint Wednesday morning but never arrived in Rohn.
The 48-mile run from Rainy Pass to Rohn was a particularly treacherous stretch where far more experienced mushers had gotten lost, with some flipping and crashing their sleds on the icy, snow-barren trail.
Bicknell was spotted Thursday afternoon from the air driving her team on a trail through Ptarmigan Pass, a route formerly used in the race, said race spokesman Chas St. George.
``It appears she took the wrong trail,'' St. George said.
She was seen driving her dog team 18 miles from the Rohn checkpoint. Both she and her dogs were tired but otherwise in good condition, race officials said after she arrived in Rohn.
Bicknell, who was in last place before getting lost, planned to rest before analyzing her situation Friday, St. George said.
With temperatures falling to 35 degrees below zero, Mackey was the first musher to arrive in Iditarod.
Mackey, 36, of Fairbanks, arrived just after midnight and won $3,000 in gold nuggets. Gebhardt, 50, of Kasilof, soon followed. Ed Iten, 54, of Kotzebue, was third, just two minutes ahead of 2004 Iditarod winner Mitch Seavey.
Seavey said the section of trail leading into Iditarod was the worst he's seen in his 14 Iditarods. There were many stretches of windblown tundra where he couldn't even find enough snow to melt for drinking water for his dogs.
``It has been a tough race,'' Seavey said. ``If you actually think this is fun, you have a problem.''
Gebhardt said his sled wouldn't go on the bare tundra, so he was forced to walk up the hills, get back in, and then get out again for the next rise.
Gebhardt said five-time winner Rick Swenson of Two Rivers, who is competing in his 31st Iditarod, told him the Iditarod trial this year was just about as bad as it gets.
``Swenson says he's seen it worst. But he says it matches right up there with the worst,'' Gebhardt said. ``It seems it's the worst to me.''
Mackey said at the start of the race that he wanted to prove to people that the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race could be won by the same musher in the same year.
Mackey won his third consecutive Yukon Quest race this year.
``If Lance can win the Quest and the Iditarod in the same year, he's a super musher,'' Seavey said, as three veterinarians checked out his team and he rubbed ointment between the pads of his dogs' feet.
However, Seavey remains skeptical.
``I will go so far as to say I don't expect it,'' he said.
Seavey later stopped in at the checkpoint headquarters, which is actually an old trapper's cabin with tilted floors and green peeling paint, to soak his hands in some warm water.
Potatoes in foil were cooking on the back of the wood stove. A blue enamel coffee pot was balanced on the top.
``We are halfway already?'' Seavey said, jokingly. ``It seems like we just got started.''