The Intrepid Herbivores

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Trains, trains and automobiles

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I’m going to confess one of my most persistent fantasies. Something that tantalizes my dreams and fills me with yearning.

I fantasize what the United States would be like if our government had invested in cross-country and inter-regional passenger trains instead of the interstate highway system.

Look at this self-righteous wistful punk in Germany.

Look at this wistfully self-righteous punk riding a train in Germany.

I don’t really have an interest in civic architecture, but I do have an interest in getting around and going places. I appreciate autonomy and independence, and in that sense I can understand why, in the 1950s post-war years of American economic growth, there was a huge push toward every American having their own automobile and the ability to get around on their own.

And taking bratty selfies at a train station in Italy.

And taking bratty selfies at a train station in Italy.

However…I hate that. This misguided ideal has made this country and its staggering breadth of scenic grandeur practically inaccessible to most of the people who live here. The responsibility of operating, fueling, insuring, parking and maintaining a car are not feasible or affordable for many Americans. And at this point I feel like I don’t even have to bother pointing out  how much the environmental ramifications are coming back to kick this generation and those to come harshly in the caboose.

And smiling a smarmy smile in Switzerland, wishing she could do this in America.

And smiling a smarmy smile in Switzerland, wishing she could do this in America.

I wish the American spirit had instead manifested itself in a motivation to invest our personal financial resources not into personal automobiles, but in support of collective passenger systems that ran with a frequency and convenience that allowed our autonomous wanderlust to buy tickets and hop on at affordable whim and have it take us where we want to go. I wish train lines here COULD take us where we want to go. In my fantasy, I believe that we would have actually GREATER access to other regions of our own country. We would be free to hop on and off with the same freedom I adore when I visit places like Europe and Japan, where train systems are remarkably sophisticated and indispensable.

And about to board a high-speed train in Japan, just so she can brag about it later.

And about to board a high-speed train in Japan, just so she can brag about it later.

Anyway, the best we’ve got in this version of reality is Amtrak. I have spent some time on Amtrak trains, and when you add together several major voyages I’ve taken over the course of a number of years, I have managed to cover the entire coast-to-coast expanse of the nation (plus a good deal of the up-and-down portions) by train. It is not easy, it is not convenient, and it is not cheap, but damn it is fun!

We are preparing to use the train to get from our home in Portland to one of our favorite domestic destinations, Glacier National Park, this summer. It’s a 20+ hour voyage with few if any opportunities to hop off for any length of time. The dining car has some choices, but they’re slim (unless I’m able to talk myself into being excited about a $9.95 tomato and mustard sandwich). So it’s up to me to bring everything I need along. And what will we bring? We’ll document the trip when it’s happening, but for now here is my tentative list:

-bars (my favorites are Kit Bars and Lara Bars). No suitcase or backpack is prepared without them.

-hummus. Despite our culture’s fascination with refrigeration, it’s not necessary for just one day. Hummus is one of my favorite portable picnic items.

-pre-cut veggies. I won’t be buying baby carrots, either! It’s easy to take fifteen minutes the night before a trip to clean and cut all the carrots, cucumbers, celery, peppers, etc that you want and put them in your own bag or plastic container. It’s amazing how much better and more lively I feel when I can keep plying myself with fresh juicy produce.

-trail mix. Not just for the trail! Makes a great observation car breakfast.

-fresh and dried fruit. Fruit, especially summer fruits like nectarines and plums, can be a little fragile. Try toting them in re-used plastic containers, such as those you find filled with a quart of soy yogurt at the grocery store, and eat them sooner than later. Dried fruit is useful on any voyage and will keep as long as you need it to.

-a travel mug. I know myself, and I know I probably WILL be visiting that dining car for coffee several times. A travel mug can be used over and over and also double as a water glass if your train has a place to get free fresh water.

-a water bottle, already filled, just in case. Unlike airplanes, you can take liquids with you, so have your trusty refillable bottle ready-filled. Unlike on a plane, on a train trip of this length I consider it worthwhile to have both. You can always fill the mug with socks when you aren’t using it and save space in your luggage! 🙂

-pre-made sandwiches. Wrapped in a bread bag or something else plastic, they may get smushed but they will still be good for a day or two. Joe seems to do better on long trips if he can keep feeding his inner bread monster, so sandwiches are his go-to!

-a chocolate bar. Because I like myself.





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This entry was posted on July 30, 2014 by in travel stories, Uncategorized.