Today I'm taking the train up to Seattle to attend my friend's bachelor party. We'll be camping in the woods (The logistics of asking a stripper to dress up in a bear costume and hike 4 miles into the forest at night is tricky, let me tell you.) which should be a lot of fun — an activity I almost never do, despite living the Pacific Northwest. So I'm taking the time now to pre-write my blog posts for the weekend to keep the streak alive, for better or worse.
But back to trains. When I was 20 I took a train trip more or less across the country, spread out over the course of a month. I started in Portland, working my way down towards San Francisco then across the heartland to the east coast, all the way up to Montreal, Quebec. I remember spending a night in a barn in Ithaca my friend was more or less squatting in and masquerading as a tour guide in New York for some people on their first visit from France.
The thing I loved — and still love — about trains was the pace. Depending on the scenery around you it can feel like glacial. Passing through meadows and open-expanses of untampered nature feels almost like being on a ship at sea. Even the gentle, undular movement of the train cars swaying on the tracks can make you feel like you're at sea.
You see things. Hermit shacks. Farms. Tiny towns. Animals like deer and antelope half-heartedly looking up from their daily, animalistic routines as you rumble through their backyards. The train exists in the spaces between the things. It's like the connective tissue between destinations, and in traversing these industrial-era umbilical cords you realize how much space there is between the cities and places we know.
I felt the same way then as I did last year, taking trains in Peru to go see Machu Picchu, across France, Spain & Portugal to meet the Mediterranean and from Bangkok to Penang, through Malaysia and eventually to Singapore.
So much space. And in pondering that it reminds me of my favorite Susan Sontag quote:
“Time exists in order that everything doesn’t happen all at once…and space exists so that it doesn’t all happen to you.”