Thursday, January 16, 2014

All Aboard!

By Nib

I’ve discovered something really great about my small Nebraska town we recently moved to. It sits on an Amtrak line. For $40 (one way) and 4 ½ hours, I can be in Denver. Double all of that and I can go across the mountains to Grand Junction. That’s exactly what I did last weekend.

I volunteered to teach a writing workshop scheduled in the middle of January across a mountain range from where I live. So instead of risking my life by driving (if you’ve ever ridden with me, you know that it’s a minor miracle if I arrive in tact anywhere), I decided to hop Amtrak.

Good thing, because the Interstate ended up closing in both directions due to winter driving conditions on my travel day. The road also closed for several hours on the day I returned because a semi-truck jackknifing on icy roads. So, yay, the first benefit of the train is that I didn’t have to worry about bad roads or ski traffic returning to Denver.

If you’re a writer, the train has other perks. For instance, unlike a plane, I was able to stretch out in the lounge car for easy writing. I didn’t use a table, but they were available. I could put my feet up and write with as much comfort as I would on my sofa, while watching America slide by beyond my window. I had uninterrupted hours to tap away, could stand and stretch and walk a few steps. I packed a thermos of tea and snacks. It ended up being very productive and comfortable writing time.

Other advantages included getting to really observe the scenery. That route climbs from the prairie through the foothills and deep into the mountains. It slips through Gore Canyon and Winter Park, Glen Canyon and spits you out on the Western Slope all along the Colorado River. Picture this, a stress free ride though wintery mountains, beside a rushing river with frozen ice bridges and snow piled like sparkling diamond-studded frosting. Elk, deer, coyotes, eagles and hawks hidden around every bend. The mountains rising high above the glass enclosed observation car. I loved it!

But maybe the best thing about riding the train for a writer is the fly-on-the-wall opportunity. Some people might call it eavesdropping but let’s not split hairs. Some people are friendly and engage in conversation when traveling alone. Not me. I’m the creepy old lady you catch staring at you. I’m told I have a bitchy resting face, which I think is true. So people generally leave me alone.

I listened to a middle-aged mother corner a younger couple and tell them about her five children, the oldest of which is a senior and all the activities that kept her busy for his last year, and the seven year-old is in second grade and his teacher…. I stole a glance and couldn’t tell if the couple wanted to shoot the talker or each other. Watching them try to get away was entertaining.

The elegant elderly man next to me raised an eyebrow and said, “I’m glad we’re sitting down here.” It was the only thing he said to me for the four hours we sat by each other. Although he did point out an eagle to me and I reciprocated by showing him a few elk. My writer’s brain came up with several explanations for his travel. Maybe he was on his way to see his great-granddaughter for the first time and reconcile with the child’s mother. Or, he had perpetrated the perfect art theft and was making his getaway. A long-lost love from his youth was meeting him in Chicago….

A young mother with a toddler had obviously spent a couple of nights on the train. They kept to themselves, eating from a picnic basket, napping and coloring in their coach seats. A very young Asian couple spoke rapidly and frequently to each other in their native language and were extra friendly and kind to everyone. Two middle-aged couples knocking back cocktails and telling off-colored jokes.

Across the frigid Nebraska portion, a well-dressed couple of gray-hairs with posh accents commented and puzzled about the rural landscapes and obvious poverty of homes we passed. The full stock pens at the Western National Stock Show grounds confused them, especially the signs marking Heifer Village. These characters and more shared my ride and wormed their way into my imagination.

For a stay-at-home writer, train travel is the perfect way to go. I can brush up next to humanity, but not quite as closely as I’d have to get in a plane. Characters, setting, conflict, all right there in a smooth-gliding ride. I’m looking forward to hopping the rails again soon.  Have you travel by train? What did you think? What’s your favorite way to get where you’re going?


  1. This sounds perfect! Relaxing, interesting, and room to work. All abooooard! (I'm ready!)

  2. Glad you found a terrific/stimulating way to get to CO. Sounds wonderful! Heifer village.... and the fact that you and your hubby are connected to Janet through Fogg train paintings. How interesting the way the syncronous world works. You make the most of everything you do sister Nib! I want to ride a train (read that in a whiny tone!). See you soon.