Tag Archives: journal

russ and pam's wonder emporium ~ angels camp, ca

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on our way from lake tahoe to fresno, we stopped in a tiny mining town called angels camp for a bathroom break and to give mazy a chance to stretch her hairy legs. on our first pass, not much caught my attention; a couple of curio shops, a thrift store, a christian bookstore.

but then we stumbled across this place. at first, i thought it was going to be another tourist-oriented jewelry and gemstone shop and was fairly nonplussed. when tim suggested that we go in, my first response was, meh. lucky for me, i squelched my negativity.

entering stories in stone was like walking into a store on diagon alley. it stretched on and on and on; crystal after fossil after geode after agate after gemstone. beyond that we encountered a complete fossilized skeleton of a cave bear. beyond that, a sprawling warehouse space overloaded with thousands upon thousands of precious stones. and beyond the warehouse was a huge, cluttered, fluorescently lit classroom that would have been completely at home at hogwart’s.

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we eventually met pam, one of the owners of this magical place, and when i asked her about its history, she casually mentioned that her husband russ began his career as a rock hound in the gravel pits around niles, michigan. yup. that’s right, the niles, michigan that sits about 8 miles from the town where i grew up. pam informed russ that a fellow michigander was wandering around the store and after dealing with a few customers in the warehouse, russ came and found me.

this audio clip is about 20 minutes long. the photos that follow — and so much more — are referenced and explained in the course of this conversation.

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honestly, this place is one of the coolest places i’ve ever been. if you ever ever find yourself near angels falls, ca, absolutely stop by and give witness. stories in stones is an amazing labor of love and a powerful testament to the idea of following your bliss. thank you pam and russ for creating this unique, surprising, and wondrous place.

Posted by Wordmobi

wintry mix ~ lake tahoe, ca

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somehow, perhaps by the power of grayskull, everything worked out and we found ourselves heading due east out of sacramento towards the snow-capped peaks of the sierra nevadas. andy’s niece, celia, had graciously agreed to host the three of us for a few days in beautiful tahoe city, ca. we arrived on lake tahoe’s shores just as dusk gave way to night. we stopped at a scenic overlook of emerald bay and marveled at the deep velvet color of its water. we had left sacramento just as spring had begun it’s headlong charge, and to find ourselves back in full-on winter was a physical shock. mazy was surprised and thrilled to feel snow beneath her feet. momentarily a puppy again, she ran circles and pounced in the darkling air, barking with glee.

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despite completely contrary plans that would have taken them south towards sunlight and warmth, our dear friends pati and andy found themselves at lake tahoe as well. it had been almost a month since we parted ways in crescent city, ca and it was awesome to see them again.they are also living as nomads right now, and when we are together, there is a sense of ease and comfort that comes from this shared perspective. our paths have crossed at james gilliland’s ranch on the flanks of mount adams, in portland over the holidays, and again in north bend and crescent city. they are, without a doubt, part of my soul’s family. the lessons they have shared with me, through thought, word, deed, and example will stay with me forever. the knowledge that two of the people i love and respect most in the world are following a similar path does much to assuage the stress of our uncertain future.

the five of us encamped on the first floor of the apartment that celia shares with eddie (her boyfriend) and mike (a good friend of theirs). it was cozy and sweet; part slumber party, part old home week, part dorm lounge.

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while we were in portland, tim’s brother davi told us about a magical place called royal gorge . purported to be north america’s largest cross-country ski resort, it occupies some 1000 acres of the sierra nevadas. after some initial problems with my ski bindings (which we dealt with in a most macgyver-like fashion), we bundled up and hit the trails.

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the day was beautiful. tim had been out on his skis several times, but this was my first time out since march of 2009 and i was a little out of practice. still and all, we had a great time.

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on the way back to tahoe city, we went through donner pass and as the sun settled behind the mountains, we caught a glimpse of donner lake. as we stood shivering in the frigid, lavender air, a train passed in the distance. tim informed me that we had passed this way just a few weeks earlier on the california zephyr! who knew?

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the next day, tim got to ski squaw valley. it was the first time he had been downhill skiing in three years and when he came back down from the mountain, he was glowing. i didn’t go with him, but perhaps i’ll get my chance to try downhill sometime in the next couple of months.

while we were in tahoe city, celia was getting ready for a big interview with teach for america. as part of her presentation, she prepared an awesome song about the classification of animals.

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thanks to celia’s biology song, i don’t think i’ll ever forget that insects have three small sets of legs! musical talent runs thick in the johnson gene pool. after celia finished practicing, andy brought out his fiddle and played us one of my favorite tunes, stuart’s waltz, written for andy’s nephew and celia’s brother on the day of his birth. once, andy played this song for us as we sat on a bluff overlooking the headwaters of the mississippi. as we listened, a pair of eagles reared up into the sky and rose until they were two tiny dots in the massive, blue sky.

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in all the bustle of socializing, catching up, and skiing, we didn’t get around to checking out lake tahoe until the last day of our stay. we drove around the perimeter of the lake, stopping occasionally to take short hikes in the snow or snap pictures. it is a beautiful beautiful place.

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the day we said our goodbyes to tahoe was the same day that eddie and celia were heading to san francisco for celia’s big interview. i’m sure they loved you, celia! how could they not?

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i wish i had taken more pictures of our kind hosts, but i flailed. oh well, perhaps i’ll get the chance if and when we pass back through this beautiful country.

as we left, we stopped one more time at the emerald bay overlook; a sun saturated bookend to our dusky arrival.

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we curved and wound our way through the snow covered wonderland of the sierra nevadas. the sun played hide and seek with low clouds and the occasional flurry, smudging the landscape with light.

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we descended into the foothills, down past the snowline and into california’s goldrush country.

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sacramentastic! ~ part 2

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on our second full day in sacramento, our kind host chris took us on a long bike ride along the american river parkway. it’s a beautiful, winding path that dips and wanders through through the river’s riparian zone. we zoomed along like grade schoolers playing hookey, happy to be back on our bikes again.

the central valley, according to the lonely planet’s california guide, is a migratory superhighway for all kinds of birds (even the birds have highways in california). on our 16 mile ride, we saw seagull, heron, stork, merganser, crow, raven, canada geese, hawk, turkey vulture, duck, and a myriad of other, less easily identified birds. at one point, we pulled off of the path to watch three hawks battling with a bunch of crow.

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birds were not the only wildlife we encountered. i was lucky enough to catch the sight of a troop of mule deer gingerly making their way through the scrub.

we got back to chris’ house exhausted and exhilarated. we played a few rounds of ping pong and cricket, and traded stories of our travels. chris has spent a fair amount of time exploring various countries in asia and is currently trying to decide whether or not to move to china. i say, why not?

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the morning of our departure was beautiful: all sunshine and sharp blue sky. tree crews roamed the curved avenues, pulling mistletoe and clearing deadwood. the sound of lawnmowers echoed through the february air and as we gave mazy her morning constitutional, i marveled at the endless rows of beautifully tended suburban ranch homes. this is the vision of america that haunted my childhood. i could almost hear familiar music playing faintly in the background.

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much gratitude to our couchsurfing host and new friend, chris. best of luck in whatever path you choose to follow!

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Posted by Wordmobi

sacramentastic! ~ part 1

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the city of sacramento: state capitol, birthplace of ranch-style suburbia and home of the california state railroad museum. our visit to this much maligned and often overlooked berg was a good example of the make-it-up-as-you-go-along philosophy that has guided us on much of our journey. as we began planning what to do after leaving santa rosa, there was only one absolute certainty: tim was going to sacramento to visit the railroad museum. everything else — where we would stay and for how long, where we would go and what would we do next — was up in the air. there were hints that a visit to lake tahoe might be in the air, and one of tim’s good friends from high school had offered us a landing pad in fresno, but neither of us were sure how things would turn out.

there was a time when tim and i were relative novices to this kind of uncertainty. in the early days of this journey, it caused me no end of stress to pass the day without knowing how and where we were going to find a place to sleep that night. i would become shrill and accusatory. tim, my constant companion and copilot, often bore the brunt of my apprehension.

“what do you mean you’re not sure where we’re going to stay tonight?” i remember saying with unbridled and unquestioned righteousness. “i thought you said you found a campground on one of the maps!” as if tim had access to a completely different set of maps than i did.

nowadays, though, uncertainty has almost become old hat. don’t ask me how or when it happened, but somewhere between the atlantic and the pacific oceans, something in me loosened its grip and i was able to, if not relinquish, then at least temper my need to know the future.

perhaps it was simply repetition, like learning scales. after a while, i realized that things always worked out whether i stressed out or not, and even when things weren’t ideal (remind me to tell you the story of the rock lakes campground) tim and mazy and i were able to make the best of it.

because sacramento lies in california’s central valley, it is generally sunnier, warmer and dryer than, say, san francisco or even santa rosa. originally, tim had hoped that we could find a campground near sacramento and use that as a home base for our explorations. but given california’s budget crisis and the time of year, our options were somewhat limited. many of cali’s state parks have been shut down and the ones that have survived the budget crunch have increased their fees to a whopping $25/night, more than twice the amount charged by neighboring states.

with only a few days before our arrival in sacramento, i decided to give couchsurfing.org a try. we had utilized cs once before, in rochester ny, and it was a great experience. however, thanks to our generous and widely scattered network of friends and our love of camping, we had not needed cs’s services since then. i made three requests in sacramento, hopeful, but guarded. cs’s website recommends at least a week’s notice; our requested dates were just two days away. still and all, i figured it was worth a shot.

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because of the short notice, two folks respectfully declined our requests. however, one mellow soul, a gentleman named chris, agreed to host us for three whole nights. even more remarkably, mazy was welcome too! and so with little planning or foresight, the three of us managed to find a beautiful place to stay while we explored sacramento. thanks chris!

our first stop, of course, was historic sacramento (often referred to, evocativally, as old sac) and the california state railroad museum.

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one might think that after a 7-day long cross-country train journey, the last place i would want to visit would be a museum devoted to all things train. i will readily admit that i agreed to go only grudgingly, but the combination of tim’s enthusiasm and the museum’s informative, engaged, and unabashedly train-freaky staff won me over. this place is really really cool.

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i mean call me crazy, but i think this china pattern, inspired by the majesty of glacier national park and made exclusively for the great northern railroad, is unbelievably beautiful!

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when we serendipitously found ourselves in the roundhouse as they moved a beautifully preserved steam engine, i was hooked.

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the road home ~ santa rosa to sacramento

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after 7 days of cross-country rail travel, it took a while for my body to get accustomed to being back on solid ground. while taking a shower, it was nearly impossible to shake the feeling that the floor was gently rocking. even the relatively simple act of standing still without swaying took a fair amount of focus and concentration. luckily, thanks to mike and mandi, we had a wonderful, spacious, beautiful home in which we could regroup and plan next steps.

while there, we also had wonderful company: lori, the kind soul who had so generously and diligently taken care of our little mazy while we were off on adventure. after 12 days together, lori and mazy were such good friends that mazy didn’t seem to have missed us at all. of course, mazy has been with tim and me all day, every day for almost a year now and it makes perfect sense that she would be happy to have someone new and exciting to play with. especially someone as indulgent and attentive as lori!

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when tim began getting ready to pack up the truck, he discovered that our truck topper had finally succumbed to the raininess of a northern coast winter and sprung a leak. enough water had seeped in to create the risk of a mold outbreak, so tim decided that the best course of action was to remove everything from the truck, clean and disinfect the bed, wash everything that could be washed, let it all dry, and then pack it all back up. it took us the whole day, and when we were done, our hands and the back of the truck reeked of vinegar. but still, it felt good to give our loyal rainbow a thorough spring cleaning.

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it was a strange thing to see all of our possessions strewn haphazardly across the floor of mike and mandi’s garage. one one hand, it looked like a meager, unassuming heap of
junk; stuff that would have seemed perfectly at home gathering dust in some abandoned storage unit. on the other hand, i know from experience that with only these few objects, tim and i had survived rain and snow and stifling heat. we had cooked delicious indian curry and blackberry french toast. we had ridden through mile-long tunnels in the mountains of idaho and along the shore of the mighty willamette.

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people sometimes ask us if we’re getting tired of living on the road. i guess these folks are working from the not unreasonable assumption that a traveler’s life is harder, more difficult and less comfortable than a more settled life. this, at least in our case, does not hold true. although it is true that¬† our life has been downsized and essentialized, it is also true that we lack for nothing.

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as we left santa rosa and headed east along the serpentine roads of the coastal range, the joy of this nomadic life struck me full force. giddiness swept over me. the three of us — my happy little family — winding our way through forest and vineyard, along mountain streams and through suburban sprawl, ready to face whatever waits for us on the other side of the mountains. hawks stood sentry on fencepost and powerline. the earth shone vivid and green with life.samantha sang and the beegees began playing on the local easy-listening station and tim and i couldn’t help ourselves.

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Posted by Wordmobi

amtrak escapade ~ day the end

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the last day of our rail adventure was a quick one. we were scheduled to arrive in martinez, ca at 730a. considering the time necessary to wake up, extract ourselves from our little bunks, pack what was left in the roomette, and enjoy our last amtrak breakfast, we had little time to sit and savor our last few hours aboard the coast starlight.

tim, of course was determined to make the most of it. while i remained strapped into the cocoon-like upper berth, cavalierly discarding these precious hours in rem sleep, tim wandered in and around the darkened train cars, as eager as a boy on christmas morning.

by the time i woke up, tim had already been awake for hours. he informed me that we had been delayed because of track construction and improvements and we now had time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. truth be told, i don’t remember a single thing about our last meal on amtrak. i have a vague memory of a cheese omelet and a toasted croissant, but that could just as easily be a memory of another breakfast aboard the cardinal or the zephyr or the capitol limited.

we returned to car 1131 and began packing up our remaining belongings: yahtzee and portable speaker system in suitcase, books and computer in backpack, echinacea, valerian and digestive bitters in toiletry kit. although a part of me was eager to get off the train, to run around in the free, unprocessed air without fear of bumping my head or knocking down a fellow traveler, another part of me wanted to stay on the train forever.

long distance train travel — especially by sleeping car — is an alternate reality; completely separate from the world that exists on the other side of those tinted, curved windows. people are friendlier, more open, more enthusiastic, more civil. it requires you to share space, to clean up after yourself, to make allowances for other people, to give up privacy. you encounter, and whether you like it or not, are forced into close interaction with people with different backgrounds, religions, cultures, and political perspectives. and even though it feels uncomfortable, this cramped, communal living, it also feels vaguely familiar.

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the martinez we returned to was undistingishable from the martinez we left behind 12 days ago: a beautiful coastal landscape, mountains and ocean obscured by patchy fog. following the path of an awkward, wobbling infinity symbol stretching from one side of america to the other, we had found our way back to our starting point.

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thank you to all of the friends and family who made time for us. thank you to all of the strangers who broke bread and shared stories with us. thank you to the amtrak folks who took care of us, who fed us and housed us, and who safely brought us there and back again.

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we missed you mazy!

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amtrak escapade ~ day 11

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a day of transition; our last full day of travel. as we slept, the empire builder pulled into spokane, wa. there, through a series of mechanical interactions that briefly disturbed my sleep, the train was split in two. the forward portion — including the dining car and the fully functioning kitchen– continued on through the northern cascades, on the way to its final destination, seattle, wa. the rear segment, with our chatty friend michael’s fully stocked cafe car, headed south towards the columbia river and portland, or.

i woke to the sight of volcanic soil barely obscured by sparse, grassy vegetation. a patchy haze bled almost all color from the landscape, reducing it to strata of gray, gunmetal, and ochre. dark ponds and inlets appeared along the train tracks and as we sped by, birds skittered morse code across the water, disturbed by the cacophony of our passage.

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wanting to make the most of our remaining hours on the empire builder, we pulled ourselves together and bumbled our way through the swaying cars. with the dining car en route to seattle, our breakfast options were limited. in the cafe car, we signed a form and our friend michael handed over our morning repast. goodbye eggs cooked to order; hello cold ham and cheese croissant.

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the columbia river is beautiful. even though it has been dammed along it’s entire length, even though it is lined with industry that sends spreading columns of poisonous smoke into the atmosphere, even though we have shaped it to our own desire; despite all of this, it is still so beautiful. one wonders what it must have been like before we began dissecting it, separating it into slices of electricity and leisure and transportation.

as we neared portland, the clouds began to give way to a perfect, sunny day. what a welcome back!

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the train slowed as we entered the city, giving us a good view of portland’s industrial backbone. as we neared downtown, the cityscape became legible, familiar: this is the road we took the night we went to fame!, the once-a-week gay night at the bridgeport pizzeria and pub; that is the bridge that everyone told me to avoid; there is the mighty willamette!

we pulled into portland’s union station — a most handsome building — and along with all of our fellow passengers, disembarked. the empire builder had reached the end of the line. tomorrow, it would begin its return trip across the frozen plains and back to chicago.

we had several hours before the coast starlight arrived, so we checked into the metropolitan lounge to drop off our luggage. there, we were greeted by a woman in her late 40s who unwrapped a framed collage and asked, without preamble, what do you think about that?

this was what i have come to think of as a quintessential amtrak moment: surprising, awkward, harmless and oh-so-awesome.

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6.5 days on a train does something to your equilibrium. i spent our entire time in portland feeling slightly out of sorts, unsure whether the sidewalk was moving; unable to stop swaying when standing still. nonetheless, it was wonderful to be back in portland on a beautiful sun-soaked day and it was wonderful to have solid, predictable ground beneath our feet. we meandered through powell’s, departing with 2 new books and 2 snazzy oregon souvenirs. we grabbed some lunch. and then we ducked into ground kontrol, a bar/classic video game arcade on the border of chinatown and downtown portland.

tim discovered this place during our holiday housesitting gig and it became a regular stop on our portland wanders. while i wasted quarters on bubble bobble, xevius, and pinball, tim would kick ass on donkey kong, burger time and miss pacman. i didn’t even know there was a pie factory in donkey kong until tim showed it to me.

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from there we made our way back to union station and our rendezvous with my personal favorite, amtrak’s one-and-only coast starlight.

one of the things that makes the coast starlight such a special line is the addition of the pacific parlor car, a double-decker car with a lounge and abbreviated dining area upstairs and a small movie theater downstairs. part starship enterprise, part grandma’s ranch house, it is the closest that amtrak comes to delivering the romantic, glamorous vision of passenger rail during its heyday.

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we stayed in the pacific parlour car for most of the afternoon and evening, me reading one of my new books (the way of shadows by brent weeks), tim making friends with older southern women who pronounced his name as if it rhymes with liam. eventually, the dining car called for those of us with 715p reservations, and tim and i had our last big dinner on amtrak.

afterwards, we, along with a quartet of dues paying AARP members, watched julie and julia in the pacific parlor car’s theater. i don’t think any of us felt adequately prepared to watch stanley tucci and meryl streep engaging in giggling, happy-go-lucky foreplay.

that night was marked by two events. the first was my discovery that one of the bathrooms on our car was malfunctioning. the flow of water had not deactivated completely and, therefore, a small stream of (clean, thankfully) water was flowing from beneath the bathroom door, down the stairs towards the main exit. our attendant had already retired for the night, so i spent a few harried minutes racing through the dark, quiet train, searching for help.

the second was far less tawdry. as before, tim and i extinguished the lights in our cabin and sat in the darkness, watching the snowy landscape unspool before us. suddenly, mount shasta materialized in the velvet sky, a great white wing spread across the horizon.

as much as i’ve enjoyed this train trip, it is clear that it meant far more to tim. he knows so much about the history of railroads, about the rise and fall of these naive antecedents to ford, united and wells fargo. when i look at the landscape before us, i see mute, unknowable objects: a crossing, a haphazard stack of ties. tim looks at the same thing and sees an entire story: this is a spur line that used to connect a series of small towns to the main rail artery. it’s been abandoned for years and now they are tea
ring it up to make room for a strip mall.

tim stared out towards the dark horizon, hoping to catch another glimpse of mount shasta. joy and wonder filled his eyes and a small smile played across his moonlit face. i’m the luckiest guy on the planet.

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Posted by Wordmobi

amtrak escapade ~ day 10

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one of the many ways that tim and my personalities are in complete opposition is in our response to being on a moving train. for me, the passing landscape, the constant rock and sway, and the gentle drone of massive engines act as a soporific. if not for the necessary interruptions of food and bathroom breaks, i could have easily slept all the way from chicago to portland. games of yahtzee and listening to audio books were, for me, mere delaying tactics in my losing battle with drowsiness.

for tim, on the other hand, the train acts as a stimulant. today, for example, tim woke up at 530a and was unwilling or unable to go back to sleep. instead, still in his pajamas and green havaianas, he wandered the length of the empire builder, eventually settling in the sightseer lounge. he sat in the empty car, watching sunrise spread its pastel wings across the frozen landscape of north dakota. perhaps he had a cup of coffee or read a few more chapters of railroads: america’s greatest adventure. when i finally emerged from sleep and gathered myself enough to go in search of him, i found him there all alone, as content and peaceful as a buddha. did you see the color of the sun this morning? he asked enthusiastically. i’ve never seen anything like it!

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i owned that i had not noticed the color of the sun as i had slept only 13 hours the day before and was therefore quite exhausted.

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the empire builder is reputed to have the best food on amtrak’s entire system. on other lines, you get the sneaking suspicion that perhaps you are eating meals that have not been cooked so much as reheated. on the empire builder, it is clear that there is an actual, fully functioning kitchen on the dining car. tim’s buttermilk pancakes with blueberry compote were light, fluffy and delicious. after sneaking a few bites from his plate, i regretted my choice of cheese and mushroom omelet.

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suddenly, we found ourselves in the middle of full-blown winter. no more of the wishy-washy weather we had endured in dc and chicago; we had finally reached the latitude where winter still reigned. our engineer informed us that our progress would have to be delayed in order to ensure that the freezing temperatures had not compromised the train’s braking systems. our sleeping car attendant warned us not to use the shower because the drains had frozen in the night and, as a result, the water would almost certainly back up and flood the shower area.

at an extended service stop in mynot, nd, we were allowed to leave the train and soak in the frigid air. it was 6 degrees below zero, but after 2 days of dry, pressurized air, tim and i were both thrilled to be outside in the crisp, clear sunlight. while amtrak staff refilled water tanks, restocked the pantry and did their best to thaw the shower system, the two of us hooted and hollered, slid and jumped.

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a long distance train is a strange kind of community. you see the same people day after day and over time, you begin to cobble together a general impression of who they are and how they came to be on this train.

a couple of guys in their 30s had boarded the train in chicago and were sharing a roomette across the hall from us. by the time we left mynot, i had figured out that one of them worked as a trainer at an apple store and that he was an avid railfan. i suspected that he was doing his best to make sure that his companion was enjoying the trip, because although he was the larger and more unwieldy of the two, he still volunteered to take the small, cramped and windowless upper bunk. tim and i both agreed they were gay, although it was not immediately apparent whether or not they were a couple. they, like us, were headed to portland, or. although we were polite to each other, no words were exchanged.

there were many amish and/or hutterite folks on this train. tim theorized that the hutterites were the ones that had laptops and cellphones in addition to modest, homemade clothing and starched linen bonnets. the ones with full-on-joey-lawrence-bowl-cuts? probably amish. the big question, as far as i was concerned, was also a simple one: where were they all going?

our curiosity extended beyond our fellow travelers and into the world of the amtrak employees. charles, our sleeping car attendant, was a surly, sour-faced man whose primary duty (it seemed) was to inform us of everything we were doing wrong. his quarters were cluttered and messy and i wondered if he was going through some emotionally trying times. tim was more interested in michael, the cafe car attendant. always upbeat, always effusive, michael was masterful at drumming up business. but was there a hidden sadness behind his chattiness?

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the day passed and the golden afternoon light made our little roomette feel like a terrarium. north dakota gave way to montana.

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by the time we reached the edge of waterton-glacier international peace park, near the western border of montana, it was night. a three-quarter moon hung in the indigo sky, imbueing the snow-covered landscape with a pristine, lunar glow. tim and i extinguished all of the cabin’s lights and sat staring out into the darkness, entranced by the unearthly beauty of the mountains and the shadow-colored blanket of snow. even the familiar sound of the engine took on an otherworldly air; more heartbeat than machine.

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in no time at all, i was asleep.

Posted by Wordmobi

amtrak escapade ~ day 9

the cardinal is considered by many to be one of amtrak’s most scenic routes. it connects new york to chicago via dc (where we got on), west virginia, kentucky, ohio and indiana. i spent most of my time on the cardinal in a dead sleep, so i cannot verify the accuracy of its reputation.

the cardinal arrived in chicago at about 1010a, about half an hour early. despite — or perhaps because of — my marathon sleep session, i was fairly groggy as chicago’s skyline came into view, and it took me a while to shake the sleep from my head.

somehow, even though my brain felt dessicated and my organizational skills were correspondently wack, we managed to arrange to meet up with karla, m and wenner during our layover. where my chicago people at!?

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(i love how we all are wearing red and black…)

chicago is one of the most important landmarks in my interior landscape. i lived there for almost 10 of the most frustrating, unpredictable and fun-filled years of my life. this soaring, sprawling city was the backdrop of my first clumsy steps towards some kind of emotional maturity; the site where i began to experiment with the person i wanted to become. it was here that i broke my first hearts and first had my heart broken. it was here that my love of house dancing found its ultimate expression (oh berlin!). and it was here that i was lucky enough to find my chicago tribe. these are the people who suffered through my growing pains as i suffered through theirs. these are the folks i injured in my inarticulate attempts to find peace with myself. these are the guides that taught me how to love and forgive and hold faith.

they were not always an easy relationships. we surged and faded from each other’s lives, sometimes out of anger or disappointment, sometimes out of apathy. we judged and laughed and spewed plenty of vitriol. we shared food and pain and fear and boyfriends. and through the years of ebb and flow, of contact and distance, of love and anger, the core of our friendship strengthened, grew and solidified. we’re much older now. our rough edges have been worn down. our insecurities aren’t the beasts they once were.

i realize, now more than ever, what an amazing group of friends they are. nobody makes me laugh like they do. nobody makes me dance like they do. i’m proud of all of us; for the work that we’ve done and the people we’ve become. we might have dipped our toes in crazy; hell, we might even have jumped in once or twice. but we climbed back out, cleaned ourselves off and did our best to learn our lessons.

through thick and thin my family, through thick and thin. may we dance together soon.

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after we finished annoying the folks at urban thai kitchen, we headed back to union station and got ourselves ready for the next stage of our journey: amtrak’s empire builder, the flagship of their long distance trains. we left chicago, headed north towards wisconsin and the wintry majesty of the northern plains.

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the air got colder and the ground outside brightened with snow. when we stopped in st. paul, mn, tim and i stepped outside to get some air. i lasted about 2 minutes before i turned around and headed back to the coziness of roomette 7, car 2731. tim braved on, discovering, to his delight, some vintage rail cars from his favorite train line: the venerable milwaukee road!

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we stayed awake for a while, watching the wintry landscape stream across our darkened windows. the empire builder with its cargo of souls, speeding through the snow, succumbing to dreams.

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amtrak escapade ~ day 8

we woke up to another gray, drizzly morning with the sad realization that our time in dc was coming to a close. eve sent us off with a delicious breakfast and a few tales of her time doing research in amazonia. looking at the photos she had taken of that blessed land filled me with saudades. i hope that this road we are travelling will bring me back there someday.

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the threads that connect me to brasil are the same threads that we have been following throughout this almost 11-month long sojourn: love, curiosity and wonder. love of friends, family, and of this beautiful earth; curiosity to see and experience as much as i can; wonder at how magically life can unfold. it is easy, especially during times of uncertainty, to focus on what we lack; how the world fails to live up to our expectations. traveling has taught me to recognize the other half of this equation. i have been given so much more than i could have ever imagined! it is humbling to consider.

our time in dc was another example of this. friends that i haven’t seen in almost a decade opened their houses and hearts (and houseboats) to us and gave of themselves freely. i am infinitely grateful to them, just as i am infinitely grateful to everyone who has shared a part of their life with me. my life is immeasurably richer because of these connections. the thought that this life is not enough, that it could have been better, is hopelessly petty. how can someone watch the sun rise over the frozen plains of north dakota and find something worthy of complaint?

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heady thoughts inspired by my time in dc! okay, let’s get back to business. we exchanged farewell hugs and kisses with eve, and boarded the circulator bus, bags in tow. caught the metro with time to spare and arrived in union station early. we waited in the acela lounge until boarding time, me trying to stay awake, tim banging away on the internet.

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to be perfectly frank, i was exhausted. our nonstop pace had taken its toll on me and it was only because of regular doses of echinacea, propolis, garlic and honey that i hadn’t succumbed fully to sickness. still and all, my throat rasped and my energy levels were flagging. as soon as the train started moving, i curled up into a prickly little ball and fell asleep.

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tim, energized by his love of all things amtrak, stayed awake snapping pictures of the passing landscape.

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i woke in time for dinner. apparently, amtrak’s gustatory offerings have improved significantly since the obama administration has increased its funding, and my trio of ricotta ravioli with roasted corn and tomato sauce confirmed these rumors.

we got off the train in charlottesville, wv for some fresh air. it was still drizzling in the dark night. i snapped a couple of photos before j. our sleeping car attendant, called the all aboard.

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good night dc. good night old friends. good night pro-life protestors. good night orchids. good night smithsonian institute. good night fellow travelers. good night moon.
Posted by Wordmobi