- Academic Departments
- Et al. Journal
- Volume VI: In My Own Words 2016/2017
- The Ride Leading Nowhere
The Ride Leading Nowhere
I am finally waking up after being in the car for what felt like an entire day. From my blurry, half-conscious vision I am able to see an alternate world around me. As I emerge from the hot van and hit the dusty pavement, I am unable to realize why I decided to come here. The dirt road beneath me stretches for miles and takes any sign of life with it. Dying trees match the thick, bleak sky and encompass the area. I remember reading about the Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby and visualizing what it might have looked like. This is my personal valley of ashes, I think.
Today shall be the day of a new and exciting experience; my first time riding a train through the mountains! I am not sure what to expect, but I am under the impression that this is supposed to be the best thing that will ever happen to me considering it is my birthday present. However, I am personally appalled by the idea of having to visit a barren land for my seventeenth birthday. Despite my mental efforts to forget about this place, I trudge along the soot and make way to the train station, carrying along my exhaustion and the day's despair.
The track at the station stretches the old, rusty train along a gravel path that leads nowhere. I cannot help but be curious as to where the ancient cars lead to. It always seems that a train can travel on a boundless journey and never grow tired. Conductors can begin to exhaust, but the train itself lives on to continue its stintless excursion.
I climb onto the train and listen as the overhead speakers inaudibly inform us about our trip yet to come. I sit quietly in my seat and pay attention to nothing and everything. Beside me, a young lady and an older man sit next to each other. The two are speaking to one another in a foreign language. I study them for a while in hopes of finding out what they are saying. After sleuthing for a few moments, I am finally able to make out a few words. Based on the sounds they make, I understand that they are speaking German. I had always pondered over the wonders of language. To me, language was never just a way to communicate; it was merely a way for humans to relate to each other on many levels. It always sparked a sense of fascination and curiosity within me.
The train begins to leave the station. I can barely stomach the sound of the shrieking metal against our car. Finally, the train begins its inevitable journey into the unknown, leaving behind the lot of gloom and its rusty abode. I can feel the world around me become light and airy as the train pulls us with all of its force. I lean over the guardrail beside me and feel the wind beat against my closed eyelids as the speed picks up.
"Excuse me, ma'am," an unknown voice says.
"You might want to keep back in the train. The path becomes narrow as we get further into the mountains."
Everyone pulls out a phone and begins taking pictures, except the German man who takes out a small camcorder. I soon realize that having a train with open sides makes us the lucky ones, as we have the clearest view. The atmosphere is warm and fresh; an assistant informs us that we are breathing the purest air in the United States. The mountains smell exactly as they look: the aftermath of a rainstorm mixed with the vivid scents of various plants. The train pulls us up higher and higher into a green world as the German man begins recording. When we come about areas that are not very interesting, the man shuts his camera off and waits for the next scenic opportunity to capture. I imagine that once his video is developed it will showcase many grainy and silent, yet beautiful clips.
We are emerging from the mountain's forest and making our way out onto the edge of the Nantahala Lake. The first thing that I notice is the water and its intense colors. In one corner of the lake, the forest fades out onto a beach of orange clay that clashes with the body's deep green color and creates a lilac barrier. This lilac sea blends with clear blue waters and emits a coral background for the gleaming sun. Hints of yellow can be found reflecting upon the lake. All of these colors blend together to create a masterpiece that even Claude Monet himself could not have imitated. No watercolor painting could exhibit just how ethereal the water is.
Many lake houses are placed along the water, allowing those living inside to have clear views of the surrounding scenes. As we pass each one, people walk outside one by one to wave at our passing train. It is brought to my attention that although these homes are very small, they are very expensive to keep running, as all sources of electricity are generated by solar panels.
"It must be so peaceful to live in one of those," my mother whispers to me.
"I would have no issue with leaving everything behind to come and live in one of those homes for the rest of my life," I say.
James offers to take me "cart hopping", as he would call it, where we would sneak to other parts of the car. I am not sure if I should, but I decide that I might as well take a risk while I have the chance. We walk through the aisle to the back of the car and proceed through the door. After walking through the back door, we follow out to connecting lines between our car and another. When I look down I am surprised to find that there is a wide gap between the train. I can see where one car connects to another, but I can't help but feel fear in knowing that I could fall through. To get to the next car, we must take a small leap onto the deck. I take the most graceful leap that ballet could have blessed me with, and land perfectly on my feet. We proceed to do this with two more cars until we reach the caboose of the train. The caboose is supposedly the most expensive car on the train, so I am shocked to find that all of the passengers in the back are sound asleep! I wonder how so many people can be so oblivious to the beautiful scenery around them. I am grateful that I grew to appreciate the creaky train, even if it was old and dirty.
After several long hours of taking photos and basking in nature's beauty, it is time to head back to the station. At this point, I am very tired and looking forward to seeing the ashy road once again. The engine begins, and the track lets out another blood-curdling shriek.
I cannot help but nearly fall asleep on the trip home. I rest my head against the guardrail and focus on the side of the mountain bolting at me. If I were to lean out any further, I would be history. I feel as though I am in a jungle; ferns encompass the area while thick moss grows amongst the trees. The breeze is delicate and damp, reverently blowing gusts of wind and scents of flora in my face. Mountains have a way of making a person grow weary; this time, I was the mountains' victim. I stay hunched out over the rail for a while, thinking of the events of the day. I think of how much I never want to leave my spot, but I must part from the mountains soon. We begin to approach the road along the station. It grows closer and closer, nearly mocking me. I have never hated seeing anything as much as I hate seeing this train station.
As I walk towards the parking lot, I feel as though I am leaving a whole other world behind me. Every step I take signifies a bright, burning image fading away in my mind. I have the photos to take with me. I can even develop them and view them whenever I don't want to forget. I don't want to forget the German couple or the mural in the water or the creaky sounds, but I must leave them behind. As my feet hit the dusty pavement, the train is out of sight.
"Alright guys, it's time to go home. Get comfortable; we will be in the car for a couple more hours," James warns us.
I rest my head against the window and listen to the silence of the car. Nobody mentions the beauty of the trip. It is as if we are all numb to what the day had brought us. As we get further and further away from the lot, I grow weary, longing to see again what I am leaving behind. The tires add friction to the ground and I watch the dust stir behind me, forming colossal clouds of smoke. The grey fog passes, as do my memories of the mountains. I gaze on into the distance and the road that leads nowhere, never looking back.