A long-distance train journey is a great opportunity for meditation. Especially when you find yourself without a phone signal most of the way and unable to connect to a carrier that will give you data at all. So after waking at Spokane (where a drunk guy was getting thrown off the train) and managing to check in to Foursquare, I was then cut off pretty much all the way across Montana and North Dakota. I managed to make a couple of voice calls and send some texts but that was all.
So I could focus on what was going on inside my head with breaks occasionally to see what was outside the window.
Outside the window, I saw lots of ducks, geese, pheasants, some big black bird with a white head, lots of cattle, horses, several deer and a pack of coyotes wandering across the whiteness of the plain.
It's great to get the chance to just sit and breathe and let the world go by. This is the thing with rail travel on this scale, there's so very little to do and so much time to do it in. Get up and walk about, use the rest rooms, get a coffee, sit in the Lounge car and get a better view and listen to some increasingly slurred conversation, read, write, take photographs and shoot video out of the window, not think too much about what's coming up.
So that was my day.
Ann and Kevin were the second couple I stayed with who I'd never met before. But most bizarrely, they, like Philip and Tania in SF were an Anglo-American couple. What are the chances? I land in two couple's lives randomly and unexpectedly and both the guys are English. And, I just realised as I was writing this, they both work with wood – Philip's name is Wood and he's a furniture designer. Kevin is a carpenter. He built the sauna that I enjoyed using first thing on Sunday morning.
Yes – he built a sauna in his basement. I woke on Sunday to the unexpected pre-breakfast questions “Have you ever had a sauna? Would it drain you too much to take one? Would you like to?” To which of course the answers are “Yes, No, and Yes Please, Thank You”
So that's how I found myself naked in a stranger's basement. I'd joked with people beforehand that those people who perceived great risk in what I was doing, believed I'd end up being tortured and cut up in little pieces in somebody's basement. This was not torture, it was exactly what I needed. I then got the next exact thing I needed, a little walk in the fresh air to see Puget Sound from high up and then a 6-egg omelet with hash browns and lashings of coffee at Beth's Cafe – a great and popular greasy spoon, which we had to queue up to get into.
The rest of the day was spent being driven around Ann's list of must-see's. These lovely people, friends of an old friend I've only seen once or twice myself in the last 20 years, took me on a fantastic tour of the city. We went to Gasworks Park and looked out across the lake, we saw the Concrete Troll under the bridge and the Fremont Lenin. We wandered around the locks and went to see if there were any salmon climbing the fish ladder. (Not yet, expect Steelheads in a few weeks). We walked through Pike Place Market and bought some provisions for my next journey. Everywhere we went, Ann had somewhere to check of the list, it was delightful. I had to at least stick my head inside the first Starbucks, stuck it in far enough to see that they have a huge pig made out of coffee beans hanging over the inside of the front door. We watched the fish-sellers chucking their wares around. And then went for a fine cup of coffee at a nearby Tully's and grabbed some wifi so that I could feel a little grounded before the upcoming 43-hour marathon.
They delivered me to the station in plenty of time, but we found that of course the train would be starting late (mechanical problems requiring the fitting of a new engine) So I let them get away after I'd given them (and the surrounding passengers) a quick ukulele rendition of “When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful”. Then it was hugs and handshakes and I was off to find my place in the line. In the end the train only left about 30 minutes late.
I had two seats together for the rest of the day – plenty of room to spread out and try different sleeping positions, mostly foetal variations. As we rolled along the Puget Sound I looked over at the islands on the other side and realised that I was suddenly close to the San Juan Islands where Podchef used to live. I wanted to tweet him, but the network service gave out and then I was asleep.