June 2022 I set off on a train expedition across the western half of the country. It was something I've always wanted to do and for the first time I was both mentally and financially stable enough to make it work. These are my observations along the way.
STOP #1 - ALBUQUERQUE, NM
june 4, 2022
full of family and love and coffee and much needed rest. it never gets easier to say goodbye to her. we are still the two little kids clutching onto each other and sobbing in front of the b-hive in colby, kansas. it's almost harder now because it is my choice to leave, to force a goodbye. not my mom's, not our grandma's. mine. and now there is serena. but i'll be back. because now it's my choice to come, to force a hello. until next time. on to flagstaff
STOP #2 - FLAGSTAFF, AZ
june 7, 2022
I think I understand the allure of arizona. (when did I become so fond of alliterations?) the air is thin and dry and the sun is warm and bright. together they feel light and unintrusive. I spent most of my time in flagstaff outside. I saw so many dogs and bicycles and subarus - apparently the official vehicle of flagstaff. I ate a lot of good food, drank way too much coffee, and met many memorable people including my new local friend, xavier. best of all, my fellow traveler, roommate, coworker, and one of the greatest and most supportive friend and human I know were lucky enough to intersect paths for a late night beverage at the haunted hotel monte vista. next stop: the grand canyon.
STOP #3 - THE GRAND CANYON
june 8, 2022
“A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us - like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness - that OUT THERE is a different world, older and greater and deeper than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship”
- Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
The Grand Canyon is beautiful. You have to see it. However, the main path (south rim) reminded me of going to the zoo. A spectacle of nature surrounded by loud, sticky children and businesses taking advantage of tired, hungry, very thirsty people. I was feeling a little discouraged and run down. I woke up excited to go back to Flagstaff and then LA. Unless you are an experienced hiker and camper I would start with a day trip - you can see most of what you need within a day. This morning I had breakfast with a woman who is about the same age my grandma would have been. Now, not every elderly woman is my grandma. It was her adventurous spirit and her willingness to listen and support the things I had to share that reminded me of her. If my grandma were still alive I imagine she’d be doing exactly what Nancy is doing. I could (and will) write pages on pages about Nancy. But for now, just know that Nancy has given me hope and redeemed my Grand Canyon experience for me. Next stop: Los Angeles.
STOP #4 - LOS ANGELES, CA
june 11, 2022
Los Angeles made my list of stops because it is the connecting city for the westbound Southwest Chief and the northbound Coast Starlight. I had technically been to LA before with my college swim team. We spent 4 hours a day training and outside of that all I remember is Trader Joe’s, Buca di Beppo, and Nicole introducing me to the americano. I had a frustrating arrival to LA Thursday, which according to a local I met at the brewery, is the norm. Last minute I had to find a new hostel because apparently to stay in a dorm at Banana Bungalow Hollywood you have to provide proof of current international travel - the fine fine print is annoyingly important. My backpack was back-breakingly heavy, I hadn’t showered since before my Grand Canyon expedition, and I got almost no sleep on the 12 hour overnight train from Flagstaff. So I let myself have a small breakdown in the Banana Bungalow courtyard before facing the streets of LA again. Everything after that was almost coincidentally very right. I got an authentic chicken parm sandwich from a native New Jersey man (team taylor ham!), befriended one of my dormmates, met a local musician who took me to a local brewery with some of the smoothest beers I’ve had, intersected paths with Ali again (a true angel in the city of angels), and finally got to meet the wonderful Matilda.
For spending such a short amount of time in LA, I have a lot to say about it. Ultimately LA is like any other city with both good and bad. When I arrived I felt like Joe in season 2 of You - a snobby, bookish New Yorker. Besides the seemingly vain & vapid people I encountered, LA was dirty and Hollywood Blvd was lined with people living out of tents. The juxtaposition made me uncomfortable and triggered that overwhelming existential sadness. It’s what I imagine NYC was like in the 80s. Until mayor Giuliani “cleaned up” the streets of New York by incarcerating many. The beauty and comfortability I appreciate in New York has come at the expense of other people. And so I may have judged LA too harshly. Thank you to everyone who showed me kindness and hospitality. Next stop: San Francisco - this lil queer baby is EXCITED.
STOP #5 - SAN FRANCISCO, CA
june 16, 2022
Stop #5: San Francisco
A hub of friends. A place to return. A relief from the desert. I was not prepared for the weather and realized it was only going to get colder and wetter from here. San Francisco was the longest I’ve been stationary since starting this expedition. It was difficult to leave. Just as I was getting comfortable with the terrain. Just as it was starting to feel like a home. I make new friends just to leave them.
This is traveling. It’s the funny photos and it’s the people you wouldn’t meet anywhere else. It’s the local cuisine and it’s the late night snacks with your dormmates. It’s exciting and at times it’s almost glamorous.
It’s also exhausting. It’s waiting an unexpected six hours for a twelve hour train ride. It’s walking miles with your life on your back. It’s being a congested snot monster for over a week no matter how easy you take things or how much you rest. It’s feeling conflicted between splurging on food and coffee and experiences and also not blowing the money you’ve worked so hard to save over the years. It’s never having any true alone time.
We give up certain luxuries for the incomparable experience. Even if I could afford to I don’t think I would stay in hotels. There’s something about converging with travelers from all over the world, about sleeping in a room with 19 strangers, about reminiscing over the snoring symphony the next day. Sharing a communal living space opens conversations in the cracks of the mundane. My couch will be there when I get home.
On to the next city. The next hostel. On to Portland.
STOP #6 - PORTLAND, OR
june 20, 2022
Stop #6: Portland
I fell in love with the idea of Portland when I was 16 and stumbled upon the show Portlandia. 16 year old Miranda wanted to be as hipster as humanly possible, as did most teenagers in Lawrence, Kansas in 2011. Portland seemed like the perfect intersection of cool and weird.
I put off traveling to Portland because I knew I would love it. (Also depression and money.) Even though I’m 27 and impressing other people is way lower on my list of priorities now, I knew I would still love Portland. The bridges the water the trees the weather the bikes the transit the coffee the breweries. A civil engineer’s paradise.
It’s amazing what the mind notices when given the opportunity. There have been almost too many coincidences along this trip. Maybe they’re a sign or maybe I actually have the time and energy to pay close enough attention to notice them.
Sierra of the Just Break Up podcast once said, “spaces aren’t haunted … we’re haunted.” A year after I first heard her say this and nearly three weeks into my trip I can profess its validity. I’ve brought my ghosts with me. Although they are more subdued now, they have followed me to every destination. I’ve recognized them in guitar shops, publishing companies, breath mints (twice!), numbers, surveying monuments, posters, and even in other people. I don’t know if these ghosts will ever be fully exorcised or if I even want them to. I’ve learned to live with these ghosts because after all, they are part of me. I don’t love everything about them but I do love them. Just as I don’t love everything about me but I do love me. And I do love Portland.
Next stop: Seattle
STOP #7 - SEATTLE, WA
june 24, 2022
Stop #7: Seattle
For being in Seattle I didn’t spend a lot of time there. Day one my new Dutch friend and I took a ferry to Bainbridge Island. Travel Hack 1: take a commuter ferry instead of a tour boat to save money. Day two I made the pilgrimage to Twede’s Diner (the RR Diner) and Snoqualmie Falls. I bathed in the mists of the falls. That was an emotional day. Day three I knocked out the rest of my assignments and quizzes for the week (yes I am taking a summer class - and let me tell you how much easier it is to focus and care about school when I’m not working hmmmm). Then my beautiful college friend and Seattle native showed me around Fremont and we ate seafood so good I can’t believe it’s even real. Day four I met up with my half-brother before I hopped on this train. Travel Hack 2: The locals know where to take you.
I realized on this stop that I prefer to be an outsider. I like to observe and be able to participate on my terms. An engaged wallflower. My hostel was right across the street from Pike Place Market. It was nice from a distance, listening to the city sounds from an open window. Walking through the market made me anxious and annoyed.
It’s what I loved about living in Hoboken. I could stare at the NYC skyline all day with the chaotic streets just a ten minute subway ride away. It’s what I love about my home in Independence. My coffee shop and bar are a short walk away and when I want to venture into Kansas City, I can.
It’s got me thinking about sustainable and accessible neighborhoods - because they go hand in hand. This whole trip has me thinking about how to fill the gaps. How do we connect the people who NEED help with the people who CAN help? What kind of help do people need? How can I help? Where can I do the most good?
More on that later. Next stop: Glacier National Park.
STOP #8 - EAST GLACIER VILLAGE, MT
june 26, 2022
Stop #8: East Glacier Village
I’m naming this stop East Glacier Village because that’s where I spent my time. Similar to my visit to the Grand Canyon, I was reminded that I lack the knowledge, experience, and time to explore parks by myself. I knew not to camp. I made it work in Arizona, but it wouldn’t have gone well in Montana.
I did go on a 10K walk/run inspired by my new friend Xavier’s podcast. I found an unpaved trail behind the giant lodge I wasn’t staying at. (I recommend Brownie’s - their rooms are above their store/bakery so waking up smells amazing and I got a private room for $55) “Perfect! Maybe I’ll see some moose or bears!” I did not. I did see puddles spanning the width of the trail and no easy path around them. After falling in one, the sight of another puddle made me turn around. I carried the weight of puddle soaked socks and shoes and also the guilt of feeling like Meredith Blake from the Parent Trap.
I finished my 10K meandering around the small village, sweating the guilt off, and becoming happy with my decision. Then I sat down for a meal at the restaurant next door to my hostel while I waited for my check in time. Most notably I tried the huckleberry pie. When I get home I want to learn how to make a good fruit pie (and other healthy habits to replace binge drinking alone, sorry mom).
I spent the last hour waiting by drinking coffee and people watching. Are people being more annoying or am I more easily annoyed? The question of the century. Either way I knew I needed a nap. Being in a place of such beauty, napping isn’t the ideal activity, but especially after spending the night on the train, I really needed the rest. Travel hack 3: rest is important even when traveling.
So I didn’t see any moose or bears. I’m not even sure I crossed the boundary into Glacier National Park. I did see a prairie dog. I saw enough natural beauty to feel satisfied and I experienced the local cuisine. I also saw a lot of skinny white women (calling myself out here) all donning the latest Patagonia fashion and complaining about wait times at the only sit down restaurant open on a Saturday in June at a National park. It gave me a lot to think and write about once I woke up from my 4 hour nap.
I won’t burden you all with my 6 pages of thoughts (at least not yet). But after spending time in LA, San Fran, Portland, and Seattle everything I see is tainted by our overwhelming houselessness and extreme wealth inequality problems. I am so upset about it. Have I found something I am ”passionate” about? How can I harness this passion without letting my feelings make me hostile and abrasive? I’ll rely on openness, curiosity, and self-reflection to guide me.
Next stop: Minneapolis/St. Paul
STOP #9 - ST. PAUL, MN
june 28, 2022
Stop #9: St. Paul
It’s nice to be back in the Midwest where it rains while the sun is shining and where people would rather take a pill than cut out a cheeseburger a week for their cholesterol.
The travel magic is fading. It’s been 27 days since I left home. Instead of venturing to Minneapolis to check out a lesbian dive bar, I stayed in St. Paul and walked to a sports bar for dinner and beer and then a brewery for more beer. That’s pretty queer for a woman. (Am I woman? Only if woman is a word.) Recommendations from this paragraph: the poutine at The Bulldog Lowertown, the lingonberry sour at MetroNOME brewery (they donate proceeds to underprivileged music programs, we LOVE), and the song Woman is a Word by Empress Of.
I wish I could have stayed longer in the Twin Cities, and actually make it to Minneapolis. Union Depot (the train station) has free yoga, board game events, and cocktail nights called Riffs, Rails, and Cocktails. What a cool freaking train station. Although you could easily make an entire day out of Union Station in Kansas City. Train Sitting Lesson 1: I love my city (my headquarters).
The last few days I’ve been tired and grumpy. I also had one 17 hour train ride and one 22 hour train ride. Today I feel better, I can feel the lightness and brightness returning to my face. Sometimes all you need is a shower, a meal, and a space of your own.
Next stop: Milwaukee
STOP #10 - MILWAUKEE, WI
june 30, 2022
Stop #10: Milwaukee
Milwaukee was an obvious stop for me. It's a big reason why I kept going when things got stressful and just wanted to get on the next plane to Kansas City. One of my oldest friends who I've done a terrible job keeping up with, has lived in Milwaukee for 9 years. Which is part of the reason I hadn't seen Sarah in 8 years.
It was so nice to catch up after all this time and talk shit about Lawrence with someone who understands my beef. Over multiple old fashioneds (the state drink of Wisconsin) we discovered how much impact we have had one each other's lives. From being in the middle school gifted program together, to the day she introduced me to 3oh!3, to working together at Dairy Queen, and especially remembering that she was there the first time I got drunk (3 shots of vodka at a Dairy Queen party summer of 2013) - Sarah is a forever friend. I'm so happy that our lives have intersected again and I hope to keep intersecting.
And I love Milwaukee. It's the most underrated city I think I've ever been to. The cost of living is low and the city is full and lively. Plus they have cheese that squeaks. My last two stops were okay - the places themselves were great. I was lonely and didn't have the energy to interact with new people.
Milwaukee and Sarah have shown me that it's not so much about the place than it is about the people. And that's why I love Kansas City so much. I love my people. I miss my people. I actually have people to love and miss. It took me a few years to feel comfortable and established in Kansas City. After visiting multiple cities on this trip, I started to realize that all cities are very similar. It's the people and the cultures that give each city its magic. And it takes time to uncover that magic.
I'm excited to get home on Saturday and see my people, snuggle with my animals, and sleep in my own bed. I'm excited to incorporate healthier habits into my life and start putting my ideas and words into action. I'm excited to start planning my next trip and I'm so happy that I'm finally living a life I want to live.
But before I get home, I have one more stop: Chicago.
STOP #11 - CHICAGO, IL
july 2, 2022
Stop #11: Chicago
The night I arrived in Chicago I imagined my caption for this stop would be, “nothing deep here except the pizza.” I had been to Chicago many times. Then my brain dove deep anyway.
Earlier this year, my psychiatrist helped taper me off an SSRI that I had been taking for four and a half years. Over that time I worked my way up to the maximum dose, so it took a few months to safely taper. May was the first month I was “medication free.” But I’ve started noticing behaviors returning.
First, the extreme auditory sensitivity. I’m all consumed by flips flopping, feet shuffling, noses sniffling, mouth breathers laughing, children childrening etc. These noises used to bother me pre-Prozac but not after. Now that I’m off it I just wanna smack people with their shoes and yell at them to blow their nose. Irritable judgmental Miranda is coming back and we don’t like that bitch.
Second, the blind urgency when eating. Binge eating is something I struggled with in college and my early twenties. Until I started Prozac. Now I again find myself creeping into the unhealthy cyclical mindset of inhaling too much food without thinking, feeling bloated and guilty, and then withholding food and nourishment from myself. And repeat. It is easier to be body positive for others than it is to be body positive for yourself.
And then yesterday. I think maybe it was a migraine, although I experienced the neurological symptoms without much of a headache. I felt nauseous, disoriented, and dissociated. Why am I dissociating at the American Writer’s Museum where I “should” feel excited and engaged? I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t talk, I could only cry. I had to calm myself down from the threshold of a panic attack a few times on the way back to my hostel.
This is not how I wanted my trip to end. I don’t want to start taking meds again. I thought I was ready to embrace feeling the depths of my feelings again, but there are certain depths where people don’t belong. I don’t want to get stuck there again. I also recognize that I am mostly in control of my own suffering and if medication helps me, then it helps me.
Assuming the train is on time I’ll be home around 8:30 tonight. I have appointments with my therapist and my psychiatrist this week. It’s an investment in myself - a very expensive investment. But it works and I’m worth the investment. And so are all of you.
Next and final stop: Independence, Missouri
july 10, 2022
I’m going to be thinking and writing about this dang train trip for a LONG time.
One thing I’ve learned, maybe the one all-encapsulating thing I’ve learned, is that I am craving something deeper. For so long I’ve been trying to just survive and some of that included succumbing to hedonistic indulgences and using nihilism as an excuse for those behaviors and for not participating in the world.
Now I want to start living up to my values instead of living down to my depression. I want deeper relationships, deeper community, deeper intimacy.
This trip has allowed me to question all parts of my identity because I have exited my personal echo chamber. It wasn’t a soul searching trip and yet I have learned a lot about a lot in a short amount of time. Removing myself from the world I have crafted around me has allowed me to cleave my identity from my everyday life and explore what it means to be Miranda without the influence of my environment.
Now that I’ve exited the echo chamber for a while I aim to reenter with new ideas, more hope, and more action. It’s about slowing down, listening, and treating each other with kindness and respect - human to human.
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