Sunday, April 30, 2006

Train 14: Letting go is hard to do

On my occasional visits to the Sightseer Lounge on train 5, I occasionally pass a woman who is busy knitting a wool blanket. She has plenty of time free to work on it, and it's already long enough to cover her outstretched legs. This train is losing time, no matter how much we are reassured by the on board crew that we might make it up. Some way north of Euguene-Springfield, we pass into a siding to allow the southbound Coast Starlight pass us. It's relatively fresh, having only been on the rails for less than eight hours. As we slide past each other a few glimpses are exchanged between passengers. Maybe in twenty four hours time they too will know our pain. We leave Albany (upstate Oregon) at 18.30, exactly five hours behind schedule.

The important thing is to just not care. During my travels over the last week and a half, I have encountered many people who get frantic when the train starts to lose time. It's just a unfortunate fact that a complex situation of politics and railway ownerships leaves Amtrak severely limited when it comes to running on time. If punctuality matters to you, you should know to take the plane. If you want to spend less money, and probably less time travelling as well, then you should probably take the Greyhound. Just don't spoil my enjoyment by complaining. Learn to let go.

With the sunshine filling the cars with warm light, I walk down to the cafe below the Sightseer lounge to write a letter or two. The sunlight is low and sharp, and it casts a precise shadow from my pen as I scrawl rambling nothings to someone special back home. Sitting at the table, I am very low down in the train, sitting just above the tracks and between the front and real wheels of the coach. We have fortunately picked up some speed at this point and we are now sprinting along towards Portland. Every mile is bringing me closer to the end of the American half of my trip.

Over eleven days, I will have described a meandering semi-circle from Montréal in Québec to Vancouver in British Columbia on the trains of Amtrak. Once this half has been completed, I will begin to long journey back, on the northern side of the border. So although the miles and days aren't quite half way through, I feel like I am approaching an important mid-point in the trip.

I have ridden four of Amtrak's finest routes (with a fifth short hop to do on Tuesday) and have passed through thirteen states on my way. I've seen praries, rivers, big cities, mountains, valleys and deserts. I've glimpsed the Pacific for the first time, and I've met many new people from all across this country. I've seen up close what just a small slice of this vast country looks like. And I've had a great time.

So, five hours delay doesn't bother me that much.

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