Back in March, I had what turned out to be a false sense of optimism about this country getting ready to turn the corner on the pandemic. I was fully vaccinated. Cases were dropping. I felt that with caution, I could get back to at least part of the life I was leading before COVID arrived. Alas. While a certain percentage of the population decided to make a stand for their own personal ideas about freedom, government and their woefully inadequate ideas about both our Constitution and science, the coronavirus did what viruses have always done: mutated and spread. And so, we’ve had the Delta variant and Mu and who knows how many others, which have made herd immunity a far away and perhaps never achievable goal. What a tragic summer. So much death. So much confusion. So much rancor. I don’t think I’ll ever understand such selfishness, lack of empathy and compassion and mostly, lack of responsibility to community, to public health. But here we are. With me, having paid for a late September trip when things would be better, or so I’d thought. I’m not convinced that I’ve ever vacillated so much about something in my life. I usually reflect and then get decisive quickly. Quick is my normal pace. But not this time. I’m not reckless. I try to be thoughtful and considerate. I have vulnerable grandchildren. Should I go somewhere and risk not merely my own health, but possibly theirs? And others? Risk versus reward. That’s what life is often about, whether we’re aware of the choices or not. After thinking things through, having my antibodies checked and talking with my family, I decided to go on my trip. My life has been remarkably stagnant, along with so many people’s lives. But I’m seventy. I live alone. I’ve spent a third of the time since Michael’s death dealing with COVID. Staying home, doing not much, has been getting harder for me. I had goals for my “golden years” which I’ve set aside. I needed to move. So I decided to take a risk and proceed with a challenging adventure, knowing that anything can happen and coping with the ambivalence of everything. Last Sunday, donning double masks, goggles and with fingers crossed, I boarded a train in Chicago and headed for parts west, to knock a few more states off my list and to visit one of my dream destinations. Here are some views from my train window on day one.
Masks are required on the train because of federal mandates. Mostly there was compliance. Some people were kicked off because of belligerent defiance and of course there are those who simply can’t manage to cover their noses and mouths at the same time. But mostly, I felt pretty safe. I was in a berth which meant I could be maskless in my own space. I settled back to enjoy the views through Illinois and Iowa. I always love clouds, countryside and crossing the mighty Mississippi.
The sun finally set. I cozied up in my roomette and read, watched a little Netflix on my phone and listened to music. I saw tiny bits of Nebraska zipping by in the darkness before trying to settle myself on the stiff hard pallet made from the two folded down seats which make a bed on a train. As we rattled and creaked along the tracks, I tossed around, trying to find a comfortable position, glad I’d remembered to bring one of those round neck pillows people often take on planes. I admit that passing out easily doesn’t work for me these days. Chalk it up to the little aches and pains that come with aging and to missing the comfort of my own bed and all the maneuvering I’ve grown accustomed to since being on my own. Sometimes I think back with longing to those times I’d just say goodnight, roll over and sleep until morning. I think that was way before kids entered my life. In any case, I knew I would wake to Colorado at sunrise. The train would bring me closer to the majesty I’d experienced before in that beautiful state, but much closer to parts off the paths taken by hikers.
Next up, day two – into the Rocky Mountains.