Here's a rust buster. I haven't written for a while, so here is a short one to break the rust off and introduce you to a new series that I will be writing and sharing.
Seemingly, instead of writing, I've been doing other things equally urgent and important (or at least they felt that way). And I haven't had the many hours per week of solitude, or of journaling, or of just being in the moment. But the last two weeks I’ve had more of all of that, and the next few months will have all of that in abundance. I'll be traveling, working, walking about with eyes wide open. And I’ll be writing. I am currently traveling east, planning to go all the way around. To see the people and places of our world. To travel a thin little line around the vast surface of our globe.
I’ve been taking photos and videos, and I’ve been journaling. A lot it is quarter-finished ideas and directionless musings, but some of it – some of it is half-ideas, some of it is musings with a general direction, some of it comes together into mostly coherent stories. Some of it might be worth sharing, so I am going to give it a try. I’m thinking that I’ll write short posts – it could be the telling of a story, sometimes it could be a thought on the extraordinary and strange experience of being you and I (humans), sometimes it could have a theme I’ve written about before (i.e. fitness, food, or the land), oftentimes it will be based on or brought on by observations of the people and places I’m traveling among, sometimes it could be all text, sometimes it might be a ‘slow tv’ video or a few images.
Here is the first of those travel shorts:
Half a year ago, I had the romanticized idea that it would be a worthwhile experience, a nice short chapter in the book of life, a benchmarked and memorable moment, to take the Trans-Siberian Rail 6 days and 7000 kilometers from Moscow to Beijing. I told everyone that I was going to do it, then I made plans to go in February, bought a flight to Paris to get me to the right continent, read blogs about the train, imagined the cold and barren landscape of Siberian Russia and the Mongolian Steppe, looked forward to the diverse characters and the warmth of vodka that surely must be ubiquitous to the a Trans-Siberian rail journey.
Then I didn’t go. I didn’t go on that rail journey, anyway. I amgoing around the world, to the east, and it looks like I’m only going to take two flights – one from New York to Paris (a week ago) and one from Rome to Chongqing a week from now. Everything else will be by foot, bike, boat, bus and train. So far, it’s been mostly about the train. I’ve been on a dozen short and longer trains so far, and I’m pretty sure it is the way to go. That’s the point of this whole story – the train is a most excellent form of transit, and I highly recommend it to you and to my future self.
The train hasn’t been the smoothest or most reliable forms of transportation – record cold cancelled all trains from Milwaukee to Chicago for 2 days; we were delayed 3 hours from Chicago to Pittsburgh, then dude next to me snored so loud that I looked for a seat in a different car; the whole TGV system shut down from Paris to Modane and it took 6 hours instead of the 3 hours needed to make my connection; I spent the night in a fever-fueled semi-delusional haze from Modane to Rome.
The frequency of perfect scores has not been high. Yet I’m still thinking that rail might be the greatest transportation we have. Maybe it’s just that I’ve been in cars and on airplanes a lot, and a train very rarely, so I’m still in love with some idealized version of rail transit. But maybe the train really is good. Here are some reasons I’m recommending the train to you and to my future self:
-Bring your own booze, coffee and snacks. Enough said.
-It’s reasonably priced. I think I got from Milwaukee to New York, visiting 4 additional cities along the way for a few nights each, for something like $200. Five separate legs for $200? Bargain.
-It’s more expensive than the cheapest option (bus), so your travel companions are better behaved and more enjoyable on the train. It’s a bummer to say it, but casual observation shows this to be plainly true.
-It’s comfortable. The trains have big ‘ol seats, room to recline, foot rests, you can get up and walk and do stretch and do squats and hip openers, they’re rarely full, it’s quiet, the rhythm of the sounds and movements is calming and mesmerizing.
-Train stations are cool.
-You get to see the land. The destinations have been as urban and paved-over as it gets – Chicago, Philly, New York, Paris, Rome. But it has not been overwhelming, because I’ve seen the land in between, and the land is vast, sparsely populated, always unique and always beautiful.
-It’s kind of slow. This is a good thing. The duration and the fixed environment force you to do not very much for an extended period of time. This, while being plenty comfortable, is a rare combination that we could all use more of.
-It’s a “human speed”. There is something comforting about moving across the landscape at an understandable pace.
-Compared to a car, there is no stress – no responsibility of driving, concerns about your driver, honking horns, endless pavement, cramped back seats, navigational duties, ‘holding it’ until the next rest stop.
-Compared to a plane, there is zero formality. This is maybe the best part, and kind of includes a lot of the above points – the train is casual. No security. 10 or 15 minutes early is plenty. Bring whatever sized toothpaste you want. Bring a fresh coffee or buy one in the café car. Enjoy your own tallboy or pound a whole case of beer. No check-in or ‘boarding’. Just ask the conductor if this is the right train and get on a few minutes before it leaves. Don’t like where you’re sitting? Go sit somewhere else. The logistics are casual - the train station is generally right in the center of town (HUGE BENI), cutting several steps of driving, parking, walking, shuttling for both leaving town and getting into the next. Then, if you are delayed or miss your connection, you’re not stuck in an airport wondering if you should get Quizno’s or Subway - you can walk into town, get some real food, breathe some fresh air.
-It’s a journey. Traveling is a journey, life is a journey, the train is a journey. It’s cliché, but it really isn’t about just the destination. Flying doesn’t suck and I’m not here to condemn it, but nobody is going to say that they love the process and formality of commercial aviation. Flying is heavily skewed toward the destination. The train is about the journey, and I’ve found that the train has helped me be relaxed, thoughtful, at ease and considerate. It’s given me the time and place to think and be still. And, of course, it does it’s ostensible job perfectly well – it gets you from A to B.
Thanks for reading that. I look forward to sharing more.
Like I said above, while traveling, I've been working, talking with people, listening, thinking, journaling, doing pushups, etc. And I've been taking a couple photos. Here are some of them from Chicago-Pittsburgh-Philly-DC-NY.