I'd been noticing that several friends and acquaintances had been talking about, then taking, some sort of trip during the bleak November time. Of course, everyone does not have the freedom just to go away at any time, but with Thanksgiving rolling closer, most will get some break in the routine even if they can't physically get away.
For me November represents a reasonable chance to leave and return before snow and other inclement weather throw an extra variable into the routine. So for the first time, after years of travelling other ways, I chose to head to the city taking Amtrak from Westport, a shorter drive than my traditional Saratoga train, and a ride that would allow me to see another section of the North Country without being behind the wheel of a car.
I knew that the Westport train might run late, having caught it further down the line dozens of times. But I was pleasantly surprised when it rolled in exactly on time, and I was the only passenger boarding. The train was already pretty full, having left from Montreal a few hours earlier. I heard a lot of Quebec French being spoken by passengers, and I noticed that about 75 percent of the passengers had some form of electronic device keeping their attention and amusement, instead of the view out the window. I guess it is OK to make that choice, but it's not for me. Give me the window looking out at the world any time.
I grabbed a seat on the eastern side of the train, preparing to view Lake Champlain on our southbound trip. I was not disappointed. The lake was beautiful and serene, and so large that I had to appreciate its masterful geography, situated in its own valley, with Adirondack and Green mountains creating its planetary bowl.
The train moved more slowly than I was used to on the more southern section of the route. There were times the tracks skirted the very edge of the lake, so when I looked down out my window I was looking at water. Clickety clak.
Geography up close
As the route progressed, I got to see up close one of the geological areas of New York state I'd always been fascinated with - the southern tip of Lake Champlain and the canals and locks that link it to the Hudson River. Lake Champlain narrows incredibly the further south you go. In places it looks like a lazy river you could shoot an arrow over.
The wildlife visible from this slower region was amazing. Here were the great blue herons that I'd been missing for the past month-and-a-half back home by my river. Here were ducks and geese galore, floating in pairs or small groups. Golden and copper colored leaves were still on the trees. I felt as though Amtrak rolled us through a sanctuary, and it was rich with plant and animal life. Clickety- clack.
While on board
I visited the cafe car a few times and had tea and coffee, which I brought back to my seat. It feels good to get up and stretch your legs while on train trips ... harder to do when you're driving down an interstate. I had a chicken salad sandwich I'd picked up at the LakeView Deli, split in half for two mini-meals, and a bottle of water. I felt like I was being entertained by the view from the train window, the comfort of the plush seats and the snacks I had by my side to sustain me for the journey.
Two and a half hours later we rolled into the Saratoga train station. I had already read the whole Sunday New York Times. At this point I would've changed my seat to the western side of the train in order to watch the Hudson River and its wildlife and views, except I looked at the time-after 4 p.m.-and the end-of-day darkening sky. I wouldn't be able to see that familiar river view out those dark windows at all after this early dark, so I stayed put in my seat through Schenectady, Albany, Hudson, Poughkeepsie, and Yonkers, all the way to Penn Station.
In all, it was seven hours on the train, and I enjoyed the soothing clickety-clack ride. Except for some clueless women who were sharing family difficulties and sensitive secrets in full voices right behind me, the ride was clean and fun and very comfortable.
Relief before winter
A trip away at this time of year helps me store up some sense of adventure, some sense of otherness. These are things that help when the snows come to stay, when traveling roads are slick or unpredictable, when it's just safer and easier to stay home. It helps to know there's another world outside the Adirondacks, not too hard to reach if you know where to go, and you have the inner drive to get there. For me, seeing a new area of our northern forest world on a train before winter closes in was a fine treat indeed.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.