I used to commute by train. I love them. I love their thunderous squeals and churning rhythm. I spend a lot of time thinking about them, occasionally in the more traditional sense, setting up schedules to fit into timetables of operation. But the vast majority of my train thoughts revolve around the actual rail beds.
I ride on average about 80 miles a week and much of that time is spent on rail beds. Once avenues of industry, these rails have been, in parts here and there, disassembled, removing the traces of the immigrants who came to this country with a dream and an ethic of blindingly hard work that transformed this nation. They physically laid the foundation that tamed this wild landscape into a luxuriously straight, clear, flat, welcoming possibility.
I have the luxury of having my own American dream, and it is largely fostered on these rail beds. A dream of bicycling. A dream of personal energy dependence. A dream of being active and outdoors. A dream that is filled with insects, wildlife, blinding cold and oppressive heat, but it is a dream that pulls me back to the great and mighty voiceless people who labored over setting this course straight and clear and flat. And I have to believe that the moments they stopped to wipe the sweat from their brow, that they appreciated the same beautiful landscape that keeps me in the saddle. The rails laid for the mighty thunder of train travel have been reclaimed by my still and small voice of gratitude.