It’s a gray morning in the Columbia River Gorge. The view from my train window is desolate.

Before dawn’s early, reluctant light, Mark calls to hear my voice, Taylor FaceTimes to announce his arrival in Bangladesh, Chelsea texts pictures of Kyle going through security at the airport, and Em checks in to let me know the baby slept five and a half hours straight and that she has high hopes for two more—hours, not babies.

I want to go back to sleep, but my mind is rushing with the train. I’m heading to the funeral of a friend and fellow mother and am less inclined than usual to engage with other passengers. Every time the train whistle blows, I feel as if I’m on a toy track going round and round in circles watching the same sights go by.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder comes west from Chicago, splitting in Spokane toward Seattle and Portland, then rejoining once again on the way back. I’ve been on every inch of that route both ways.

I know how messy the train gets as it nears Chicago heading east. Freshly-showered early morning commuters board, looking for open seats among tired, sweaty long-distancers who couldn’t afford roomettes in the sleeper car.

Coming from Portland, I’d rather get off in Whitefish while the train is still clean and the view is still grand. Beyond Whitefish and a short jaunt through Glacier National Park, it’s just endless flat prairie all the way to the city.

Life is a long train ride. It’s not always bad to get off before Chicago.