MORNING- DARK- BEFORE SUNRISE-VILLAGE SILENT
I did not sleep at all. I could feel my story in my bones all night, but I couldn't nail it down, couldn't put my finger on it.
Just who was this dog? The room was hot, the floor was cold, I was hungry, I was thirsty...I just couldn't settle down.
What was this dog like, inside? I know he was small and that when he was a puppy he was sickly. Yet inside, something drove him. It didn't matter to him that people didn't think he would ever be big enough, strong enough, smart enough- that, in other's eyes, he would NEVER be good enough. It didn't matter, he didn't hear that.
I gave up trying to sleep. Began walking around the room. What a determined dog he was- why, when Togo was a puppy, Seppala gave him away to some lady- to have for a pet! Imagine, Togo as a house pet! He broke right through her parlor window and ran right back to Seppala's! He was having none of that PET business.
I continued walking around in circles... Three thoughts kept coming to mind-
*THEY THOUGHT HE'D NEVER BE GOOD ENOUGH,
*TOGO KNEW WHO HE WAS INSIDE OF HIMSELF and
*TOGO DID MOST OF THE WORK ON THE SERUM RUN AND ANOTHER DOG GOT ALL THE CREDIT.
So what do I do with that? Life's never fair, I guess. Yet, Togo didn't care. He just did what he needed to do.
OUTSIDE- PRESENT TIME
The idea wasn't coming to me, being inside. I had the feeling, but not the way to express it. I had to come out here, out in the cold and wind and snow.
Outside now, the village is ghostly quiet. I've walked out through the deep snow and made my way past the hulking building that is Dexter's Roadhouse. It stands, big and boarded up. This is the site where Togo and Seppala finished their part of the serum run- 350 miles in the worst weather imaginable. Beyond exhausted, Togo was so spent that he would never be able to race again. Here, it was right here, where I am standing. It is eerie, like that Dexter roadhouse holds all the knowledge- they say that everything is perfectly intact inside- I can imagine it. I can see the old player piano, the tables, I can almost see the warm lamplight- everyone edgy, waiting for the next relay team- Seppala and Togo.
OUTSIDE- PRESENT TIME
They'd be coming from that way- from the East. You wouldn't hear them coming- what with the wind howling. Around the roadhouse the dogs would stir first, the men would notice, they'd move to the windows, throw on heavy coats, hurry outside. Suddenly Togo would rush up over the snowbank, the team tethered behind, one set of dogs, the next set and the next and the next. Seppala, hands frozen to the sled. Some men run to Seppala, others immediately to the serum. Canvas cover ripped open, hands grab the box, run the serum to the next sled, tuck it in, fasten it down, the next musher darkly steps onto the sled runners. The musher takes off. It takes seconds. Seppala's form folds over the sled's handle and the team collapses.
Togo takes a few steps, determined to keep going. He limps after the other team, head up, watching the other team continue the journey, his journey. Then he stops. He stands, nothing on him moves except his eyes, blinking behind icy lids. Watching, following, even though the relay team is long out of sight.
OUTSIDE- PRESENT TIME
Yes, they'd come from the East, over there, I see the markers of the modern Iditarod Trail. The horizon is growing ever so slightly lighter now. It's just me and the wind and the power of imagination- and all of a sudden I see the first sliver of the sun and I have this feeling: This is such an incredible place to be right now, it is so beautiful, so strong and terrible....all of a sudden I have such a surge of emotion that I don't care if I ever have another moment. This one moment has been worth all the travel, all the work, everything. I am supposed to be here. And my idea becomes perfectly clear to me:
It is not about winning, nor getting the credit. It is about being here to do what you have to do. If your place is in the middle, then, that's your place. What Togo was about was following his destiny. His whole life was meant to get the serum this far- no other dog could have done that. He knew it, or felt it. He was never swayed from the course that led him to that moment when the serum was exchanged.
My story is about the guy in the middle. The guy who does all the work, the guy who does what he's got to do because he simply knows he has to do it- not for the end result. The being, dog or man or whatever, that is above all that. Not the biggest, not the strongest, but the most determined. The one slugging it out every day. The true hero. Togo. You. Me.
Two last things I have to mention-
As I flew back to Nome on a small airplane, I got to talking to another passenger. When I told him about my recent travels, he asked me about the old roadhouse in Solomon.
"You didn't go upstairs did you?" He asked me.
"No," I said, "I almost did but there was an old grave marker blocking the steps so I didn't go up there. Why?"
"Well now, I've heard tell that there's a ghost up there and it's none too friendly neither."
I thought about being in the Solomon roadhouse. About how I was about to go upstairs when I heard a thump- and then something fell over up there. It was creepy. I wondered if that guy was just putting me on.... like, oh, like that guy in Nome who tried to make me nervous about going to Golovin. Funny how people from one place will make fun of people in another place. That guy was wrong about the village. People were helpful, friendly and willing to share time and information. Golovin was where the story all came together for me.
Thanks to everybody in every village and town who talked with me, invited me to dinner and bestowed friendship. I will never forget you.