Once we got out of Nome there wasn't much to see but an occasional dog or a snow covered cabin. Soon the wind got stronger and it began to snow harder. It wasn't long before I could not tell the ground from the sky. Everything was just WHITE.
It is tricky, travelling fast through the snow when you cannot tell land from sky. I was not as good at reading the terrain as my companions. Suddenly, my snow machine was airborne. My legs flew our from under me, my one hand slipped off the brake, the other hand grabbed for something to hold on to- and tightened on the throttle. The snow machine hit the ground hard and lurched ahead. "Serious!" said a voice in my head, "Get yourself together!" I got a leg back on the side board. "Stay cool." I lightened up on the gas and got my other hand on the brake. The machine was under control again. Whoah, THAT was crazy.
But it was kind of fun, too.
The ride to Solomon held a few more tricks and surprises, but after about an hour we arrived at our destination. There, right in front of me stood the Solomon Roadhouse- one of the places that the characters in my book had visited. I'd read about it, imagined it and now here I was. It looked like the door was open. Maybe I could go inside....
My companions didn't seem interested in the old place. They stood by the snow machines and talked. I walked over to the roadhouse. I stuck my head in the door, looked right, looked left, lifted my foot, climbed the drift and went inside.
There was all kinds of stuff inside. Mattresses, paint cans, furniture and boxes. Nothing had been vandalized.
There was a homemade stove for heat and it was still in pretty good condition.
It was plenty spooky in there. I walked through all the rooms downstairs, expecting something to happen at any minute. Then, behind an old style washing machine and a bunch of junk, I saw a stairwell going upstairs. I walked over and stopped short as I saw the way was blocked by a cross, a gravemarker. Why was that here? Dare I cross it?
Sure, I thought, why not- and I started carefully up the stairs.....WHAM! Something blew by me and made a loud noise. I didn't see anything- but something went by me. Now, there's some things you just don't mess with. It could have been something, could have been nothing. But at that point I wasn't interested in finding out the hard way. I eased my way back downstairs, tightened the fastenings on my gloves and left by the back door. When I rejoined the group they asked me if I'd seen anything interesting inside. "Well," I said,"I didn't SEE anything....."
I'll never know what happened upstairs in the Solomon Roadhouse, but it will be a long time before I lose the feeling of my visit there.
We drove hard and fast back to Nome. When I finally got inside the house, I was bushed. All the airplane travel, the school talks, the cold air and the adventure at the Roadhouse finally caught up to me. I sat in a chair waiting for all the bright flecks in front of my eyes to fade. "Company tonight," Mary announced.
By dinner time I was exhausted, but I had to stay awake- the guests who came to dinner were going to tell stories.
"So where are you off to next?" One guy asked me.
"Unalakleet, Koyuk, Elim and Golovin," I answered.
He quickly gave me the lowdown- "Unalakleet, real windy. It'll drive ya nuts. I wouldn't go to Koyuk if I lost a bet. Elim's so-so, don't drink the water or you'll have the skitters for a month, heh-heh." I can't even print what he said about Golovin.
"Oh, don't listen to him," someone said, "He's just tryin' to make you nervous." I hoped so.
"Do you know you can only carry 40 lbs. on the plane?" a woman said. No, I didn't. Good thing she said something.
In the morning I spoke at the Nome Elementary School (Hi, Chris!). Afterwards I returned to Mary's and cut my luggage down to 40 lbs. I took as much bottled water as I could, not wanting to have the skitters for a month, but I couldn't take as much as I wanted- all the winter gear created a lot of weight. I got a ride to the airport on time, but then sat and waited. And waited. Finally the other passenger arrived. We boarded the small plane and as we did I noticed a sign on the cabin door. I was hoping that today we would heed the instructions.
I waved good-bye to Nome below. I sat back and relaxed. Unalakleet was next. The pilot reached down into a giant plastic barrel of pretzels.
"You comfortable?" he asked.
"Yeah," I answered. But there wasn't much that I could do about it if I wasn't.
Then everything went sideways. The pilot and I both hit our heads on the ceiling. The wings dipped to the left and I thought we were going to roll over- but the pilot quickly brought us under control.
"You all right?" the pilot called. "Yup," I said, rubbing my head. He grabbed a handful of pretzels and wolfed them down. "Grffuttood," which, I think, meant 'Good'.
The plane ride from Nome to Unalakleet was longer than I thought it would be. When we finally got on the ground I went into the small airport building and called Marty, who was going to put me up for the night. A few minutes later a Native American man showed up with a pickup truck. He did not ask me if I was the person going to Marty's- I guess he didn't have to, I was the only stranger in town. He grabbed my gear and tossed it into the snow filled bed of the truck and we took off.
Marty was waiting for me at the apartment. "Hi," she said, "I'm sorry but I have to go back to work. Everybody here is friendly, if you want to walk around. If not, feel free to make some tea, but only use the water in the container- I double filtered it. The town pump froze and now the water is coming up from the creek. 'bye." I was on my own. The wind whistled around the windows. I looked outside. It was getting dark. I was still all bundled up, so I decided to take a walk outside.
Immediately the wind pounded at me. It howled around the buildings. It screamed by the telephone poles. It roared off the frozen water. Wind, wind, wind, constant. Absolutely constant.
Snow obscured everything. It had drifted over trucks, even buildings. Snow- blown everywhere by the never ending wind. And cold- cold so cold that my lungs hurt.
A man rode by on a snow machine. I waved. He did not wave back. "But Marty said everybody was friendly," I thought to myself.
Back inside, I stowed my gear. I decided to wash up. Uh-oh, there was no running water. I sat on the couch and made notes in my sketchbook until, after an hour or so, Marty came back. "There's no water," she said, "Two of the town's three pumps have failed. We've been having problems since mid-December- you see, there'd been very little snow and the temperature went down to -35 below zero. Then the town's power went out- just for half an hour- and without enough snow on the ground to insulate them, the water lines all froze. We've had problems ever since. They say we'll have water back tonight, though." Outside the wind still howled. It was spooky- it screeched at the windows like it was desperate to get inside. If it wants to, it will. I looked out the window. There was a dog, jumping up and down. Playing. The wind didn't seem to bother it at all.