Eye on the Trail: Jason Mackey is Red Lantern Winner

Jason Mackey – 29th Place – Lynden Red Lantern Award (Photo: Iditarod Insider)

As the final musher to complete the 2023 race, Jason Mackey reached Nome at 17:03 on St. Patrick’s Day with five dogs in harness. Mackey completed the race in 12 days, 2 hours and 3 minutes earning 29th place.  He is the recipient of the Lynden “Committed  Through the Last Mile” Red Lantern Award.   In its second year as a sponsor, Lynden wishes to honor the final finisher for their perseverance and commitment to completing the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.  According to historians, awarding the red lantern to the final finisher has become an Alaska tradition in sled dog racing.

Jason Mackey Carried Red Lantern into Nome (Photo: Iditarod Insider)

As the Red Lantern winner, Mackey receives $1,000 and has the honor of extinguishing the Widow’s Lamp that hangs on the burled arch in Nome  The Widow’s Lamp dates back to when roadhouses were used along the supply trails of Alaska.  Extinguishing the lamp is a sign that no other mushers remain out on the trail. 

Jason Mackey Extinguishes the Widow’s Lamp (Photo: Iditarod Insider)

In 2015 when both Jason and Lance ran Iditarod, Jason was honored with the Musher’s Choice Award for setting his own race aside to help Lance after Lance’s hands become frostbitten.  Jason told Lance he’d help him with dog chores going down the trail as long as Lance would share his winning strategies.  The brothers arrived in Nome together to quite the welcome.  Jason ran again in 2017 before selling his team and traveling the lower 48 with his wife to get his life back on track.  He returned to Alaska and established a new kennel in Knik.  As he says, “Mack is back.”

Jason carried Lance’s ashes as well as their mother’s ashes on the trail.  He spread Lances ashes in places he knew Lance liked – outside of Skwentna, the top of Rainy Pass, on the river near Ophir and on the river near White Mountain.  Jason told Insider that stopping to spread ashes before heading down the Dalzell Gorge might not have been the best idea.  He was caught off guard by his emotions saying that the Dalzell is always hard but even harder when you have tears in your eyes.

When it comes to Murphy’s Law, it might as well be Mackey’s Law in mushing.  Early on his dogs got an intestinal bug.  As he was departing Eagle Island on the Yukon River, the winds kicked up and made the distance to Kaltag really nasty.  Mackey described the weather arriving in Shaktoolik as a whiteout blizzard – like starring at a white wall.  They sat for 14 hours before heading across to Koyuk facing into 35 mile an hour wind.  But like mushers do, they just kept going with the help of their dogs who possess a superior sense of smell and can feel the trail with their feet.

Mackey was most appreciative of the large crowd gathered to welcome him as the final musher.  The Mackey family has the distinction of being book ends for the Iditarod with championships in 1979, 1983, 2007, 2008, 2009 & 2010; now in 2023 the Red Lantern.  Jason told the crowd, Everyone who runs dogs and has competed in or completed the Iditarod is tougher than most.”  To that, the crowd put their hands together and erupted in cheers.

Mackey really appreciated fellow Knik mushers, Wade Marrs and Hunter Keefe coming out to Safety to cheer him on.   He said, “That was a real boost.”  When asked if Mack is back for more he replied, “Absolutely!”  To make the end of Iditarod even more special, Jason learned in the chute he was the grandfather to a baby girl born on March 16th.