Thursday, April 27, 2006

Train 5: Into California

After Reno we follow the Truckee River. The state line is supposed to be marked by a boulder on one side of the tracks at some point, but you'll have to forgive me for missing it. This is my longest train yet, and I understand how the second day can begin to drag for many passengers. After we enter California (and it is confirmed by those who know the route) it seems like we have almost arrived. Foolish assumption. From Truckee, the first stop in California, it's more than six hours until we reach Emeryville for San Francisco.

The scenery remains spectacular - as we climb away from the river we enter the Sierra Nevada mountains. There's snow here, but it's not as thick and fresh as it was in Colorado. In fact it appears to be melting fast, so we have a much better appreciation of the thick forests and the red brown earth that is exposed in the banks and cuttings that the train passes.

I eat my second boxed meal of the trip, and along with the Sightseer car 'regulars' the conversation is flowing. However, we've still got a long way to go, and time seems to be slowing down. It's not so much our slight delay, just the realisation that we are travelling very slowly, and that California is one big state. As we approach Roseville, we pass through beautiful rolling scenery, dotted with forests, small villages and green green fields. If spring hadn't really started when I left Qu├ębec, it looks like winter never really touched California. With each state I travel west through, the USA gets greener and more lush.

People no longer seem to be boarding the train in the same numbers as they leave. At Sacramento we say goodbye to my bridge coach and his friendly wife. It's with some shock that when I read the card he has handed me, I discover he is a retired member of the House of Representatives, and a Republican at that (tabloid news shocker: "Republican takes public transit"). At this point, I start to stop appreciating the landscape. I'm tired, and have set myself up for arriving far too soon. I stop writing and doodling, and retreat with my iPod to watch the scenery crawl past.

After Sacramento, we eventually reach the first signs of water, and for a while we speed up along straight track that crosses flooded fields and marshland. The sun is beginning to descend in the west, towards the green hills off to our side. Only by a chance turn in my swivel chair in the now almost empty Sightseer Lounge do I see the mothballed fleet of US Navy warships at Suisan Bay, turning rust coloured in the calm blue water. Once grand vessels of a military force, they are now disintegrating, serving only to remind us of how time (and salt water) erodes everything. As a timely contrast, the docks near-by are packed with row upon row of imported automobiles, freshly arrived from freight ships and ready for distribution across the continent by rail.

The train rises up from alongside the docks, and soon we're crossing a large channel of water on a bridge. Another chance turn of my chair reveals an incredible construction sight to our left - a massive road bridge with half a dozen piers is being built across the water. Each pier is at a different stage of construction, with the span of the bridge branching out in two directions from each pier. I fool myself into thinking that at one point just after Martinez that I can see the Golden Gate Bridge (checking my map later on I find myself to have been completely wrong). We follow the shore line of the bay all the way towards Oakland and Emeryville. I knew that we were running behind, but when Emeryville station suddenly appears, it's all over. I pause over my seat as I get my things together, staring out of the train at the sign that simply says 'Emeryville Connection for San Francisco'.

Our band of acquaintances on board exchanges farewells and best wishes. Some people have returned home. Some journeys have finished. Mine has just come to a brief pause.

*j*

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