"Hope and Fear: The Future" 
Burning Man 2006
"And therefore to all men this tale I tell,    
Let gain who may, for everything's to sell.    
With empty hand men may no falcons lure..."  --The Wife of Bath's Tale
The Journey West: It began by, well, heading north. North to Omaha, Nebraska. That was where my neice was getting married. That was also where I'd be catching the Amtrak train west.  I was up at 5:30 Friday, August 25. I showered, updated my online journal, and got ready to head out. I got a surprise in the back yard: a turtle. He looked surprised to see me, too. I took Satori to the gas station to top off the tank ($2.68 a gallon). There was lighting off to the north and east. Once the whole family was in the car, we all headed out for Nebraska. When we headed north towards Kansas, we headed straight towards the big storm I'd been watching. I thought we might able to outrun it, but the blue-grey curtain of rain swept across the landscape, inching closer and closer. A few sprinkles dotted the windshield, and then the rain fell in buckets– all the time with a blue sky directly ahead to the north. We finally inched around the eastern side of the storm as it rumbled on. Pieces of rainbows appeared in the clouds. We made the Kansas border at about a quarter past 9, and then zig-zagged through Independence. Some road construction briefly stopped us at Malvern Lake. When we got to Topeka, I found us a fast-food place for some lunch. The middle son's girlfriend was disgusted by the grease on his burger. "It's juice," he corrected. "It's grease!" she said. "It's delicious juice," he insisted.   
We continued down the road. About 1:30 I noticed more clouds ahead. Soon afterwards, cars passed us southbound with their headlights on. I kept thinking we'd get more rain, but we didn't. The summer had been hard on Kansas. We passed many dry and empty ponds, that looked more like craters from some forgotten war. Still, it wasn't a bad drive. Not all of Kansas is flat. Lots of it is green, rolling hills, meandering rivers and thick wooded areas –it's the wide, open spaces in between the shady spots that everybody remembers.  

We crossed the Nebraska border right at 2 PM. At a quarter to 4, and 396 miles from Broken Arrow, we arrived at my sister-in-law's house in Papillion. I took a short nap, and then a quick shower. We changed clothes and went over to the soon-to-be newlywed's new house. It was big, with a full basement and a large back yard. Their cats liked it. That's where we had the rehearsal dinner, which was barbecue sandwiches. The guys all decided to crash there for the night, so we went back to my sister-in-law's. I was exhausted, but I still needed to go get my Amtrak tickets. I was going to go looking for the station myself, but my sister-in-law offered to drive me. We found it deep in a not-so-swanky part of downtown Omaha.  
It happend to be almost time for the westbound California Zephyr to pull through. Railroad personnel  were out on the platform getting ready for it. About a dozen passengers were milling about and waiting inside the station. A couple of freight trains rumbled by, heavy with storage containers. Within minutes, a light appeared in the east, and the Zephyr came around the corner. It pulled into the station and came to a stop. We watched the personnel check tickets, and slowly the passengers climbed aboard. I could see lots of empty seats through the windows.  
When I went inside to get my tickets, nobody was at the counter. It seems the people on the platform were the counter people. I had to wait until the Zephyr had finished loading and gone before I could get my tickets –finally. After giving the ticket agent my secret code, he printed out my tickets. All the apprehension I'd had about the trip melted away once I had them in my hands. While I was at the ticket counter, a couple talking to the other agent about tickets for their trip. The train they were planning to ride was five hours late? My sister-in-law had never been to the Omaha Amtrak station before. 
Saturday morning, we had a big day ahead of us, getting set up for the wedding. We loaded up the U-Haul truck and drove it over to the Fontenelle Nature Center, which had been rented for the occasion. Besides setting up the chairs and decorations for the outside service, we also had to set up the tables and flowers for the reception dinner inside.  My eldest and I went for a walk, because the nature center had an exhibit of giant bug statues. We found the ants –three of them– right off the bat. We got some pictures. I asked him if he wanted to go back, and he said, "Let's explore some more," so we did. We ended up walking the whole forest trail.  

Part of the plan was to hang strings of white Christmas lights in front of the windows, so that they'd look like stars. The strings of icicle lights came with suction-cup hooks to hang them off the glass. The cup, however, didn't suck– that is, they wouldn't stick at all. I tried a loop of fishing line, but anything hung off that just slid to the middle. All the window frames were made from well-crafted maple, so I didn't want to stick thumbtacks in them and make holes. The only protrusions to hang anything from were the stubby window pane inserts, which only worked if gravity pulled straight down. Then I had an idea to use framing nails, not driven into the wood, but wedged between the pieces of wood, thus not damaging the wood at all. That worked. The guys cut florist's wire and untangles strings of lights while I hung them up over the windows. Far below, I could see the park's wild turkeys walking around, looking for food. In no time at all, say, three hours, we were done. By that time, I really needed a shower and to change for the wedding.  It was about a 15-minute drive back to the house. When we got there, the door was locked. We drove all the way back to the nature center, got the house keys, then drove all the way to the house again. I showered as quickly as I could, because we had to be back at the nature center by 5:30. I dried off in a hurry and got out my suit– but my dress shirt was gone! The only other shirt I had was an ugly green plaid shirt, but I had no choice but to wear it with the suit. We hurried to make it to the wedding at 5:30-- except, it seems 5:30 was when they were going to start taking pictures. All the women were sequestered back with the bride, so I had to wait for them to find my dress shirt– except, it wasn't mine. The shirt they gave me had an 18-inch neck and hung off my body like a deflated zeppelin. I put the plaid shirt back on. By that time, there was no avoiding the photographer any longer, so I just went out looking like a moron who didn't know how to dress himself. After family pictures, I got the outdoor lights turned on, and after everyone was seated the service began. It was a pretty wedding, and the happy couple seemed very happy. That made it all worthwhile. It was just about the prettiest wedding I'd ever seen.  

After the dinner, the cutting of the cake, the first dance, the tossing of the garter and bouquet, and the throwing of the rice (really birdseed), it was time to start packing up. The DJ played the last song, and I turned on the lights, signaling it was time for everyone to leave. It took us an hour and a half to get everything cleaned up and put away. It turned out my youngest was wearing my dress shirt the whole time. We dropped off the tuck, then went back to the house. I changed out of my good pants and climbed into bed. It didn't take me long at all to fall asleep.  

The next day, Sunday, August 27th, all the family except for me went back to Oklahoma. That afternoon, we all had lunch at a place called the Upstream, a restaurant in the riverfront area of Omaha that was also a microbrewery– you could sit and watch their different beers being made. I had the fish & chips. I double-checked my packs, and made my last preparations. One of my camping pillows was missing, so my sister-in-law loaned me an old throw pillow. 

Since I would have to carry everything I brought, I had to cut my supplies down to the bare essentials. I had one army surplus Alice backback, one duffel bag, and one small drawstring bag to bring everything I would need for a week.  
Partial Packing List:  
Train tickets!
Tent stakes
Boonie hat
Toothbrush, toothpaste & floss
Baby wipes
Replacement batteries
Beef jerky
Trail mix
Underwear (6 pair)
Lip balm
Digital camera
Disposable camera
Sleeping bags (2)
Folding chair
BDU pants
BDU shirt
T-shirts (3)
Cup, spork & bowl
Toilet paper
Socks (4 pair)
Notebook & pencils
Bag o'gifts
One of the tenets of Burning Man is radical self-reliance. A person must take personal responsibility for himself on the playa. I couldn't count on any help with my stuff. I had to plan on carrying everything I brought. Therefore, I could only pack what I could carry. Packing like that forces you to make your baggage as light as possible, to choose only what you absolutely need.  Taking both a plate and a bowl, for example, seemed excessive, so I packed the bowl; it was the smaller of the two. The goggles, hat and bandanna were essential for living in a desert for a week. Baby wipes were for cleaning up without having use precious water. The notebook was pocket-sized. The bag o'gifts... I hoped would be well-received.   

Some clothes I wouldn't have to worry about packing-- because I'd be wearing them. Other items I didn't worry about taking on the train, because I figured I could buy them once I got to Reno. That was the Phileas Fogg method of traveling: pack light, and buy what you need while you're on the road. A biker friend of mine had an alternate version: pack your most ragged clothes, and then leave them behind when they get dirty. That didn't sound too much in the spirit of "leave no trace." Food and water was another issue-- one that would be resolved with the kindness of others. 

The California Zephyr takes a cross-country route, traveling through seven states and three time zones between Chicago, Illinois and Emeryville, California. I would only be riding the middle part of the route. The Amtrak website says the CZ features such amenities as "Sightseer Lounge Car, Dining Car, Checked Baggage, Non-Smoking, Feature Movies" as well as fancy --and expensive!-- bedroom suites. Reno was my destination because it was the closest Amtrak stop to Burning Man. (Actually, Sparks, Nevada is closer, but the train only stops there to transfer crews.)
I had to start in Omaha, because Amtrak did not offer train service from Tulsa. The only other way I could've gotten to Reno from Tulsa would've been to drive to Oklahoma City, take the Heartland Flyer to Ft. Worth, get on the Texas Eagle to San Antonio, catch the Sunset Limited cross-country to Los Angeles, take the Coast Starlight to Oakland, change to the Capitol Corridor to Sacramento, and then switch over to the California Zephyr headed eastbound to Reno--a trip that would've taken almost twice as long. On some routes, Amtrak actually takes you off the train and puts you on a bus to wherever you need to catch your next train. I just couldn't see doing things that way.   

Speaking of buses: If I wanted to take a bus, I could have gone straight from Tulsa to Reno... but it would have taken six days to reach Reno with basically no difference in price. Besides, I'd never taken a long train trip before. I figured it would be an adventure. 

Amtrak only takes credit cards when buying tickets. There is no option for paying by check or money order or even cash. When buying tickets, I would recommend doing it in person, at a depot, or buying online through the website. Don't do what I did: buy tickets over the phone. No matter how many buttons you push, no matter how many menus you wade through, you never actually speak to a real human being. It's all automated. When the transaction is completed, the magic voice gives you a reference number, so that you can pick up your tickets at the station. You don't actually get anything with your name on it, no receipt, nothing, just a random number and an assurance your tickets will be there waiting for you... yeah, sure they'll be...  trust us... 
That evening, my sister-in-law gave me another ride to the Amtrak station in downtown Omaha.  Outside, it was raining like crazy. The gas stations in Omaha listed "plus" gasoline as cheaper than regular unleaded. She explained the plus was Ethanol, very popular in Nebraska. The rain let up by the time I unloaded my bags. The station was remarkably like a small bus station, with hard plastic chairs set in rows. Posters advertising Amtrak's sleeping cars were on the walls. A TV on the wall was showing the Emmy awards. My train was supposed to arrive at 10:19. I was pulling on my backpack when the conductor announced a 20-minute delay. At 10:50, it began to rain again. Watching down the tracks, I saw when the red lights came on at a crossing about a block away. Moments later, the California Zephyr appeared. The conductor walked down beyond the platform and took off his hat to salute the engineers in the inbound Zephyr, his tribute illuminated in the golden drizzle as the train pulled into the station. About 20 people, including me, got on board, mostly middle-aged folks with a handful of people under 40, including a tidy Mormon family of six. I stowed my Alice pack in the shelves on the lower deck and went upstairs. There was a young, blonde woman who talked on her cellphone the whole time we were waiting for the train. When we boarded, she looked very confused. "I'm supposed to be in a sleeper car," she said. "I'm supposed to meet somebody in a sleeper car." I last saw her, cellphone in hand, heading forward to the next car with her luggage trailing behind her. I found a window seat on the south side of the train. There were enough seats on the coach that everyone got two seats to themselves. 

At 11:30, the train began moving. My window rolled past dark, boarded-up buildings –ghosts of another era. Downtown streets were vacant that time of night, watched over by the emotionless glowing eyes of streetlamps. The train was oddly quiet as we rolled along through neighborhoods and sleepy, rainy streets. A lady came by handing out pillows from a big sack to passengers. One woman asked for one, "unless you run out." The lady waved that off with a smile, insisting there were plenty of pillows to go around. Each pillow had a soft, disposable cover. The conductor kept insisting we would be "on time to Denver." A lady behind me started eating what sounded and smelled like caramel corn. As we moved through the city, life stirred in wet parking lots: trucks lining up for midnight runs and morning deliveries. We picked up speed as we left Omaha. I could hear the moan of the whistle as dark trees, houses and parks sped by. I wondered what they must look like in the light of day, and how they touched the lives of the people that lived there. To the west, clouds lurked low to the ground, revealed by the pinpricks of a thousand streetlamps. We passed a freight train headed east on a parallel track– dim squares of light from our windows sped across the cars before it disappeared into the night behind us.  
We rolled into Lincoln, Nebraska at 12:40, passing a big stadium with a "national champions" banner on the side. Several people got on at Lincoln. A brunette girl in a grey hoodie got off, and was replaced by a guy in a red hoodie. It looked like more people got on board, but I think some of them were just moving from different cars. On the platforms, smokers were taking hurried puffs. (The Zephyr was a non-smoking train.) We pulled out of Lincoln at 12:55. I figured Nebraska at night was something I could sleep through, so I closed my eyes and tried to nap. I woke up at 1:30 and realized we weren't moving. We may have been in Hastings, Nebraska, or just stopped on a siding. No lights were visible outside, but I did see another freight train speed past. At some point in the night, I lost my little train pillow, but I still had the red throw pillow. At 2 AM Nebraska time, it was midnight in Nevada. Burning Man had begun. I fell back asleep. I decided it wasn't light or heat or cold or noise that kept you awake on a train– it was position, trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in. The seats were wide with plenty of leg room, and went back like recliner chairs, but they weren't beds. However, I knew if I was tired enough, I could sleep pretty much anywhere. I remember waking up about 3 AM , and again at 4 AM in some little station somewhere. At some point, I woke up to see the constellation Orion perfectly framed in my window– unless I dreamed that. I curled up into a ball and went back to sleep. 

Passing cornfields
I woke to see low clouds of somber blue and grey hovering over a featureless plain. It was 6:45, Monday, August 28th. I felt pretty good. I think I got about five or six hours of sleep, all together. The sky quickly brightened over a sandy prairie. Cows appeared. I went to the restroom on the lower deck. It was like a Disneyland ride for peristaltic motion. I thought I locked the door behind me, but some girl almost walked in on me. I filled up my canteen from the water dispenser. The seat I'd spent the night in developed a squeak, so I contemplated changing seats. Every little sound carried all over the car. We were zooming westward towards Colorado, but I saw no mountains ahead. Only brightening sky behind us. The lady across the aisle from me was spread out across two seats. She slept all night, surrounded by pillows. On the floor in front of her was her purse and open handbag in full view. She slept completely secure all night. The ride felt smooth. You don't realize how much the train is really moving beneath you until you look through the windows into the car ahead, and see it bouncing all over the place. That's when you realize you must be bouncing all over the place, too.  

Cornfields the size of small towns rolled past. The corn stalks were tall, but not quite yet ready for picking. Blue sky appeared. We went through a dusty little farming town. Signs on buildings were in English and Spanish. At 7:25, we rolled to a stop in Ft. Morgan. We were in Colorado. We were also on Mountain Time, which meant it was 6:25 local time. We only stopped for a couple of minutes, to pick up one passenger, and then we were on our way. I sent people text messages about where I was, but so much of the train route was out of service. I turned my cellphone off for most of my trip. The rising sun turned everything golden. Sleepy cows lounged in feed lots. Others tried to graze on the sparse prairie. Still no mountains. I opened up my supply of beef jerky and had breakfast. The Zephyr slowed to a crawl along some crop land. Finally, an eastbound freight zoomed by as we meandered through a dusty farming community. Once the freight was past, we picked up speed again. Off to the left, a descending passenger jet paced us before heading off to the west. That, and a passing suburb, told me we were closing in on a big city. One housing addition advertised: "Single-family homes from the 200's!" Suburbs surrounded us. A guy on a cellphone across the aisle estimated we were about a half-hour out of Denver. Another jet passed overhead, headed northwest. A friend sent me Gerlach weather for the week: 96 that day, then 80's and 90's the rest of the week.  

Denver train station platform
Suddenly, off to the right, shadowy mountains appeared in the distance. Clouds crowned the peaks. Denver spread out around the mountain's base. Shiela, the conductor lady, announced the dining car was open. They were taking table reservations. The snack bar opened up right after that. We pulled into the Denver station at 8:42, Omaha time. I got out and walked around the platform of the Denver station. The conductors repeated that everyone should stay close to the train, so that nobody would be left behind when we pulled out. Back on board, I moved to a seat that didn't squeak. Two guys and a girl, all with what sound like British accents, got on board at Denver and took seats behind me. They were loaded down with camping equipment, carrying backpacks on the backs and chests. As soon as we pulled out of the station (about 9:25 Omaha time), they were all fast asleep. I went forward to the observation car. Windows in the roof offered great views all around. Seats were positioned so that you could face out towards the view. The snack bar was on the lower deck of the observation car. I got some chips and a soda ($3.50). There were a pair of couples ahead of me, having cereal for breakfast but planning lunch reservations in the dining car. "We're gonna enjoy ourselves!" one lady said. Relaxing back in my seat, my feet propped up, enjoying my chips and soda pop on ice, I felt very rich and upper-class. Before drinking my Pepsi I allowed it to "breathe."  
I started to take a picture of the mountains, but my camera batteries died just then. I had some spares in my backpack. As I was digging them out, a slim brunette girl waited for me to get out of the way so that she could dig something out of her backpack. The train began turning into a series of switchbacks as it worked its way up into the Rockies. As we climbed higher, I saw expensive houses dotting the sides of the mountains. Each of them had huge windows for the spectacular view. Looking ahead, I followed the line of tracks as they circled around a shallow valley and into– a tunnel. I wished I'd had someone to share that moment with. The Zephyr went through about 20 tunnels in the next 15 minutes. If the windows had been opened, I could've touched the passing moss-covered stone without even leaning out. We passed some breath-taking views. Pinnaces of rock shot up all around us. I looked into the observation car, but it was standing-room only in there. Lots of people were taking pictures. Actually, a retired couple came back from the observation car. They said the seats weren't comfortable enough. It was an absolutely gorgeous day: pearl-white clouds lounged about in a baby blue sky. 
We passed a couple of tiny communities nestled way up deep in the woods. A dozen or so tiny houses would be clustered around a stream of clear, sparkling water that churned and rushed eastward down the mountainside. I learned that between Denver and Winter Park, the north side of the train seemed to have the best views– at least until Tunnel 20. With little warning, the train plunged into another tunnel... that just seemed to go on and on. We were in the Moffat Tunnel, 6.2 miles long. Before they built it, trains took a whole extra day to go through the Rockies. It took us over 10 minutes to go through. When we emerged back into sunlight, we were in Winter Park, Colorado. That was where I got a text message from Anne, my friend who was giving me a ride from Reno. She was on her way to Reno to spend the night.  
It took about two hours to get to Winter Park from Denver. There were wildflowers everywhere. The hills were carpeted with tall, straight trees. The train followed the Fraser River down into Fraser Canyon, which had some amazing views. Here, the river alongside the train ran westward, all the way to the Pacific. We saw deep canyon walls with lush foliage and dramatic rock formations. A few trees looked like they were already turning for the winter. A golf course suddenly appeared on the far side of the river, fountains of water spraying from the sprinklers. We arrived at Granby, "the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park." The train only stopped for a couple of minutes so that a few people could get off. The conductor said we'd be passing through some special canyons ahead, canyons with no roads in or out; the only way to see them was by train. Horses grazed in an emerald green field. Downstream, the river widened, and the mountains opened up into a wide, green valley. I saw two men fly fishing in a shallow stream. The train slipped alongside the river, with little or no noise inside the cars. 
Rocky Mountains
 A guy walked down the aisle with a hoodie that read "Alternative Tentacles." The woman in the seat in front of me would not stop talking. I don't mind people talking, or even a running commentary on the view, but this person was the champion of stating the obvious. "Look, a road!" she'd say. "This is a canyon!" This went on for several miles, until her son gave her a printout from some Internet website. "Here, read this. It's interesting." That kept her busy for a while. Behind me, the British girl woke up and nibbled on a sack of potato chips. She pronounced "cops" like "cups." It was lunchtime, so I treated myself to a microwave cheeseburger and a beer from the snack bar ($9.50). All the observation car seats were taken, so I took it back to my seat. Outside, clouds masked the sun as it climbed ever higher. The train came to a stop beside the river, sunlight sparkling on the rushing water. It turned out a freight train was broken down ahead, and it was 15 minutes before we got going again. The train came to a halt several times during the trip, to allow others engines the right of way and to wait for other trains to pass. Squat, stately buttes rose on either side of the river as we followed its course. The thick coat of trees fell away to expose the dry, grassy mountainsides, a splash of trees here and there. Dark mounts loomed ahead. The ride grew bumpy, and the car grew silent. I read part of "The Canterbury Tales."
Near Winter Park, Colorado 
The canyon narrowed dramatically. The railroad tracks snaked along the canyon wall, about 100 feet above the river. The river itself turned into churning white water. Five men in a yellow raft prepared to shoot the rapids far below us. The white water went on for miles. Someone said they saw a mountain lion. Below, a man in a broad hat was making a transit in a blue kayak. Rafting & fly fishing must be a big business on that river. Fatigue overtook me, and I took a nap. I think I slept about an hour. I woke to see mountains of pale sandstone. We had crossed the river during my nap, and it ambled alongside the north side of the train.  
Rich, red stone poked through the earth and mingled with the variety of nature's colors. There was a highway running along the north side of the canyon, which at that point was so narrow that eastbound & westbound lanes could not run side-by-side, but tather staggered down the walls of the canyon. At one point, the stilted highway crossed the river above the train tracks and disappeared into a tunnel. It re-emerged when the canyon widened further downstream. Was it still Monday? I saw a road sign pointing to Grizzly Creek. Exit 119 led to "No Name." About seven hours out of Denver, we stopped at Glenwood Springs. Red and green cliffs overlooked the town, lush green grass erupting out of red earth. This was where many people got off headed for the Aspen area. The British backpackers got off the train here, but later the conductor found one of their bags left behind. In the rest room, I "freshened up," then got a $1,75 Pepsi. Heading towards Grand Junction, the mountain views were just outstanding. I asked the conductor, "How long before we get to Grand Junction?" He said, "That's our next stop." Um, that wasn't what I asked.  
The land quickly turned harsh and dry. Scrub brush replaced pine trees, and sage replaced green grass. High stone cliffs stood watch over the rails. The afternoon wore on. We made it to Grand Junction about 4:30 local time, about 8 hours out of Denver. We only spent about 15 minutes at Grand Junction. The conductor estimated we'd make Salt Lake City in another six hours. Two rows ahead of me, a grey-bearded man brought his own supper to eat. It looked like he brought an entire Cornish game hen, with several side dishes. The conductor pointed out the stark red and yellow cliffs of Ruby Canyon as we passed from Colorado into Utah. The late afternoon sun shone onf fields of golden dried grass, purple hulking mountains off on the horizon. We stopped briefly in Green River, Utah. The observation car showed movies at night on a couple of closed-circuit TV's set in the walls. That night's feature was "RV" starring Robin Williams. Anne sent a text that she was in Reno, and to text her when I was getting close.  
Ruby Canyon
When we pulled into Helper, Utah, the sun had already gone behind the western horizon. The train station looked like the back alley of somebody's garage. No platform, just a gravel road beside the tracks. A crescent moon appeared above hard, rugged cliffs. I called home-- everyone was worried about Tom the cat, who was very sick. I tried to nap as night fell over Utah, but couldn't. I ended up getting another $4 beer from the snack bar and watching part of "RV." I don't know how it did at the box office, but everyone in the observation car was just howling. About 10:15 local time, we pulled into Provo, Utah. The tiny train station was little bigger than an old Fotomat booth. About a half dozen people got on at Provo, headed for Sacramento. Ahead of me, a guy was going on and on about politics. I couldn't tell if he was talking about Ralph Nader's bid for the presidency, or if he himself had run for president. Back towards the rear of the car, a girl from Salt Lake was saying it was almost the size of Chicago, "but with no night life." It was another hour to Salt Lake City, which they did not announce when we stopped. I had been staying up to see Salt Lake, because I'd never been there before, but there wasn't anything to see at night. Once we were past, I settled down to try to get some sleep. I was out within minutes.  
Eastern Nevada

My watch said 5 AM, Omaha time, when I woke up. The windows were black with night. Everyone else in the car was sound asleep. I went to the restroom, then lied back down in my seat. The slowing of the train woke me up again. Outside, amber streetlamps glowed over an empty station platform. Were we in Elko? I went back to sleep...  My watch said 8:15, Omaha time, when I woke up Tuesday, August 29th, which was really 6:15 Pacific Time: we were in Nevada, but where exactly, I had no idea. I'd slept for about seven hours– wow. There were some mountains to the south. The Humboldt Range? I got a cup of hot tea from the snack bar ($1.75) and lounged in the observation car. Not too many people wanted to observe the harsh plains of eastern Nevada that time of morning, but I enjoyed myself. The rugged land and stark mountains scrolled by leisurely. Maybe too leisurely. The train was only going about 40 MPH or so. I thought we'd be flying down the rails once we got out of the mountains. Trucks tripple-stacked with trailers were zooming past us on an adjacent highway– Interstate 80? I saw an exit sign for a place called Argenta.  
A blonde lady ate breakfast with a young blonde girl called Melissa. She spoke to the lady about her "biological dad." An Elko High School bus sped past. The slim brunette girl wrote in a journal. A big guy with what looked like prison tattoos on his neck and up and down his arms turned out to be a Woody Guthrie fan. A black bird, maybe a raven, flew alongside the train, keeping pace with the observation windows. Wispy clouds, like strands of angel hair, drifted overhead. We traveled through a broad valley. Stubborn, lime-green brush poked its way out of pale, cracked earth. The conductor announced we were running a little behind schedule because of a slow-moving freight train ahead on the tracks. He estimated two more hours to Winnemucca. I sent Anne a text, but I don't think it got through. So much of the train route is outside cellphone service. I got a Pepsi. We passed a pond beside the tracks, white birds with long necks were bathing themselves. Two hours later, we seemed to be going even slower. There was a brilliant blue sky outside. I would've enjoyed it a lot more if I really didn't need to be someplace as soon as possible. There was a sandy, craggy range to the south. It was going on 9 AM local time, and we weren't even to Winnemucca yet. The train picked up speed, briefly, then slowed back down again. Across the aisle from me, a redheaded girl dozed in her seat.  

At 9:20 local time, about the time we should've been pulling into Reno, we arrived at Winnemucca, Nevada for a 10-minute stop. Smokers on board took the opportunity to vigorously puff away outside. The station, which is on Railroad Street, was more like a little bus stop; there is no other structure anywhere near it. In no time, the conductor called "All aboard!" and we were off again. After a while we finally started picking up speed. I went to the observation car to read for a while. I finally got through to Anne. She said that because of the time, she could go to the store for the both of us so that we could head out as soon as I got to Reno. She just wanted to get to the playa before dark. My "penance" for making her wait for four hours was to help her put up her tent when we got there. I apologized for the train being so late, and she said, "No worries!" Trucks over on the highway were still going faster than the train. At 11:20 local time we passed the town of Lovelock. Passengers dozed all around me, but I couldn't sleep. I was too excited. Dry lake beds passed, ringed with scrubby brush. Ahead, the train had to stop again –in Fernley! We actually stopped in Fernley, on the road to Burning Man. I wanted to see if the conductor would just let me out there. At 1:35 local time, four hours late and 40 hours after leaving Omaha, we finally arrived in Reno! I lugged my bags upstairs, which was where I met up with Anne. She was so patient to wait so long for me. We loaded up her little car as quickly as possible. I still ended up with bags on my lap, but I didn't care. We both just wanted to get on the road to the playa.  
Introduction -- The Journey West 
 Tuesday -- Wednesday -- Thursday -- Friday -- Saturday -- Sunday 
Monday --  The Journey East -- Epilogue
All original content (c)opyright 2006 
by Tim Frayser 
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