writing

The Train Diaries: Part One

Yesterday, I got on a train heading towards Lewiston, a tiny mountain town six hours north of San Francisco, to stay in small cabin by the river for a few days of writing and reading and laptop avoidance.

It is now twenty one hours after I got on that train, and instead of Lewiston, I find myself in Sacramento, staying in a small apartment in downtown with a young Filipino man called Eli, and his eighty four year old grand-aunt. 

How did this happen?

Let’s start at 7am yesterday. I woke up feeling spontaneous. When I opened my laptop I saw that the Airbnb cabin that I’d been looking at the previous night was still on the screen. Taking this as a sign that I should embrace my morning spontaneity (rather than just an indication I’m terrible at closing tabs), I did a quick check of the route to get there using public transport and booked the cabin for three nights.

The first leg of the journey was a BART at 1pm. That gave me a few hours to pack my bag, (actually first, borrow a bag to then pack), do some food shopping (they don’t really have shops in the woods), and get myself to the BART station. 

I made my train, and disembarked forty five minutes later in Richmond, with a first success under my belt.

My next train, to Sacramento, was due in ten minutes. This didn’t really give me enough time to double check anything, so I just assumed my 7am self had it covered, and I jumped on. Approximately thirty four seconds into the two hour journey, I realised I hadn’t actually bought a ticket. At this moment, the ticket collector started walking down the aisle. Luckily, I avoided a fine. Unluckily the ticket ended up being $27, which is about $20 more than I expected (obviously I didn’t feel the need to check this when I mapped my journey). 

Two hours later I was at Sacramento Station, fingers crossed behind my back as I asked the ticket guy how much the ticket for the next train to Redding Station, the third of four legs of the journey, would cost. Deep down I knew I was in trouble. If it was $27 to Sacramento, a four hour leg to the town of Redding was unlikely to be any cheaper. He confirmed my fears. $46 one way. As much as I love the idea of unplugging in a cabin in the woods for a few days, I also love the idea of not spending all of my money just to get there.

So after about twenty minutes of panicking, I decided my journey to Lewiston would be halted, at least for the day. At this point, it was about 4pm, and I had no alternate accomodation for the night. In other words, I was stranded in Sacramento with a backpack full of three cans of chilli, two value packs of salami, three nut bars, a blanket, a sleeping bag, four books, my notebook, three pens, and a can opener. 

The way I saw it, I had three options. Hitchhike it the rest of the way to the cabin. Get on a train back to San Francisco. Or find a place to stay in Sacramento. The first one took a lot of consideration to eliminate. In the end, the torrential downpour, impending darkness, and unlikelihood of anyone actually heading in the direction of my small mountain town crossed it from my list. Getting on a train home was easy to rule out. Heading back with my tail between my legs was never an option. I got on the train to have an adventure, and an adventure I would have. Sacramento would be my home for the night.

From the station I fired out a few hopeful (desperate) requests on Couchsurfing. I googled hotels, then motels, then hostels (in descending order as I saw the prices for each). I discovered that there’s one hostel in Sacramento - an old Victorian-era building, about a fifteen minute walk from the station. It was an option.

Accepting my Sacramento bound fate, I picked up my backpack and ventured out into the rain towards the centre of downtown, in search of food. Twenty minutes later, ten degrees colder, and 100% wetter, I arrived at ‘Dad’s on J’, a chilled out diner-looking joint, that did burgers, sandwiches, and salads. 

The next two hours were spent at Dad’s. I ate some food and felt remarkably more optimistic. I called my brother, and amused him with my dilemma. I had a phone interview, which I had completely forgotten about, yet which went very well. I called Abby, for moral support and suggestions. I waited for my phone to ping with couch surfing offers.

By the end of the two hours, I had one response. A guy called Elijah, who was on the plane when he got my message, and said he’d look at my profile when he landed and see if he could help. I waited and waited for him to land, but didn’t hear back.

Feeling like I’d well overstayed my welcome at Dad’s, I decided to walk over to the hostel, to make sure they had rooms available, and check the price. It was indeed a beautiful building. The guy inside was incredibly friendly - possibly just taking pity on the dripping person who stumbled through the door at 7pm on a Thursday evening. To get a bed in the ten person dorm, I would have to pay $36. Not ideal, but doable. 

Being the cheapskate I am, I told him I would come back if I didn’t manage to sort anything on Couchsurfing (the possibility of free accommodation is a hard one to reject). 

Back out into the rain, I headed a few blocks down to a late night coffee place, called Naked Lounge. Thankfully, no-one was naked, and I ordered myself a cup of coffee and settled into the corner, hoping to hear back from Elijah at some point in the next few hours. 

8pm ticked by, and a show started at the Lounge. It seemed to just be a guy jamming out on his guitar singing folky music while all of his friends danced hilariously and drank cheap beer. It was cool. 

At around 8:30pm , my phone pinged. Elijah would be happy to host me for the night.

Chris HaganComment