The Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad

Adventure No. 57: Ride a Historic Railroad

Without much doubt, Fall is the most easily romanticized of all the seasons. Summer speaks for itself, and Winter is typically defined by holidays. Spring is understated, but Fall is heralded with endless hype. Sometime in late September or early October, Instagram turns into a tribute of flaming red and orange leaves, unless you live in California, in which case, all the photographs to celebrate Fall are of Starbucks cups.

Oregon does Fall like a boss. The leaves in Eugene lately have been all sorts of spectacular colors, and there’s a brilliant three or four weeks where it’s definitely fall but the rainy season has not yet begun. Those weeks are beautiful.

I understand the season’s appeal. To be honest, though, the lattes and sweaters are simply an afterthought. To me, Fall brings up all sorts of nostalgia of new school years and times in my life I’ve begun new adventures. There’s lots of newness and excitement and that comes with all kinds of hustle.

Somewhere in between the time most schools begin classes up until Christmas comes a period of deadlines and fast paced activity. There’s something about the transitioning of the weather that suggests people need to be transitioning from one thing to another in order to match.

That’s been the story of my life lately. Between the classes I’m teaching and the classes I’m taking, my days have become pretty full of items on my to do list. Going into this fall, I was anticipating quite a full load. Probably the busiest term I would have during my grad school career. About halfway through, I can say that I was probably right about those expectations. The past couple weeks in particular have consisted of constantly having to put out one small fire after the other.

While the rest of the world has been welcoming the start of Fall with open arms, I’ve been hearing the sounds of increased demands mixed in with the acoustic guitars and coffeeshop chatter. Unfortunately, unlike past occasions where some Fall hustle has also accompanied new endeavors and experiences, this year’s seems to be predominantly marked by having to get an endless amount of things done. For someone who values not having an overloaded schedule and having time to take things slower and more mindfully, this has been all the more bothersome.

To be dead honest, I’ve felt a little bit trapped by it lately.

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It’s funny because it wasn’t all that long ago that I had an abundance of time on my hands. Late in the summer, I still had a few weeks off before school would start and I was feeling pretty antsy around the house. Deanna was working full time during the day, and a lot of my local friends were away for the summer. I often found myself restless during the day, looking forward for Deanna to come back home so that we could go on some sort of adventure to break up the monotony.

The thing is, Deanna would be a little bit different about her energy. Her job can be emotionally taxing at times, so she would come home at the end of a shift of work ready to relax and hang out with yours truly, and possibly the Gilmores or the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., depending on our Netflix mood. The relax-and-refresh approach to the back end of the day would be critical for her well being.

A challenge for us this past summer was trying to figure out how to meet each others needs in a way that didn’t completely drain us. Just as we were starting to figure out a few rhythms that worked, things changed up again and we’ve been trying to figure out how to get the most out of our time together now that my workload has suddenly appeared in full force, and hers has also grown just a bit.

What’s funny for me is that even though life is far more fast paced now than a couple months ago, I still find myself craving adventures out of my weekends and even my afternoons. Depending on the adventure, I’ve found a lot of weekend outings and camping trips to be more life-giving than energy draining. I think sometimes I just need the reminder that life hasn’t simply become an endless sea of tasks but that there is still some room to go outside my routine and experience something too.

Of course, I can appreciate a good night in with Netflix and Deanna likes the weekend outings too. But not always at the same time and not always at the same rate. One of the early-discovered challenges of marriage is figuring out how to meet each other’s needs when we have two different lifestyles going at the same time.

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Lately, I’ve been in need of a good weekend adventure. Something to help shake off all the demands that life in Eugene has been so full of lately. And Deanna? She could sense it too. Even though she would’ve preferred to spend last weekend with her feet up, she planned quite the adventure, all while keeping it a mystery to me.

Early on Saturday morning, we packed up the car and set an address I didn’t recognize at all into the GPS. We drove past Salem, through the Santiam National Forest, and onto the 101. In a couple of hours, we had arrived in Wheeler, Oregon. Population: Several Dozen.

Deanna and I grabbed a meal at the Tsunami Bar and Grill, where we parked our car. Wheeler turned out to be an adorable coastal town. For having a population smaller than my high school, it was surprisingly quaint with a couple of restaurants and a historic hotel. We ordered and quickly devoured a crab leg cocktail and an order of fish and chips, and then Deanna informed me that it was time for us to get going.

Just outside was the docking point for a train. Deanna led me onboard and revealed that we’d be going for a ride on the historic Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad. She had already purchased the tickets so we walked in and through the old fashioned railcar with leather diner-style seats and attaché suitcases on an overhead rack. We made our way to the middle car, which was out in the open air.

This time of the year, the Oregon Coast Scenic Railroad calls their ride the Fall Splendor Tour, which requires little deviation from the normal route for the train. All the festivity comes courtesy of nature.

We started rolling down the rails, right alongside the Neahlem River. We made our way past a remote winery and a woman and her border collie waved to us as we rolled through.

It was an overcast day, albeit a dry one. Up above, the trees provided a gorgeous canopy of orange. Each time the front car would pass underneath a large oak, it would emit just enough steam to rustle the leaves, causing a bundle to shower down. Each time, I would stretch out, trying to yank the falling leaves out of thin air. A family of small kids sitting behind us must have noticed how much I was enjoying the activity because they joined in too.

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The ride was slow and easy, and being able to feel the crisp air on my face and the breaking of dried leaves in my fist was the refresher I needed. It felt like the freedom I needed to remember. I took a deep breath of some of the freshest air I’d been able to enjoy in a long, long time.

The train rocked slowly back and forth as it moved down the rail. I looked at Deanna, sitting across from me. She was enjoying the ride too, but I knew she mostly planned the adventure for me. I knew not to take her sacrificial surprise for granted, she gave up what could’ve been a restful weekend for her.

I’m realizing that marriage is often times a balancing act of energies. When I’m cooped up for too long, I can start to go stir crazy. When Deanna doesn’t get a chance to rest, she isn’t as able to enjoy experiences to the fullest. When I have a bunch of minor things going wrong all the time, I can get a bit cranky. And I know that when it comes to adventure, I can sometimes turn into an overexcited puppy that wants too play, and I know I need to be extra careful not to push too hard.

We’ve both spent a lifetime learning about how to take care of ourselves and our needs. We’ve learned what rhythms of work and play work best for us. Since we both like to take on a lot of things, we know how we respond to high demands. But our situations are now different. We’re a team, and it’s not just about taking care of ourselves anymore. When one person isn’t doing so well, the team isn’t doing well.

The reality of life is that we will more often than not have different energy levels. We work different jobs and experience different things when we’re away from home. Sometimes in trying to make things work we end up clashing, but ultimately that leads to good conversations and learning a lot more about each other and where we are in our current season.

I know that being refreshed and reenergized can often help me be more present for Deanna. I know I get that from outings, at the trade off of those sometimes being a bit more demanding for her. And so I know I need to make sure the scales don’t tip too far in one direction. Because I know that having a well cared-for team tops any adventure we could ever come up with.

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After our train ride, Deanna and I went south to another small coastal town- Rockaway Beach.

“Let’s get Taffy,” I suggested, leading to us hopping into one of the many gift shops that lined the street to fill up a plastic bag with dozens of pieces of different flavors.

We left the gift shop and walked across the street, right onto the beach. It was an overcast day and everything was a bright gray, illuminated by the mist of the ocean and the thickness of the moisture in the air.

We started walking slowly on the damp sand.

“There’s a bunch of Asians over there,” I pointed further down the beach.

“Where are you pointing?”

“Way over there.”

“Are you talking about the ones on the other side of the Pacific Ocean?”

“Yup.”

“I don’t think we’ve seen that since we’ve gotten married,” I noted. “The Pacific Ocean. Not bunches of Asians.”

Several yards into the water, an impressive rock formation stuck out in the shape of a large loop.

“Are you guys seeing that over there?” a lady in a dark rain jacket asked as she walked by us, pointing towards the ocean.

“Seeing what?” I asked her, thankful that I didn’t blurt out, “The Asians?”

“There’s a few pods of whales out there coming up out of the water, you can kind of see them.”

“Oh yeah, you need to watch where the birds congregate so they can eat the little parasites off of the whales.”

“Actually, that’s kind of accurate,” confirmed the lady as she walked away.

Deanna and I kept our eyes peeled on the horizon hoping to see the whales she was talking about. I unwrapped a piece of taffy and tried to see if I could discern its flavor. Salted caramel.

Being on the sand reminds me of where I met Deanna in the first place, and I appreciate her so much in the moment. So much of what I had learned about life I would need to relearn in the context of being married. In the process of making it work for a team of two. It came with a learning curve for sure, but the learning process can be a sweet one. A salty one at times too. Salted caramel.

“So, I have one other surprise planned for you this weekend,” Deanna told me as we tried to squint for whales.

“Another one?”

“Yup. You’ll find out tomorrow!”

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