Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Riding the Southwest Chief

Kansas City to Albuquerque



I left a frigid Kansas City to board the Amtrak Southwest Chief to Albuquerque--happy, I must say, to be heading west into warmer climes.  The train was two hours late, arriving from an even more frigid Chicago.  I wouldn't board until 12:45 a.m.   My sister worried about leaving me in the dimly lit Union Station in the middle of the night, but I assured her the waiting room was safe.  There were other travelers there and I had a David Baldacci thriller to keep me awake.

When I heard the "All Aboard" announcement over the loudspeaker (Yes, they really said it!), I finally allowed myself to feel the weariness that I had been ignoring for the last two hours.  I found my sleeper car without too much trouble.  Happily, my bed had already been made so I kicked off my boots and crawled underneath the covers.  I'm not sure I even remember the train rolling out of the station.  My bed swayed gently like a cradle.   Clackety.  Clackety.  Clackety.  I was lulled into a sound sound sleep.
I did not wake up until 7:52 a.m.  The conductor announced that we were arriving at Garden City, Kansas.  (All prior stops had not been publicly announced allowing for uninterrupted sleep.)   I pulled the curtains back and looked out on a Winter Wonderland of Snow.  The early morning sun cast a warm glow over the prairie.  I put on my boots and walked down the aisle to pour myself a cup of hot strong coffee.  The steward was disassembling my bed when I arrived back and he introduced himself.  "Just push the little yellow button if you need anything," he said, and then gave me a quick rundown of the facilities.

Clackety.  Clackety.  Clackety.  I sat there, perfectly contented to sip coffee and watch the landscape slide by.  This is the way to travel, I thought.  I am hugging the world.  I am passing through with intimacy and ease.  I saw tumbleweed blowing across the wasteland.  Bales of hay stacked neatly one on top of the other.  We rolled through blink-and-you-might-miss it towns.  When we crossed into Colorado, I laughed when an announcement was made that "Even though marijuana is legal in this state, no smoking is allowed on the train.  It is not legal to smoke marijuana on Amtrak property."
I opted to get a turkey and provolone sandwich mid-morning instead of waiting for lunch in the dining car.  I was enjoying my solitude too much; not ready to chat with strangers no matter how interesting they might be.  When I first made my reservation on-line, I balked at the price but I realized that it's really quite a bargain when you think about it.  Two hundred dollars for a private sleeping car on this leg of the journey.  This is transportation and hotel.  Yes, the bathrooms are shared, but there is a shower and clean towels.  All the coffee you want and meals in the dining car.  Not bad.

Clackety.  Clackety.  Clackety.  Lamar.  La Junta.  Trinidad.  All charming little towns in Colorado.  When I saw my first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains, I realized I was hooked for life.  I'm traveling via train from now on!
There is an undeniable beauty to flying above a blanket of white clouds, but I always get so disoriented when I travel by air.  I can fly out of Los Angeles and be in Kansas City in four hours.  By train, it will take me 34 hours.  But I am so relaxed!  I feel like I am traveling again.  I am seeing a world I'd forgotten because it had been hidden from me 35,000 feet up.  Down here on the ground,  I get a sense of how big the United States really is.  Far from being bored, I am in awe of the landscape outside my window.  It changes every hour.

The train slows down on all the curves.  At times it comes to a near stop, which makes me feel safe.  Every once in awhile the conductor will point out something of interest.  An approaching tunnel.  A mining town.  The Santa Fe Trail.  After we leave Raton, New Mexico, the snow disappears.  The earth turns red.  I am in more familiar territory--the Southwest.  I am looking forward to stopping in Albuquerque for a few days before I continue my journey to California.
  
Although I am writing this post a week later, at night I can still feel the sway of the train and the clackety, clackety, clackety of the tracks.  It's a bit like coming to shore after being on a boat.  I realize this trip lived up to my expectations.  I wanted to embrace the journey, not just the destination, and that is what train travel is all about.  I am definitely hooked!

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