In a full year of travel, this is my first extended journey via train, an experience so unique and satisfying that everyone should experience it at some point in life. Sooner than later.
The train embodies the full journey, the experience from A to B, with time slowing just enough to stop and think, to be with the moment. It allows for passive sitting and active observing, of the passing landscape outside windows, the moving passengers through train cars, the flowing thoughts through the mind. It is comfortable, unhurried, free to be as social or introverted as you please in each moment.
It is a unique collection of individuals on the observation deck of a transamerican train, for everyone has a story, and not only that, they have the time to tell it. One can create great companionship on the train within the comfort of traveling together while recognizing that when the destination arrives, you will probably never see that person again. Easy conversation initialized by a simple, “where are you heading?” quickly transforms into extensive family histories, exciting travel stories and philosophies on life. Lost within hours of quiet contemplation without distraction, people can truly open up to you, eager both to share and to listen.
Airplane travel is quite different. It is about efficiency, haste, arrival. After the stress of packing tightly into carry-on bags, removing all objects from pockets, placing laptops in separate bins, getting electronically frisked by a rotating cylinder, obsessively checking and rechecking the video display board, filing into the artificially pressurized container like sardines, restricted to your closely confined quarters for hours, you arrive. Often more flustered and exhausted than when you left. It is strictly about the destination, whichever gets you there faster. The entire process is a burden. Hurry up and wait to be happy. Every airplane trip is the same, every railroad trip is different.
Perhaps it is the ability to walk around and stretch your legs, perhaps it is the easy sway and soft vibration of the car gliding along the level tracks, perhaps it is the orchestra of creaks and shakes crescendoed with a loud whistle or screeching brakes, perhaps it is the constantly adapting landscape of densely packed forests, lonely trailer towns and bustling interstate highways, perhaps it is the methodical fall and rise of powerlines that border the empty roads, perhaps it is the 40+ hours on unstructured confinement. Whatever it is, I like it.
“A train isn’t a vehicle. A train is part of the country. It is a place.” – Paul Theroux, Riding the Iron Rooster
Falling asleep amongst the quiet roads of Spokane, arising for a red-sky sunrise over the mountains of Glacier National Park, asleep again in the empty dark plains of North Dakota, arising alongside a crystal clear lake in Minnesota. The train provides a haven for that lost soul, free to reflect mindfully and wonder imaginatively, within a constant state of movement, a constant state of intentional wandering.