The Peace Train

Day 29: Carpinteria to Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo to San Simeon State Beach, 51 miles

I make a hop via rail today, catching the Amtrak Surfliner from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo. This cuts out 120 miles of chemo-farms and desert, enabling an earlier arrival to San Francisco.

The Surfliner passes through Lompoc and Vandenberg, the only Air Force base without a runway for fixed wing aircraft. Vandenberg is a Cold War missile base. A local tells me many satellites are still being launched. The train passes the buildings where the shuttle was to be launched. And there’s one with Space X emblazoned on the side. Is that where Space Ship One was developed? A civilian spacecraft.

What’s really on my mind is war. A bicycle tour through Southern California is also a tour de military, as the route passes bases of Navy, Air Guard, Air Force, the Navy Academy in Monterey, Camp Pendleton. On this Veterans Day we are asked to remember those who have served. Vietnam Memorial plaques along the tour tell me to “Never forget” their sacrifice. I’m wondering how we could possibly continue to engage in military actions, as a nation, if our leaders would truley remember the debacle of Vietnam.

Now I’m watching with morbid curiosity for the spot where the train passes a pair of rusty side spurs, which curve sharply through overgrown brush. Then I see their destinations, the squat concrete silos of the Cold War, the ICBM launch bunkers. Where soldiers kept a lonely watch, waiting silently for the call to enter launch codes which would unleash instant nuclear death upon hundreds of millions. How fortunate the call never came, that we were saved from the nuclear apocalypse. How fortunate that this train is merely transporting passengers, not fatal payloads of nuclear tipped missile ordinance.

Ride on, the Peace Train.

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