Saturday, January 28, 2012

Volunteers fly, unload Quest drop bags in Eagle

A volunteer helps unload drop bags Friday in Eagle for the 2012 Yukon Quest. Eagle is the only checkpoint on the trail not accessible by road in the winter. Air Arctic donates the pilots, planes and fuel.

Volunteers unload drop bags Friday in Eagle for the 2012 Yukon Quest.

FAIRBANKS — Matt Atkinson and a handful of other employees of Air Arctic acted as a bucket brigade, scooping up dozens of frozen 2012 Yukon Quest food drop bags and loading them on a plane bound for Eagle.

“It’s just like hauling bags of corn, right?” joked Atkinson, marketing coordinator for Air Arctic.

Filled with everything from frozen fish to frozen socks and plastic sled runners, the bags were far from corn. They are essential for the 24 mushers signed up to race in this year’s Quest.

Two Piper Navajo Chieftain planes flew to remote Eagle on Friday, each carrying 1,200 pounds of drop bags, with some leftovers that will be shipped out in a third plane today.

Eagle, the last checkpoint on the Alaska side of the trail, also is the only checkpoint not accessible by driving. The Taylor Highway, the only road in and out of Eagle, is not maintained during the winter.

The drop was the third one to Eagle done by Air Arctic in as many years. Air Arctic donates the pilot, planes and fuel. Since the company focuses on charters, the trip to Eagle is a once-a-year event.

“For us, to do a couple planes is relatively small in the scope of things,” Atkinson said. “It’s sort of a bigger deal for us — everyone is all hands on deck to make it happen, but it’s fun.”

In Eagle, John Borg and a small crew waited for the planes to land. He, Ed Christiansen and a crew of locals helped load the bags into pickup trucks. From there they were transported to Borg’s yard, where they will be organized and kept until the Quest checkpoint is ready for their delivery.

They have some time. The race starts in downtown Fairbanks Feb. 4.

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