Monday, April 7, 2014

Amtrak Again: Iowa to California--refining the process

It is a faint blush of dawn, just west of Winnemucca, Nevada, and the rhythm of the tracks provides a background melody to my typing.

I am about twelve hours away from completing my Amtrak train journey that lasts a little less than two days, including a lay-over in Sacramento and an Amtrak shuttle bus to my parents' hometown.

I've been refining my traveling ways this last year, having spent eight months of the last year away from my Iowa home.

I sit in my coach seat, a small pillow supporting my back while I keyboard. To my right in the window seat is a small ditty bag with a few extra clothes that I use while sleeping--the bag tucked into the curve of the reclined seat to lessen the angle and strain on my back, the pillow supporting my neck. My longest sessions of sleep come from this position during the night--Lazy-Boy luxury.

I am traveling to visit my family in California, and I'm focusing on bringing as little extra clothing as possible. I've bought clothes in California that I keep there, freeing me from having to pack a duffle bag full. Also, I'm collecting bicycling accessories in California so I don't have to pack tires irons, a multi-tool, tire pump, helmet, and such back and forth. My goal is to eventually transport only my Montague Navigator folding bicycle, a small underseat backpack, and a little almost-empty duffle. And if I can eliminate the duffle, that will be great.

I've bought shaving gear to keep in California, so I'm traveling hirsute this trip--a clean shave just before leaving and two days' growth at destination's end. I'm not too scruffy, since I'm not one of those guys who shaves and still has a blue tint to the face. (It would be more of a grey-white tint for me now, anyways.) I think I look okay. After all, I'm not teaching. I like to think of it as a limited, modified Jim Bridger look that fits in with my journey into the West.

A great deal of weight I carry onto the train is food. I'm working to lessen that, but I will still always have some. The Amtrak Zephyr does have a full meal service, and I eat breakfast and lunch, eschewing dinner because I don't want a heavy meal before sleeping, not with so little exercise.

I have been carrying water for the two-day trips. The snack bar sells water, though, so one way to lessen weight and bulk is to buy water at the snack bar. There are also water dispensers on the train. Check off one item. The snack bar, in addition to Amtrak's full-meal service, also sells some vegetarian food, so I can probably bring a little less food.

Some foods I will continue to bring, though. I plan to continue carrying a blanched almond and raisin mix--heavy but healthy nourishment. I have been bringing four apples with me and plan to continue doing so--again, healthy food in spite of the weight. Chapattis and cheese sticks are a great snack, especially with carrots, so those foods stay. Yes, food is weighty, but eating familiar, healthy food is a great way to make the trip more enjoyable and less draining. One good thing about the weight of the food--it lessens as the trip progresses.

The morning is still backlit by the sun that has not yet risen over the snow-topped mountains to the north of the train. The desert is colored with muted tans, faded greens, and the blondes of bleached grasses. The Zephyr passes through the sere beauty, lights on the distant slopes from isolated homes.

This trip is easier than the last trip that I made in January. I'm learning how to sleep better in a coach seat. I'm finding all the amenities provided by Amtrak's Zephyr--not the least the plug-in sockets at each seat. I'm settling in so that I can do some writing while traveling, such as this blog post that can be uploaded when in wireless range with my MiFi. Because I have recently retired, I enjoy Amtrak's slower pace, lower price, and the ground-level scenery. I also don't miss the frenetic pace of airline security and the high "people per square inch" (PPSI) count. I've found I've even acquired a few tricks that I can use when traveling by air.

Looking out the coach's window to my left and behind, the mountains are silhouetted a charcoal grey, the sky above a golden-reddish glory. Soon the sun will catch me. The Zephyr sounds its horn at an upcoming crossroad. An arroyo unwinds to the south, a sandy, serpentine memory of rain. The steepest peak to the southern range of mountains is bathed in sunlight. "It's a beautiful day beginning," sings the rhythm of the tracks.

I listen as I type.

Copyright 2014 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


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