Lance Mackey is truly the gem of Fairbanks, Alaska. Not just for being a champion, but for his determination and perseverance, his humble attitude and true love for his dogs (or as he calls them, his team mates) and for his welcoming approach to travelers like you and I looking for the Alaskan dog sledding experience with a BONUS inspirational story of overcoming the battle of cancer to leave you in awe and proving passion trumps predicament!
When we first arrive at Lance Mackey and his Puppy Playground abode, you get the sense of what life would be like if your Mum said ‘yes’ every time you asked for a new puppy. My idea of heaven – being surrounded by 60+ cute pups all competing for some love and cuddles with a ton of energy to boot!
Lance has his morning cuppa joe and a welcoming vibe, we have puppies at our heels and an excitement for what the day holds – but even though I dressed in what I thought resembled a pass-the-parcel package of layered clothing, we still had to go inside to put on some suspender puff-pants, heavy coats and bunny boots!
It also gave us a great opportunity to gaze at all of the awards across the wall, engraved with “Lance Mackey Champion” for extremely hard treks like the Iditarod and Yukon Quest as well as a large movie poster hanging on the wall titled “The Great Alone” – a documentary on the Lance Mackey story, on his life, his struggles even before cancer, his determination and love for his animals, his successes, his opinions and ideas and really, his journey. It was an amazing watch, especially after meeting him and truly seeing how far he has come in life and who he has grown to be, very inspiring!
After we were all bundled up it was time to pick the pup team and get them all harnessed up and ready for a sled! Lance warns us “It’s about to get LOUD!” All of sudden a roar of puppy pleading and bellowing barking can be heard across the kennels almost like the dogs all saying in unison “Please pick me, pick me, I want to go for a run, pick me, pick me!” luckily the Lance Mackey kennels never has a drought and all the dogs get a fair turn every day with plenty of Alaskan backyard for leg room.
I have a brief instruction of what to do holding on to the back of sled and my emergency stop breaks are jumping on the leather flap dragging between the two back legs of the sled I stand on with either foot. The trails are smooth and easy and we marvel at the dogs obedience to commands like “Haw” for turn left and “Gee” for right. The three house dogs of the Lance Mackey house free run next to the dogs keeping them in line and enjoying the great open air just like the rest of us.
At the halfway point I switch with RJ and jump on back of the ATV with Lance which is currently pulling the sled along with the dogs as there isn’t quite enough deep snow yet, but when I ask Lance how much the ATV is working he replies with “It’s not even in gear, in fact, when the dogs get too fast I have to pump the breaks a little.” Wowzers….I know there’s horse power, but what about a team of 12 dogs?
I grill Lance on a hundred and one questions of his dog sledding life, the dogs, his races, his preparation and he chooses to tell me on his own about his journey with cancer, explaining “Most people don’t know I had a lot of my success after cancer.” Which I found true after watching his documentary, winning his first Iditarod in 2007 and then going on to do what no other musher has ever done or probably will ever do and won again the next THREE years being the only dog sledder to have four consecutive wins across this near 1200 mile race! He is also a four time winner of the 1000 mile Yukon Quest among many many other races and competitions as well – it’s safe to say, this isn’t just a sport for Lance Mackey, this is a lifestyle!
Not only did I leave the Lance Mackey kennels with a world of knowledge on dog sledding, fresh wind on my face and beautiful photographic memories of the Alaskan landscape we passed by, but the complete feeling of being inspired, being motivated, knowing ‘No, you can’t.” isn’t actually a thing that exists if you don’t want it to, knowing you can live each day trusting in whatever happens and not holding back an inch of yourself from the daring and exciting world of adventures waiting on your whisper to just say “YES!”
For more info and to book your Dog Sledding tour in Fairbanks, Alaska visit – www.lancemackey.com