Friday, June 09, 2006

was just outside of reno, sparks to be exact, and i wasn't getting rides going east. little did i know that it was desert for maybe 800 miles, stretching into salt flats, so maybe people knew this better than me and were just afraid that i hadn't taken a bath for a while, which may have been true. anyway the western sun was setting on a nice day, the desert stretched out ahead of me, and down in the valley below a freight train came and stopped, within my sight, but down a long embankment. i went down and jumped on it. i didn't think much about food and water, bread, wine, something that could have gotten me through. as the train started i was just glad to be moving, and we were going toward a dazzling desert sunset. i could now see the cars out on the highway not too far away.

i was in a dusty boxcar, two doors open (safer that way, they told me), and the air out the doors, in the nevada desert, was incredibly fresh and invigorating. there was not a soul to share this with. the rattle of the wheels beneath me; the setting sun that we were going toward; the steadily cooler, fresh desert air were working together on me. the mountains became various shades of purple in the dusk; it seemed very otherworldly and exotic. the train veered away from the road after a while and the night got deeper though my eyes became accustomed to it. i became aware that the desert was very cold at night, even in the summer, and wrapped my sleeping bag around me; still, i couldn't sleep and was transfixed by the dark colors of the barren mountains all around.

maybe i slept for a while, but i was awakened by a loud noise: a train coming west. there was a bit of daylight ahead of us; it must have been about five or six; our train was going toward it, but this one right next to us was coming from it. loud clatters, boxcars flying past us. then, toward the end of the train, a man, riding a flatcar- much colder than my boxcar- wrapped in robes of some kind to protect him against the cold. he was as surprised to see me as i was to see him. and he was gone in a moment. vaya con dios!

the morning came up cold and clear; the mountains had flattened out, and the sun shone on the desert sand which was now looking saltier, as we were probably in the salt flats. it became hot even in the boxcar, which had an abundance of shade and breeze- but if the day was 95 and getting hotter, i was going to feel it. i was aware of a thirst developing in me, maybe a need to brush my teeth- but i had no water, no food to speak of. jumping off, at this point, wouldn't be good, even if the train were to slow down; it was desert. nothing around, nothing at all.

this situation got worse; the sun got higher, the day hotter; the scenery emptier if that was even possible. perhaps it was my naivete to think the world would always provide me with water; that i wouldn't ever be required to carry it with me. ah, but the world hadn't required me to jump on the boxcar, either.

abruptly the tracks cut right across a lake. and it was a huge lake- the great salt lake, to be exact- but it didn't look like any lake i had ever seen. for one thing, it had railroad tracks cutting right across it. these were on rocks that just came up out of the lake; there was a road next to us now, but nothing to speak of was on the road; and there was lake on both sides of the train. one side was a sickly red, and another was a sickly green. both were covered with bugs, but it wasn't clear to me if these bugs were dangerous or what. they weren't coming after me, i was pretty sure.

and now, the train stopped. it sat on those tracks in the middle of the lake for five or ten minutes, until i realized i could just get off the train and nobody would even see it, the best i could figure. now there were trucks on the road, not far from me, but nobody was in them; they were just parked, as if they were railroad workers' trucks and the workers had started here, or considered this area some kind of meeting place. the trucks made me feel better- signs of civilization, signs of life- but they were all empty. nothing was happening. the train sat some more.

across the lake, on either side, i could see nothing. just lake, as far as one could see. one side did appear to be larger than the other- judging by the mountains on the distant shores- but that wasn't much to go on. I could have begun walking- but the problem with that was, my boxcar was really the best and only car to jump on- if i got too far from it, i would lose the opportunity to jump back on when the train started.

and finally, it did. i jumped. this time, as we passed the lake, i could see that we were in a valley, a place with lots of people. cars, roads, convenience stores, the usual. i was grateful. i looked at the trees, the cars, the signs; i waited for my opportunity, and i jumped. i was outside of logan somewhere, and i took my parched mouth into a convenience store and got a large water. they were not especially happy to see me, but boy, was i glad to see them. i wasn't made to do it alone.


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