Checkpoint Checkup: Ophir to Iditarod

“When you have completed 95 percent of your journey, you are only halfway there.” – Japanese Proverb

Lance Mackey signing up for the 2015 Iditarod

Lance Mackey signing up for the 2015 Iditarod


We left Charley Bejna behind in Ophir, and we are picking up our journey with Lance Mackey. This 90 mile trek will take Lance between 12-18 hours to complete. In fact, in 2013 it took him 14 hours and 51 minutes. Included in this journey, Lance will most likely take a long rest somewhere along the way.

Desolate. This is the word Lance used to describe the trail between Ophir and Iditarod. He stated the hardest part of this portion of the trail is the isolation and lack of local traffic. With no local traffic the trail is quite soft and slow going, hence a 12-18 hour-long run. After running along the Innoko River, Lance and his dogs will climb up about 800 feet through the Beaver Mountain Pass. From here, he will be about 20 miles from Don’s Cabin. Don’s Cabin is a place many mushers will stop for a break. It’s not much, but it does have a stove.

After the Beaver Mountain Pass, Lance will descend back to the Beaver Flats. Lance mentioned there is no tree cover along the trail and it is usually pretty cold. After a lengthy amount of time Lance will come upon Don’s Cabin, otherwise known as a plywood shack. There are still 54 miles of lonely, rolling hills until Iditarod. (Pictures courtesy of Kim Slade, 2007 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™)

Iditarod is virtually a ghost town. Back in 1910, though, the population was approximately 10,000 people. When gold was discovered in 1908, Iditarod became a gold-mining boomtown. No longer a large, bustling mining town, Iditarod is merely a checkpoint every other year. There are a few cabins still left standing in this ghost town, but it is still very isolated and quiet. When Lance and his dogs arrive, he is able to get water via a hole in the ice or melting snow. Not as luxurious as some of the checkpoints that have the accommodations to provide mushers with hot water. If Lance is hungry, he must fend for himself. He knows this, so he will be prepared. The tremendous volunteers and veterinarians are very loyal to the Iditarod checkpoint. Many of the volunteers have been manning this checkpoint for more than 20 years. Lance mentioned a volunteer by the name of Jasper as one of those wonderful long time volunteers. (Pictures courtesy of Kim Slade, 2007 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™)

During odd-numbered years Iditarod is the official halfway point in the race. In even-numbered years, when the trail heads north, the halfway point is Cripple. There is a northern and southern route to involve more villages in Alaska. The first musher to arrive in Iditarod receives the GCI Dorothy Page Halfway Award. In 2013, Lance Mackey was the first to Iditarod and received the award of a trophy and $3000 in gold nuggets. Check out this video of Lance receiving the award.

After receiving the award in 2013, Lance decided to take his 24-hour mandatory stop in Iditarod. Iditarod is one of Lance’s favorite checkpoints on the trail. He appreciates the checkpoint because of its peaceful atmosphere, the old, dilapidated buildings, and the overall history of the town. After 26 hours and 4 minutes (including differential), Lance and his dogs were on on their way to Shageluk.

511 miles to Nome! Next stop, Shageluk.

To read more about the journey to Iditarod read Virtual Trail Journey or Don Bowers Trail Notes

Questions for the classroom

1. Define the word desolate.

2. Write a journal entry describing a place that you have been that is desolate. Be specific and make your readers feel like they are actually there, too.

3. How many years has Lance Mackey run the Iditarod? Finished the Iditarod?

4. How many years has Lance Mackey won the Iditarod? Placed in the top 10?

5. Lance has won several awards besides the GCI Dorothy Page Halfway Award. Look in his career summary and find out what other awards he has won.

6.  How many years has there been a Mackey in the Iditarod?