I left Chicago last Friday morning on a bus headed east. All I had was a backpack filled with some hastily packed dress clothes, a water bottle, my phone, and my wallet. I don’t want to brag or anything,* but I was in my element.
The bus was late to leave. About five minutes after we were scheduled to depart, the bus driver busted through the door and walked to the PA system.
“Now boarding Miller Transportation bus to Gary, Indiana; Columbus, Ohio; and God knows where else; I ain’t got time for this.”
She then moved to the line that formed about half an hour prior and started taking tickets, herding people onto the bus as quickly as possible. From overheard snippets of conversation, I gathered that she was filling in for the regular driver and was not particularly happy about being here as she did NOT like driving on Chicago streets. A couple minutes after we left, she overshot a left turn and had to reverse mid-intersection as the light changed. Ten minutes after that, she took the wrong exit and was directed to the correct location by what I assumed are regulars on this route.
It’s moments like this that have been a pivot point for my perspective on travel—the moments when something doesn’t go right and there’s nothing I can do about it. It’s easy to get frustrated and start whining. But it’s not the camping trip where everything went right that you still talk about with your buddies to this day—it’s the one where something went wrong, where the unexpected happened. So, I laughed to myself and, like a goddamn millennial, tweeted about it.
I was headed to the “God knows where else” part of the bus route—Elkhart, IN. The stop ended up being less of a bus station and more of a parking lot outside a hotel.
Now, not to disparage Elkhart, but it was definitely not my final destination. I was only in town for a few hours to meet my cousin and bum a ride with her and her hubby to Pennsylvania for a family wedding. Unfortunately, my cousin lived in a town ten miles away, so I had the choice of navigating the “Interurban Trolley System” to her place, which according to Google would take over an hour, or to hang out in Elkhart for a couple hours until they were able to pick me up. As is often the case with decisions in Indiana, I was stuck choosing between two equally boring propositions. Luckily, a second Google search revealed that Elkhart has a brewery in town, Iechyd Da, so my choice was made, obviously.
I decided to forego the trolleys even as far as downtown, where the brewery was located, and walk the 45 minutes from the hotel parking lot. The sun was out, but it wasn’t too hot—good walking weather. The only downside was that there were no sidewalks. As I strolled down the side of the road with cars zipping past, moved through parking lots and into yards, it brought me back to my days on the Appalachian Trail when I needed to walk or hitch into town at road crossings to resupply food and drink beer. The only differences were that I was wearing Rockports instead of Chacos, a button down shirt and khakis instead of dirty hiker clothes, and I didn’t need to resupply.
I walk a lot. This has been true of me for a long time, but it’s become even more so after thru-hiking the AT last summer. It’s part of my identity now. Along city streets, through forests, up and down mountains, into the desert—if time, weather, and money allow—I will walk. The slowness of it and the freeness of it are what draw me. It is, I believe, the purest form of travel—especially when the destination is beer.
The hike into town didn’t take too long, and I wasn’t hit by any cars. Two separate young men yelled at me through their windows as they sped past. “Bitch!” one shouted. “Penis!” said the other. I’m just walking to get beer, I thought, They’re just jealous of how cool I am. My cousin informed me later that Indianans don’t really know what to do with pedestrians, as if walking somewhere is so outlandish. This did nothing to assuage my opinion of the state. But again, it is not the easy and quiet walks that are often remembered.
Iechyd Da Brewing did help my opinion of the state, however. I had their Oktoberfest and the Local Blonde, which were delicious. Both were enjoyed outside on the patio, and I had a nice buzz going when my cousin finally picked me up.
We listened to podcasts, Disney music, and 90’s RnB on the ride out. I caught up with my cousins who I hadn’t seen in a year and drove the final stretch to PA after I’d sobered up. We arrived at 1 in the morning. I’d left my house the previous morning at 7:30.
After a great wedding where I didn’t embarrass myself too much,** I was set, like everybody else, to head home on Sunday. Unfortunately, as my cousins were going on vacation, I didn’t have a ride back out to Chicago. So instead, I booked a ticket on Amtrak. My parents dropped me off at the station a couple hours early so they could make their flight back home to Montana.
My original itinerary on the train was a 6 hour ride to Pittsburgh, followed by a 4 hour layover and then an overnight from Pittsburgh back to Chicago. But, after getting in touch with a friend of mine who I met while hiking and who lived in Pittsburgh, I moved back the overnight one day so I would have a chance to hang out with her.
Trains, I think, are another lovely way to travel. At one point, they had the same brute efficiency reputation that flying does today. Shuttling people from one place to another without any sense of enjoyment. But now that airports have taken on most of the hustle and bustle of modern day transportation, trains are a relaxing alternative. Large, comfortable seats; interesting people; free Wi-Fi; a cafe car; there isn’t too much to complain about. I pulled into Pittsburgh that night happy to still be on the road.
I spent the next day with Hobbit wandering around town. We got breakfast at a diner, hit up a tea shop and a feminist bookstore, I got a sandwich at Primanti’s (comes with fries and cole slaw IN the sandwich), we called a mutual friend of ours, and relived our days living out in the woods. Somehow, while walking around the streets of Pittsburgh, we randomly ran into 4 people that my friend knew. That night, I joined her reading group where we did a dramatic reading of Redwall and ate brie. It was the epitome of a pleasant day.
I went straight from Redwall to the train station for my 11:59 departure time. I slept most of the way home, but I was awake enough to notice and appreciate the man with the Marshall Mathers face tattoo sitting in front of some Amish folk.
There are a lot of different ways to travel, and I realize my way isn’t for everyone. Speed and efficiency have their benefits. And I realize how lucky I am to be in a position where I can travel as I do. But, there’s a reason that the eagles didn’t fly Frodo to Mordor, and it has nothing to do with your horrible fan theory. The eagles didn’t fly Frodo because that wouldn’t make a very interesting book.
I arrived back home in Chicago Tuesday morning at 8:30. I got to the subway stop nearest to my apartment, and I was tired and hungry, but I decided not to take the bus all the way home. The weather was nice, after all.
*Sike, yeah I do.
**I may or may not have gone through the groom’s Facebook page, whom I had just met that day, and provided commentary while in front of the entire reception crowd.