In just a few days I’ll be packing up my clothes and heading home for spring break. Home for me is Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, a suburb of the state capital Harrisburg. I’m more excited to come home for this break than I have been in a long time. I’m riding the rails, taking the train home this break, just me and the great wide world over there. 675 miles of steel taking me back to the city I know so well.
I wish I could say it’s purely fiscal reasoning behind my decision. A one-way train ticket costs $74, whereas the cheapest (two-stop) flight comes out to be $178. The cheapest direct flight is $444, and while I wish the train ticket were just a dollar more expensive and while I appreciate the direct flight’s price repetition, there are a myriad of reasons why I’m deciding to take the train home for break.
The train is by far my favorite way to travel, except for maybe the comfort of my own car. I’m a firm believer in the cliché the journey is more important than the destination. A flight leaves O’Hare at 7:42 a.m. and lands in Harrisburg at 10:26 a.m. I can travel 700 miles and be home in time for lunch. There’s no poetry in that – rather, there is poetry, but not the kind I’m looking for.
A train leaves Union Station at 6:40 p.m., gets into Pittsburgh at 5:05 a.m., leaves Pittsburgh at 7:20 a.m. and arrives home at 12:45 p.m. It’s an excursion, it’s a quest, it’s a very definite expedition. It’s going to take me a little over 17 hours to get home. 1,025 minutes of travel. Just me and the open road, for lack of a better, railway-oriented metaphor.
The summer before my junior year of high school my best friend convinced me to go on a school-sponsored trip with him to Russia and China. After touring Moscow for a few days we boarded the Trans-Siberian Railroad and took a three-day trip to Irkutsk. After spending a few days there, we took another three-day jaunt through Mongolia to Beijing. It was a three-week summer trip, and we spent six and a half days on trains. We washed our hair in beer because there were obviously no showers and we played games of “Catchphrase” in broken English and with a group of fellow Dutch travelers, remarking at the difficulties of syntax and the cultural divide that board games illustrate.
Some people on the trip wondered why we didn’t fly across Siberia, but I wouldn’t have traded the trains for the world. Some people tried to sleep the days away, others exhausted their paperbacks and iPod batteries. I’m not saying I didn’t bring a book or music to pass the time – we had six days on a train to kill. Gets boring at times. What I’m saying is that to this day, one of my favorite travel memories is just sitting on my cot, looking out the window at the changing landscape for hours at a time. I’ve seen the Russian forests, the Siberian taiga and the Gobi Desert pass before my eyes through a pane of glass at 35 miles per hour.
One of my favorite things about being from the East Coast is everything’s proximity to everything else. Where I come from, I’m three hours by train from some of the largest and most important cities on earth. The Keystone Amtrak line stops over in Philadelphia on the way to New York, and the Washington D.C. line will get you to Penn Station in about three and a half hours, presuming it isn’t running late. I considered getting a student advantage card over the summer because of how often I was riding the rails.
Taking the train back to Mechanicsburg for spring break feels like coming home, in more ways that one. It’s returning to my roots, back to my comfort zone, back to my home. Over winter break I flew to and from Chicago a total of four times, I’m done with planes for a while. Past the sprawling metropolis of Chicago, the lowlands of Indiana, past Toledo, past Cleveland, through to Pittsburgh, through the fog-covered hills of the Alleghenies and straight on ‘til morning. I can almost hear the Amtrak conductor on the intercom now. Next stop, Harrisburg – end of the line.