March 10, 1999
It’s 5:30 AM and well below freezing. We are all bundled up as we load ourselves, a suitcase, our two backpacks and a big tub of homemade veggie sushi in to the van. We shipped our car seat to Missouri so our friend picking us up could have it for the long drive back from the bus station with us. And so, today, Daegan rides with me as I rode with my mom in the 1970’s. Sitting on my lap.
We pull up to the bus station and only a few other people are there. The air has the smell of wet snow and bus exhaust that has always given me butterflies. That is the way the air is meant to smell before you go on an adventure.
We hug Kite and Dolphin goodbye.
“See you around the universe” we say. They’ll be taking our eight cats, bed, and computer by van to Missouri – a task that could not have seemed more overwhelming and I’m incredibly grateful.
We board the bus and we watch the sun rise as we head for 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. We’ll get in there about 8:00 AM. We walk in to the large departures hall and look up at the sign. Our train is listed as “On Time” and leaves at 3:00 PM. We’ve got some time to kill. We find a spot on the floor, and Daegan and I go fetch some coffee. A woman comes up to me and comments on Daegan’s sling:
“It’s almost like what we use in Africa except there we carry our babies on our back.”
I tell her that I had also tried doing that with a piece of fabric but that it felt very unstable and I worried that Daegan would fall out. She lets me in on a secret.
“The trick is simple: you need two pieces of cloth. One for their bottom and one to go over their back.” Sage’s mom would try this method some time later with great success.
We sit on the floor and read to each other, occasionally stopping to entertain Daegan. After several hours I get up to stretch my legs and find the washroom. When I come back, Sage is talking to two women. As I walk up I catch Sage’s reply:
“No, we’re not homeless. We’re fine. Thanks for offering to buy us lunch, though. Our train just leaves very late.”
They tell Sage “Oh good. We’re so glad to hear that. We’re just Christians and we wanted to make sure you and the baby were OK.”
After they left, I think a bit and “Oh wow.” accidentally slips out of my mouth. Sage asks me why.
“You said we’re not homeless. We don’t really have a home at the moment. We’ve moved out of our house and are about to move in to a camper on our friend’s front lawn.”
There are times when I feel excited about what we’re doing. And then there are other times where I think about the reality of the situation. I’ve just quit a very stable job, moved out of our house with a 6 month old baby. We don’t have a car and have completely destroyed our credit. We don’t know exactly where we’ll live or how we’ll manage. We’ve jumped out of a plane and will be packing our parachute based on our best guess and friends guidance…on the way down. Mostly this doesn’t worry me though I have lost an hour or two of sleep to these thoughts each night since I handed in my resignation.
We eat a couple slices of pizza from the food court and I read a bit of Michael Palin’s “Pole to Pole” to Sage and Daegan. When I look up again it’s 2:00 and it’s about time for our train. Except…
Our train is now 90 minutes late. We’re very comfortable where we are and don’t mind waiting – except for one thing. Our connection for our train between Chicago and St. Louis, Missouri leaves 75 minutes after we arrive. We may have missed our connection before we even left.
In the end it’s even worse than we expect and we board the train two hours later than expected. Here comes more uncertainty. But we don’t have to deal with it now, we’ve got a whole night ahead of us on the train.
We eat a bit of the sushi and it is really good. It’s made with brown rice so it’s quite filling. Some rolls have cucumber in them, others carrot, and still others have a little bit of both. A couple of plastic wrapped rice balls are there also with vegetables inside. It looks like Dolphin had more rice than seaweed. It doesn’t matter, though, as it’s all delicious.
We’re both getting tired and we’re not entirely sure how we’re going to sleep. Daegan is still very small and the seats don’t recline well. We worry a little that if we fall in to a deep sleep we might drop him. Eventually, though, I come up with a solution. I put him back in the sling on my chest, then tip the chair back. He’s secure enough that he can go to sleep on my chest and I doze off as well, confident that he’s secure. Sage and I trade off a couple of times so I can write a bit and then I take him back when she goes to sleep. Soon all of the lights are turned out we’re all asleep. For an hour. And then a man starts snoring. But this is no ordinary snore, this is the loudest snoring I’ve heard in my life. It is so loud, in fact, that the conductor comes and wakes him. He falls asleep and starts again. Soon he’s joined by a couple of frat boys who laugh loudly every time he snores and eventually one of them goes over and starts filming him with his camcorder. Eventually the conductor wakes him one last time and he is moved to another car. In my mind they gave him a soundproofed compartment where nobody could be bothered. Or maybe they dropped him off at the next station.
And then, an hour after that we hear a very upset toddler crying loudly. He is completely inconsolable. By 2:00 AM, nothing has changed, and now I hear the baby’s parents angrily whispering to one another. Sage asks me to let her out and I’m wondering what is going to happen. She stands up and marches a few rows back and talks to the mom and then they both leave the car.
After they’ve been gone for about ten minutes I wonder what’s happened and I get up and head in the same direction they went. And I eventually find them in the lounge car, chatting. Daegan’s still asleep in the sling with me but I join in the conversation. Tina, the mom, tells us their story. Her and her husband are on their way to Santa Barbara – several day’s ride away. this is their first night on the train. They were under the impression that things would be really different. Their baby, Jacob, had a routine of falling asleep in bed with his mom and dad with the television on. Now, with no bed or television, he was completely out of sorts and didn’t know what to do. Tina and her husband had assumed there would be television and a sleeper car for them and were shocked to find that they were going to have to travel sitting up the entire four day journey.
I try to go back with Daegan but I can’t sleep. Now I’m thinking about how to build that parachute again – and worrying if it will even work. I grab a deck of cards from the bag and head back to the lounge. Sage eventually curled up to sleep in the booth and I played solitaire. As the two of them slept, it began to snow outside.
Eventually I am also tired enough to sleep and we head back to our seats and go to sleep. I wake up a few hours later when I hear a couple of people with a really terrible cough. Despite drinking water, the cough is just not going away.
The sun is coming up now and we’re in Indiana – the heart of the rust belt. We are passing along the back side of cities. Cities show the front side to the tourists. The back side, with the run down houses, factories and ruins of condemned buildings faces the train travellers. Today, though, even this area looks good as it’s all covered in several inches of pristine white snow. It’s too fresh to have been dirtied by the soot from the factories or driven over by cars and trucks so it is just magical, white, and beautiful. Despite only having had about three steady hours of sleep I’m feeling great and excited. My mind is taking a break from worrying about how we’re going to manage and is content to build our parachute as we go. At least until the next time I’m up late and can’t sleep.
We arrive in Chicago, and luckily for us the snow that delayed us, has also delayed the train we’re meant to take to Missouri. We’re saved! I take this as an important lesson in the value, or rather lack of value, in worrying. Any time I spent worrying about our missed connection was borrowing trouble – that we never actually encountered.
We board the next train and it is a day train. There were only “Executive Class” tickets available when we booked so we have cushy seats and free soft drinks the whole way to St. Louis. With sushi and free drinks we feel like we’re as important as the businesspeople sharing the car with us.
We settle in for the eight hour ride and watch the world go by our window.
Once in St. Louis we catch a cab from the train station to the bus station where we purchase a bus ticket to Springfield. The bus leaves in a couple of hours, time enough to get some bad fast food to supplement the last of our sushi.
Maybe I’m tired and projecting my own feelings on to everyone around me, but the bus terminal seems positively dismal. Everything looks old, badly lit, and in disrepair. Everyone in the terminal looked sad and as if they would prefer to be anywhere but here. The bus to Springfield arrives, and we get on and I sleep off and on with Daegan in the sling. Finally, almost 40 hours after we left, we arrive in Springfield after midnight. Daegan, the woman our son was named after and whom we’ve already taken to calling “Big Dae” is waiting for us with big hugs and excitement. She loads our things in to her SUV, we put Daegan in to his car seat and Big Dae drives us an hour to the town that will appear in our address for the next several years. But then, she turns down a narrow paved road out in to fields and forest, turns on to a narrow dirt road and through two creeks through “low water crossings” before going on another even narrower road that goes up a massive hill. Nearly 25 minutes after we left the town proper, we have arrived at the land we will eventually call home.
As we arrive, we hear the barking of some of her dogs. One, a large black lab mix is picked up in the headlights and slowly trots just a foot or so in front of us as Big Dae inches the car forward, leading us to where we park.
I step out of the car, greet the dogs and thank them for the welcome. Now that their barking has stopped, the silence is deafening. There is absolutely no noise. I smell woodsmoke in the air from a distant neighbour’s chimney.
I look up and see a sky mostly unaffected by light pollution. The sight of the milky way is so overwhelming that I feel dizzy and have to put my hand on the car to keep from falling.
We’re ushered in to our friend’s house. We are home – we just don’t have a house of our own yet.
Want more stories about our adventure leaving suburbia and moving with our baby to a yurt in the woods? Visit this page.
22 thoughts on “Yurt Years – March 1999: By Rail to Missouri”
wow great journey and you tell the tale so well!
Thanks, Kate – that means a lot. I’m having a lot of fun travelling back in time with this project. I’m so glad I thought to take notes (read: kept a more informally-written and now offline blog) back in the day!
lol most useful and by blogging it here it’s there for everyone involved and to encourage other young people to take that leap of faith!
You could do a mini series of the traveling family. It’s a very good read and I am glad y’all didn’t get sick from that guy coughing!
Oh for sure. I’ve got years of notes on this particular adventure so there will definitely be more stories. Stay tuned 🙂
Oh you know I will. I was talking about a book too. 😀
Ah yes – don’t tell anyone but in part this is a way to trick myself in to doing just that. It’s been on my “meaning to do” list for a few years now.
Your son looks very happy with you. I am reminded of travelling on buses with my mom years ago from the Catskills to NY City. I was reading a friend’s account of travelling by bus cross country. He was not enjoying it for many reasons. Hardships are always better to bear when you are surrounded by people who care about you. Thanks for sharing. You tell the story very well.
Thank you – and yes. It really makes a difference who you’re surrounded by. Some people make a difficult situation even more difficult while others make it easier. In my life I’ve been very lucky to have mostly been surrounded by the latter type.
I agree with that. I am very lucky to have a supportive husband but there have been times prior to my marriage when I definitely preferred in the past travelling alone as opposed to travelling with a group.
Quite the journey to the new beginning…love the way you described all of it, especially the breathtaking view of the Milky Way – we are all small in the big world we live in, aren’t we? Congrats on taking steps to change your life with your family.
Thanks! We really are insignificant in the big picture for sure. Sometimes that’s overwhelming, and other times it’s reassuring. When something isn’t going perfectly, it’s just a tiny little thing in an infinite and beautiful universe.
Oh My, what an adventure…..I am so eager to know what happens afterward. So much courage you and Sage have. Taking a risk with so much hopeful anticipation, even though you have missed your sleep quite a bit over the decision. You have such an interesting story to tell. Surely Daegan is a super proud boy there. Wonderful story!
Thanks! And Daegan’s becoming a bit of an adventurer himself. I’m happy to have passed on the tendency. 🙂
Such an enjoyable read, Todd! You have such a brave & adventurous little family. ♡
Thanks! We do love our adventures. Something I notice looking back, is that whether intentionally or not we set our adventures up such that they’re difficult or impossible to turn back on. I quit my job, gave up the house and car here, we quit and moved to another country there. Even on our smaller adventures, we take a bike and once you’re 50 kilometres (30 miles from home) you’re pretty much committed as the only way out is to either go forward to your destination or ride that same distance home. By “forcing” myself to stick to the adventure, I end up guaranteed to find the fun. (My sense of adventure and humour rarely let me rest in “This sucks!” for too long when things aren’t going as planned)
Lovely pics and well penned !
Thank you so much!
You’re such a wonderful storyteller! I’m reading this from Arkansas and have flown in and out of the Springfield airport many times so I’m familiar with the area and how it feels to see the night sky here compared to the night sky in L.A. I still do a double take when I look up and see SO MANY STARS!
Thank you so much. It is such a beautiful part of the world.