DayGlo Jell O and girlfriends

Cheese pizza and lime Jell-O aren't such a bad combination. The kids at Eagle school dreamed up the menu during a student council meeting. And on Friday night it was served up on paper plates. While Quest of...

EAGLE, Alaska

Cheese pizza and lime Jell-O aren’t such a bad combination.

The kids at Eagle school dreamed up the menu during a student council meeting. And on Friday night it was served up on paper plates.

While Quest officials, film crews, vets and the visiting customs officer ate, the school’s principal started a singalong with young guys on guitar and some locals joining in on flute and fiddle.

Dinner cost $10.

The money is going to help “send Clint to Washington to meet the president,” said Grade 9 student Brian Simpson, who was collecting for the dinners.

But Clint McElfresh isn’t sure he wants to meet President Barack Obama.

“I’m a Republican,” said the Grade 12 student.

“I have been my whole life.”

McElfresh supports the party because “they lower taxes,” he said. “And they don’t try to take away our guns.”

The dinners during the Quest are a fundraiser for student council, said Grade 8 student Eva House.

And it’s fun “because we get to meet all these different people who do different things, like work with dogs.”

Some years the money is used to attend student government meetings, said Grade 8 student Monica Paul.

“Usually we go to Fairbanks, Tok, or Juneau,” added her classmate Tiffany Helmer.

There are only 24 kids and teachers at the school, making up two classes, Kindergarten through Grade 5, and Grade 6 through 12.

“It’s usually really quiet here (in Eagle) and now there’s all this commotion,” added Helmer.

A five-minute walk away, the old Eagle schoolhouse is bustling.

Local kids are trying to burn green sticks in the bonfire, checkers are waiting for teams and making sure mushers get their wake-up calls and volunteers are stocking up the fridge and food table.

The checkpoint runs smoothly, thanks to Scarlett Hall.

The wife of Quest veteran Wayne Hall, Scarlett has run the checkpoint for more years than she can remember.

But this year, on the road handling for her husband, Scarlett left it up to her volunteers.

“She put her trust in us and we pulled it together,” said checker Kate Rorke.

And when she’s not here, what Scarlett doesn’t know won’t hurt her.

Rorke refused to wear the fluorescent yellow checker vests Scarlett had for the checkers.

“I won’t wear Day Glo,” she said with a laugh.

When Scarlett finally made it in from Dawson, Rorke still wasn’t wearing her vest.

“As soon as she leaves we can take these things of,” said checker Slana Waller with a grin.

“We start gearing up a couple of months ahead,” said Scarlett.

The power and phone need to be hooked up in the schoolhouse and the food is prepared.

The Quest sends in some of the meat, and locals do the cooking, said Scarlett.

“We try to cook it and freeze it in advance in case a cold snap comes through,” she said.

Last year, cold weather jeopardized the pancakes.

The cooks ran out of propane and it was too cold to get any more delivered or pumped.

At the last minute it warmed up and the flapjacks got there in time for the mushers, she said.

Finding checkers and cooks is pretty easy, said Scarlett.

“In Eagle, in the winter, this is one of the exciting things that brings all the volunteers out.”

Even the owners of the Eagle Trading Co. come back from Arizona to open their hotel and store for the race.

“We’ve been doing that since it started,” said owner Dennis Layman.

It actually doesn’t make the business any money.

“What with the heat and the laundry, we just try to break even,” he said.

“You get to see faces you haven’t had to look at all winter,” said Waller, who’s been a checker since the race began.

“Usually you can come in here and shoot a gun off and never hit anyone,” added Rorke.

“But what’s great is the town comes alive.”

The preparations get easier every year because everyone knows what they have to do, she said.

“The day we set up everyone showed up at two o’clock, and the kids came over from the school – the place was crawling, like bees to honey.”

An hour later, the checkpoint was ready.

But with the jumble ice filling the river in front of town, the volunteers had more work cut out for them.

“They got together and pounded the first crossing using axes and chainsaws,” said Scarlett.

“Then they used mauls to pound the ice to get it flat enough to travel on.”

The straw, fuel and trail markers arrive in the remote community in the fall, before the road closes, she said.

Inside the old schoolhouse, big oil drums lined with clear plastic bags hold water for the mushers.

It’s pumped from the community’s well and brought over by truck or snowmachine in five to 113 litre containers.

“We try to have it room temperature,” said Scarlett.

In the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, Scarlett’s son Matt was just finishing his shift as a checker.

Kids in Eagle are more responsible at an early age, said Scarlett, who has plenty of young checkers lined up.

“It’s neat to help with the races,” said checker Nathan Helmer, who’s 12.

“It’s cool when they check in and you write their name down, then you see them finish,” added 13-year-old checker Emma Westphal.

“My son’s 17 and he’s been working on the trapline with Wayne as a partner for years, and now he’s running tours for us,” said Scarlett.

The Halls take tourists from all over the world on week trips with their dogs.

Although he’s happy in Eagle, there are some drawbacks.

“I’m at the age where I’d like to have a girlfriend,” said Matt.

“And that’s hard in such a small community.”

Eagle has a winter population of less than 200.

“How many girls are even our age?” he said, turning to a friend at the fire.

Helping out at the checkpoint is something to do in the winter, he said.

“It brings people together – just about everybody in Eagle does something.”

Matt hasn’t decided if he’ll follow in his father’s footsteps and run the Quest.

“I’m encouraged to try some racing, but I’m not interested in doing it for days on end,” he said.

And Matt doesn’t like “what you have to do to the dogs to get a competitive team.”“They have coats that don’t keep them warm and feet you have to tend to, compared to the (trapline) dogs I grew up with,” he said.

“To make faster dogs you have to throw so many different types in there, you’re ruining the breed.

“And you end up with dogs that frostbite their ears and bellies.”

Wayne got big hug from his son when he arrived in Eagle on Saturday night.

He had one of his big, fluffy trapline dogs in lead.

“I’m having no problems besides trying to stay awake,” he said.

Wayne is happy with the smaller race dogs he got from a William Kleedehn breeding, despite his son’s concerns.

“His team’s so fast, maybe I need more Kleedehn dogs,” he said. “But I’d have to talk Scarlett into it first.”

The Quest trail runs right past the Halls cabin on the way out of Eagle, which will be tough on his team.

“They’re going to be bummed,” he said.

Just a couple days after the Quest, Wayne is guiding a six-week dog sled trip to Herschel Island.

“Were taking the hard route,” he said.

And he plans to use his tried and tested trapline teams -“not these little mutts that run fast but can’t break trail in the snow,” he said.

Wayne left Eagle in 15th place, early Sunday morning.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

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