Day 5 of this Amtrak Residency. Greetings from just outside Moab, Utah, where I am now at mile 2819 of this 7298 mile voyage. You can read previous entries about the journey thus far on this same site, or at the Amtrak blog here.
I awoke in my cozy roomette at 4:30 AM Mountain time, which I admit is too early, but I’m still on Eastern time, and I’m an early riser anyway. So instead of resisting, I got up, got a cup of coffee, sat down in the observation car with my computer and started to write a scene. This whole voyage west I’m working on the final chapters of a novel I’ve been writing for two years. I got a lot closer this morning. With the sun rising before me, and the sound of the rails and the whistle, and some dude lying on the floor all asleep, how could I NOT write well?
And then, friends, the sun came up. It began, as always, as just a sly hint of grey in an otherwise black sky, but at 6:30 the sun burst over the plains of eastern Colorado. The morning shift complete, I headed to the dining car, where I had breakfast with a clinical psychologist who was reading the biography of William James, whom, my companion claimed, anticipated everything.
Settled into the observation car as we climbed the Rockies. I can only say it is every bit as breathtaking as you dream. We passed beneath the Continental Divide via the Moffet Tunnel and arrived at 8500+ feet as we stopped in Fraser, CO. Snow on the mountains. Air crisp. I didn’t find the altitude daunting at all, even though we were warned not to exert ourselves. Then we began our long descent into the canyons.
I wrote another 1500 words in the afternoon. For a while I was hoping to write 8500+ words, one for every foot of elevation, but that’s way out of my range now. I declared victory at about 3000. Then I returned to the observation car and watched the sun set and drank a Sierra Nevada.
It’s the day after election day, but I haven’t heard much talk of politics on the train. As a Democrat, it’s a sad day for me, especially as I’ve caught up with news from Maine. But yeah, looking at the sun illuminating Red Rocks Canyon in western Colorado lifted my spirits.
I’ll sleep through much of Utah and Nevada, arise in Pacific Time and California. We are supposed to arrive in Emeryville–near SF– around 4 o’clock PM, where supposedly a friend is scooping me up, taking me to my hotel to settle in, and then it’s off to an author reception and book party in the evening. I’ll begin the next leg of the trip Friday morning as I head down to Salinas and Big Sur for a few days of quiet, meditation, writing, and hiking.
It will be hard to top today, not just this month, but for the rest of my life. What a precious gift this journey has been.
In Denver (where the photo of me genuflecting before the California Zephyr’s engine was taken), I asked the train manager if it might be possible for me to visit the engine. I had fantasies of blowing the horn. She looked at me just like I thought she would, gave me the same look I give my son when he asks, Is it okay if I spend the night at my girlfriend’s house? So that didn’t happen. But I tried, and in my mind I blew the whistle TWICE.
My sleeper’s manager is a delightful Irishman named Dennis Byrne. We were talking this afternoon, and by way of summing things up, he said the following: “Each trip is a micro sociological experiment in its own right in that a host of disparate elements are tossed together in one sense, against their will.”
I said, Yes. You are right.
He smiled, and added, “It’s phantasmagorical.”