The first time I can remember catching a real train (the Sugar Cane Train and the Pearlridge Monorail don’t count) was the summer after I graduated from high school, when I spent three months backpacking around Europe before heading off to college. My friend Meghan and I bought the Europass option that allowed us 8 days of train travel over a 2 month period and we made use of it by visiting France, Spain, Italy, plus a last minute addition of Prague when we gained one extra leg where the conductor forgot to punch our passes.
I loved it even more than I loved airplane travel, simply because it allowed us so much more room, huge viewing windows and freedom to walk through the cars. Growing up in Hawaii, we have no need for a long-distance train, so I find that in my adult life – whenever the routing allows – I try to book train travel to get me at least part of the way to my destination.
Since that summer in Europe, I’ve also taken trains in the Northeast US – I remember heading from NYC to West Point one autumn when the leaves were changing color because I sat glued to the window in awe. (Leaves don’t change in Hawaii either.) In 2008 when we traveled in Asia, I frequently caught the overnight train between Chiang Mai and Bangkok, enjoying the ride even when I was squished up in my sleeper bunk, rolling around and hoping I wouldn’t fall out in the night. One particularly memorable train ride came in 2011, when I’d talked Jess, Eric and Edwin into coming with me from Seattle to Vancouver for my TBEX Conference. On the way back to Seattle, Eric got down on one knee and – with the help of Edwin and I (and the train crew) – shocked Jess by proposing while he played “their song”.
Portland to LA on the Amtrak Coast Starlight
This trip, I had the chance to piece together trips on an Amtrak route that I’ve always been curious about. The Amtrak Coast Starlight actually starts in Seattle and runs all the way to LA, but I opted to catch it from Portland. This portion of the route takes a whopping 30 hours because of the stops, but it really didn’t feel that long until maybe the last couple of hours once the sun had set. It was also one of the most productive trips I’ve had. There is no wifi available yet on this route, which I at first thought would be a hindrance but was really a blessing in disguise. Without constant connection to the internet, I was able to slow down, unplug and to really soak in the experience.
We left just around 2:30pm from Portland and arrived in Los Angeles about an hour ahead of the posted schedule, at 8:15pm the following day. The best part of the trip was watching the scenery change as you head south.
It’s just after 4am and the train stops in Chico, CA. We’ve now crossed the 13 hour mark, almost halfway into my 30-hour train ride. I’ve gotten maybe five straight hours of sleep, which is quite amazing and more than I’d hoped. I’m sure I’ll nap again before the journey is up, but for now it’s sort of fun to be the only one awake.
I walk as delicately as I can through the aisle en route to the restrooms downstairs, careful to keep my balance as the train sways gently. Passing each row, two seats on each side, I’m amazed at the variety of creative sleeping positions into which passengers have contorted themselves.
There are some crunched into fetal position over two seats that are more than spacious when sitting but just a bit too small for a horizontal position. A teenager with his hoodie pulled over his head is draped over the armrest of his seat, spilling into the aisle as if he’d passed out after having too much to drink. He reeks of weed as I turn sideways to pass and I wonder if it’s for his benefit that the train staff keep making the announcements reminding passengers that smoking – anything, regardless of whether or not you posses a permit, ahem – in the train bathrooms is a federal offense.
A few weeks ago as I struggled to determine what direction my life would take next, I had absolutely no travel plans on the horizon. Yet as always seems to be the case in times like these, somehow the stars aligned so perfectly that even I was amazed.
In less than a week, I pieced together what will turn out to be a month-long trip halfway around the globe and back, beginning with the AWP Annual Conference in Seattle. After a few days there, I’ll be catching a train to Portland to visit my cousin and to check out the famous food trucks and local beer, wine and cocktails. I love trains, so next will be a 30 hour trip from Portland down to LA to visit Jess before heading to Ireland to celebrate the wedding of one of my best friends.
Every year, my friends and I choose a word for the year and my word for 2014 was Passion. In the past few years I felt like I’ve gotten further from myself and things that really inspire me. So this year I’ve resolved to get back to those passions. Anyone who knows me could say that my three biggest passions are food, travel, and writing. So this impromptu trip seemed the perfect way to combine the three.
Feel free to check out the pages that I’ve created to keep together recommendations for Seattle, Portland, LA, and Ireland. If you see anything I’m missing, please feel free to leave your tips in the comments so that I can add them! I’ll be blogging along the way and you can also keep up via Instagram and Twitter for the latest photos and videos from the road.