For the book TOGO, I returned to Alaska, this time to the bush country. I kept track of the experience in my journals and I will be sharing that will you in this space.
It all begins now, on the train ride home from New York. My editor has just agreed that Togo's story will make a good book. As I am riding home, I look out the window at people getting off the train. They seem so unexcited. I am glad that I have an exciting job.
In 1925, my main character Togo was part of a relay that carried a life saving serum to Nome. He ran over 350 miles and then the serum was put on other sleds to bring the it into the city. Togo's team ran far more than any other relay team, 350 miles. In fact, many say that he ran so hard that he wasn't able to run ever again. But a dog named Balto got all the credit because he was the lead dog of the final relay team- a team that only carried the serum 53 miles- but the team that actually came into Nome with it. I wonder if anyone else on the train knows about Togo?
I'll guess that nobody else on this train has a sketchbook. And not a one of them is thinking about their trip to Alaska to research a book. Oh yeah, the book....it will not be as easy as it sounds. Who was Togo? What will I say about him?
I'll stop writing now, it's difficult to
on a moving train.
Packing is annoying. I'll need a list:
...what else do you think I will need? I will be staying overnight at people's homes, also sometimes in schools...even in clasrooms...sleeping on the floor sometimes. Will the schools be spooky at night?
List: BRING FLASHLIGHT.
At Newark Airport it is very hot. Cell phones are ringing, babies are crying, people are sleeping across seats and someone is dribbling a basketball. Our plane will be late and that's making the other travelers cranky. I won't get crabby, I'll just draw. Time always goes fast when I draw. And sure enough, we're boarding the plane before I can finish the drawing.
Boarding the plane, I kept going back, back, baaaack. Oh no- the very last seat on the plane. The guy in the first seat looks unfriendly. He IS unfriendly. He sighs, doesn't want to let me in! I push by his knees, he says, "Sheesh!" and I sit down. He asks for a blanket and puts it over his head.
I am in Seattle now, and that grouchy guy has flown for six hours with a blanket over his head. THAT'S worth putting in a sketchbook.
It takes a very long time to fly from New Jersey to Alaska. I spent most of my time working on sketches for my new story. I tried to imagine the places I was going to- Nome, Solomon, Unalakleet, Koyuk, Golovin. What would they look like? What would the people be like?
Finally, after, oh I don't know, twelve hours? Fifteen hours? Too many hours... I saw the lights of a big city down below. Anchorage! At last.
My friend Mary and her husband were nice enough to let me stay at their house that night. I sure needed some sleep! The next morning I spoke at the Chugach School in Anchorage. What a cool school! They have real stuffed birds in their library and terrariums and skulls. Everybody was really friendly, too. I drew this picture in my sketchbook while I was sitting in their library.
After school, it was time for me to fly to Nome. Imagine- Nome Alaska.
I secretly tried to draw some of the interesting characters that were getting on the plane.
In Nome, I stayed at another house owned by a different friend named Mary and her husband. They have a store downstairs that has books and stuff, and you can even get a soda, if you want. But what's really interesting is that upstairs, where they live, they have Wyatt Earp's favorite barber chair. It's just sitting there- right in their living room! I had to draw THAT (I had to sit in it, too).
Outside the second floor window was Nome's main street. There were only a few cars. Most people travelled around on snow machines. Hanging over the snow covered street were lots of colored lights. Someone told me that there's very few trees around here. So the people get their Christmas trees from other parts of the state. After Christmas is over, they gather all the old Christmas trees together and stick them in the ice on the Bering Sea. Then they put up a sign that says NOME NATIONAL FOREST.
People have been telling me a lot of stories up here. Some I believe, some...hmmm...
The next day, I was talking to a group of people. A person told me that one of the city officials wants to put a dome over Nome, so it would be easier to study. But, I wondered, wouldn't that change the temperature and make what they are studying different? We all sat around imagining what that would be like. How would people and cars and snow machines get in and out?
One guy asked me where I was going while researching my book. I told him- Solomon,Unalakleet, Koyuk, Elim and Golovin. He told me scary stories about each place and said not to eat any of the food or drink any of the water. And to sleep with one eye open. Oh, great.
Here's a drawing of the old burled arch that the Iditarod mushers used to go under at the finish of the race. They've got a new one now because this old one got broken. And how that happened is a whole 'nother story, of which I heard three different versions......but I will admit, I like hearing stories......
A new friend offered to take me out to the village of Solomon. He said that he thought it might be a ghost town now, but that it was only about an hour by snow machine. "But I've never driven a snow machine," I told him. "No problem," he said. We went over to his friend's house, met up with other friends and before I knew it I was easing out the throttle on my snow machine. We stopped at a store to pick up a little food and some drinks for the ride to Solomon. "Just in case........" he said.
I must admit it was a lot of fun driving along the streets of Nome on a snow machine. It didn't take us long to get out of town. And then my companions really took off.