February in Maine. If you live here, you understand what that means: you can either adjust your thinking and adapt to the dead of winter or, if you can manage it, pack up and get out of Dodge. 

Last year after endlessly feeding the woodstove while wishing for more daylight, my wife and I adjusted our thinking by vowing to spend this February in T-shirts without the long johns, flannel shirts and down vests. We would head southward for the entire month and then some.

It took extensive planning. We had to sell two camels and apply for credit under different names but we made it work. In reality, it took more effort than toughing it out and just staying home. We had never attempted an extended vacation but we were going to do it even if it stressed us to the point of ... I hesitate to say, needing another vacation.

Leaving for six weeks is totally different than taking leave for shorter periods of time. Bills come due, houseplants need water, fuel oil deliveries have to be managed, regular monthly obligations have to be addressed and, of course, your parole officer always wants to know where you are going.

We had to wait until the dog died to pull this off. I mean, we didn’t wait for him to die but the sad event, tragic as it was, allowed us to celebrate, party and travel free of concern for his well-being. May he rest in peace.

To emphasize that we wanted to relax and were not in a hurry, we chose to start our vacation by taking Amtrak from Boston to Los Angeles. You know, the train. It carries people over track pulled by a locomotive. No, silly, a diesel locomotive. Trains were the primary means of long-distance transportation for people back in your grandfather’s time; okay, your great-grandfather’s time. 

Those trains are still running. Well, not your grandfather’s trains but newer trains along the same routes; that is, along some of the routes … actually, along just a very few of the long-distance routes. Even though freight trains are going gangbusters, long-distance passenger train routes are evaporating. It was time to get on board before we missed the train altogether.

We bussed to Boston. Boston was warmer than Maine but, you know, still freezing. From there we got seats on a day-and-overnight-and-some-of-the-next-day train to Chicago. 

On the train we met Steve, a character who insisted we could get a great beer and hamburger at a restaurant he thought he remembered, if we got off the train during our short layover outside Albany. I wasn’t interested but my wife was excited to think we could get off the train, party and possibly make it back before it departs. What’s a cross-country train trip without taking a huge risk that you’ll be left behind with a local beer and a half-eaten hamburger?

I went along, as I did not want to lose my wife to Steve and a hamburger. Steve couldn’t find the restaurant even though he swears it was there 15 years ago. We found a substitute tavern, and in spite of ourselves, make it back on time. 

In Chicago, we changed trains, heading straight for Los Angeles with only a few dozen stops along the way. This time we reserved a roomette in a sleeper car, as my wife assured me that she would rather tough-out the winter in Maine, barefoot in the snow, than proceed cross-country if we didn’t get a sleeper. Go figure.

After a day and a night on the train I open my eyes and from my bunk determined that we had pulled into the Dodge City train station. Yes, that Dodge City. Hours later, after sunrise, we have not moved. The conductor announced that there was trouble ahead on the tracks and until the buses arrived to take all the passengers three hours around the trouble, we were stuck in Dodge City.   

So there was the bus trip to another train, then a day through the plains and then a night through the mountains, which I assume was the most picturesque part of the trip, before we pulled into Los Angeles Union Station only 13 hours late.

We are now poised to begin that final leg to our destination: Australia, where it’s summertime.

So far, so good. At least we got out of Dodge.