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Welcome. I am the author of Universal Time, a sci-fi urban comedy;
Beaufort 1849, an historical novel set in antebellum South Carolina;
and Pearl City Control Theory, a comedy of manners set in present-day San Francisco.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Train Trip! Part 4



I’ve decided this train barely works for transportation but is fabulous for sightseeing. And I don’t think it can be fixed. The tracks follow the Colorado River too closely. To fashion a train that can go over 30 mph will necessitate a different route, probably one with more tunnels, one that doesn’t follow the river, one that can maintain some straight lines.

The route of the California Zephyr from Salt Lake City to Denver is truly breathtakingly gorgeous. (And it wasn’t chopped liver in California or Nevada either.) I highly recommend it. I can’t imagine any cruise being any more beautiful. Just have no expectations of getting anywhere in any sort of time frame. I would guess in ten years there will be a high speed train from San Francisco to Chicago that will take 20 hours (12 from SF to Denver), but it won’t be nearly as pretty. I expect the California Zephyr, left to us by our nineteenth century forebears, will remain as a tourist sightseeing lin
e, just as some scenic highways still existed after the interstate was put through.

The assistant conductor noted the wildlife we might see from the train—heron, deer, egrets and black bears. Evidently they’ve seen black bears three times in the last month. I’ve seen heron, deer, Canada Geese and various river rafters performing the mooning ritual, but no bears. I’d like to see a bear again—it’s been a while. Viewing one from inside a train seems a nice vantage point.

If I were to do this trip again, I’d bring more food to eat. The food on the train is expensive, carbohydrate heavy, and not much better than adequate. (But unless I brought a cooler, 36 hours is hard to manage?)  But the views, the views. I am told we are climbing up to a 9700 foot pass where, after a 6 mile pitch black tunnel, we can see a stunning drop down to a gorge below. I am hoping we get there when it is still light.

We had to stop 15 minutes in the middle of nowhere and wait for another Amtrak train to pass. What’s up with that? We are now scheduled to arrive at 10pm, 3 and ½ hours late. I hope my friends in Denver are checking the train arrival status because at present I am out of service and can’t contact them.

Of the 36 hours of this trip, an entire two have been motionless, devoted to smoke breaks that have not benefited me one whit. Worse, I can smell cigarette smoke right now on my car. (Someone is sneaking one somewhere.) What is it with smokers and trains?

Daylight fades. The light and scenery are so beautiful out, this is a tragedy. I can’t believe there’s three more hours to Denver. On google maps we appear so close, it should be just a hop, skip and a jump. We drift along in the golden sunset at our luxurious crawl, and now we stop to let a freight train go by. (Seriously, the amount of stopping is ridiculous.)

Train travel has its own rhythm, its own life. Everyone on the train is part of a system, our fates intertwined for the duration of the journey.  This era of American train travel known as Amtrak will eventually give way to something that works a whole lot better, but in the meantime, I recommend seeing America in this entirely unique, if at times frustrating, fashion. There is literally nothing like it. I’ve driven across the country multiple times. While driving has its moments of beauty and epiphany, this is like an extended meditation.

Oh my goodness. Huge full moon has just popped up over the horizon. Maybe darkness will have its consolations.

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