Alaska’s largest newspaper appears to have caught the state’s favorite musher – four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champ and beloved outlaw Lance Mackey – starting The Last Great Race the old-fashioned way – by hoisting a cold one.
The Anchorage Daily News (ADN) described the behavior as the fabled dog driver hydrating as he headed up the trail.
What he appears to be hydrating with is a can of TRULY Spiked & Sparkling, an alcoholic beverage produced by the Hard Seltzer Beverage Company, LLC, an affiliate of the Boston Beer Company.
The company describes the drink as “naturally gluten-free. Delicious, crisp and refreshing with a hint of natural juiciness and sweetness from California strawberries, raspberries and Marion blackberries,” and 5 percent alcohol by volume.
It is possible Mackey was drinking some other hydration beverage that starts with the letters TRU and has graphics just like those of TRULY, but an internet search could find no such product.
(Craigmedred.news was directed to the photo by a liquor store clerk.)
Drinking used to be something of a tradition during Iditarod. When ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports covered the race in the late 1980s, there was a “hospitality tent” at Rohn in the heart of the Alaska Range with a bar.
During that era, the late Jerry Austin, a popular musher from St. Michael on the Bering Sea Coast, used to regularly pass a bottle around the Finger Lake checkpoint then centered around the cabin of Gene Leonard, a one-time Iditarod musher.
A successful businessman and hunting guide for decades, Austin arrived in the Bering Sea coastal village as a well-intentioned VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) volunteer in the 1970s. He married a local woman and stayed.
He owned the alcohol for decades before it owned him, and he drank himself to death. He was a friend of the author and a friend of almost everyone on the Iditarod Trail for a long time.
Views on alcohol use in Alaska have shifted significantly since the start of the new century. Advocacy groups concerned about Alaska drinking habits in 2014 financed a series of stories in the ADN that tagged Alaska as the “State of Intoxication.”
The Iditarod tightened down on alcohol use along the trail as Alaska views on drinking shifted. Mushers dropping by Mcguires Tavern in McGrath, a tiny Interior city, to celebrate crossing the Alaska Range came to an end.
But the Iditarod did not ban drinking.
What the rule now says is this: “Alcohol or drug impairment, the use of prohibited drugs by mushers, and positive results on drug or alcohol tests administered during a race are each prohibited.”
Iditarod rules define alcohol impairment as a .04 percent blood alcohol concentration(BAC). That’s half the limit for drunk driving. Moderation Management, a website that advises on alcohol impairment, suggests that it would take at least two 10 to 12 ounce beers of 4 to 5 percent alcohol to boost the BAC of someone as lean as Mackey close to .04.
Race officials have the authority to test mushers “whenever a race official reasonably suspects that the musher is under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” the rules say.
“Breathalyzer testing will be used to detect alcohol impairment which is defined as a .04 percent BAC. Discipline may be imposed immediately by the Race Marshal in the event of a finding of alcohol impairment.”
There were no reports of Mackey being impaired.
Where Iditarod keeps its breathalyzer during the race has never been disclosed. Known as a party animal, Mackey was arrested for driving under the influence in Fairbanks in 2013. The musher has a rather lengthy history with the Alaska court system, but most of the problems have involved petty crimes and marijuana not alcohol.
The Iditarod banned marijuana in 2009 because some mushers thought Mackey’s use of the drug was giving him a performance advantage. Mackey had at the time won three races in row, and there were some studies suggesting that regular marijuana users might function better than non-users when sleep deprived.
Being able to function well after days with but hours of sleep might be the most important factor separating Iditarod winners from the also-rans. Mackey told Fairbanks News-Miner reporter Matias Saari at the time that the drug “helps me stay awake and focus on what I’m doing,” but the musher voiced his opinion it was not a performance enhancer.
Mackey argued other mushers wanted it banned solely to handicap him in the 2010 race. Though Mackey had a medical marijuana prescription to deal with lingering pains from a battle with jaw cancer and might have qualified for a rule exemption to continue using the drug, he promptly went out and won the 2010 Iditarod drug-free to show the competition.
It was his last Iditarod victory.
Mackey has struggled ever since. He was running 48th of the 52 teams at 10 p.m. Sunday as his team left the Yentna checkpoint 50 miles into the race.
Despite those problems, Iditarod cleared him to race this year. Mackey has hinted this might be his last race. He has struggled since that 2010 victory. He suffered significant frostbite along the trail.
Given the long, difficult road he has been down, he might have had good reasons to celebrate with a cold one, and the photo can only add to his legend as an Iditarod outlaw.