Once I rode my bike from Vancouver to Los Angeles.
The first leg of the trip smelled cold, wet and salty. Like fish and chips. Like morning fog. The same way northern Spain smells and sometimes New York City.
The next leg of the trip smelled like dry sun. Brown burnt grass. Mexican food. Deserts.
And then the last leg: a thirty-six hour train ride from Los Angeles to Kansas City. I got the cheapest ticket–a seat next to a child whose mother and sibling sat in the row behind us. Two nights on the train I slept in my sleeping bag on the floor of the lounge car. It smelled like metal and carpet, coffee in styrofoam cups and spit that’s dried and crusty on your face from sleep.
The train stopped every once in a while–usually just for five or ten minutes–a brief respite for the smokers. I always got off. The last break stop would be Grand Junction, Colorado, foot of the Rocky Mountains. As we arrived I could see from the train window: cattle grazing, distant vineyards, the towering clouds of a big summer storm rolling in. And when the doors opened and I stepped out onto the train platform it crashed in on me from all sides like a tornado or icy water–something that you could never prepare for even if you did see it coming. Oh my heart. It smells like home.