Iditarod veterans grapple with illness, dogs’ sore wrists in Rainy Pass

Lance Mackey at the Anchorage Ceremonial Start. In Rainy Pass, Mackey reported “a couple of dogs with sore wrists for no apparent reasons. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/KSKA)
Lance Mackey at the Anchorage Ceremonial Start. In Rainy Pass, Mackey reported “a couple of dogs with sore wrists for no apparent reasons”. (Photo by Pat Yack/Alaska Public Media)

Dog teams passed along some of the roughest parts of the Iditarod overnight, but the actual trail may not be the challenge. A handful of mushers are sick, and others are making an effort to keep their dogs ready to race.

When he arrived in Skwentna, Allen Moore says he could barely talk. By the time he arrived in Rainy Pass, 70 miles later, his voice had recovered, but he wasn’t feeling too healthy.

“At least, I don’t have a fever. One year, I had a 104 degree fever. That was bad,” Moore said.

His ailments in 2016, Moore describes, aren’t too bad. “This is manageable,” he says. “It’s not debilitation. One year, I had to take Ibuprofen until it was 101º, and then I could leave, and that was for 300 miles.”

The Two Rivers musher was parked next to Jeff King in the Rainy Pass dog yard.

“I tried to get Jeff to come over and hug me, but he’s keeping his distance,” he said.

Moore says Dallas Seavey also has a cold.

“Me and Seavey gonna come jump him. Me and Dallas can hold him down,” he said. “Dallas was a wrestler.”

Joking aside, there are a handful of other mushers rumored to have what Moore refers to as ‘the crud.’ As for their sled dogs, mushers say some are dealing with sore wrists.

Out on the trail, a glaring midday sun was trying to burn off thick clouds. Lance Mackey’s team basked in the sun, as the four-time champion wrestled dog booties onto their feet.

“As usual, a couple of dogs with sore wrists for no apparent reasons,” Lance Mackey said. “We train all year, make it to this far and 50-mile run, they look like they’ve just done a Quest and an Iditarod or something.”

The team had just come off the Happy River Steps.

“I’ve been down the steps 14 times, it’s beautiful right now,” he said.

Mackey seemed surprised, but that may have had more to do with his little brother’s dog team than trail conditions. Jason Mackey was parked only a few feet away.

“There’s 10 of my veteran dogs right there I should be driving,” Jason Mackey said.

Had a reporter and a microphone not been present, the two might have hurled empty insults at one another — as brothers are wont to do. They did manage to find some humor in the rumors

Both Mackeys know they won’t really know what the trail is like until they actually get there. That’s how Cim Smyth feels too. A seasoned veteran, Smyth was among the majority of mushers who said so far the trail has been pretty good.

“The trail coming here was great,” Smyth said. “They worked on the trail pretty good and drug it pretty nice. I mean there’s a couple of spots. We bounced off a couple trees, but for this section of the trail, that’s nothing.”

Smyth was wrapping the front left wrist of his wheel dog, Smog.

“Well, he had earlier sore wrists, but it doesn’t seem to be sore anymore,” he said.

Smyth wanted to make sure it didn’t swell up. It seems Smyth’s main concern is not the gorge or the trail ahead, but what reported open water might do to his dogs’ paws.

“If they get real wet, then it’s a problem for continuing,” Smyth said. “You don’t really want to have booties on… if you can help it, but I’m not exactly sure where it is.”

But Smyth and the rest of the field will get there soon enough.

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