I have a difficult time sleeping on trains or planes. I can be as tired as a 3 year old who has been up all day without a nap, after running around outside all day, sitting at the dinner table falling asleep in their peas tired. But as soon as I try to fall asleep. Nothing. Nada. No sheep coming to visit me.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that I need to sleep lying down. Since January of this year, I have been sleeping with my head raised. It started when I was diagnosed (incorrectly, since the real problem was I had the flu) with acid reflux. I got a wedge for my bed and so now I no longer sleep completely flat. One issue this has resolved is my snoring so my husband thanks the doctor for his misdiagnosis. This was fine for the first few months. However, lately part-way through the night I adjust my pillow all the way down off the wedge and sleep flat. I am so much happier.
So, you can see my predicament trying to sleep on the train on my recent trip from Saint Paul, MN to Minot, ND. Hey! Look at these seats! Plenty of leg room, little foot rests, seats that recline to almost the same angle as my wedge and the best part - the leg rest you can adjust upwards to support your lower legs (which was not discovered right away.) Well, this seems comfortable. I’m sure I’ll be able to sleep this time!
Wrong. This is how my night progressed:
Stage One: Figure out how to get the foot rest on the seat in front of me down. Put feet on foot rest. Pretty comfortable but about 1/2 inch too short with my legs stretched completely out in front of me. Then my legs start to get a bit uncomfortable because I haven’t yet discovered the leg rest.
Stage Two: Adjust the seat back. I first try to go about 1/2 way back - nice, but how far does it go - adjust it to furthest back position. Ohhh..this is nice. Except I’m sitting next to the window where the vents are blowing cold air - it’s summer, you need air conditioning right? I grab my big scarf I brought exactly for this. Something that I learned to travel with long ago. A big scarf, or shawl can double as a blanket. While it doesn’t give the weight that a blanket does I do stay fairly warm (initially) and I tuck myself in for a nice 8 hour respite of sleep on the train.
Stage Three: Ok, this isn’t working. I forgot to bring my travel neck pillow (which I told myself numerous times not to forget when I was thinking about what to pack for this trip) and I can’t lean my head against the window because of that drafty air blowing from very sharp metal vents. I realize that if I close the window drape it mostly covers the chilled air. It would be better if the person behind me would also close their drape but I can’t impose my wishes on my fellow traveler. Then I alternate between slightly opening my drape so I can see where we are. What? We are still in the Twin Cities? But it seems like we left Union Depot hours ago. I peek out and see a brightly lit crescent moon - attached to a water tower. Hey! We are near my house! I know where we are! We must be moving toward the old depot - ah, yes! I recognize the building where Chocolate Celeste is (as all good chocoholics must!) I continue to peer out, not able to sleep as now I am too interested in seeing what is going on outside. And I am so glad I did because I happen to catch a glimpse of an old railroad car with people sitting up in it. This is a scene straight of out the 50’s. Then the train stops. I start to think. Hmm..I wonder if you can travel in old rail cars? I get out my phone and search “Travel by old rail car” and soon I find out the amazing fact that Yes! you can travel in vintage rail cars. Sometimes they attach right to Amtrak. Luxury cars rent for just $9,000 a day! I’m in! I search some more and find a web site where private owners of cars list their cars for rent and find some fun scheduled trips to take. Ok, now this is on my travel list, right after taking a riverboat cruise down the Mississippi.
Stage Four: I digress. I really need to get some sleep. I look over and see the seat across the aisle from me has their leg rest up. Huzzah! This will solve the uncomfortable leg problem when I stretch out my legs to rest my feet on the foot rest. (Hmm, your feet go on a foot rest…ok..not going to solve that one today.) So I figure out how to raise it up. Oh, that seems almost perfect. Does it go up even higher? Yes it does! Try that out for awhile. Ok, that is too high. Take it back down one position. Ok, this will have to do. So - now, I have my seat back, my foot rest up, my leg rest up, my scarf over my complete body, my phone charging, I’m ready to get some sleep. Ahhhh…
Stage Five: Hey, maybe I can play some sleep music on my phone. Maybe that will help attract the sheep that still have not found their way back home. Thank you Amazon Prime Music. I get out my headphones and type in “Sleep Music” and yes! I’m in luck. Try out the first track. Too new agey. Not sleepy. Try the third track that advertises Auralbeats. Ok, now I’m set like a Thanksgiving dinner table. Or not. Hmmm, that guy across the aisle and one seat up is sleeping sideways - I like sleeping on my side - I prefer sleeping on my side. Ok, so I raise up the leg rest on the seat next to me and try to sleep on my side across the two seats and leg rests. The top of my head presses into the metal sides of the arm rest. I turn it ever so slightly to relieve the pressure. I adjust, and readjust my scarf which I have been doing during all proceeding stages as well. Not quite as wide as I need as my knees are curled up and I would like to say I am in fetal position but I have no amniotic sac to cushion me. I push my right ear bud in a bit further - I hear the steady sound of the auralbeat. Hold it - why can’t I hear the beat in my left ear? Maybe they only send the beat to one ear. Take earbuds out of both ears and switch my right one to my left ear. Press it in a bit further. Still not auralbeat. This confirms my hearing loss which I discovered a few years ago when I had my second tympanoplasty to correct the hole in my eardrum which is still there. Surgery did nothing. Now my right ear, which was always my bad ear is now my good ear. I switch back the ear bud to its rightful ear and put the other back in my left. Oh well, back to my auralbeat in my right ear with my sleep music. I start to drift off. Yeah! I’m going to sleep. Then silence. But hey, I’m not sleeping. The silence is the train moving into a non coverage SPRINT zone. Hey! Come on SPRINT! Seriously? You don’t have the entire Amtrak line covered in Minnesota? I can understand in North Dakota maybe but we are still in Minnesota! Oh, it is back on. Then off. Then back on..then off. I sit up. I turn off my phone and wind my headphones around it and put my phone into my backpack. I try again on my side. Nope. I sit back up. Still sleep eludes me.
Stage Six or rather sub stages One-A, ,Two-A, ,Three-A, Four-A, Five-A: I realized that I missed saying that all the above stages have me alternating sleep attempts with checking Facebook and playing canasta on my phone.
Stage Seven: The above scenarios repeat with one or two brief trips to the restroom one floor below. Lather Rinse Repeat until 5 am. I catch bits of orange in the sky from a break in the drapes across the aisle. I hear a passing conductor say the observation car is one car back. I get up, check it out, grab my backpack and phone and set up shop at a table in the observation car. What the heck. I’m up anyway. Might as well tell you all about it. Set up laptop, plug in laptop, pull out phone, plug in phone. Take random photos of sunrise with phone. Listen to guy two tables away who is randomly saying place names into his phone. “New Hampshire, Maryland, Chicago, Tampa…” When I first started listening to him I thought he was on some customer service phone line where you are suppose to say all your choices. But I have no idea what customer service line you would call in and just say random cities and states. Fog over pond on north side of train with sun shining through. Beautiful image to remember.
Stage Eight: Write the tales of my desperate sleep attempts. Notice everyone making trips to the club car to get coffee and pastries. I don’t want to give up my table and decide to wait until my departure in Minot to get breakfast. Not sure when husband will be picking me up. Hope there is food near by train station in Minot. Listen to phone guy (who apparently is fron Wisconsin) talk to two women who are from Australia. (I mistook them for Brits at first) about if Darwin is worth visiting. This conversation about Darwin goes much longer as they first say there is nothing to do in Darwin but as they continue to talk they continue to identify reasons that one should visit Darwin. I check the time. 90 minutes until Minot. Sun has gone behind clouds and I notice rain to the north. Train is now moving very slowly through section I remember being flooded the last time I was on the train. Appears they are creating deeper ditches on either side. Not sure why we are moving so slowly and hopes this doesn’t delay my arrival into Minot. Cars on Highway 2 next to us are moving MUCH faster than us. Continue to see earth moving machinery helping to shore up grade leading up to the tracks. Don’t want us to move faster so that we will not cause the earth to slip beneath the rails tipping us off the tracks. Notice it is getting darker and windier outside. Wonder if I brought enough warm clothes for my trip. I can always purchase souvenir sweatshirt. Wondering if besides hot coffee and tea if the club car also sells hot chocolate. This observation car has no drapes I can use to cover the air vents. Discussion of the Australians has now progressed to types of food. Wisconsin guy singing praises of cheese curds while Aussies talk about how they eat “chips” in Australian. He says the best pork he ever had was a pork dish he got in northern India. Now discussion has moved to India travels and I wonder if I should add anything about my trip to India or not. Go back to watching the various duck ponds on either side of the train and rain off to the north. Take a few more random photos. Delete photo of hand moving charger cords out of the way. Retake photo that has too much window reflection. Move phone closer to window to reduce amount of window glare\reflection. Voice overhead announcing passengers with reservation number one are now ready to be served. Guess I won’t be eating in the dining car. I’m waiting for Minot. Smiles at people trying to walk down the aisles. This is not a smooth ride. Hey, they just said reservation number two is ready. Are these individuals or seatings? One more hour to Minot. Train has picked up speed again but cars on Hwy 2 are still going faster. No high speed rail here. Wishing again for high speed rail between Minneapolis and Chicago. Wrap shawl around body tighter and notice beaver dam in duck pond. Announcement that Rugy, ND is next stop in 8 minutes. Sorry for late arrival. Check arrival times. Rugby arrival is 40 minutes late. Check Minot. Estimated arrival is 2 minutes late. Highly doubtful that they will pick up speed to arrive on time in Minot. Thought of delay of breakfast makes stomach rumble or rather grumble. Reconsidering pastry and hot beverage (probably tea if no hot chocolate) from club car as now Minot breakfast will probably not be for another 90 minutes. Reservation three just called. Wondering why husband has not responded to text or voicemail from last night. Maybe try calling this morning. Can’t figure out why I can’t hear anything. Realize headphones still in phone. Remove headphones from headphone jack and discover husband in 20 min away from Minot. Jealous. Overheard about friend from Haver who’s dad died in a hotel room in Great Falls. Guy claims that Haver is the toughest town in Montana. Butte has nothing on Haver. Haver football team always crushed Butte. Haver has much colder winters. Wonder where Reserve, Plentywood or Westby fall on the toughness scale of Montana towns. Reservation five and six now get to eat. I’m holding out for the haute cuisine of Minot. Forgot to tell husband we could see Wonder Woman movie in Minot at noon. Reservations six, seven, eight and nine are ready. Couple from Haver leave to eat. Rain still off in the not to distant north. More ducks, more waterways. Checking Facebook. Trying to upload photo taken at Devil’s Lake station. Signal not consistent enough for photo to upload. Retry upload. Realized have not seen any sunflowers yet. Too early? Missed during futile sleep attempts? Reservation number 10 is ready. Recheck Amtrak arrival estimate for Minot. Now updated to 11 minutes late. Checking Google maps to see where train is currently on the map (or rather where my phone says I am.)
Stage Nine: Realized stage eight was too long. Arbitrarily starting stage nine - anticipation of breakfast in Minot. Continuing to try to upload Devil’s Tower station photo. Deleted and retry with photo with less window reflection. Success with new image upload! Complete cloud cover. No sign of the sun. Check weather app to look at current satellite images. Phone and laptop fully charged. Put headphones back in fancy headphone case (ziplock bag) and restore in purse. Weird jerk felt on train. Idyllic images of horses, pastures and flocks of white birds flying over head. Would be more idyllic if the sun was shining. Reservations 11 and 12 your tables are ready. Notice rain on the southern train windows. No need of weather app to see that it is now raining outside. Not hard, hardly noticed. And then the rain is gone. Currently light rain and 62 in Minot. Forecast of 78 by noon, time when Wonder Women previews will be showing. Reservations up to 18 now ready. Idyllic images of old grain elevators next to not so idyllic images of new rail to be laid. Plentywood autocorrect to ponytails. Reservation number 13 must not have shown as they recall your table is ready. Mid 70’s expected when Plentywood reached in time for dinner. Recheck train arrival time. Still 11 minutes delayed. 20 minutes until estimated arrival. Must have misheard earlier reservations as 15, 16, and 17 now ready. Just saw elaborate deer stand over pond - or very short fire tower. Overheard Wisconsin guy say he has Amtrak credit card. My mother has one. You get train miles instead of air miles. Ever year my mom has enough points to take free trip. Wonder how many free trips Wisconsin guy has taken. Scheduled arrival time has arrived. Train app still says estimated arrival 11 min late. Check Google Maps - we are about 5 miles out. Looks like breakast won’t be so late after all. Minot announced for 10-12 min. Must back up to depart.
Stage Ten: Computer backed up and back in bag and slung over shoulder. Why did I change back to my cross body Thrity-One bag instead of staying with my regular pink backpack? Strap goes right across my right breast and strap is very thin. Not at all comfortable. Remember to change back to using pink backpack for next trip. Head down stairs and grab orange roller bag (first used for India trip) from luggage shelves and wait with all other Minot departees and smokers who have a longer stop at Minot and can drag down a quick cig in North Dakota and complaining that they won't get another chance to smoke until Glacier (which I'm not sure is accurate but I'm not a smoker so what do I know?) Conductor (who is a woman) leaves just as we are arriving in the station and says not to open the door. We arrive at Minot and sit. No one touches the door, although several passengers consider it. Finally door is opened from the outside by our conductor and we are all eager to get off the train. I step off and look for the waiting familiar face and smile.