Mobile Writing Retreat - Day 0

Tomorrow, I embark on a cross-country train trip from Emeryville, CA to Boston, MA. Why?


Mostly because I can. I’m fortunate to have a tenure-track faculty job with no teaching responsibilities in the summer that require I be physically present on campus. So, given that I can work anywhere during the summer, it seems a little foolish not to actually do so. The past two years, I’ve done a little traveling to see friends and family, but failed to saddle up for anything that could classify as taking advantage of my untethered time, much less as an adventure. This year, I decided I was going to make it happen. Why a train? Well, trains are way better places to get work done than planes. Which brings us to reason number 2.

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Also because I have a lot of writing to do. Despite the best-laid plans to get things off my desk during the school year, I succumbed to the temptation of trying to take on too much and inevitably wound up playing triage with my writing (and data analyses…and collection…). As a result, I need to buckle down and get things done. Campus is slower in the summer, but there are still enough people and interaction that it’s not a place to take writing to the next productivity level. Sure, I could try to hole up in my home office, but there are always home projects. So, I decided I needed a writing retreat — with a twist. Instead of venturing off to a remote cabin or a fancy hotel, I decided I wanted to make the train my (literal) mobile office. I could work my way across the country while working my way across the country!


But “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Again, the main goal is to get some work done while enjoying one of the best perks of my job. However, to really enjoy it, I know I need to do more than just sit on the train and write. So, although it is possible to train across the country in 3 days and 8 hours (you only have to get off once if you take the California Zephyr and change to the Lake Shore Limited in Chicago), I’m going to stretch it to 13 days. I’ll stop in 7 places I’ve never been to (or haven’t been to in quite some time) to do some exploring. The train will be the office (and the bedroom for a couple of overnight legs), and the rest of the country will be my playground.


But wait, there’s more! Well, actually less. The final part of this journey is a continuation of my experimentation with minimalism/essentialism. No, I’m not selling, donating, or trashing the bulk of my possessions when I get back home (at least, that’s not the plan), but I am using this trip as a chance to further cultivate a spirit of simplicity. I’ve been limiting myself to a single backpack for all trips since January of this year. So far, that’s been a few 2 to 3-day jaunts and a 1-week trip. Now, I’m trying to extend it by making the cross-country trek with the same backpack (see below for all gear laid out on my hotel room bed). Clearly, I’ll need to figure out some laundry plan along the way, but I’m pumped up about pushing myself even further with this.


I’ll publish an update each day with an assessment of how the “minimalist mobile writing retreat” is going (and whether I’d recommend it), with word counts, lessons learned, and the like.