That will be the title of my autobiography; or at least I wish it would be. Stepping off a train at 4:30 in the morning in some Montana small town and wondering how you even know it’s 4:30 when you have no clue what time zone you’re in – that’s where it’s at. No one can touch you on a train. You’re en route, therefore unavailable to anyone and everything that’s ever needed or wanted anything from you.
Trains. Effing. Rule. Have you ever slept on one? They were designed by people who remember their infancy, specifically the getting rocked to sleep part. It’s true, look it up. Or don’t. You can take my word for it. All you do on a train is enjoy the view and let your brain wander off wherever it wants to, because there’s nothing to pull it back from the edge of infinity. Dramatic? Damn skippy!
Listen. You don’t get on a two day train ride across the northern states in February because it’s pretty. I mean, it is, it’s gorgeous, the Empire Builder line goes through Glacier National Park, which is stunning. And Montana? Incredible! The point is, when I say “you” don’t do something, I really mean “I” don’t. Sometimes I just need to be unreachable, unavailable, and un-pin-down-able.
Two days of thinking time will do things to you. I grew up traveling overseas a lot and I think the limbo of being in transit became a crucial part of how I function. It feels like floating, almost, sitting by a window in an empty train car, staring at remote landscapes and constantly moving, unbound by time because between departure and destination there are only platforms, ponderings, and Amish men stepping off for a smoke break. There is a surprisingly large Amish population traveling across the North by train.
This is how I deal with life. I extract myself from it and burrow into my thoughts within the untouchable space of transit. I once went to Edinburgh for a week just to walk around and take photos while an unending stream of Belle & Sebastian filtered through my headphones. It was like a 19th century novel collided with a bad 90’s music video, splattering angsty youth across a daffodil covered grassy hillside shot on grainy black and white film. Even now I have too many thoughts in my head, and all I want to do is go to Barcelona and enjoy the anonymity of knowing I won’t run into anyone familiar. Sitting on a train for two days from Portland to Chicago was better than any journaling I’ve ever done.
Once, during my semi-annual visit to family in Hungary, my brother and I went on a trainventure. We bought tickets on the next train out of the station to the end of the line and back, and just got off where we felt like it. We walked through wheat fields, side roads, and small towns. There was livestock and fresh air, abandoned rail houses, and tan farmers giving us skeptical looks. And the trains there were amazing. No fancy reclining seats or power outlets, just janky old soviet boxes on wheels, with little old ladies in babushkas in every car.
Taking a train instead of a plane is like biking instead of driving a car. You get a better gauge of what the distance you travel means, and can actually connect with the space you travel through. Landscapes change outside the window, and people change around you in the train car. You hop off for a few minutes in different towns and breathe new air each time. Tracks cover space that roads often don’t. Somewhere in South Dakota there are abandoned cars that have been sitting there since the 40s. Just try and spot that from an airplane.
Featured image by Julia Gazdag
Julia Gazdag is a writer, photographer, and breakfast taco whisperer. She hails from Budapest and has lived in New York, LA and Austin before moving to Portland, OR where she is now enjoying pine trees and bridges. She is quite fond of dinosaurs. She also prefers eggs, potatoes, beans, and pico de gallo in her breakfast tacos. She writes for The College Crush and Off Our Chests. You can find her on twitter (@juliagazdag), vyou (vyou.com/anyroads). Her photos can be found on juliagazdag.com