Early Autumn

what's gone is gone

Waking up at my riverside camp in Dunsmuir I felt no impulse to jump up and do something. I spent yesterday drinking, swimming, and basking in the sun, but this morning felt entirely different. It was as if I had slept for weeks, and I had no real desire to go for a swim or anything, for that matter. Lying in my sleeping bag I suddenly knew the reason it was the change of seasons. There seems to be a period between one season and the next when everything is just put on hold momentarily, then everything continues as if nothing has happened. Like when you're watching a play, and when one act concludes there is a period where nothing happens, and the audience just stares at the stage curtains until they open again and the next act begins. Sometimes the same actors re-appear, only they're playing different roles. I looked up at the trees surrounding my camp and sure, they were the same trees, but they looked like they had stopped playing the role of "summer" trees and were now getting ready to appear as "winter" trees.

There was a down-canyon wind blowing this morning, like there always is, but it was colder. When I finally got up to pee I looked over at the pool next to my camp and could no longer see the bottom the wind had covered the surface with ripples, and the water looked greenish and deep, instead of the clear water that usually revealed the bottom of the pool and the fish in it. Well, I had my fun in camp, and maybe it was time to leave, so I packed up and began to walk into the freightyard. There just wasn't the burning desire to jump in the river like there was for the last few days, so I shifted my thoughts back to train riding, and just at the right time, too, as at almost the same time I heard a train horn from the north and an answering one coming from the south. At first I thought that one was the echo of the other, but soon a southbound train wound around a hillside and began to creep down into the yard on the mainline, while I heard the approach of a northbound behind me. What timing, I thought. The southbound would have to stop and wait for the northbound to clear into the yard, and I might have one train in each direction stopped right in front of me. Which way did I want to go?

My early morning epiphany told me that summer was on the wane, so my thoughts turned to the southbound, which was surely headed for warmer climes. I watched as it rolled by, looking for rides. Not the usual assortment of southbound cars, I thought. Lots of gondolas, grainers, and closed up boxcars but very few loaded lumber flats. The grainers that did pass by were all facing the wrong way, and just as I was about to lower my standards as to what constituted a "good" ride I saw a single open boxcar squeal up and stop almost in front of me. This was weird, to say the least. Not only were empty boxcars rare on southbounds, but to have one stop directly in front of me was almost cause for concern. I gingerly walked up to the door and peered in, and it was empty except for a few 2 by 4's and some large sheets of cardboard. Half fearing that this was merely a dream, and I was still in my bag back at camp, I tossed my pack inside and climbed in. Maybe I had done some good act in years past and this was my belated reward. Resigning myself to the fact that here was a nice ride dropped in my lap, and extremely fortunate to still have a couple bottles of White Port with me, I set up camp and bid farewell to my summer hangout as we pulled slowly by the stopped northbound and picked up speed.

Leaving the twisting track in the Sacramento River Canyon behind, when we got to the straight track running down the Valley I rolled out my gear and settled down for a nap. The car had a surprisingly smooth ride for an empty, no doubt anchored down by loaded cars ahead and behind. Sometime in the night we stopped, but I wasn't sure where we were so I stayed in my bag and fell back asleep. This later proved to be not such a good idea.

Getting up to pee as we slowed down a bit, I noticed large pines or fir trees along the track, not something you'd be likely to see in the Valley. Something was wrong, as my watch told me that we should be real close to Roseville by now and there sure aren't any large trees nearby. Standing at the open door wearing nothing but a wool hat and socks, I got glimpses of a freeway every now and then, and at one point I recognized some place names on the signs we were headed up the Sierra toward Reno. Somehow we must have turned at the wye in Roseville and I never woke up. That has got to be the only drawback to having a smooth riding car. Since there was literally nothing I could do I just went back to sleep, again thankful that I had food, water, and alcohol. Oh well, I was riding trains so what's not to like?

Coming down into Reno early in the morning I was faced with a challenge do I give up what had to be the best riding boxcar I'd ever been in and get off, or do I stay on and ride across Nevada? I had no commitments so I decided to stay on 95% because I wanted to enjoy the scenery and 5% because I didn't want to jump out of my sleeping bag and roll up. So Reno, then Sparks came and went, and at some point I "officially" got up and got dressed, ready to enjoy a fine day crossing the vast deserts of Nevada, with scenery stretching miles and miles in every direction. Unfortunately, such was not the case, as it was getting colder, not warmer. Looking out the door told me why there was snow on the ground! Soon the limitless blue sky I hoped for had turned into a low ceiling of gray clouds, and the varied desert landscape became a monotonous carpet of white. Oh well, that's why they invented White Port I figured. I managed to shift my psyche into "winter mode" and, after pulling out all of the clothes in my pack, I settled down for the ride. Paraphrasing Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I vowed to never leave home again without a few extra clothes and some extra White Port. I actually began to enjoy what little variance in the scenery there was as we approached the crew change in Carlin, packing up my stuff and getting ready to detrain, hoping for a westbound soon with a boxcar just like the one I was leaving...