Day 9: Tunnel Vision
One of Amtrak’s main charms, aside from the fact that the workers still wear those goofy hats, is the historic factiods and nature tidbits the conductor shares over the loudspeaker during the ride. I was listening to one of these about an eagle’s nest high above to my left, when I felt the breaks slam. It was one of those slowdown moments where you know something very bad is about to happen. And sure enough- a dull thud of impact followed. I’m not sure what troubled me more- the cow lying upside down in the ravine outside my window, kicking its leg in the air, or when it's legs stopped kicking. Or maybe it was the sight of its grazing mate, who was clumsily trying to climb out of the ravine, clearly in a state of distress and confusion. It was the oddest moment of emotional juxtaposition. There I had been: enjoying some of the most beautiful and dramatic landscape I had ever seen, totally absorbed in nature’s grandeur, and then somehow I became a cog in the wheel that destroyed a healthy, vital piece of it.
Actually, what I think troubled me most about the whole thing, was the amazing speed at which my fellow passengers rebounded from the event. Without moments jokes about steak were being volleyed about, and I developed a huge distaste for every last one of the unfeeling beings around me. I held onto that distaste until we stopped at Winter Park, Co, and the conductor announced that, due to a rockslide ahead, we wouldn’t be going anywhere any time soon. Eventually, and even though it was snowing and I was in flip flops, I walked downstairs and stepped outside. Several other passengers milled about too, and we struck up a conversation, debating our chances of getting out of Winter Park that night, and then somehow we venture into our personal stories. And I found I was enjoying myself. Bad jokes aside, these were nice people. The single mother 1 row back from me with the red-faced toddler who had been howling off and on for two days- who I had pretty much hated up to that point, but now we took a stroll into town together. It was painfully cold as we walked and she told me her story. And my heart softened. The two of them were surviving on ziplock bags of cereal for the entire trip. Not because she was a frugal traveler, as I may have originally thought, or just a bad planner, but because she was flat broke. When we got back to the train, we were shaking with cold, and I treated all three of us to a round of Cup O Noodles- the warmest thing on the menu. And a bag of skittles for the little imp, because doesn't it always feel good when you let the hate leave your heart?
After about two hours we got good news. The rockslide had been cleared, and we could proceed on! From Winter Park on, the Colorado scenery grew even more dramatic. We were high in the Rockies at that point, 9,000 ft up, and traveling through tunnel after tunnel, one of which was over 6 miles long! And then we were smack dab in the middle of yet another tunnel when the train stopped. Pitch black, total silence. Did I mention I have anxiety issues? Sure enough, my body responded. Heart in a gallop, hands in a clench, and I reached for pen and paper, journaling in the dark to try and— I don't know what I was trying to do. Distract myself, gain perspective, either way it worked. I didn’t even pop one of the Klonipin I’d instinctively pulled from my bag, and considering the cow, rockslide, and tunnels of the day, I was quite proud of that. Though I did make my way to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face once we were on our way again. I mean give me a break here.
We made it through the mountains and are just now passing Denver. And it’s time for me to get some sleep. This day has been full of ups and downs, both outside my window, and inside of me. And I hope I'm a little better for it. Day 9- back of the line.