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Oldest musher in Iditarod quits, and Yukoner holds 2nd place as race continues

A musher reached an Iditarod milestone and was feted with prizes made from beaver and moose. The oldest musher in the race has called it quits.

Musher Paige Drobny took lead on Wednesday, followed by Yukoner Michelle Phillips

Linwood Fiedler mushes across Submarine Lake near Nikolai, Alaska, on Tuesday. Paige Drobny, a native of Pennsylvania living in Cantwell, Alaska, took the lead Wednesday in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She was the first musher to leave the checkpoint at Ophir, Alaska. (Loren Holmes/The Associated Press)

A musher reached an Iditarod milestone and was feted with prizes made from beaver and moose. The oldest musher in the race has called it quits. And a four-time champion finds himself in another cannabis controversy.

Paige Drobny, a native of Pennsylvania living in Cantwell, Alaska, took the lead Wednesday in the 1,609-kilometre Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. She was the first musher to leave the checkpoint at Ophir, Alaska.

Drobny left Ophir just six minutes ahead of the second-place musher, Michelle Phillips of Tagish, Yukon.

Fairbanks musher Jessie Royer had the lead late Tuesday, and was the first musher to reach the checkpoint in McGrath. For that milestone, she was given items that were handmade by McGrath residents, including musher's mitts made from beaver and black moose hide, adorned with Athabascan beadwork on smoked moose hide.

The mitts were designed and hand-stitched by Loretta Maillelle. Royer also received a musher's hat made from a beaver caught by Gary Egrass and designed and stitched by his wife, Rosalie.

Yukon musher Michelle Phillips, during the Yukon Quest sled dog race last month. She placed second in that race and was running in second place in the Iditarod on Wednesday. (Steve Silva/CBC)

The oldest musher in the race, 79-year-old retired pathologist Jim Lanier, withdrew from the race Tuesday evening at Rainy Pass over concerns for his own well-being, Iditarod officials said in a release.

Lanier initially was denied entry into this year's race, with officials citing concerns over his ability to care for his dog team.

Iditarod officials relented and said he could race if he qualified by competing in smaller races leading up to the Iditarod, which he did.

More than 1,000 people signed a petition urging the Iditarod to allow him to compete in a race for a sixth decade, he previously told The Associated Press. He ran his first race in 1979.

Lanier didn't race last year, but in the 2018 race, musher Scott Janssen came across Lanier late in the race and found he was stuck and starting to freeze.

Lanier has said that was exaggerated. He got caught by a big wind 64 kilometres from the end of the race and was blown out to the Bering Sea.

American musher Jim Lanier in the Yukon Quest last year. Lanier withdrew from the Iditarod Tuesday evening over concerns for his own well-being. (Crystal Schick/The Canadian Press)

"I wasn't anywhere near death, I just couldn't get myself and the team going," Lanier told the AP in August when he was initially denied entry.

Former champ gives dogs CBD oil

Four-time champion Lance Mackey of Fairbanks was racing in fifth place.

The Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday that Mackey is giving his dogs CBD oil, which he says improves their recovery time.

Mackey told the newspaper the race's head veterinarian, Stuart Nelson, asked him not to give CBD oil to his dogs, but Mackey declined because CBD oil is not among the list of banned substances in the Iditarod rule book.

Short for cannabidiol, CBD is a non-intoxicating molecule found in hemp and marijuana. Both are cannabis plants, but only marijuana has enough of the compound THC to get users high.

Four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion Lance Mackey is shown before the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Anchorage last weekend. The Anchorage Daily News reported Wednesday that Mackey is giving his dogs CBD oil. (Mark Thiessen/The Associated Press)

The market for CBD for pets has boomed, with some touting health benefits for treating seizures and pain management, but the federal government has yet to establish standards for CBD.

Mackey is a cancer survivor who acknowledged using medical marijuana during his four-year run of consecutive victories, starting in 2007. The Iditarod eventually banned marijuana use by mushers in 2010, which Mackey chalked up to other mushers being jealous of his string of championships. Mackey won his fourth championship in 2011, after the marijuana ban was instituted.

Ophir is 566 kilometres into the 1,609-kilometre race across Alaska. Lanier's withdrawal leaves 56 mushers in the race, with the winner expected in Nome sometime next week.

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