"Hope and Fear: The Future"
Burning Man 2006
"And well I know, as you go on your way,  
You'll tell good tales and shape yourselves to play;  
For truly there's no mirth nor comfort, none,  
Riding the roads as dumb as is a stone..." --General Prologue
 
The Journey East: I was up about 8 AM Tuesday, September 5th. I had wanted to do some looking around Reno while I was there, see some sights, pick up some souvenirs, and maybe relax a little before heading back... but that was all on the assumption I'd be getting to Reno Monday afternoon. The gridlock and subsequent delay in getting out of Black Rock City changed all that. There just wasn't time. I said goodbye to Anne before she hit the road. I gave her a big hug and thanked her for getting me to Burning Man and back. I called my wife to tell her I loved her and to see how everybody was. Everyone was fine. Nothing was blown up. The cat wasn't dead. She was anxious for me to get home. Me, too.  
  
Checkout time was twelve noon. I figured I had an hour to get supplies, an hour to eat, and then an hour to pack before I had to be out of the room. I took a quick shower, then headed out looking for the nearest bank. I needed some cash. My belt was loose, like I'd lost about 2 inches since the last time I wore it. I saw a newspaper for the first time in over a week, and it was a shock to read that Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, had passed away. That was so sad. I liked him. There was an ATM in the casino, but it charged an $8 fee per transaction. Yikes! Fortunately, there was a branch of my bank just a couple of blocks away. (In Reno, the blocks are really short, too.) Right across the street was a drug store. That's where I picked up some snacks for the train, and a $3.99 sweatshirt. Reno stores already had Halloween decorations up.   
  
I went back to the room and took another shower because, well, I could. I went downstairs for some breakfast. Several of the restaurants tempted me, but one word reached out and touched my soul: "buffet." All you could eat for about $9. Bwa-haha. I think they lost money on me that morning. I chowed down on three big helpings of eggs, hash browns --and of course, plenty of bacon. By then, it was almost 11. I had to hurry. On the way back to the room, I swung through the casino and tried my luck on a slot machine. I think it would've been quicker to throw my dollar bill out the window. My card key wouldn't work when I went back upstairs, so security had to come let me in. Most everything was already packed in my bags. My plan to attach my drawstring bag to the top of the Alice pack backfired– it just wouldn't go. I was gonna have to carry it in one hand and the duffel bag in the other. I left the hotel right at noon. If it had just been the backpack, I would've been all right, but the combination of all the bags really wore me out. It was only a few blocks to the Amtrak station, but it felt like I'd been bench-pressing weights for hours.  
  
The station was empty when I got there: no passengers, no staff, nobody. I went downstairs to the platform level and sat in the waiting room all by myself. I read more of "The Canterbury Tales" while I waited. About 1:15, a lady arrived to wait for the westbound train, which she said was due "about 4:15." That would only make it an hour late. Other people arrived to wait. One lady was taking the Zephyr to Chicago, and then from there to Orlando, Florida. She used to be a nurse, but had quit to become a song writer. "I don't know what I'll be next," she said. By then, the office upstairs was open, so I went back up to check two of my bags. I double-checked to be sure I could bring my Alice pack on board with me. The station clerk said, "You can take it all with you, if you like." Indeed, one woman carried on all her luggage with her, all five color-coordinated bags. She needed a cart to move them all. At 3:30, they announced the eastbound Zephyr would arrive about 4:25. I got a soda from the machine: Pepsi, no Dr. Pepper. A freight train roared past the station at 2:45. It turned out the westbound Zephyr was running about five hours late. Amtrak: when it absolutely, positively has to be there –eh, whenever.  
The eastbound California Zephyr, arriving down "the trench"
More passengers arrived. By 4 PM, I counted over 30 people waiting for the train. The conductor came through handing out boarding passes, and telling people where to go on the platform when the train arrived: "Sleepers to the right, coach to the left." The eastbound California Zephyr arrived right at 4:25. I stowed my Alice pack in the racks inside the coach car, but there were no seats available above. I had to go back to the next car. I found a seat in the second row. Everyone got settled in, and at 4:40 we left the station. I was on my way back home. The passenger list was once again light enough for everybody in coach to have two seats to themselves, if they wanted.  
  
Back towards the middle of the car, there was a real loudmouth sitting with some friends. He spoke in a loud, annoying voice, liberally sprinkled with curse words. The lady across the aisle from me even went looking for a seat in a different car, to get away from him. Obnoxious Man was on his cellphone, trying to get a friend to look up a phone number. He explained he couldn't look it up, because he was on a train. "What do you care where I'm goin'?" he asked his friend. "Just do what I ask for once in your life!" He finally got through to his buddy in Salt Lake City, and arranged to meet him at the station to get some cigarettes when the train arrived at 2 AM. He was so busy talking, he didn't hear the conductor say we'd be stopping in Winnemucca for an hour. It seems train crews must be under the same laws as airline crews, in that they can't be on the job for a certain number of hours without resting. They had to take a mandatory 8-hour rest period between shifts. The westbound Zephyr didn't get to Winnemucca until 2 that afternoon. That meant that even if we got there by 9 PM, we had to wait until 10 PM for the crew to be rested enough to take us on eastward. Obnoxious Man wasn't happy when he heard that– especially since we were out of service by that time, and he couldn't call his friend back.  
  
The (in)famous Mustang Ranch was supposed to be visible from the tracks, just east of Sparks, but I missed it somehow. We rolled through Fernley at 5:40. I looked up just as we were going over the trestle bridge. Every other time I'd been to Burning Man, I'd gone down that road under the bridge, but it was weird to see it from that angle. The Orlando Girl came through with a Corona beer –$5 in the snack bar.  We passed mile after mile of dried lake beds, but I was pretty sure I'd seen enough of them for a while. I tried to catch up on my writing. I did notice some buffalo grazing on a grassy slope, not far from some cows. At 7:05 we passed through Lovelock. Horses grazed on dusty fields as a flowing, golden sunset lit up the western horizon. To the east, a bright, full Moon lit up the sky. The vail of dusk fell over the Nevada landscape. I saw a coyote, as big as a Rottweiler, casually loping through the brush. No roadrunners were visible. From atop a telephone, a crow watched dispassionately as the train rumbled by. The evening movie in the observation car was a documentary about a spelling bee.  

I read more of "The Canterbury Tales." I was almost through with it, too. It had very little about the pilgrims' actual journey to Canterbury. I was a little surprised it was still required reading in some high schools, considering how downright raunchy some of the stories were. I was struck by the variety of stories, as well as the variety of writing styles Chaucer used. Each tale sounded like a different person was telling the story. It was like some modern writer doing a series of short stories, one in the style of Raymond Chandler, one in the style of Zane Grey, etc. That took talent. The recurring theme of one man mating for life with one woman, sometimes to the liability of those involved,  showed how deeply ingrained the concept was in western society... and what an uphill battle gays and poly families faced for acceptance. In "The Knight's Tale," two friends become enemies when they both fall in love with the same girl. I kept thinking, if they just formed a triad everybody could've lived happily ever after. I found many sections to be colorful, wise, funny, and –perhaps most surprising of all– progressively feminist. I didn't care for the anti-Jew stuff, though. I didn't care for that at all.  
  
Obnoxious Man spent the evening in the observation car with his buddies, fortunately, playing cards and drinking Coronas. The lady in the seat ahead of me was on her way to Omaha to visit her son. She lived in a small town northwest of Reno, but she had lived several places in her life. She made regular shopping trips to Reno. We watched mountains pass by in the pale light of dusk. She said she used to go hunting and fishing in the mountains, but now just enjoyed camping and getting in touch with nature. She was all for people traveling, getting out and seeing the world. She said, "If you have the opportunity to live, do it!" She said I didn't sound like I was from Oklahoma. I told her I get that a lot. Right at 9 PM, we arrived in Winnemucca, where the train sat on the tracks for the next hour. Lots of passengers got out to walk around. Orlando Girl wondered if there was a grocery store nearby, where she could get some sandwiches. The conductor, however, warned people about wandering too far from the train. If you weren't there when the train pulled out, you'd be stranded. I took the opportunity to dig my sweats out from the Alice backpack and change clothes for the night. I was glad I did. It got downright chilly on the coach. As soon as we pulled out of Winnemucca, I settled down in my seat and soon fell asleep.... I woke several times in the night, usually to find a different, more comfortable position. I always fell right back asleep again. I was getting used to the whole sleeping on a train thing. Once, in the night, I woke up to see the amazing full Moon lighting up a remote, Nevada valley, everything shaded in hues of blue and purple. I must've slept right through Elko.  

I opened my eyes, and realized we weren't moving. Outside, freight cars sat waiting on parallel tracks near an overpass. It was Wednesday, September 6th, and we were in Salt Lake City. I went out to the platformed and walked around, stretching my legs. Someone mentioned we'd been there a half hour. One passenger said we might make Denver on time after all, but another said we were running 3 hours late. It was 6 AM Pacific Time, 7 AM local. After another half hour, we were on the move again. Outside of town, I saw some water off to the side– was that the Salt Lake? We breezed through Provo at 8:30 local time. Beyond Provo, mountains rose all around us, carpeted with green and red trees. Omaha Mom wondered if there'd been a frost already, but I figured the leaves had turned from excessive summer heat.  

 
 
We went through a long tunnel, and emerged climbing through beautiful, rugged hills. I got some hot tea ($1.75) and sat in the observation car for a while, watching the rocky landscape roll by. A gurgling stream snaked its way alongside the tracks. The train dangled right over the stream as it churned into white water directly below us. Trees and green brush lined the stream, which flowed over and around couch- and car-sized rocks. Wild flowers dotted the hillsides. Nobody said, but it may have been Davidson Canyon. Steeples of rock towered over us, capping many mountains and hillsides. We rolled into Helper, Utah at 10:35 local. A grey-haired woman got out, and was met by a blonde girl and a young man in a ball cap. The conductor said it would be another three hours to Grand Junction. The sky turned overcast. The Omaha Mom moved to another seat further back in the car. She said she had trouble in the night, because of the racket from the door to the next car, which was right in front of her. As soon as she left, I moved forward and took her seat. It had better windows.   
   
We rolled into a broad, flat valley, with lots of farmland, possibly the Price River valley. The farmland soon melted away into crusty desert.  Shallow gullies gouged their way through the dry earth, as pastel cliffs squatted in the distance. On the train rolled. Life stubbornly returned to the landscape, and green trees emerged, flourishing among the stones and along the dry riverbed. In the shallow between two rises, we passed a family of antelope –about a dozen of them, led by a tall bull with dark horns.  The bull watched the train in silence until we rolled on down the track. Incredible. Dry grass dotted the soft desert hills. To the north, the tracks followed scarred, violet escarpments –the Book Cliffs. Spread out to the south was a wide, sandy plain as we approached Green River, Utah. My left hip still hurt from standing on the Gerlach road for so long. It hurt to get up, sit down, and crossing my legs was a pain. 
I got a Pepsi from the snack bar ($1.75). The line of cliffs extended past Green River. The train followed the range eastward towards Colorado. The north side of the train had some tremendous views, especially with the thunderstorm clouds moving in. The south side of the train had views of... dirt. The jostling and rocking of the train relaxed me, and I dozed off... I awoke as the train passed through Fruita, Colorado, a range of rugged cliffs immediately to my right. We were just a few miles outside Grand Junction. We arrived there at 12:45 Pacific Time. There was a fruit stand on the platform, selling all sorts of healthy snacks. I got a sack of grapes, and found a Dr. Pepper– the first I'd seen in days. The old train station at Grand Junction is a beautiful old art deco building with neat arches and stained glass... which people can't see because it's all falling apart behind a fence. I hoped someone would restore it someday. After a brief stop, we were on our way again. On the north side of the train, lush, green fields lay at the foot of stark, sandstone buttes. Rows of orchards and acres of tall corn rolled by.  To the south, high, blue mountains rose tall & proud.  
 
The skies were grey, as was the river to the right– moody and unfriendly. Beams of sunlight tried to poke through the clouds. Blue sky flirted in the distance. The clouds were jumbled and uneven, as if Nature couldn't decide what it wanted to do next. We slid through Grand Valley, magnificent peaks on all sides. Lush valleys emerged as we climbed the long, slow grade into the Rockies. At this point, I think I decided that whichever side of the train you sit on, the other side is going to have the more interesting views. The railroad followed Interstate 70 for a while outside of New Castle. At Glenwood Springs, the westbound train was already there. We had to wait for it to leave until we could stop at the station. That was where Obnoxious Man got off. He was not missed. Every time he passed, his eyes seemed to tag him as the type of man who made enemies more easily than friends.  
  
At 4 PM local time, they announced they were taking reservations for the dining car. I had been telling myself I'd eat at least one meal in the dining car, but the prices left me cold. I satisfied myself with peanuts and beef jerky. The Zephyr had to stop for about 10 minutes to let a coal train pass before we could continue. Delays kept piling up. We stopped again a few miles up the track. I wanted to call my sister-in-law, to let her know when I'd be arriving in Omaha, but I couldn't get a straight answer on when that would be. I didn't want her stuck at the station for hours waiting for me, like Anne was. Westward, Omaha to Denver took about 9 hours. If we got to Denver by 11 PM Omaha time, that put me back in Omaha about 8 or 9 AM. We were in the Rockies, the longest, slowest part of the route, and there was no telling how close (or off) the schedule we'd be. Hopefully, by the time we got to Denver, there's be some idea of our ETA to Omaha... Except, I couldn't get an ETA for Denver, either. For some reason, I kept thinking of songs from "Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." The train slowly crept forward again. They finally announced we were moving slowly because the trackside signal system was "broken." That was encouraging. Not. We eventually picked up speed, climbing into the mountains.  
Outside, the overcast skies dulled the colors of the mountains, spoiling a lot of photo opportunities– which was too bad, because the scenery was really spectacular. Similarly, fatigue dulled my senses. About an hour later, we came to another, sudden stop high above a watery gorge, and proceeded slowly, as if with caution over the dangerously high ridge... I needed a beer. While I was in the snack bar getting my $4 beer, I got some ramen noodles for supper. I ate in the snack bar booth, the scary mountains passing by. As I was watching, three Roosevelt elk scampered up a hillside, a buck and two does, big as horses. Breathtaking. We pulled into Granby, Colorado at 6:30 Pacific Time. That was when I got through to my sister-in-law on my cellphone. We were three hours from Denver, maybe, and another 9 hours, more or less, from Omaha. So, the good news was she wouldn't have to pick me up at 5 in the morning (when we were originally scheduled to arrive). She said to just call her when the train was outside of town and she'd come to get me. Night closed in just as we left Granby. I finished reading "The Canterbury Tales" just after a quick stop at Winter Park. As we prepared to enter the Moffat Tunnel, the conductor asked everyone to remain seated for the duration of the transit. It took over 10 minutes to go through. 

I dozed off... I woke up when I noticed the train changing speed. I got up, and saw lots of lights outside. It was 9 PM Pacific Time, 10 PM Mountain Time-- We made it to Denver. We stopped at the station about 25 minutes later "--Only two hours late," one woman said, as she packed up to disembark. While on the platform, a Japanese guy was trying to get a picture of the Denver skyline. I showed him he might have better luck if he turned off his flash. Several people got on at Denver; the conductor said the train was "packed." A young man with a guitar got on and sat across the aisle from me. He made me nervous playing with his lighter. He eventually read a book while munching on some popcorn. We were at the Denver station for a good hour before we resumed our route, and it was another half hour before we got out of the city. Once on our way again, I tried to get some sleep... 

I woke up just after 4 AM Pacific Time. Dawn was no more than a rosy glow in the east. I couldn't see outside very well, but from what I could tell we were flying across the plains. As it became brighter out, I saw miles and miles of-- corn! What a surprise. At 5 AM Pacific Time, we rolled into Hastings, Nebraska. It was Thursday morning, September 7th. By now, I figured, my campmates were all back at their homes, resuming their lives in the Default World... I still had many miles to go.  The Sun rose over a sleepy Nebraska. It was a new day, full of promise, entheusiasm and vigor. Going through a town called Crete, I saw a business called Suds 'n' Rays-- a combination laundromat and tanning salon. The train was really pushing it. I could tell we were getting close to Omaha when I saw something different in the landscape: hills. When we pulled into Lincoln, Nebraska, the conductor said we were five hours, 6 minutes late. A woman who was supposed to catch a plane in Chicago calculated she wouldn't make it on time. The guitar player across from me was having trouble sleeping in the morning sunlight, so I closed the curtains of my window. We passed the Linoma Beach lighthouse, an unexpected thing to see in Nebraska.  

I called my sister-in-law when we were stopped in Lincoln. I told her it would probably be another hour before I got to Omaha. It actually took about an hour and a half before we rolled into the station at Omaha. I'd been on the train for just over 39 hours. My sister-in-law was on the platform waiting for me. The Zephyr was still several hours behind schedule. Passengers were on cellphones, canceling plane reservations and rescheduling. I switched my watch back to Central Time. It was just after 10 AM. Back at my sister-in-law's house, I showered and changed into some clean clothes. Satori was indeed loaded up with silk flowers from the wedding.  
 

In just two hours, I was clean, dressed, packed and ready to head back to Oklahoma. I stopped at a gas station for $20 of gas (at $2.39 a gallon), and hit the road. The sky was a pale blue, with some dark-bellied clouds to the south. At 2:45, I crossed the border into Kansas.  
  
About half past three, traffic came to a halt outside of Holton. Ahead, it looked like a semi had gone off the road, and sat on the east side embankment. Northbound traffic was backed-up all the way up the far hill, and it wasn't long before cars behind me stacked up. Some of us got out of our cars to see what was going on. The lights from many emergency vehicles flashed in the road ahead. It was an accident, for sure. One motorist speculated that many emergency vehicles only showed up when there was a fatality. That's what I was thinking of when traffic resumed. I inched my way forward with the rest of the cars. We passed a blue passenger van in the southbound lane, all turned around, the whole right side of the vehicle smashed-in. I thought I caught a glimpse of a blue & white dotted skirt in the front seat. I wondered about lives forever altered in one tragic moment.   
  
On down the road, I  pulled into Topeka for a snack. I found a Schlotzsky's, and had a delicious sandwich. There was a neat model train store right next door. At 5:50, I passed under the I-35 overpass. In New Strawn, Kansas, I stopped for $25 of gas ($2.39 a gallon). 
  
I went through Independence, Kansas at 7:40. The sun was just setting, a big, pretty red ball in the sky, and I was hoping to get a picture of it. Outside of town, the road straightened out, and right ahead was the sunset, in all its glory. It was like the road was pointing right at it. I got my picture, and was feeling pretty good about myself... But then, I figured it's easy to get a picture of the setting sun when you're on a road going west. I needed to be going south. I was on the wrong road.  

I turned around, and headed back towards Independence. As I took the road back eastward, the lines of the highway all pointed to something looming on the horizon. It was the full Moon, blood-red and ghostly, rising above the road in exactly the same way the Sun had been setting directly over the road just minutes before. The road became an axis between Brother Sun and Sister Moon, and I was navigating among the spheres. 

I got myself navigated back southward, and it wasn't long before I crossed the border into Oklahoma. Dewey and Bartlesville passed me in the night, and as I headed south towards Tulsa, the full Moon rose bright and cheerful in the east --a shining beacon lighting the way for me.  

All in all, my trip on the train was a positive experience, although 40 hours of anything can wear a guy out. The cars were clean, and the crews were all very nice and very professional. I think if I took a trip that long again, I'd get off at the halfway point and get a motel room somewhere. The big lesson I learned about train travel was: be flexible. If your train is scheduled to arrive at 9 AM Thursday, don't count on it arriving at 9 AM or 10 AM or even 11 AM-- just count on it arriving on Thursday.  

Somewhere in southern Kansas that last day of my journey, my van clicked over 175,000 miles. Satori got me home. It felt good to be back in my own bed again. 

 
 
Introduction -- The Journey West 
 Tuesday -- Wednesday -- Thursday -- Friday -- Saturday -- Sunday 
Monday --  The Journey East -- Epilogue
 
  
 
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All original content (c)opyright 2006  
by Tim Frayser 
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