After almost 60 hours of travel across 5 states by bus, Chicago eL, and train, I have landed in Boulder, Colorado. It was a long haul to get here, crashing on the floor of a friend’s in Chicago, lugging my pack up and down all manner of train platforms, echoing marble Union Stations, and bus systems of varying levels of
discomfort. Fitful dreams chugging west upon the California Zephyr for 18 hours from Chicago to Denver left me in a discombobulated heap upon the pristine platform of Denver’s recently reopened Union Station. I wandered Denver yesterday in a dream-like fog that may have been night train hangover or just a pesky fibro fog which strangely enhanced my visit to the Denver Art Museum, the colors and textures of artistic expression vivid through tired eyes thirsty for stimulation and caffeine.
Already I seem to be easing into Boulder like an old trusty baseball mitt, a bit surprising as I am a first time visitor. Maybe it’s the strong coffee and beer, abundance of coffee shops – one for every personality, the industrial chic with a dash of steam punk microbreweries that serve smooth nitro stouts, or the bookstores that ramble into delightful nooks where I lose myself to treasures that smell of paper and dust and fresh ink (and inexplicably fresh earth – why used books seem to exude this scent has remained a puzzle to me.)
Maybe it’s the bikes whizzing past along wide trails lined with trees bare but for the bursting forth of fragrant pink and white flowers? The jagged ridge of mountains leaping above the town’s red brick storefronts and wide-porched homes? The human swirl of fleece and hiking boots and cozy gloves?
It hit me as I sipped a rich cappuccino at Ozo Coffee on Pearl Street after losing myself for hours in the maze of shelves and classic reading rooms of Boulder Bookstore that this city is a kindred spirit, one of a rare breed I have only come across in my hometown Portland and in the soul of Iceland and the Faroe Islands. There may be more kindred spirits out there I have yet to discover and one day is inconclusive, but my soul is fed and content, and that’s not the over-caffeination or the time zone jump talking.
I’ve taken my share of night trains around the world. American rail travel does lag behind much of Europe and parts of Asia in terms of comfort and efficiency. I miss the cheap 30 euro couchettes of European rail that allow one to lay down overnight, hostel-style, in 3 stacked bunks. However, Amtrak is infinitely more comfortable than a long-haul airplane flight. Even in coach (the cheapest ticket), the seats are big and cushy, lean far back, and have leg rests lazy-boy style with tons of leg room, a small mercy for this long-legged giant. You can get up and move around the train, escaping to the airy and bright observation lounge car or dine with real silverware and plates in the dining car. For those a little more flush with money or horrified at the idea of sleeping with 40 strangers, the sleeping cars allow you your own (tiny) space to gaze out the window and lay down in a bed converted from the seats with real sheets and pillows.
There’s also a beautiful suspension of time when traveling by train. The minutes and hours of our often rushed and blurred lives suddenly slow and stretch, our thoughts begin to percolate and simmer, conversations with strangers made friends spring to life, and I have the luxury to indulge wandering thoughts of fancy as I gaze out at the gradually shifting landscape and light as dusk descends or the first blush of dawn tinges the world with new energy and mystery. This is a method of travel for the weary soul that needs a break from the constant barrage of modern life.
So with that I head back into the streets of Boulder, soon to meet with an old college friend. More updates to come…