Cascade Observations: Planes, trains and automobiles

Studded tires still click on pavement, but fruit blossoms, chirping birds and out-of-state license plates are irrefutable evidence that it’s spring and time to dig in the garden, or hit the road, or the skies, or the rails. Warmer weather adventures await.

Our normal spring trip is usually one for the road — the mountain passes are free of ice and snow and wild flowers decorate the roadsides. Snakes and poison oak haven’t taken over the hiking trails, and the roads are not yet jammed with summer travelers. If we’re lucky, our long scenic drives aren’t experienced through rainy windshields.

I love road trips, whether I’m reading about them or experiencing them. Favorite books include John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley” and William Least Heat Moon’s “Blue Highways.” These books, and others like them, inspired a month-long road trip in 1983 in our trusty pick-up truck. My husband and I made a country-wide loop, from Ashland to the desert southwest, then east through the southeast, up through Appalachia, on to New York City, New England, and Mount Desert Island, Maine, before turning west towards home.

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Traveling by train has always seemed alluring. When I moved at a very young age from Illinois to Connecticut, we traveled via train, complete with comfortable sleeping quarters. For a 5-year-old, it was a fabulous adventure. At 13, my girlfriends and I occasionally traveled to New York City via commuter train, sans parents, for a day of shopping. Though we were terribly naïve, we felt grown up, sophisticated, and safe. We always made it back to suburbia without incident. My junior year studying in Spain, I traveled almost exclusively by train.

Years later, my husband, mother-in-law and I traveled from Vancouver, B.C., through the Canadian Rockies via train. If you don’t mind sitting — a lot — and paying — a lot — a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer through the beautiful Canadian landscape is a very pleasurable vacation. Wildlife is spotted frequently by passengers and tour guides, and everyone is encouraged to make a public announcement when anything furry or feathered comes into view. Unfortunately, the only wildlife I spotted were three young men dropping their trousers and “mooning” the train as it passed. Nonetheless, I notified my fellow travelers of my sighting in time for others to “enjoy the view.”

These days, the only travel I do along rail routes is on a bicycle or via my own two feet. We’ve become enthusiastic donors to Rails to Trails, a wonderful organization that turns old railroad beds into fabulous biking and hiking trails. Accessible “rails trails” all across the country are generally smooth and fairly flat, allowing all ages and differently abled travelers to enjoy them.

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My memories of a first trip on an airplane are vague, but with the help of my siblings, we’ve cobbled together the story of that first flight. We all had to get dressed up — fancy dresses, Mary Jane shoes, button down shirts. In the 1950s, no one got on an airplane wearing sweatpants or dungarees, what most people now call jeans. The plane was really noisy (prop engines?), the air hazy with cigarette smoke. Hot coffee was poured from a metal coffee pot. Unfortunately, the stewardess (they weren’t yet called flight attendants) lost her balance just as she reached to fill my mother’s cup. The hot beverage splashed on my brother, covering him in scalding liquid. His dress-up shirt was now stained brown and steaming. His burns were serious, but the pain was placated by the pilot’s gift of an “official” set of wings to pin on.

In the years since, I’ve traveled infrequently by plane — I have a love/hate relationship with this mode of travel. What I love: looking down at the landscape from above, noting patterns, textures and colors, and being able to travel to new places fairly quickly. What I hate: long security lines, no leg room, awful bathrooms, and turbulence. I have personally had to use air sickness bags at least three times. I’m sure my fellow passengers would list “air sick travelers” as one of their most hated features of air travel.

My most unique bout with air sickness occurred a number of years ago, when a local pilot I barely knew generously offered to take me up in his bi-plane to view the Gorge and the Hood River Valley from above. The scenery was spectacular, but as we descended, I felt warm air collide with my face and I began to feel quite ill. With no air sickness bag at the ready, I lost my breakfast, and lunch, in the open-air cab of his plane. When we landed, he raced off for water and rags. I apologized profusely, but he seemed unrattled. He thanked me for facing forward during my vomiting; a previous passenger had turned around to talk to him (the pilot rides behind the passenger in a bi-plane) and upchucked all over the pilot.

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This spring we’re “crossing the pond,” bound for Portugal and northwest Spain. We’ll probably use at least three modes of transportation — air, car and trolley. I won’t spend too much time looking out the window of the plane; for most of the flight, all I will be able to see is the huge Atlantic Ocean. We’re planning on stocking our carry-on backpacks with extra clean clothes, toothbrushes and life-saving prescriptions. Last time we traveled to Europe, we landed in Spain, but our luggage took a detour. Several days later, the suitcases were delivered. We’re also packing all the amenities for the 10-hour flight — earphones, neck pillows, iPads, and motion sickness pills. As always, I’ll check the pocket of my seat for an air sickness bag; I’m not sure my seat-mates will be delighted.



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