by Kevin Wells
Friday, March 7, 2008
RUBY, Alaska -- Leaders in the Last Great Race are headed down river.
Defending Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion Lance Mackey is moving down the Yukon River Friday night after having left the Ruby checkpoint in first earlier in the day.
Last year, Mackey experienced what mushers call the "unspoken" -- that magic moment when coach and team become one.
Mackey's run to Nome this year has been far from perfect. He's had to change lead dogs several times but he now finds himself atop the pack once again.
For the second time in Iditarod XXXVI, the bell tolled for Mackey at a landmark checkpoint. Last year's champion was first to the Yukon, arriving at 7:30 a.m. Friday, following a 14-hour run from 20 miles outside of Cripple.
The mileage is beginning to take a toll on the four-legged athletes.
"I'm still dealing with some diarrhea issues that I can't seem to get control of for whatever reason," said Mackey, speaking about his dog team's health and performance.