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The High Line - part 2

 

Thursday, sundown, west of Havre, MT
Today has been a long day, beautiful, relaxing, loud, scary at certain points... the train rarely sides. Crew changes are short, usually taking less than 3 minutes. At each stop we all hover above the giant circular holes in the center of our well and piss, touching our feet to the earth for less than a half hour a day - a very strange thought...

Not too long after I wrote earlier, our train sided. The landscape had already started to change a little bit, and we were in a mostly flat but dry area with huge rocks and small plateaus making up the landscape outside around us. It was dry and hot and we stopped for more than just a few minutes. We noticed first that there were some workers around. Soon we could hear the crunching of gravel and we began to lay low. It was hot and none of us moved. I could feel the sweat rolling down my skin all over my body. The crunching of gravel continued, walking back and forth, the crackle of undecipherable radio babble from the worker's radios buzzed away. Were they searching for us? Our air cut, signaling we weren't going anywhere for a while and we all cast nervous glances at one another.

Soon we were airing up again, but only to back up, then forward then back. Eventually I got the courage enough to S L O W L Y peek my head over the lip of the well and look out. Two cars length ahead of us, the workers were removing a long string of cars from our train to set them out. According to what I could understand from the workers radios and their constant yelling, something was wrong with some of the brake hoses...

Sighing with relief from NOT being set out, eventually our train got under way.

Next we crew changed in Glasgow, MT, meaning only one thing - Havre, MT was next. Havre has that infamous reputation for being the one major obstacle along the high line - the "1000 mile" brake inspection occurs, IM trains are scanned closely and if you're caught, you are guaranteed to spend a few days in jail. Being that it is the first time any of us have ridden this line, we had no idea what to expect.

A few hours after Glasgow, our train began to slow down, entering what appeared to be the small rundown town of Havre. Our train rolled into the eastern part of the yard where there were some refueling drums up ahead and yard offices and machine repair shops to our left. We sat for about a half hour, laying completely still, having no idea how or when the inspection would take place. Soon our brakes aired up again, the soothing "HISSSSSSSSSSS", a quick jolt and we were moving again, further into the yard.

At the west end of the yard, we stopped again. Cautiously I peeked out of the well to find there were paved roads on either side of our train. There were many stopped IM trains on the tracks to our right. Again, we sat low and didn't move. Our train began to move forward then backward, and this went on for some time. We figured this was the brake inspection occuring. Finally the shifting stopped and we were sitting still again. The yard was quiet and eerie. Someone began to notice a faint buzzing sound. First one, then all of us. Where was it coming from? It seemed to only get louder and louder...

Again, slowly, I peered out of the well. First looking towards the front of the train, then the rear - I noticed what appeared to be a small golf cart driving very slowly up the train. Quickly I withdrew myself from view and laid back down. Everyone hit the floor. The humming of the golf cart motors grew louder until it was right upon us. Eyes wide as plates, we laid completely motionless. I could hear the golf cart now directly above me, and could see one driving on the other side of the train as well. It was just below eye level and there were small lights attached to the roof of the cart, positioned to shine down into rideable wells. Somehow, the men driving the carts either did not see us or chose to ignore us. Slowly they passed and continued to the front of the train. Ten or fifteen minutes later they returned, driving towards the end of the train and we repeated our previous actions. Again, we went undetected or ignored. Ten more minutes and our train aired up, jolted us slightly and continued its trek west.

We are now entering western Montana and the temperature seems to be dropping. It feels good...

 

Friday, just after sunrise, somewhere in northern Idaho?
It is freezing cold right now. I won't write much because my hands are going numb quickly - but we just passed through some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen. I awoke less than an hour ago and peeked my head out of the well to guess at where we were. The middle of the mountains, tracks running on the side of a mountain, with a beautiful pastel blue river down below - very inviting despite the temperature. The trees are massive evergreens suggesting our entrance to the Northwest - mountains surrounding us - I am amazed that people must have spent years reshaping the earth in order to lay the track our train is riding on. How long ago was it laid? How many people died in the process? What were their lives like?

I just tried to wake up Taylor and Pilote, shouting over the screeching of the steel and loud rumble of the train "THIS IS AMAZING, YOU HAVE TO SEE THIS!" - Pilote stuck her head up and looked out for a second, tired eyes, nodded, and went back to sleep. Taylor just shook her head "no" and pulled her sleeping bag back around her head. I'm very tired and haven't slept much but I do not want to miss this...

 

Friday, early evening, Portland, OR
End of the line. 43 hours later we are off the train. It has been a long day being in and out of sleep, watching the scenery, rationing the last of our food, and smoking endless cigarettes. I don't think I've ever been so dirty in my entire life.

Our train eventually came into "Hauser, ID" - right on the Idaho/Washington border. We quickly crew changed there and then continued on straight through the "Yardley" yard in Spokane. Pilote was singing a song about the Yardley yard, and how yardley it was. I envisioned dancing workers, yard-dog units with disco balls, and railroad police driving shiny sequin-covered SUVs in rhythm to really bad dance songs. We have been on this train for way too long.

Just outside of the Spokane yard, our train pulled onto a different track and began to head south - signaling our train was destined for Pasco, WA and ultimately PORTLAND! I was pretty excited about not having to directly deal with Seattle, but Pilote was a little let down - she's never made it to Seattle she says...

As we headed towards Pasco, the landscape and climate changed drastically. We were now entering the dry deserts of eastern Washington. Soon it was golden rolling hills and then dry stone everywhere. We all shed clothing as the temperature soared, nearly baking us in our steel train car.

The Pasco yard seemed like a nightmare. It was huge, flat, hot, and there didn't seem to be anywhere to hide - not a place I would want to try and catch out of. Of course, our crew change was quick and soon we were on our way. Finally came the last leg of our journey - and perhaps one of the most beautiful - the Columbia River gorge. We were still technically in Washington but on the other side of the massive river you could see Oregon, as well as a set of Union Pacific tracks that head towards Pocatello and the Overland Route. Our train was flying, and I imagined our train crew giving the train one final last run for the money, letting loose through this beautiful land. There were families vacationing on the sides of the river, old men in boats fishing, young folks parasailing. There were occasional glimpses of the highway, people no doubt driving to see their friends or families on this Friday afternoon, cars with loaded cargo carriers on top headed for a good spot for a picnic. And we flew. We were at such a great speed nobody would have noticed me unless they were really looking for me, and I stood up, goggles on my face to block the wind, standing out and enjoying the intense wind on my face, through my hair.

And finally entering Vancouver, backyards, the backs of businesses, grade crossings and occasional billboards. The sky began to take on a hint of grey - welcoming us to the lovely Northwestern weather.

 

part 3