Chris Contolini

The Trans-Siberian as a means to a means to an eventual end

I really enjoy commuting. Both in the general sense (change) and the common usage (regular travel between home and an institution). Commuting to work, via bus, bike or legs, imposes a bout of inward reflection that would otherwise be absent from my life.

When I sit on a bus for half an hour I think about what I’m going to do that day, how my week has been, why my shoes are slightly soggy even though it’s been three days since it’s rained, etc.

Commuting is a lot like church. People put up with it because they believe it’s taking them some place important all the while quietly acknowledging it’s a waste of time on its own.

I find commuting great, though. Just like church it sits you down and forces you to do nothing for an hour. The mind wanders and is free to explore, separated from the bombardment that sits on the other side of the lcd screen. Wikipedia, while fabulous, does not let your mind wander. Its clusterfuck of user-generated linkage dams free association. Hyperlinks divert streams of consciousness, leading the mind down courses others have chosen.

Commuting provides a nice pause in the day. For me, it’s a pool amongst rapid waters.

So. What’s a whole lot longer than your morning commute? The Trans-Siberian railway. Three weeks ago Travis and I rode the seven-day route from Moscow to Beijing, via mongolia (it became the trans-mongolian railway at ulan ude). For 80 consecutive hours we were on a train, only to leave for five to ten minutes every three to four hours. It was the dead of winter so stepping off the train was like walking into a pain of glass. The temperature on board was a toasty 27 degrees centigrade. The temperature outside was between zero and -20.

I brought my video camera with me and I have around five hours of footage (I’m a very selective shooter) that I’m slowly editing down to twenty minutes. I’ll eventually upload it to vimeo when I’m pleased with it. I’ll never be pleased with it, though, so I’ll upload random chunks to vimeo when I get fed up with nitpicking.

The trip as a whole was a lot of fun. We spent a few days in dublin and munich before reaching moscow and we met some great people along the way. The bulk of the train ride was spent with a handful of swedish kids in the carriage next to ours. We ate lots and lots of instant noodles and mashed potatoes and panicked on day three when we ran out of food and money. Fortunately, somewhere around omsk, we happened upon an atm at a train station.

The most fascinating aspect of the journey is the total loss of time. With nothing to do all day you end up napping a lot. This irregular sleep schedule combined with passing through time zone after time zone completely obliterates your internal clock. After the battery in travis’ iphone died we no longer had a clock so days would go by where we literally had no idea what time it was or where we were. We knew we were moving east and that was about it.

For those of you considering riding the trans-siberian in winter: I highly recommend it. It’s much less crowded than in summer and siberia is known for its winters. Not its summers. There’s something magical about crisp siberian air.

Would I do it again? Maybe some day. I’m done traveling for a while. I have a lot of projects I want to make some progress on at home. Like editing that video footage. Final Cut: here I come.