40-milers Anonymous

it's not how far you go, but how you go far

I needed a train trip, but not a week-long grueler... just enough time to relax and watch some scenery go by. It could even be scenery that I see every day, just from a different perspective, and trains were a great way of bending one's perspective toward just about anything.

Dunsmuir was a mellow place to begin a trip the yard was deserted, there were jungles around to hang out in, and there was always the river. Since it was still officially Late Spring, I didn't feel like actually going for a swim in the icy waters, but I did take my boots off and soak my feet, which had a similar effect to about 5 cups of coffee.

Since I didn't really have any particular destination in mind, there were no time constraints associated with arriving at whatever destination I didn't have, so the usual anxiety of wondering when the next train would arrive was absent. I would catch the next northbound and ride it as far as I wanted to ride it, then turn around and come back to Dunsmuir. No timetables to consult, no lineups to peruse, just listen and leave.

Gradually I became aware of how much of a train trip is centered around "when" events are expected to occur, and this in an environment that seems to assign little importance to their timing. Often times the "quality" of our ride takes a back seat to when it's going to get here and when it's going to leave. I don't know how many times I've grabbed the first car that looked good, only to look back after the train pulled out and noticed many more equally attractive rides farther back in the train. This time I could be picky, and maybe find that perfect ride after all.

Well, several hours later, when a northbound finally pulled into the yard, I had my chance. My train dropped the air and the power pulled forward, then backed down an adjacent track to couple up to a short string of gondolas loaded with aromatic new creosoted ties. While this was going on I walked along the other track and examined various monikers that littered the sides of every car. At one point I walked away from the train a bit so I could see all the way to the rear end, and noticed a block of empty boxcars, so I hurried along to give me enough time to check them all out before we aired up again.

The second or third car I came to was perfect doors open on both sides and latched that way, wooden floor, and plenty of corrugated cardboard to make camp. I climbed in, set up a comfortable "viewing platform", took off my boots and socks, and opened up a second bottle of wine. Ten minutes later we crept out of the yard heading north.

As is often the case, if you get stuck in a crappy car that bounces and rocks constantly, you're stuck in it for hours, but if you get a great ride, like the car I was in, the greatness is short lived, and an hour later when we got to Black Butte, we turned into the siding and shuddered to a stop, followed by the unmistakable sound of the air being dropped. Rats, I was just getting to like the smooth riding and reasonably quiet ride I had. Walking to the doorway, I saw the brakeman walking back and shouted to him if he was setting these cars out, and indeed he was, so I quickly put my boots back on, gathered up my gear, and jumped down just as the head end of the train pulled away.

Walking up toward the power, I saw that the string that got set out consisted of every empty boxcar, leaving the stinky tie-filled gondolas as the only rides. I decided that I wan't that desperate for a ride, so I walked up to a stand of trees to sit down and wait for the next northbound.

Dozing off for awhile, I had to get up to pee and noticed that it was nearly dark by now, and my enthusiasm for riding up to Klamath Falls was waning, so I resigned myself to move over to an empty boxcar on the storage track and catch the next train that stopped, no matter which way it was going. My fate was now in the hands of the train dispatching Gods, and I would follow whatever sign they provided for me. Hopping up into the boxcar, I was greeted with the faint odor of poop. Aside from that unpleasantness, the car was quite clean, so I moved over to the "fresh" end and re-rolled out my gear.

Looking around for scraps of cardboard, I gingerly approached the source of the foul odor and was startled to see a miniature sculpture garden, if you will. Apparently the rocking motion of the train after the previous occupant left his "mark" had rolled the turds around in a sort of circle and left them standing on edge! It took me a bit of squinting in the dim light but I finally realized just what it was that I was looking at, and I dubbed it "Turdhenge", for lack of a better phrase. Impressed with the artistry that was bestowed on such a mundane task, I wandered around the interior and read various epithets, trying to figure out if they could somehow be attributed to the "sculptor" who occupied this car before me.

At some point the White Port got the best of me and I retired upon my cardboard throne to contemplate being in the presence of some Master whose name will remain unknown, but whose fragrance will linger for who knows how long. Fortunately there was a gentle breeze blowing through, so my end of the car just smelled like "wood products", and I was soon asleep, missing a train or two during the night but satisfied that my short journey was time well spent, and spent in the company of greatness...