I Expected to Like My Hiking Trip, by Carole Howard

And I did. Yellowstone National Park, with its spooky-looking landscapes of mud bubbling like pea soup, steam emerging from below, and, of course, geysers. Grand Teton National Park, home of bears, elks, bison. A week of beauty, exercise, good food with good people. In a word, perfect.

Yes, it really was faithful: every 90 minutes.

Yes, it really was faithful: every 90 minutes.

A real live elk with gorgeous antlers

A real live elk with gorgeous antlers


What I didn’t expect, though, was how much I’d love the three-day train ride back home. The pleasure snuck up on me; it wasn’t until the end of the first day that I realized how much I was enjoying it. Why did I like it so much, you ask?

Good question. Bad answer: I’m not sure. I just know I did.

You know that bit about “Life is about the journey, not the destination”? Yes, yes, but for a task-oriented closure-seeker like me, the destination is just begging to be reached, beckoning with crooked finger and seductive look, saying “Faster, Carole, faster.” On the train, though, it really was all about the journey, the moment. It was about observing the continually-changing scene outside the window, reflecting on it, zoning out to it. There was no closure to be achieved, other than getting to NY, and I was only too happy to extend my vacation, so didn’t particularly need that closure.

Long distance trains are, I discovered, a bubble in time. Nothing needs to get done; there are no meetings to attend or commitments to fulfill. All I needed to do was just be. Should I read? Or go to the observation car? Or maybe it’s time for the Dining Car. Or a nap in the sleeping compartment.

Then there was the community. (See Community.)  At each meal – and there were eight between Salt Lake City and Poughkeepsie – we were seated at a table with two strangers, from 6 years old to about 70. They were always interesting, sometimes downright fascinating. We heard about competitive pumpkin-growing contests, about role-playing to prepare U.S. Marines for the wartime realities of Iraq, and lots more. We were African-American, white, Hispanic, Anglo, Amish. We were America. These strangers became friends, even though we knew we’d never see each other again.

And, of course, the motion of the train and those choo-choo sounds (there’s no other word for them, really) were supremely comforting.

At the end of the trip, I was amazed that I’d taken far fewer pictures than usual. Even back in the days when it was expensive to get all those pictures developed, I snapped away. And in the digital age, we usually printed out the shots we wanted to include in our albums, now numbering 27.

But not this time. Again, it was about the journey, not about documenting the journey. I was happy to just be there, and didn’t need to show anyone, including my future self, what it looked like. Contentment in the moment. How about you: do you take pictures when you travel? Do you print them out and put them in an album? Or leave them in your phone and/or computer? And then what? Has your picture-taking changed over time?

*     *     *

Carole Howard is the author of Deadly Adagio, published by Second Wind Publishing.


Filed under photographs, Travel

9 responses to “I Expected to Like My Hiking Trip, by Carole Howard

  1. I think it’s interesting that you went by train and didn’t fly. Not making any judgements – it’s just interesting. Any special reason?

  2. We did both: flew out and trained back. Reason, hmmmm. We went across Canada by train on our honeymoon, some 45 years ago and thought it would be fun to revisit the experience while extending the trip. We were right!

  3. My recent train journey was much shorter – Peak District to London- but that moment when the doors closed, with no more stops between here and there, plus the engine noise of course, was amazingly soothing. And yes. Yellowstone is gorgeous. So is the Peak District in a quieter, more human way.

  4. Interesting post, Carole. I’m generally an album gal. I’ve traveled quite a lot and find that lately, I take fewer pictures than I used to, partly due to the higher expense of having prints made now. But it depends on the trip. For scenery and interconnecting with people; fewer pictures. For monuments, quaint villages, exotic scenes; more photos. You’ve given me pause to ponder. Thanks!

  5. Very nice post, Carole. I am reminded of a 10-day raft trip I took through the Grand Canyon years ago (pre-digital age). I took a good camera and then after the first few river bends in the canyon, put it back in my pack. Every turn of the river offered a sight better than the one before! I realized I’d wind up taking hundreds of pictures and would be better off buying a souvenir picture book at the end!

  6. Thanks, Chuck. And I know exactly what you mean about the availability of pictures for sale so you can concentrate on having the experience itself. Especially since, in my case, the commercial pictures are better than mine anyway.

  7. I love trains. Even had my own 4′ x 8′ train set complete with town and countryside scenery. When Bob asked me what I wanted for Christmas that year, I said a train set. I’ve always wanted to take a long train trip. You wetted my desire. I do recall how I too would zone out on the scenery while I traveled for a living and would fly from Nashville, TN out to California or Washington State. I always had a window seat and my nose was glued to the window during the entire trip. I was always amazed at the diversity of this land we can home. Seeing it from a train would be a real treat!

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