One of my favorite stories is a novel written by Jon Krakuaer named, Into the Wild. This story revolves around a young man experiencing the wild as he backpacks across the country. The author highlights the people this man met and the challenges and accomplishments he faced. For the past ten days, I have been living my own Into the Wild adventure by slowly making my way across the country to our nation’s capital. The first four days of my trip I spent driving down and sightseeing in California with one of my closest friends. When these days came to an end I got on a train all alone that took me all the way to Chicago, Illinois. The landscape outside the window slowly dragged along as I sat there with my head against the window. Of course, this only lasted maybe half an hour before I became bored so I went to explore the rest of the train. Here I found myself in the observation deck where I broke out my deck of cards to play a few games of solitaire with myself. In the middle of one of my games an elderly man walked up and said to me, “The shuffle called me. Would you like to play a card game with me?” He seemed friendly enough so I said yes and we began playing several card games, some I knew and some he taught me. In this time, I learned that he was married and had a daughter and two grandchildren that he had just visited. Turns out he had never flown by plane before and he only took this train to see his daughter in California all the way from Iowa. The more we talked the more he amazed me. He had such a carefree sense about him that is so rare in older generations. I told him about aspirations and my job and my love for card games. It seemed we talked for hours before I finally went back to my seat to work on some work on my laptop.
This became difficult with the man next to me. He was middle aged, tan, and had a furry black mustache on his upper lip. As I sat and tried to work I realized he would reach down and pull a jug of fireball whiskey from his carryon to swig from. This continued several times before he got up and walked downstairs. I was relieved to finally have some peace and quiet to write, but it soon ended as he was sent back to his seat by the conductors. Turns out the only reason he had gotten up was to go downstairs and try to open the door of the train while it was moving so that he could smoke a cigarette. He acted as if the conductors were in the wrong and that he was being treated unfairly. He even told a family member of his over the phone, “This ghetto train is treating me like this because I’m Native American.” This had been the last call for the conductors, because at the next stop in Utah the police were there to pull him off the train. I think this was probably the best thing that could have happened for me. This gave a seat for a very important person from my journey. Later the next day I met a remarkable young woman from Switzerland that was willing to help me with a predicament I was currently in.
You see my problem was hotels will not allow a 16-year-old to check themselves into their hotels, because they cannot hold them to a contract. I myself and 16 and needed a kind enough person to check me into my hotel so that when I arrived in Chicago I had a place to rest my head for two days. Well this woman had not even been talking to me for five minutes before she said she could check me into my hotel. Later she decided to come sit next to me for the rest of my train ride, and we sat and talked about the difference from Switzerland and the United States. When I was not talking to her I was talking to the woman behind me that just happened to be a novelist. Her reason for taking this long trip was so that she could live the steps of her characters from her book to make sure it was authentic. She was so genuine and thoughtful she even offered to buy me breakfast on the train just so we could sit and get to know each other. When the train had finally come to an end I was sad to part ways with her. I may even try to find her again someday back at her university in Berkeley, California.
Those two days in Chicago will stick with me for the rest of my life. My new friend and I traveled up to my hotel and checked in, but on the way one more complication took place that may have been the next best thing to happen. There were issues with her hostel so she had no place to stay for two days so I gladly offered up my room since she was checking me in anyway. After checking in, we walked into town for dinner then continued to walk until we ended up at Lake Michigan. The water stretched so far, I was convinced we were staring at the East Coast. We sat there on the beach for hours talking until we made the spontaneous decision to jump into the water. When we stumbled back out we were covered in sand and water, and realized we would need another shower before bed.
The next day was a day of days for me. I was raised in a well off middle class family with a protective father. I had only ridden public transportation once and I was in a group with several friends then. But the only way for me to get around in Chicago was to use the metro and buses. I began my day by seeing the beautiful college, Northwestern University, but then I continued to The Loop of Chicago by metro. I had never felt so capable before that time on the bus surrounded by strangers. I walked back into the hotel after the sun had set with a proud grin on my face. My roommate greeted me and we again went to dinner that night. When we returned this time though we went up to the roof and looked up at the stars until the sun threatened to peak over the horizon. We did not want to sleep considering the next day I would be getting on my train and we would never see each other again. But I did get on the train and we did say goodbye… barely. I had to run to catch my train because we waited until the last minute to drop me off at the station. As I trudged up the stairs of the train panting I realized that this last leg of my trip I was alone, and I ached more than ever to have my friends from my first train. I guess that’s the one thing I do not have in common with the man from Into the Wild; he enjoyed moving on to somewhere new and did not mind leaving people behind. I on the other hand almost cried to think I would not see them again.
This feeling began to dull as I neared my destination, Washington D.C. Here for the next six days I would be surrounded by almost 300 students all studying the same future at me—journalism. Here I will also make new connections with people in positions I hope to gain in my future. I do miss my cross-country adventure but I am ready for this six-day adventure with my new comrades.