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Day Five: First Class

I awoke on the train in what I thought was Oregon, but have since learned was still squarely within the boundaries of California, in the vicinity of the behemoth Mount Shasta, towering icily above anything withing 500 miles. I rolled over and went back to sleep until I detected Craig stirring. The train was stopped, and it was about 10:30am.

In the tiny space we were alotted, I gathered enough things to get ready for the day. Erp told me as he walked off that the power was off in the train, so the toilets wouldn't flush, and that the train would be stopped where it was until at least noon, as track construction farther downrange delayed us until then, and the Amtrak folks hoped to catch them on their lunch break.

The plan more or less did work, when the time came. I stepped outside into an eye-popping combination of 15mph wind and a temperature of well below 55 degrees, especially in a tshirt and shorts. I was in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Most of the people on the train were staying snugly inside, but a few brave souls were milling around the station, getting some brisk Oregon air, and others were getting some stinky North Carolina air, as smoking isn't allowed on the train.

Like clockwork, however, the train started rolling again at the stroke of noon. As we slowly progressed north through the extensive track construction, we passed a lot of rural farmsteads and town neighborhoods. Something became apparent, and I took note of it. Southern Oregon likes debris. There was scarcely a yard without some piece of junky clutter, whether it was a tire, a car engine, an old bus with no wheels, children's toys from 1981, or whatever shattered remnants there may have been of any of the eight previous tenants of any of the homes we were passing.

This was not what comes to mind when I think of Oregon, even after visiting twice before. This was more like Wisconsin with mountains and no rain. We proceeded north past the enormous Upper Klamath Lake, naturally stocked with waterfowl in numbers and variety such as I had never imagined could all be in one place. The most interesting one was the freshwater-dwelling Black-winged White Pelican. Freshwater pelicans! I had no idea.

We were called to lunch for a 1pm reservation, where we met a couple of later-middle years that were riding the rails all the way from LA to Seattle in one push, to see their daughter and eighteen-month old granddaughter(their first). Meals on a train are great for peering into the lives of others, and for others to peer into yours. I may make it sound weird or creepy, but it's not at all. It's as if you have an instant friend across the table with whom you can speak with ease of anything, in any amount of detail or personality.

People on a train are a different breed, it seems, but with rising fuel costs and the increased hassle of dealing with air travel, the breed seems to be increasing. Riding a train is a romantic, relaxed experience. At first it's exciting, and then boredom settles in. You feel as if there's somewhere you should be, something for which you're late. But then, it just doesn't matter anymore, and you settle into a contented zen, in which nothing really matters except what's going on within the confines of the train.

Then, once you've entered this state of mind, as I have now, on my third long ride since this trip began, and the first painless one, you'll be sitting contentedly reading, daydreaming, napping, or anything else to pass your completely unoccupied time, and the trees will part like a curtain unveiling a stage, and you'll see with your jaw on the floor and your eyes agape that the view is like nothing you've ever seen, a broad vista of rolling green hills, piling into gigantic unnamed mountains full of bears, wolves, bobcats, skunks, deer, sasquatches, and endless ranks of trees marching to the very summit, as if they know how pretty they're supposed to be, and flaunt it by striving to rise higher up that their neighbors.

This is the view outside the window of the train as it hulks its way through the switchbacks between Chemult and Springfield, Oregon. In the California segments of the ride, at least when the sun it out, the mountains are distant, remote, or, more commonly, absent. In Southern Oregon, they're everywhere. They're immanent. They're inescapable. So of course, they're awesome.

Erp and I went to the wine tasting in the club car, offered to first-class passengers such as ourselves and greatly appreciated the moment and the luxury of it, but felt sort of out of place. Also, we only made it for white wines, which neither of us really prefer. I can't speak for Erp, but my personal rule is that the drier a red wine is, the more I will like it.

We rolled into Portland at about 9:15pm which, all things considered, wasn't a very bad deal. I caught the #14 right outside the front door of the station, listening to cabs popping their trunks as we passed them, in the hopes of us giving them a little business. The bus was crowded, even at 9:30pm. The driver never announced the stops, and the streets aren't very discernible by the dark of night, so on something of a whim, I directed the two of us to jump off the bus at an arbitrary point, which turned out to be basically right in front of the hostel.

We checked in, stowed our packs, and walked down to some pub on Hawthorne called Mulligan's, where I drank a pint of Lompoc Centennial IPA, and another of Big Sky Moose Drool. Now we're back, with a collective mind to get to bed the earliest of the trip so far.

I'm done checking email and updating you with my status, so it's bedtime for me, for real. Rachel arrives sometime tomorrow.

1:25 AM, Sep 1, 2006

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