A Long Train To ChiTown

23 October 2012 in Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling

 

I had never taken a train before, but the thought of doing so had been thoroughly romanticized over the years. Sitting in the tiny station in Flagstaff the romance began to fade. The young and old milled about with dreary eyes and impatience as it was announced that our train would be an hour late. You could see all who were currently awake—and not passed out on one of a few wooden benches—were spiteful in regards to the hour of additional sleep they had just been robbed of.

But the train did arrive and as it pulled up and we stood in the brisk morning air, the sky a mild glow of predawn light I was once again in the moment. This was short lived. As I boarded the train and entered the coach car I was greeted by what appeared to be a refugee camp or maybe the aftermath of a frat party minus the smell of stale beer. People were slumped over seats, mouths agape, hair tussled in a mess. It felt vaguely like I had walked into fifty bedrooms all assembled into one.

Taking my seat, I was forced to wake a young gentleman who had taken both seats for himself. I was obviously an inconvenience and while he was polite enough to move his knee would find it’s way back into my seat frequently as we progressed.

Despite sharing close quarters with a sleeping stranger I was able to begin to enjoy and lavish the moment. With ear buds in and a crack in one of the many closed curtains I watched a sliver of rushing scenery pass by and the sun begin to paint the scenes in stunning colors. I’ve never been able to put my finger on it, but I’ve always enjoyed bus rides. The solitude, the time to think about everything as well as nothing at all. It’s a very calming and enjoyable experience for me. Meditative. And this was like a bus ride without the traffic and the billboards and the scum and hum of a cities flying by. The train rolled through a country side void of any evidence of humans outside of the occasional farm. Or at least that’s what I was able to gather from my sliver in the curtain.

But the miles moved slow and progress was hard to gauge without the aid of any signs. Mickey and I were able to get seats together at the second stop and soon we wandered up to the observation car where I relearned Cribbage. This would serve as entertainment for several of the 32 hours we’d spend on this train. The other hours were spent reading, talking, eating, and a very small percentage sleeping.

There were several factors at play which limited sleep. The seat, while large and more reclinable than your standard economy seat on a plane, they still require one to sleep on his back and I am a stomach sleeper. Side being my number two option. It was also very cold. And there was the unexpected circumstantial issue of thirty boy scouts boarding around nine o’clock with no intentions of sleeping.

After were wore ourselves thin playing cards, had a very interesting discussion with a couple of the boy scouts and finished the fifth of whiskey I had snuck on. Mickey attempted to sleep and I attempted to stay up all night. Not entirely by choice. After failed attempts at comfort in my seat I returned to the observation car and sat weary eyed, staring at the mostly empty blackness we were passing by. There were others passed out in booths or across the benches and a few scouts still up and talking. The occasional zombie wandered by with blood shot eyes and a small trail of drool heading to the bathroom or hunting for brains, but none were actively conscious and therefore went undetected.

I dosed in and out, sleeping 3-5 minutes at a time before awaking and wiping the puddle of saliva from the corner of my mouth. Thankfully by mustache and beard prevent pools from forming. I tried the bench, too short. The hunched over a desk technique I had minored in in high school, didn’t work the same. And finally I tried a three seater bench. This allowed for side sleeping and despite the curved seats chiropractic restructuring of my back and the arm rest providing that perfect 45 degree angle you want for you neck with a thick book for a pillow to knock the bend up to 55 degrees I was able to sleep for almost an hour. That is if you add up all the ten minute stretches I had from 3 to six a.m.

The rest of the ride slowly became an exercise in patience. We obtained a schedule of each stop and now could mark our progress which had its benefits and its shortcomings. Neither of us had eaten a real meal outside of the overpriced dinner we had in the dining car and so we were hungry, sleep deprived and stiff from lack of much movement over the last 24 hours.

When we pulled into Union Station in Chicago we longed for fresh air, but this is not what awaited us as we stepped off the train. It was smelly, hot and loud. It was abrasive and really caught me off guard. It had been four months since I had encountered the filth and stench of a large city. The swarms of people, sounds, TVs, ads and commerce were unsettling and honestly produced feelings of uncleanliness. Eating in an over crowded food court I a little ill and fearful.

With no time spend outside of the station before Mickey left I waited with him for his next train to Milwaukee. And as he boarded I then faced the heat and noise of the city of Chicago right around rush hour. Eventually Tom arrived and we headed to the hostel. Ending what was approaching 48 hours of travel.

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23 October 2012 Memories, Trails/Hiking, Traveling

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