travel

Exit 174. I enjoy traveling by train.

My twenty-five-mile commute to work runs parallel to a railroad track, used both by freight trans and an Amtrak route (for my readers outside the USA, that means a passenger train) that runs twice per day in each direction.  A few miles down the highway, I cross the track, and sometimes, if the timing works out just right, I can see the Amtrak train, and I end up following it for about another 15 miles until my exit.  Then, shortly after my exit, I cross under the railroad track again, and if the timing is still just right, I see the train one last time above me.  Last Thursday, I saw the train following me along my drive, but by the time I got to the underpass, I had gotten stuck waiting at a stop sign, and the train had already passed.

I am discovering more and more that I enjoy traveling by train.  I’ve often used BART, the regional electric commuter trains in and around San Francisco and Oakland, to get to Giants games or other occasional events in San Francisco for which I don’t want to deal with traffic or finding an overpriced place to park.  I went to a concert in the city a few weeks ago, and I took BART and then connected to a local bus, and I didn’t even miss the bus or get on the wrong bus or anything like that.  Me 1, San Francisco 0.  The local light rail in Sacramento is my usual method of transportation to get to Kings games when I don’t have to pick up someone who doesn’t have a way to get to games or won’t use public transportation.  I have also used light rail and buses many times to get home from long one-way bike rides.  And in June, I rode Amtrak for the first time, going to visit my family.

I think I would use public transportation more often, except that it usually does not go where I’m going when I need to be there.  When I say this to many people, they proceed to criticize the public transportation system in this region compared to others, or public transportation in the USA compared to other countries.  But this is not the issue.  The issue is that my commute is not along a common commuting corridor.  It is theoretically possible for me to get to work using three buses, run by three different agencies that do not issue transfers, with inconvenient layovers in between.  I could also just do the long bus route, getting to and from the stops by bike instead of two other buses.  However, that would still be about three and a half miles on my bike each way, which I do not like to do in work clothes or without being able to shower afterward, especially on hot days.  (I am thinking, however, that it might be useful to try this, just to see how it works.  I could be sure to arrive early enough to clean up a little and/or change clothes before the students arrive.  Even if this does not become my daily commute, this may come in handy in a pinch if I am ever without a car for any reason.)  As for using public transportation for trips that are not work, my social life usually involves doing things late at night, leaving me with no way to get home on public transportation.  Either that, or I am rushing from one place to another and do not have time to wait for a bus or train.

I’ve already reserved my ticket on Amtrak to visit my family for Christmas.  It’s longer and more expensive than driving, but to me, not unreasonably so.  And I’ve come to realize that maybe I don’t like driving as much as I thought I did, or as much as I used to.  As a roadgeek, driving is fun.  But sometimes it’s also fun to just sit back and stare out the window at the scenery going by.  And I’m definitely looking forward to doing that on the way home for Christmas.  It’ll be dark on the way back; the city where my parents live only gets one train per day in each direction, and the one taking me home leaves around 6:30pm, long after sunset in December.  But I’ll be bringing my Christmas presents home, so I’ll probably have some new movies to watch on my laptop for when it’s too dark to see outside.

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Exit 168. Just part of being an introvert.

I took a week off from this blog… I had a lot going on, and I wasn’t feeling well for a few days.

The stuff I had going on involved seeing Carbon Leaf in San Francisco.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve seen this band many times, including just about every time they’ve toured nationwide.  Usually, their tour only takes them as close as San Francisco, and more often than not it happens to be on a weeknight.  I got home from San Francisco at 2am and got four hours of sleep that night, among the reasons I’ve been so exhausted lately.

I left for the concert right after work, with plans to stop in Concord or Pleasant Hill or Walnut Creek for dinner.  It would be around 5pm when I got there, and I know my way around that area because I lived there briefly.  At around 4:30, I decided on a whim to pull over and post on Facebook and Instagram exactly where I would be stopping for dinner.  I said if any of my friends in that area saw this post and were free, please come say hi sometime between 5 and 6.  I’ve done this kind of thing a few times before, but this one ended up being different, because someone actually showed up and joined me for dinner.  (Not just some-ONE, it was actually a whole family of four.)  It was nice to know that someone actually took the time to join me.

Yesterday, just nine days after the Carbon Leaf trip, I found myself in the Bay Area again, although not specifically in the same place.  This time, I didn’t post that I would be passing through anyone else’s area, and I didn’t invite anyone to join me.  Part of the difference here was just logistical.  The plan for this trip was to catch up with someone I hadn’t seen in a while over lunch, so I wasn’t stopping to eat anywhere.  I also wasn’t passing directly through anywhere I used to live, or anywhere with a high concentration of people I hadn’t seen in a while.  I didn’t want my friend to think that she wasn’t a priority.  And I had plans back home that evening, so while I wasn’t in a hurry to get home, I knew that any additional stops I made might mean less time with my friends back home.

But sometimes when I’m passing through places where friends live, it isn’t that I don’t have time to see them.  Sometimes it’s just part of being an introvert.  Sometimes I’m really looking forward to a long drive by myself, getting lost in the music and the scenery.  Sometimes I feel anxious about trying to make plans with people, for no good reason other than that I’m an introvert.

I just hope that, when this happens, my friends who I didn’t try to stop and visit don’t feel slighted or left out.  I promise that isn’t it.  I have friends spread out all over California, and all over the world for that matter.  Someone asked me once what I would wish for if I could have one wish, and the best answer I thought of was a private jet with an unlimited fuel supply, or some other form of fast and cheap transportation, so I could visit distant friends and family more often.

But sometimes I just feel like being alone.

Those of you who are my friend on Facebook, or who follow me on Instagram, know that I like to take pictures of scenery or landmarks when I’m not home.  If you see me taking a picture of something that is near you, and you’re available to hang out, please speak up.  Let me know if you want me to stop and see you.  And keep inviting me to things.  Similarly, let me know if you’re ever in my area and you feel like hanging out.  But please accept the fact that I might not be able to, and I might not be in the mood for it for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with you.  I really hope that this doesn’t come across as arrogant or selfish, because that’s not what I mean at all.  When this happens, let’s talk about another time that might work out to get together.  Advance notice works better with my schedule.

Thank you, friends.

Exit 147. An unexpected sight.

The Sutter Buttes are often referred to as the world’s smallest mountain range.  In the middle of the flatlands of the Sacramento Valley, a cluster of small mountains about 10 miles across rises over two thousand feet from the surrounding orchards, ranches, and rice paddies.  This part of California is mostly unknown to the glamorous celebrities of Los Angeles, the beach bums of San Diego, and the techies of Silicon Valley.  Yuba City is the nearest medium-sized city, just a few miles away, and the nearest major metropolitan area is Sacramento, a little over an hour away by car.  Here’s an overhead view I snipped from Google Maps (the big gray blob southeast of the mountains is Yuba City and Marysville, with the Feather River separating them):

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I’ve driven within view of the Sutter Buttes many times.  My dad was born in Chico, and in my younger years we often drove through Yuba City on the way to and from visiting relates in Chico.  I have been that way many times as an adult too.  The Buttes look mysterious and out of place, surrounded on all sides by one of the flattest parts of California; they are certainly an unexpected sight to one unfamiliar with the area.

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I had never been any closer to the Sutter Buttes than driving by at a distance, until earlier this week.  I had a free day, and I felt like driving, so I did a bit of exploring.  Most of the land is privately owned, inaccessible except for occasional guided hikes.  But there are public roads that make almost a complete circle around the Buttes, which I traveled.

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Sometimes, unexpected obstacles arise in life.  At first, the unexpected can look scary and mysterious.  But what is scary and mysterious from a distance can end up being quite beautiful up close.  So take a closer look… you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.