I don’t really ride the train — except the subway, which really is a local train ride as far as I’m concerned. The few times (as in 2-3 times) that I had ventured to take the Long Island Rail Road to visit my friend in Lindenhurst, Long Island, were still, technically, very local.
Thursday, July 1st, saw me actually doing my first interstate train ride, as I jumped on a Metro North train at Grand Central heading to New Haven to join my friends for the Fourth of July weekend.
While I have avoided riding much of public transportation during the pandemic, I thought this was different being that it was not a regular commute to just anywhere. I was heading to Maine for the Fourth of July weekend and had to join friends who were based in Connecticut, hence the ride. Two hours and something to New Haven, we then drove a few hours to Augusta, Maine where we spent the night. We wanted to do the remaining 3-4 hours to Greenville before noon so we could make it to our destination without killing too much of the day on the road.
This was a trip of firsts for me. It’s literally my first road trip on my own without family. It came together rather spontaneously over lunch two weeks before, and things took a while to arrange until everything fell into place. So when all was said and done, I hied off not knowing what to expect.
I just wanted to spend the long weekend doing something different. Beyond the road trip, being away on a planned hike was something totally new for me as well. I had my apprehensions about the whole thing but decided that it was a good opportunity to step out of my comfort zone. I did my research on what I needed to bring, bought the minimal gear needed (hiking sneakers with good traction), borrowed a Swiss Army knife, and assembled my weekend wardrobe. I researched and pulled together my own hiking essentials, skipping the head lamp for light flashlights and worked out an elementary first aid kit. Since there was no electricity except in the main lodge, I also bought a solar charging power bank. (More on all of this later.). I had a light backpack already and at least one water bottle. My friends had promised to bring me towels, an extra pillow and more water bottles. They were the seasoned outdoors people— so I listened and just did some extra research about where we were headed.
I hurdled the first task of packing my gear after two attempts, reminding myself that it had to be done in such a way that I could lug everything in and out of the train, both ways. I didn’t really want to take an Uber to the city, and even if I did, I had to make sure I’d be able to make it from the car to the train platform. News flash: there are no trolleys at the station. From the initial 4 pieces, I trimmed it down to three. I had a roller luggage, a full back pack and a casual tote. I decided I would not bring my laptop even if I meant to work part of the first and last day on the road. I also chose my most battered tote so that I wouldn’t feel bad about setting it down on the floor if I had to. This was roughing it out for me.
I had ordered postcards to bring and send back on the day we confirmed I could be added to the reservation, so I packed my return address labels, stamps and airmail stickers along with the right pens to use. I have always made it a habit to send postcards back home from my travels, either addressed to me or my son. I would also send to a select few fellow postcard collectors or friends— sent straight from where the postcards were coming from or were about.
While I would normally be more conservative with the shoe allocation, I had to keep in mind that this was a hiking trip. I was told to bring shoes I was already comfortable in, plus the optional water shoes and slippers for the shower and the cabin. All check. My hike sneakers arrived a few days before the end of the month, so I “broke the pair in” by using it during my 10,000 step walks at least 2 days before. I could’ve traveled with the hike shoes from the get go, but wearing comfortable shoes while traveling (by air or land) meant slip ons. I went with my leather TOMS which would’ve been lighter in the luggage if I packed them, but I walked in them instead. The sneakers — both pairs —went in the suitcase with the water shoes and the slippers. 5 pairs of footwear, on any given trip, was actually a lot for me..
I looked up the schedules way ahead of time, and coordinated with my friends in Connecticut. We finalized schedules the day of, and I hopped on the train that would get me there just in time for my friend, Gedd, to pick me up at Union Station closer to 5pm. On the way to Connecticut, I purchased my off peak ticket from one of the many kiosks in Grand Central, then looked up the track information from the boards.
On the train, most people observed social distancing so it wasn’t terribly packed. Besides, I slid into a 2-seater and put the roller in front of the second seat beside me so nobody could take it. Unlike the express MTA buses I was used to riding which had USB ports for charging, the train had actual electric outlets to plug any hardware you might want to charge. My first ride was uneventful, and it helped that I got on the train at the originating station and got off at the last stop. You can’t go wrong with that.
Upon disembarking from the train, I followed the crowd as they exited into a modern tube that then led to the more classic Union Station. As it happened, Gedd was running late and that gave me time to stop by the lone convenience store which had a postcard rack. (Happiness!) I picked up some (more) postcards and a snack and sat until Gedd showed up. How lucky could I get? Postcards of Connecticut right there at the station.
Our ultimate destination was Gorman Chairback Lodge in Greenville, Maine. They had plotted the trip so that we broke it up in two by spending the evening in Augusta. This meant driving from Connecticut to Maine through most of the evening, and then heading out the next morning in time to reach Greenville just around lunch time.
As we made our way back to Connecticut, I bought my return ticket via the Metro North app, activating it as we approached the front driveway. Once on board, I just flashed the QR code to the conductor and I was off.
The train ride to and from Hew Haven and New York was pretty uneventful but memorable for the first it was. That might seem like such a shallow thrill for people who commute on the MetroNorth or LIRR on a regular basis, but not for me— more so in the time of Covid restrictions. Strange, though, it may be for someone who has been in the US for almost 21 years now — and stranger still that I have been in New York all that time. Like I always say, I learn something new everyday. It’s really a convenient way to travel for shorter distances, or when you want to take the so-called scenic route. I’m already planning my next trip which might be a longer ride, but definitely to a destination close by.