‘I just knew I was taking him to Nome’: Jason Mackey mushes with Lance Mackey’s ashes

a man in a red jackegt
Jason Mackey looks over his team during their 24-hour break at the checkpoint in McGrath on March 8, 2023. (Ben Matheson/Alaska Public Media)

Iditarod musher Jason Mackey is carrying the ashes of his brother Lance Mackey, who died in September

“I just knew I was taking him to Nome,” said Jason Mackey. “No questions asked.”

Lance is the honorary musher of the race as the four-time champion who helped grow the sport and inspired people with his story of facing the hardships of cancer and addiction.

As he mushes to Nome, Jason Mackey said he has been thinking a lot about a conversation with Lance on Father’s Day when Lance knew he was sick again. 

“He shook my hand, gave me a hug and said, ‘It’s your turn.’ I don’t really know what he meant by that, but after giving it a lot of thought, I don’t think he meant that he thought that it was my turn to win, I think, more than anything, he just believes in me,” he said.

Lance Mackey at the 2020 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race ceremonial start. (Joey Mendolia/Alaska Public Media)

Jason Mackey is keeping Lance’s ashes in a secure bag in his sled next to his trail mail and mandatory gear. He spread some ashes at Rainy Pass early in the race. 

“I was at the elevation monument at the top of the gorge when I did it. Of course it was an emotional thing while I’ve got 14 crazy screaming dogs in front of me, and on we went,” said Mackey. “Of course I was crying, and then onto a luge ride.“

Mackey was considering spreading more ashes around Ophir, and again at the end. 

“I think maybe I might wait until I get to Nome when the race is over, and I can then, ‘cause it’s not easy,” he said. “It’s not easy.”

He said it’s not a ceremonial run for Lance. But he knows that the trail was home for his brother. 

“A guy can only be so tough. I’m pretty damn tough,” he said. “But when you’re talking about your brother, or a loved one, and having to let go of them in the situation I’m having to, I don’t have to, no one is forcing me to, but that’s where he loved to be more than anywhere.”

Mackey said he feels that Lance has been with him, since before and after he died. And his dogs are now part of the team. Four of the dogs Mackey is running with came from Lance’s kennel and are now halfway to Nome.

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Ben Matheson is covering the 2023 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at mathesonben@gmail.com.

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