The crazy lady on the railroad tracks

This would never happen in Europe: In between the time I decided it would be interesting to walk to town for a gallon of milk and the day when I actually carved out time for that to happen, the Dollar General I was going to buy the milk at closed and moved to another, identical building erected on the north side of Ossian.

This was aggravating, but it was no reason to abandon my plan. The muck I encountered en route to the railroad corridor, however, was another story. I’d been banking on frozen tundra so I could walk through fields rather than on the tracks themselves. I looked down at my road beaters, mired in quicksand, and felt my resolve draining away.

Who knew?

Who knew?

I’d already abandoned the idea of lugging home milk, figuring this would be more of an exploratory journey, seeing if I could shave a few miles off my route than if I took the busy roads. Later, I would tut-tut Ben when he suggested it was embarrassing to picture his mom walking along the railroad tracks to town like some hobo. But obviously some part of me was thinking the same thing. Isn’t that why I’d dressed in such nondescript clothing — an oversized Carhart jacket and black knit cap pulled low over my eyes — so that maybe I’d blend into the surroundings, or at least not be recognized?

What if some of the moms I’d worked the elementary school book sale the day before saw me? In my head this might be some grand adventure — or at least a tale worthy of sharing with friends who’ve embraced car-free living — but I didn’t want the neighbors to think I was some derrelect on the loose.

But if I didn’t do this now, somehow I doubted I ever would. So I took a deep breath, yanked my feet free and sought higher ground, walking along the outside edge of the railroad ties. Bob had warned me about the potential danger of walking on the tracks. Yes, I’d hear and see any trains that were coming, but what if I tripped and fell and hit my head? The odds weren’t high, but he had a point. This way, if I did fall, I’d land beside the tracks. Close enough to be terrified by a passing train, but not smashed beyond repair.

In an ideal world — or at least in Europe, which is far from ideal but loads smarter about the advantages of walking paths — there would be an obvious pedestrian route to a town that’s just 3 miles away. Not so here. On the other hand, taking this train corridor showed me a whole new view of the neighborhood. Like the sign down the tracks designating this part of the world as “East Kingsland.” I had no idea we lived in such a metropolis.

Once upon a time Kingsland was a real village, complete with its own interurban stop — and scene of the worst railroad accident in the history of Indiana — but now there’s nothing so much as a traffic light or a pop machine. Why you’d think it was necessary to divide Kingsland into two halves is beyond me, but obviously that’s how its viewed by the railroad, judging from the sign a little farther down the tracks reading “West Kingsland.”

Soon a train comes rumbling along, sending me scrambling into the gravel along the embankment. This part is definitely not fun. I’d love to put another 20-30 feet between my body and this projectile, but I decide to just deal with it rather than go plunging into the muck. Mercifully, it doesn’t take long to pass.

It takes me an hour to get to the outskirts of town. I can hear the noon siren go off as I leave the railroad corridor and step onto the road leading past an industrial park. I’d thought maybe I’d have lunch somewhere before I head back, but now I’m wondering if I’d even make it home before the bus deposits Cassie at a locked-up house to which she has no key. So I buy a Snickers bar at the BP, hit the ladies room, and hike back to the tracks.

Going back seems faster, or maybe it’s just that I’m used to it now. The train that comes along this time doesn’t freak me out so much, maybe because I’m able to get a bit farther away.

I’m relieved to get home. But I’m not sorry I went. I wouldn‘t want to devote two hours commuting to and from Ossian just to pick up a gallon of milk — or in this case, a Snickers bar — but on the other hand, it would be built-in exercise. Why is that such a crazy idea?

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