To Upstate, To Up State
Something happened while I was sitting on a train heading from Chicago to Schenectady, New York.
See, the train ride gives a lot of time for reflection, contemplation, and for mentally preparing oneself for an adventure. This is why trains are insanely great. However, this time also lets one (in this case, me) obsess over weather forecasts. Over the course of a short, overnight train ride, I've watched sunny skies turn to unending, torrential downpours. Once, a winter escape to dry, sunny, 70º Texas turned, in the eighteen hours of me listening to the rumbling of the trin tracks, into a week of 30º, rainy weather. It's like being trapped, since Im already on my way there and can't turn the train around. Frustration follows because, usually, Im woefully underprepared for any adverse weather. Resignation tends to be the end cap of this Feels Gamut, before I put it all in the back of my mind and step off the train. On the train to Schenectady, I was brought back into all that fuss once again when, checking the weather as the sun rose, I saw my final destination's temperature was 6º fahrenheit, as opposed to the previous morning's temperature of 36º fahrenheit. Turds. There was still a good eight hours left of sitting on this train, watching the rustbelt landscape of eastern New York pass by out the window.
"Maybe it's in Celsius?"
"Maybe it's gonna warm back up in the next two days?"
"Okay, I'm going to the Adirondacks so maybe this is the temperature up at 4000ft not down in the valleys?"
Nice try, dummy
Resignation, dear old friend it is, joined me for breakfast.
The East Coast is where all the people live. Trains from the west serve as a tour through small towns with their local industries at varying levels of drying up, with occasional breaks through rolling, bucolic farmscapes and dense forest before heading into another city with tall buildings. This tour repeats every few hours, and a trained eye can entertain itself by noticing the change in minutia, the sum of which gives each town its distinct culture- things like signage, types and age of cars, even what banners hang from light poles and across main streets.
This is fine.
Schenectady, New York
Now I don't know who is in charge of the whole train scheduling thing, but the schedules are all kinds of messed up and for one to take a train from Chicago to the Adirondacks requires hanging out for a day in Schenectady, New York. This town is a part of "Upstate" New York, though Upstate is only halfway up the state. This will be a thing I learn while explaining my travel plans to residents of Schenectady.
The town is littered with history from the 16/1700s. There are designated historic districts, but honestly if you just wander around (which is what I'm doing) you'll keep going past plaques and signs telling neat facts in regards to a building older than the United States. The architecture and fall foliage makes me content to walk around for hours, unaware that I look like a bum in short shorts carrying around bulky bags full of camping gear. I have a sense of humor about myself in these circumstances, and Schenectady seems to have a sense of humor about itself as well.
It's a quiet place, and we're past whatever tourism season there might be out here. I'm free to amble around, and outside of the immediate downtown stretch the sidewalks are empty- residents at work and the nearby university. At a bar offering a veggie burger, I ask about a spot with a good view and no one working can think of anything. Back out on the street, I spy a parking garage.
SCHENECTADY, NY: HELLA QUAINT
he sun is going down and while the weather is still frigid up in the 'Dacks, all the way down south here in Upstate New York it's pleasant. Conditions seem ideal to find a place to sling up my hammock, once night hits anyway. Google maps shows a pretty vacant-looking area on the other side of the river. Unfortunately, in the darkness I just can't find any signage detailing regulations for pedestrians on railroad bridges, or camping instructions for the adjacent vacant lot. Best to assume it's all legal. I doze off in my hammock, lightly swinging along brush in the breeze coming off the Mohawk River.
Up as first light hits the sky. Rain woke me up in the night, but it didn't feel severe enough to warrant getting out of my sleeping bag and putting up a rainfly. Looking around now, things are a bit more damp than I realized. The sunlight is almost as lackadaisical as myself, taking its time to break through cloud cover. In the distance I hear truck tires crunching to a stop on gravel. That's my cue.
Watching the town wake up, I catch people on the street starting their day, their reactions remind me that I clearly look like I slept outside last night. It's in my best interest to head to a cafe to clean up and at the least remove any burrs or leaves still stuck in my hair. Im a slave to decorum. There's still a few hours before my train leaves and I'm not too inclined to spend that time sitting in the station. So I wander.
The Train Up State from Upstate
Riding into the colorful Adirondacks is a breath of fresh air. It's as if the forest grows right up to the edge of the tracks. Within an hour of leaving Schenectady the scenery takes over. Towns feel like they're nestled within the trees, popping up in the free space between them.
The train leaves the woods for the shore of Lake Champlain. Along the shore fall color dominates the landscape. It's hard to do anything other than look out the window.
Go By Train
So, one last issue that needed dealing with is how to get a bike up here. No checked baggage and no bike roll-on means needing a fancy bike that breaks down into a tiny, little box. Arriving in Plattsburgh, New York, other folks detraining enjoy the spectacle of a suitcase secretly having an entire touring bike inside of it.
What y'all don't get to see, because there's basically no way to photograph the activity while doing it, is me riding three miles one-handed. Im rolling the bike's case beside me to the nearest UPS store. Tons of honking happened- I assume from all of Plattsburgh's drivers cheering me on.
I like to make an entrance.