Student Voice


November 30, 2023




Appalachian Trail expedition unsatisfactory, disappointing

February 17, 2012

I had been on vacation so long that I had become disillusioned. It is one thing to be on vacation and wanting to stay on that tropical beach, but it is quite another to forget your responsibilities and who you are. I had been on the Appalachian Trail for three months and my chief wish was to be home and to see my family.

There I was on a train full of strangers finally making my way back along the Mississippi River. The sun was waxed with dark reds and purples towards the end of dusk. The golden hour was on, but I could only take mental photos at that point. I had made many friends on this train ride in the viewing car on the Amtrak: a long car where the windows were stretched from one end to another from the floor to the ceiling open for viewing pleasure. I had bought my tickets over four months ago in the comfortable coziness of my room at home.

There was the gay gentlemen house-sitter who asked me out on a date. He was seated at a table in the dining car with his leather jacket just staring at the green that flashed outside his window. I had two magazines, one of which I remembered was a MAD Magazine for which I bought in Boston, and felt that he looked bored with his head leaned against the window so I approached him and asked if he wanted anything to read.

He politely declined, but I would ended up visiting with him for some time in the New York phase of the trip. He had given up his well paying job for the road and to house-sit for various friends he knew. At some point at a stop outside of a New York city he asked me out, because “men could do that nowadays.” I politely declined and avoided him as much as possible by staying near my assigned seat.

Then there was a woman who had just left Maryland to live with her sister in Seattle. She and I spoke at length about organic farms and we would have polite conversations throughout the remainder of the trip. After Chicago, I boarded the Empire Builder train that travels from Chicago to Portland, Oregon daily.

I met a German teacher who said she was happy that she never married because of all the hobbies she has to live for. She must have been in her late 50s by the wrinkles that were under her eyes and the conservative blouse she wore that didn’t reveal the contents beneath.

She reminded me of Athos who earlier on the trail, in the wake of a bitter divorce, gave me the worst possible advice for women, “deny, deny, deny three times, then accuse, accuse, accuse.” They both said that I should never get married. I humor them with a broad smile. I’m sure they think they’ve converted me. The conductor came on the loud speaker and gave us the five-minute warning that we were near Red Wing, Minn., where my Colony Tour began three months prior.

The darkness was almost complete outside as the last sheen of the sun escaped the river’s mirror. I began to take in every detail of the train car so I could hold onto the vacation longer. The gray trim that echoed along all the fixtures including the captain’s chairs that swiveled around for wider angles of viewing pleasure.

The German teacher had fallen asleep, drool dribbled down her red and blue striped sweater that she had put on a few hours ago. I tell the woman from Maryland that my family was waiting to pick me up at the station as tears brimmed, but fell back down to coat my eyes for better moisture. I pressed my face against the window and stared at incoming lamps on the station that coated the others that waited for loved ones or those about to board the train themselves. Maybe their loved ones were there to send them off to whatever destination the west held for them. I knew my parents and Samuel would be waiting on a bench outside the station, yet when I hopped off the train, nobody was there.

Christopher Pagels is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.