Since it hadn't really gotten too warm yet, my cheese still resembled a block of cheese, so I sat up and made breakfast in my personal dining car. Taking stock of my surroundings, I concluded that the inside of the car was even more "weathered" than the outside, a fact that surprised me. On the plus side, there wasn't the usual coating of fine, powdered rust that graces every gondola and swirls around in the wind, getting into all sorts of places you'd rather it didn't. I was able to roll up several slices of cheese in a gordita and end up with a cheese gordita, not a cheese and rust gordita.
The day was spent drinking, napping, eating, and watching the desert fly by. For a "junk" train we made pretty good time, and there were few bad spots on the track to jam my spinal column. It became: fly along for hours, then a crew change in Winnemucca, then fly along for hours, then a crew change in Elko, then more of the same until I got up to pee and noticed that we were traveling alongside of Interstate 80, and the lower end of the Great Salt Lake was visible to the north. This meant that Salt Lake was coming up, and I needed to be ready in case we went in the yard to re-arrange the train or something. We stopped on the main west of the yard, with a noisy crossing bell clanging just a few feet away. If we turned left on the wye we'd go into the yard, and if we turned right we'd be on our way to Denver. After several minutes of listening to the damn crossing bell I wished we'd go somewhere, which direction didn't matter at that point. At last we squealed forward, and to my delight we were turning right. I celebrated with another toast or two of White Port then rolled out and went to sleep as the crossing bell mercifully faded into the distance.
Yesterday morning I woke up in Nevada and today it was Utah — hopefully tomorrow it'll be Colorado. Another beautiful day was beginning and it cried out (or rather my stomach did) for another round of gorditas with cheese. This time my block of cheese had begun to lose its sharply delineated rectangular shape and begin the morphing process — it still looked quite edible but had begun to resemble a waterbed mattress instead of a firebrick. Oh well, there was plenty of room temperature White Port to wash it down with, although I was beginning to detect a subtle hint of plastic whenever I took a sip. It became a science experiment, with each bite of cheese diminishing the plastic taste of the Port, and each sip of Port enhancing the "aging" of the cheese. Such a symbiotic relationship, I thought! I kindled this alliance for most of the morning, as the scenery, except for going over Soldier Summit, was pretty basic. Paralleling the Book Cliffs for miles, I could see clouds for the first time in the east, but for now I was enjoying a warm day sightseeing in southern Utah.
Looking ahead at one point I thought that the units looked a little odd. A few twists and turns later I recognized them as Denver & Rio Grande engines, not Union Pacific! Not being familiar with how the rail lines went out here, I sat back down and tried to imagine a map of Utah and figure out just what was going on. When I left Oakland there were Union Pacific engines on the front, but now there weren't — where did they change them? Thanks to the White Port I managed to sleep through several stops... maybe it was back in Salt Lake, I thought. Oh well, the tags on my rebar bed said "Denver", so I figured that we'd get there sometime. I did know that the line I was on went to Denver, so what could go wrong? Besides, the scenery was now getting interesting, with either the Colorado or the Green River winding along the tracks. Soon we'd get to the crew change at Grand Junction, and maybe I could learn something there.
Slowing down and making a big S-curve before entering the yard, I got my gear together in case I needed to detrain, and when we pulled all the way over to the opposite side of the yard than the mainline I began to have some concern. Wishing I had programmed whatever frequencies the railroad used out here into my scanner, all I could do was lean against the side of the car as we crept along at a walking pace. At some point we finally stopped, and I waited for the sound of them breaking air to tell me it was time to climb down and figure things out. We sat silent for what must have been 15 minutes or so, then I was elated to hear the air gently release and we crawled forward, slowly making our way over to the east end of the yard. Picking up speed we clunked through the switch on the main and were leaving town! As relieved as I was to continue without having to play musical cars, I was again faced with going over the scenic stretch of the Rockies at night. Crap! I tried to stay up as late as I could but just about the time that we entered a deep canyon it was too dark to see anything, so I grabbed a few more belts of White Port and went to sleep.
At some point during the night I remember stopping but was too tired to get up and look around. I could tell that we were in the mountains now by how slow the train was going, but I really couldn't figure out where I was. I knew that there was a long tunnel somewhere along here and I hoped that we were going faster than we were now when we reached it. Resisting the urge to pee for as long as I could, I eventually got up and saw that instead of being deep in a canyon like I expected, we were winding along the side of a mountain, looking down on a deep canyon. This really didn't surprise me as I'd never ridden in this part of the country, so I returned to the warmth of my bag and fell back asleep. In the depths of a great sleep I woke up feeling really warm and between the loud roar of the train and not being able to see anything I figured that we had made it to the tunnel. I reached for my flashlight and pointed it upward and yes, we were definitely going through a tunnel. The diesel exhaust wasn't too bad but just in case I pulled my bandana over my mouth and nose and hunkered down in my bag. I could breathe just fine but it was getting almost uncomfortably warm.
Finally we emerged on the east side and the temperature drop was incredible — one minute I was roasting in my sleeping bag and the next I was freezing! We had stopped at a siding and although it was very cold I stood up and looked around, still trying to get an idea of where I was. And then I figured it out — a highway sign in the distance showed a turnoff to Leadville, and slowly everything made sense. Somewhere back down the hill we turned off the mainline to Denver and were now on our way to Pueblo! This discovery was at first met with a sigh of resentment, but then I realized that "Hey, I wanted to see Colorado, so here it is".