Thursday 23 October 2014

Going west

Today was one of those out-of-the-loop days that you sometimes get when you’re travelling – but not that confused airplane blur when you can’t work out what the real time is or even how long you’ve been travelling. No, it’s been a proper day of orderly meals that began with waking up in bed and will end with falling asleep ditto – but in between there’s been nothing to do but watch the scenery pass, capture some of it in photos, and talk with whoever came within my reach. That’s the luxury of spending an entire day on a train.
Amtrak’s California Zephyr has continued on its way through – so far – Illinois, Nebraska and Colorado, winding up into the Rockies giving glimpses of distant snowy peaks, through steep gorges and dozens and dozens of tunnels (one of them over 6 miles long), following the clear and tumbling waters of the Colorado River as it cuts its way through granite and sandstone, and across flat valleys between stands of brilliant yellow cottonwoods and aspens. There were men drift-fishing for trout in boats or standing waist deep casting flies; a flock of wild turkeys, a single mountain goat, a herd of alpacas, beef cattle standing in sorting yards, horses corralled next to red barns, a coyote trotting across a field.

The scenery has been great; but the company was better. That’s the wonderful thing about train travel: the universal sense of relaxation amongst the passengers, who have nothing more urgent to do than sit by a window, look at the countryside, and chat to whoever happens to be nearby. So there’s been Richard from New York talking about Labradors and chocolate; Tom from the UK about being written off as restaurant wastage; Skip the mayor of Sterling on the delights of international homestays: Jolanda about escorting children to school after wolf warnings; Dave-party-of-one and his Doomsday GPS/sunspot scenario; and politics, the Golden Gate Bridge and the intelligence of mules with a man who was – or maybe wasn’t? – a government Special Investigator and then a designer of nuclear weapons for Lockheed.

What with all of them, and some epic eavesdropping too, it’s been an entertaining day, which has quite made up for the horrendous night in the upper bunk of Amtrak’s Sleeper, which is neither wide enough, high enough, soft enough, smooth enough or secure enough for a real person to sleep in/on. Really, the only occupant it could possibly suit would be a corpse. And oh! That’s right, there’s another night just like it right ahead of me. Yay.

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