Train of Thoughts

2013/06/26

Not so much about getting from A to B

The stained seats, the microwaved bagel, the slowly moving landscape: I’m on a train in North America again. As I take a seat at 7.30 in the morning, my first thought is: How could I do this for three and a half days? In January 2011, I traveled by train from San Francisco to New Orleans, which took over 80 hours. Then like now, I have a modest budget, and thus: no bed and no privacy. The slight resistance fades away though, as I adapt and remind myself: the scenery is worth it. The inside is the price you pay for the outside. Or, it’s not really a sacrifice. The seats are XL and you have at least twice the leg space of a plane or a European train. The moderate speed is my friend: no nausea and no feelings of alienation. There’s also less of a crowd, business travelers and other time-savers are eliminated, so the rest of us get at least two seats each. The staff is extremely nice and helpful.

This time I’m on Canadian tracks, going from Edmonton to Vancouver. So instead of American Amtrak, I’m traveling with Canadian Via Rail, but they’re very alike, only announcements are bilingual here. I’m spending 27 hours to travel through a landscape (and not above it, which would’ve been done in 1,5 h) that looks pretty much as Sweden, only bigger. I drink horrible coffee not to miss forests of birches and other familiar though dictionary-requiring trees, green fields, occasional horses and cows, rivers and lakes.

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For the first ten hours we’re in the Rocky Mountains, which are impressive, but as we go more west, and south, I find the nature more dreamlike and summery. As a true tourist I’m almost climbing out the window in my view-exaltation. However, I do observe my fellow travelers. The train has 20 cars, and I’m almost alone in mine: I only count two women with children, two touristing couples and a possible student. I assume the more sociable are doing their mingling in the dining car, because everyone around me is being very quiet and discrete. Except for a man who strolls around and with his Mickey Rourke-voice drops comments like: “Cute children, where’s the father?”, “When I saw you get on the train you looked like Sheryl Crow”. His socializing is however restricted to non-accompanied women under 40. He’s off to work in a gym in Vancouver.

My friend Nathaniel reported about far more talkative passengers and also categorized the different types. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/03/magazine/47-hour-train-ride.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 I don’t think I qualify as a ‘train buff’, but I might have a little boot camper in me, a Survivor candidate. I take a bizarre pleasure in being constrained to limited resources, be it a small bag of essentials (God forbid a backpack) or a small budget. This is surely because I know it’s not a permanent situation and maybe also because I know that our comfort way of living is not permanent either, and I want to experience that I can do with less. I was just in Banff, Alberta, where a major flooding cut us off from the world. Roads were closed, phones were dead, for a while the power went out, which resulted in many changes of plans, candles, teamwork, a certain anxiety. I somehow felt a slight thrill, I like when things get a bit extreme and it gets obvious that we’re not the masters of the universe. As long as the bathrooms are working and people are not injured, and no snakes are involved, I enjoy the detour. The untamed nature is a sane reminder of how fragile our constructions are, be they mental or material. Our vehicles are toys, our roads are Lego. It’s just luck that we get to play.

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The train leaves Alberta and enter British Columbia, a province that takes my breath away. As we travel through magnificent landscapes in sunset I wonder: How can anyone choose speed over scenery? Business over beauty?

As we detrain (new word learnt this trip) in Vancouver, only one thought travels my mind:      I’ll do it again.

But I am happy to arrive at B.

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3 Responses to “Train of Thoughts”

  1. I was wondering how I could have missed that post when it came out and just realized I was in Gotland – with no internet connection – while you were traveling in my country!
    Glad I finally got to read it… now it’s your turn to catch up on the writing 🙂

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