Tag Archives: Trains

One Wild and Precious Life–Part 3

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? –Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

I meant to post this a while ago, but life, moving, and limited internet access got in the way!

I recently took a solo train trip from the Mojave Desert to Portland, OR. For details on why on earth I thought this was a good idea, please read One Wild and Precious Life–Part 1 and One Wild and Precious Life–Part 2. This post recounts, the final leg of my journey.

My train wasn’t set to leave until 2:30PM the day after the Dear Sugar Radio Live taping. It may have been wiser to spend that time sleeping since I would be spending roughly 30 hours riding in trains and buses, but I had never been to Portland before. I opted for adventure. The first thing I discovered is that nothing opens in Portland before 10AM. Except the coffee shops. After strolling through mostly-deserted streets for an hour, I found my way to Pioneer Courthouse Square and finally found people.

After a while, I found Powell’s City of Books, which claims to be the biggest new and used bookstore in the world. I believe it—the store takes up an entire city block. Needless to say, I was in heaven. I allotted one precious hour to wander the shelves, but really I could’ve spent the entire day there easily if I hadn’t needed to catch a train. On the top floor, in the Pearl Room, I found an autographed copy of Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren—a book I’ve been wanting to read anyway. It was like the Universe was telling me to buy the book. Who am I to deny the Universe?

I made it to the train station not long before my train started boarding. Before I knew it, I was speeding back to the desert. Sort of. After a few hours, I made my way to the observation deck and found a seat. While I knitted a blanket, I listened to Sarah Hepola’s Blackout: Remembering What I Drank to forget. At some point, a woman from another car sat in the seat next to me. We didn’t talk much. I was knitting with headphones and she was reading Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. Still, there was an unspoken comradery between us that made me wonder if she was traveling alone as well.

Sunday was a marathon. It started at 6AM when the train I’d caught in Portland arrived in Sacramento. From there I took a bus to Stockton, then a train to Bakersfield, and another bus to LA. I arrived at the Los Angeles Union Station about an hour before my final train left for Needles. I was exhausted.

The very last leg of my journey was a six-hour train ride. I was hoping to spend most of that time sleeping, but my body had other ideas. All the travel and sleeping in quasi-horizontal positions was starting to take its toll. Only a couple of hours in, my left leg started twitching. My calf muscles were so tight that my entire leg would jump to the left at random. This was a problem since there was definitely someone sitting in the seat to my left. Luckily, the back half of the car was empty at that moment, so I ambled over to the set of seats just behind the staircase where I knew there would be a little more room to maneuver and I stretched. Toe touches, hamstring stretches, quad stretches, cow/cat poses, child’s pose, lower back stretches, shoulders, triceps, forearms, neck, upper back. At some point my nose started bleeding and I had to stop. Once the bleeding had stopped and my face was clean, I walked back to my assigned seat, reclined it as far it would go, and lost consciousness.

The next thing I knew, the conductor was announcing “Needles in ten minutes.” I folded my blanket, made sure I had all my belongings, and made my way down the stairs to the loading door. The train slid to a stop. The doors opened. I dragged my luggage and my sluggish feet to the cars where my roommate was waiting to pick me up. I had made it.

During the podcast taping in Portland, Cheryl explained a concept she called “retrospective fun.” Essentially, it means that you aren’t necessarily having fun in the moment, but when it’s all over and you’re looking back on the experience you can say yeah, actually that was fun. A few parts of my train adventure to Portland definitely fit that bill. Overall though, it was a great trip—fun, inspiring, and empowering. I’m glad I went.

 

P.S. I pay my own electricity bill.

 

One Wild and Precious Life–Part 1

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? –Mary Oliver, “The Summer Day”

I moved to the Mojave Desert to escape my comfort zone. (Also, because I got offered an internship which would give me some much-needed field experience.) I wanted to live up to my own lofty ideals of “going where life takes me” and “living with no strings attached”. I’ve learned a lot out here so far—mostly in regard to plants and field work and desert life, but also about myself. I’ve also gotten a little braver.

Whipple Wash

Monitoring rare plants in Whipple Wash.

One of my current heroes is Cheryl Strayed of Dear Sugar/Wild/Tiny Beautiful Things fame. When Cheryl was 26, she spent the summer hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) from California and Oregon. She did this alone. Solo. By herself. Sociologically speaking, women in our society are not expected to do things alone (ie: go to bars, eat dinner at sit-down restaurants, travel, walk through miles and miles of wilderness). Through reading her work, I have come to the understanding that Cheryl is not only brave enough to do all of those things, she is also compassionate and a very attentive listener.

So, I’m in the desert. I am an avid listener of Dear Sugar Radio (a podcast featuring Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond). I found out that there would be a live taping of Dear Sugar Radio in Portland, OR in July. Can you see where this is going?

The idea seemed crazy at first—I came to the desert to find plants, not to go gallivanting off to see writers. Portland was still a long way away—closer than it would be from Wisconsin, but still. It was on a Friday, I would have to take time off from work. I would have to drive to the Las Vegas airport. It would be frivolous—I should be saving money. Who would go with me? I casually mentioned the upcoming event to one of my friends who also loved Dear Sugar Radio, but she didn’t bite. So much for that idea.

I couldn’t shake it though. I really would like to go. My friends were going places on the weekends—Vegas, Death Valley, Iowa, Florida. Sure they were either reasonably nearby or places they had once called home, but still I didn’t really want to drive through Vegas. I tend to get lost a lot. You could take a train—you’ve never been on a train before. I looked it up—I could easily catch a train that would take me where I wanted to go. You said you wanted to be more adventurous.

It was like I dared myself to do it. I looked up the price of a ticket to the event, a round-trip train ticket, and a hotel nearby. I could do this. So I did. I bought all three in one day. Then I started telling people: my roommate, my parents, my friends back home. By that time, it was too late for them to talk me out of it—I already had the tickets. Actually, no one did actively try to talk me out of my trip. They said they were worried about my safety, that they wished they could go with me, that I was very brave to go all by myself. But no one said, “Don’t go”. For which, I was grateful.

Droid 7-25-16 402

Ticket for 1 to Dear Sugar Radio Live!

My parents did request regular updates, though.

It wasn’t until I had already purchased the tickets and started informing people of my upcoming trip that I started seeing the parallels. Cheryl grew up in Northern Minnesota. I grew up next door in Northern Wisconsin. Cheryl started her hike in the Mojave Desert. I was travelling all over the Mojave desert for my botany internship. (Mostly in 4-Wheel Drive vehicles, but there was definitely some hiking involved.) Cheryl was 26 when she hiked the PCT. I’m 26 now. Cheryl ended her hike at the Bridge of the Gods, about 40 miles away from Portland. I was going to Portland. Basically, in my own way, I was kind of, sort of maybe, ish, following in Cheryl’s footsteps. That thought alone was empowering.

My grand solo adventure was supposed to start at 12:30AM on a Thursday, but the train was delayed. It finally pulled up to the station at 1:32 AM. By that time, I was exhausted. I found my seat, stashed my luggage and fell asleep. Done.

The proper part of Thursday (the part on the other side of sunrise) was a blur arriving at LA’s Union Station, finding some breakfast, waiting for my next train, boarding said train, finding my new seat, and PA announcements about dinner options, and this is a non-smoking train, and our next stop will be.., and seriously people—don’t smoke on the train. I had a window seat and watched graffiti melt to mountains which gave way to the ocean, then vineyards, which later vanished into evergreen forests and misty lakes. I’ll admit that I didn’t pay as much attention to the scenery as I maybe should have. I was too busy reading The Small Backs of Children by Lidia Yuknavitch. It was a little more difficult to drift into dreamland the second night, but I managed.

In the morning, I woke up to a seat-neighbor—it had been empty up until then. The lady next to me was retired and off to visit her family in Seattle for 2 or 3 weeks. I figured she was okay when I saw the book she had brought with her—A Mercy by Toni Morrison. We talked about her siblings and her grandchildren and her plans for the next few weeks. She asked where I was going and why. She seemed pretty impressed. “I love that your generation is encouraged to do that sort of thing. When I was your age, it was all about finding a husband and raising a family. Even working outside of the home was a big deal.”

When the train arrived in Portland, my seat-neighbor wished me luck and reminded me to “call your mama.” I stepped off the train. It was gray and less than 80°F—I wasn’t in the desert anymore.