Kasilof musher Lance Mackey crosses the finish line with a team of huskies securing his first-place victory during the Sheep Mountain 150 Sled Dog Race on Sunday afternoon.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
A small group of area mushers showed the competition how they do things down on the Kenai Peninsula, as the five Kasilof-based dog drivers all finished in the Top 10 in a field of 34 during the inaugural Sheep Mountain 150 Sled Dog race held this past weekend.
The race, split into three 50-mile sections with a five hours mandatory rest between each section, ran through the already rugged Talkeetna mountains between Chickaloon and Glennallen and was made even more challenging by heavy snow accumulations leading up to the start of the race.
However, neither the terrain, nor the weather was enough to hamper Kasilof musher Lance Mackey's performance, who with a final race time of 24 hours, 38 minutes, secured victory by finishing close to an hour ahead of his closest competitor.
"All my hard work paid off ... finally," Mackey said.
He said he drove up to Sheep Mountain the week before the race to train on the course but also had spent several weeks leading up to the race training in the Caribou Hills.
"I had trained in the hills to get ready, but these were more than hills, these were mountains," Mackey said referring to several sections of trail that climbed high peaks up to 6,441 feet.
Mackey's said he was proud of his 12-dog team, guided by lead dog Reba, which appeared happy and healthy to him as they crossed the finish line still pulling, yapping and playfully rolling on their backs in the snow.
"It's always good to win a race, but winning the first year of a race is even better because you set the time to beat," Mackey said.
In fact, his biggest complaint from the competition was that he lost a new "ZZ Top's Greatest Hits" CD while trying to change disks while traversing Belanger Pass, a section of trail that leads between 5,362-foot Alfred Peak and 3,990-foot Squaw Peak.
"I just bought it on the way up here," he said.
Mackey had a lot to be happy about, though, since in addition to his own victory, the second-place finisher was Mackey's second team in the race, run by his handler Jason Young.
However, unlike Mackey who finished far out in front of the pack, Young was running neck and neck with Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, musher Gerry Willomitzer right up to the finish line.
"I was 50 yards behind him for three hours. We were both kicking like mad men the whole time," Young said referring to the technique of using one leg to push off the ground, which helps to move a dog team faster.
Young said at one point he yelled, "I'll stop kicking if you will" to the Canadian musher, so they could both catch their breath, but when Willomitzer wouldn't concede, Young said he was forced to step it up another notch.
"I just kicked even harder and four miles from the finish I finally passed him," Young said. He crossed the line 45 seconds in front of Willomitzer.
Between Mackey's position, which paid $1,800, and Young's position, which paid $1,350, the two mushers secured $3,150 for Mackey's Comeback Kennels.
Willomitzer took home $900 for his finish.
Paul Gebhardt of Kasilof finished fourth and said he was happy with his team's performance, despite not receiving a cash payout.
"Just outside the money. That's the story of my life," Gebhardt said jokingly, eliciting chuckles from the crowd waiting for him at the finish.
The two other Kasilof mushers to finish in the Top 10 included seventh-place finisher Colleen Robertia, who ran dogs for Dean Osmar's Cook Inlet Kennels, and 10th-place finisher Jason Mackey, who handles for Gebhardt and ran his second team in the race.
"They all had a strong showing. They've got a lot to be proud of," said race organizer Zack Steer in regard to the Kasilof mushers' performance.
As to the Sheep Mountain 150, Steer said he thought the race was a success.
"It ran really smooth, the mushers and their dogs performed well, and I think everyone had a great time. I know I did. I hope to make this an annual event," he said.
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