Train Ride Down South

The train is just leaving the designated fresh air/smoking stop at Eugene. Yes, that’s exactly how it was worded: the “designated fresh air and smoking stop.” It’s moving very slowly. But at least it’s heading the right direction: south. The weather in the northwest, for riding, has been off and on. A week of mild rain, a week of heavy rain and cold, a week of upper 20’s and snow. Another week of rain. Mainly I guess it’s just been off. Miraculously I’ve gotten through it all and remained healthy, and haven’t missed a day of training since I started at the beginning of November.
My bag of food sitting next to me is shrinking at an alarming rate. The train ride will take another 25 or 30 hours and I’ve already eaten approximately 25% of my food…in the first 90 minutes. I have a feeling that things are going to get pretty bad tomorrow.
The compartment I’m in is mainly full of senior women. I’d say the average age is 68, with a few exceptions of young people. Almost no middle age people are riding the train. They all own cars, which are of course superior to trains and any other form of transportation. No, I’m not being sarcastic at all.
I’m in the upper compartment of the train, which is the first time. The view was pretty good earlier in the day when it was light out. Now that it’s dark I can’t really see anything out the window because of the conveniently-placed overhead lights directly up above and against the windows, illuminating and reflecting off the glass so that people outside get to see us. Not that anyone’s watching.
Earlier we passed some lovely little communities and homes backed up against the tracks. There was a lot of chain link fence and razor wire. Those homes and businesses must be extremely valuable to need such extravagant protection.
Two days ago I didn’t know where Michael (the friend I’ll be training with in Solvang) and I were going to live. The house we were going to stay at moved. It was a 5th wheel. The other house we were going to live in didn’t have a bathroom or fridge. Or a second bed. It was an RV. And the third house we were going to live in was too expensive for only two of us to pay for. This house was an actual guesthouse. All three of these houses were right next to each other on the same person’s property.

Unsuccessful in finding a third person to help pay the rent for the guesthouse, we planned on staying in the RV until we found something more permanent. Something with a bathroom. But more importantly something with a fridge.
Yesterday I posted a housing wanted ad on a cycling listserve in Solvang and got a couple responses and our problem was solved. Now there was no reason to live in the RV. So I emailed the woman who owned the RV and told her that we wouldn’t need it anymore, but we’d still appreciate a ride from Santa Barbara (destination of my train and Michael’s bus) to the new house in Solvang, which is about 25 miles away. She replied with bad news. A day ago we had a ride (from her) to Solvang, but nowhere to stay other than her RV. Now, angry that we weren’t staying with her, she didn’t want to give us a ride anymore. So now we had a place to stay but no way to get there. Luckily our new host was nice enough to agree to come pick us up. Imagine reading through your emails, coming across something about two cyclists needing a place to stay for three months, calling them up and saying, “come on over!” Then also agreeing to come pick them and 400 pounds of their stuff up at the train station—all that in just a day. Sometimes kindness can be confused with a person’s desperation, which in this case would be money. Although that isn’t the issue here, it’s just kindness. This is why I don’t believe in Karma. Lots of good things happen to me and lots of people help me out, yet I never seem to do any good to other people or the world. Maybe I’ll do some great deed in the future that the Karma gods know about.
A few weeks ago I exited the grocery store and walked into the parking lot and saw the driver parked next to me had left their lights on. I decided to rack up some quick karma points and walked back into the store and told a clerk to make an announcement that the owner of the car with the license plate “whatever” had left their lights on. My good deed done, I went back to the parking lot and saw that the car’s headlights were already off. It was just the automatic headlight deal where they turn off 30 seconds after you park. I was left wondering if it’s the thought that counts towards karma points, or if it’s making an actual difference. I would guess it’s half and half. But of course the points are diminished if you do it purely for the sake of acquiring karma points.
Now my food rations are down another 5%.
I didn’t bring anything to read or do for this 30 hour train ride. Other than my laptop, which had no movies on it, and two ipods. So I can either listen to the music on my computer, or I can listen to the music on my ipods, all three of which have the exact same songs. Or I can type.
I think I should just eat all my food right now and get it over with. It’s occupying all my thoughts as it is. Damn it, why didn’t I bring more food? Why didn’t I eat more before I got on the train?
Down another 5%.
If you flip a quarter 1,000,000 times, there’s a chance it will land on heads every time. It’s a small chance, but it’s possible. Likewise, I have a theory that there is a person that has never had to stop at a red light. A person who drives an average commute 5 times a week, goes on cross country vacations a few times a year, has been driving or has ridden in cars since birth, and will lead their entire life without every having to stop at a red light. If this is true, there also exists an unlucky person who has never gotten a green light without having to stop first.
What am I at now? I think I’m at 65% food rations left. BUT! That’s not including cliff bars or the giant bag of whey protein. That’s just counting fruit, bread, rice crackers, and deli meat–of which there is none left. Of course the deli meat is the first thing to go. Actually the very first thing to go was a pear. But not before it got smashed in my bag and slimed every other item of food. That’s the problem with pears. They’re one of nature’s weakest, most fussy fruits. They spend days and days being too hard and unripe to eat, then when all of a sudden they get ripe, they get really soft and the slightest ding will peal off their skin. This makes them poor traveling fruit, as apposed to something sturdy like the apple or coconut.
If the train was moving any slower, I could get wifi from one of these houses we’re passing by. Unlike the no-red-light-for-life-person theory, there does not exist a human being who has ridden Amtrak and hasn’t gotten pissed off.
I figured out why they have all these bright lights on the inside of the train up against the windows. It’s so you can’t see out and get a visual reference of speed. Instead, we’re left to judge by feel. It feels like we’re going 14mph. But it could be 12mph. I’ll never know because I can’t see out. It would be a pretty cruel punishment to keep prisoners in constant wonder about how many days they had left to serve. If they were kept inside with 24-hour artificial light and there were no clocks or calendars and the guards were forbidden to tell them what day it was, the prisoners would most likely go crazy. One hour would seem like four. In fact because of the seemingly slowing down of time, they could serve less time and get the same “benefit.” Think of the money that would be saved if the typical 20-year term were shortened to 5 years. And that’s not even counting the money that would be saved from not having to buy clocks and windows!
I can see outside a little. We’re going about 12mph. And I’m out of roast beef. Woah! I just remembered I have “WolfQuest, Survival of the Pack” on my computer. I think we all know how I’m going to spend the next 20 hours.

Never mind. The game’s not working.

Part II

Last night I made a PowerPoint presentation about the train ride. It took a good hour and a half maybe. Then the woman who owns the seat next to me came back. She had been in the lounge car the entire time. She was slightly drunk and a bit high from a muscle relaxer. She asked if I wanted one. I said no thanks. After 30 minutes of her talking at me and shuffling around in her seat I said I was interested in a muscle relaxer after all. It didn’t do anything. I spent a couple hours staring out the window at nothingness and willing myself to sleep, but by midnight, I still hadn’t made any progress. I decided to try somewhere else on the train.
The lounge car had all of its lights on and some people were talking. But there was ground space to lie on next to the windows, so that’s where I spent the night. It was right next to a heater vent too, which was nice.
This morning I’ve spent my entire time in the lounge car, which as a bunch of open seats facing the windows. There’s enough space in here that I can take up three seats. It’s all very exciting.
I’m also pretty excited about a banana sandwich I’m planning on making in an hour or two. I have one apple and a banana left. Plus most of my loaf of bread and rice wafers. I found a small piece of roast beef at the bottom of the bag earlier this morning, which was a nice treat. And I had a cliff bar. So all things considered, I’ve grown quite accustomed to train life. The California scenery passes by slowly, yes. There’s not much to eat or do, yes. But then again, there’s a strong sense of community here. Out of sheer boredom and drunkenness, people are striking up conversations and friendships with each other. They’re even traveling in small packs to and from the dining car and roaming up and down the train cars in search of adventure. I imagine all these aspects of train life add up to a pretty accurate picture of what pre-agriculture-based society was like. It really baffles me that the train doesn’t have wifi though. I mean come on! By the time I post this it will be over a day old, and therefore meaningless.

Part III

I’ve spent the day trying to sleep, listening to music, looking out the window, and playing chess against my computer. It isn’t very fun playing against a computer, because it doesn’t make mistakes and its moves are always super rational. There aren’t that many tricks, and when there are and I see them, it doesn’t even matter because whatever I decide to do, the computer will win that set of moves. By the time it does something “risky” or tricky, its planned so far ahead and so well, that its actually not risky or tricky at all. Maybe this is why the best humans are able to beat computers even when they’re set“unbeatable.” The human knows the computer will plan for something practical and safe, and counter that with something irrational. Or maybe the computer knows that the human will play irrational and expect the computer to play rational, so the computer rationally decides to play rational, in which case if the human is still able to beat the computer, they must have figured out the computer’s reverse psychology. Maybe I should just set it on an easier level.
It’s sunny down here. The train just stopped at San Luis Obispo and I got off for the first time to walk around. It was probably in the upper 60’s. Nice and warm. Shorts and short sleeve weather. Before I got back on the train, I ran and got a sandwich wrap at a store.
I’ve come to the conclusion that traveling by train could possibly be better than by air. First of all, it’s much less stressful than flying. There’s no security, no giant airport terminal to get lost in. No worry about being late for the train, since it will certainly be later than you.
Secondly, there’s a lot of room on a train. You can get up and walk around, get off occasionally at stops. There’s room to lie down, seats available to put your feet up and even lie down if you get one of these sweet lounge couch things I’m on right now. It’s not as loud as a plane. Not even close. And the scenery is better, depending on what you like to look at. If you like the grand scheme of things, observing from a far distance 30,000 feet above the ground, giving the earth an apparent calm and feeling that everything is just A OK, then flying is for you. If you enjoy getting a close-up look at the closest thing the US has to slums and shanty towns, houses built out of cardboard and bed mattresses, trash-strewn back yards and tattered plastic snagged on razor wire and blowing in the breeze of the passing train, then the rail is the place for you.
Flying from Portland to Santa Barbara would take about 2 hours. Plus add in an hour and a half for terminal time. Taking the train is going to be 27 hours (it made up time after all and looks like it will actually be a few minutes early). But if you need to take a day or two of recovery, which I was going to have to do anyways, taking the train might be better than flying due to the lower cortisol levels and the ability to keep your legs elevated and moving about throughout the day. I’ll see how I feel tomorrow. Come to think of it though, 2 hours in a plane isn’t that long and wouldn’t hamper performance or recovery unless you got sick, which is also more likely on a plane than on a train, I believe. If a train could cover the equivalent distance of a six or five hour flight in 25 hours, then as long as you weren’t in a hurry, I think the train would be much better.
And lastly, if you include the price into the equation, $100 for a train ticket obviously beats $200 for a plane ticket. And then of course you have to count the fact that all I paid for baggage was a meager $30 for my two fifty pound bike boxes jam packed with equipment, my bike trainer and altitude tent poles, two large cardboard boxes with stuff in them, a big duffle bag, a backpack, and a bag of food. That would have cost an extra $500 if I went by plane. Yes in deed, trains are the waive of the future, just like they were back in the early 1800’s.

Part IV

I take it all back. Trains suck. Amtrak sucks. We’ve been sitting here not moving for the last 40 minutes because a freight train in front of us needs to do “maintenance.” This is after the conductor assured us that there would be no more hold ups. Time to add some more slides to my PowerPoint slide show.

Part V

F- it. The train was stopped for well over an hour and finally it gets going…up to a blistering speed of 20mph because the traffic stop lights have been set to the speed the freight train was going. And they won’t adjust to our speed due to some malfunction. So we’re an hour and a half behind schedule and now we’re going 20mph, which will make us even later. Amtrrak, I really hate you.