The ADT: Reflections Aboard an Eastbound Train

Departure March 20: Seattle, King Station

For days now I’ve been pacing about my sister’s living room, passing time… just passing.  The rise—the fall; the tick—the tok…time passing.  For the most part, my affairs are in order, that is, the mess packed away in a box (both symbolic and literally!).  In a lot of ways that’s how this feels, as I now sit in an upper deck seat staring out the window of an eastbound train.  Tonight I’m gazing into the dark, my own reflection staring back against the transparency of a silhouetted landscape.  I feel my mind flutter and dance, an awesome inevitability calling beyond the horizon I can just faintly see.  Climbing through the Cascades this evening the fog hung thick, offering just the faintest glimpse of the peaks above.  We rolled through tunnels to exit from darkness, a sea of lights.

I received a text message from my dad—“How is the trip so far?” (It’s only been a few hours!).  I replied, “It’s an easy ride, the last easy I’ll have for a while… I’m enjoying it.”  In fact, I feel claustrophobically trapped in a tin can, my legs cramping and itching to break free—equally I know the fatigue and aching pain… equally I know the freedom—to come.  I feel overwhelmed by a sense of history, my own for sure, but also and especially a long and connected history of struggle and migration, the seeking and searching of many to forge home and sustain faith against the backdrop of a story equally denied, the narrative foretold.  I am overwhelmed by the possibility to reconnect the long ago forced apart, to rekindle the imagination of a shared trauma once conspired and twice retold before the dawn could dare to heal.

To walk and to write, for me, one in the same, each and both an opportunity to reshape the story of our world, to reconnect to ourselves and to each other.  For now, the landscape passes by in the dark at a clip far too hurried, a pace I’m eager to slow.  For now, the stillness of my body stifles the energy I need to express…tonight I drift and float, tomorrow return to reflect once more, to pass the time… until in passing I find my ground.

I wake to the rustic terrain of Montana, an indisputably beautiful countryside.  My mom will be disappointed I’m persistently including the window frames and hatches of the train in all my shots, often, in fact, focusing more on the train than the landscape.  I have always valued the contrast in my viewfinder, the duality (or at times, though rarely, even plurality!) of perspective.  I don’t walk into the world or the wild to escape, but rather as an effort to try and reconnect the broken apart domains, the fractured of our psyche.  I don’t wish to cut out or excise the parts of myself I struggle with, but instead reimagine the parameters of what can be, to reconstitute (maybe for the first time!) a sense of self, a self connected (of relation) not torn (by common individualism).

Winter is upon us, in like a lion—out like… another lion.  Water drips and splatters across my view, a blurry vision as snow pelts and swirls… the rattle, tat and bang; another shed to protect against the slide and fall, creosote posts passing in hurried form, glimpses of my future.  I slow the lens to match the cadence I feel, my heart longing… the slow inside rarely equaled by the rhythm outside my window.

As I stare out the train window, midday Thursday (the 21st), upon the blustery whiteout plains of eastern Montana, wind whipping a fierce looking chill, I am reminded of a documentary episode I watched a year or so ago, recounting the struggle of the Yellowstone bison to endure the harshness of winter, an ensuing battle of attrition against the onslaught of starvation, cold and opportunistic predation.  I am thankful, for now, my walk begins under less treacherous conditions, though surprises may yet come even as spring calls on the eastern seaboard.  I find myself—my mind—drifting ahead to conditions I know I must face for my trek to yield as I intend, many months away but on my mind in this moment… nevertheless.  The wiser would plan their escape, seek shelter—I expect—much as the bison, my choice will be to endure.

Oh, the flat plains of eastern Montana.  I’ve been through this country a good few times; I come from this country, though I’ve never called it home as my greats did.  It never seems to end, to defy borders, just keeps rolling on.  I won’t be walking through here, but I will walk amongst other similar plains.  As I gaze out the windows of my eastbound train I can see my ghost, the tracks yet laid.  I can see my tent pitched some distance off.  I can see myself warming some cocoa on my little camp stove, gazing back at myself riding aboard that eastbound train.  I smile and shrug, that knowing sorta grin—“I got you”—I keep walking-riding on, that knowing sorta sort.

The announcement just came over the loudspeaker, “North Dakota next stop.”  Not my stop, more tracks yet to lay.  I can feel the presence of my grandfather; he grew up in these parts, a fiercely strong man who knew hardship and struggle (born into the Great Depression on the dust bowl plains), a steady hand, the kind that can crush a bolt, a community builder, an unrelenting spirit…a familiar presence.  His memory, a strength I can always grab hold of.

The oil and gas fields are lit up tonight, the dinosaur heads bobbing up and down, the pilot fires glowing orange on the horizon… and right outside my window.  The tracks keep rolling on, the world keeps rolling on, I…

Another dark night… on the eastbound train.

As this train rolls on tonight, I’m beginning to come to the conclusion I already felt in my bones but could only certainly know one way, that is, doing it.  As the miles pile on behind, as I travel further from what I’ve known, I’m increasingly feeling a growing sense of calm.  I am exactly where I want to be.  My life, in many ways, has prepared me for my present uprootedness, a life in motion, a life in-between.  Unlike many thru hikers, I didn’t have to take an employer into consideration.  I’m not on vacation or sabbatical, no mortgage or rent, no gobs of stuff to shove in storage.  I did leave some things behind with family, but I may equally sell it all (or rather have someone sell it for me) before all is said and done, I really don’t know, just that I know what matters to me and what doesn’t.  I’m not hiking with a savings account or ready-made remote income.  Quite frankly, I’m taking a risk.  Quite frankly, I find myself building what, in another life and time, I would have been able to build from the beginning.  I do have resource, though we might call it “soft” resource, all that intellectual, skill-set kinda shit. I’ve never met a problem I couldn’t solve, and all of my education and writing has led me to at least one certain conclusion: life is a story… and it’s ours to write!  For those still trapped in the ghost written narrative of another’s design, I hope along the way you’ll find the strength already in you, to pick up a pen and walk…

Tomorrow Chicago, then DC and finally Delaware the day after…

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Comments 1

  • Kyle Schmidt : Mar 22nd

    Your blog posts never fail to entertain and educate me. I especially enjoyed the recent one about [insert topic]. Keep up the great work!


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