Day 1: August 24, 2012
3:45 PM: We boarded the train (on time at 11:57 AM) in Manassas. The crew was very friendly and helpful Our roomette sleeper was very compact. Dad and I are sitting knee to knee with our luggage piled around us. Note to self—just bring one not too big suitcase if I do this again.
Got to Charlottesville in just under two hours. The scenery is beautiful and different from what one sees from the road.
Lunch was good and we had a nice conversation with a lady and her high school sophomore son who were on their way to the Greenbrier. They had been in DC for a week and would go home to Cincinnatti after their stay at the Greenbrier.
We have amused ourselves by reading, napping and looking out the window. We’re somewhere west of Staunton, running about 20 minutes behind. Next stop isCLifton Forge in about half an hour.
Stopped at Clifton Forge, last stop in Virginia. I’ve moved to the club car where there’s a table I can type (keyboard) on and have a little more leg room. Then sun’s out. There was an old steam loco in a beautiful green livery marked “The Homestead,” which is near here. I looked into thje coach car which seems to have more legroom than we have. I wouldn’t want to sleep there for three nights, though, so our little roomette will do fine when it comes to sleeping. And I can use the club car to work in and look at the scenery.
Just leaving Beckley WV. Had a nice dinner with a lady whom we know by means of her sister, who died a few years ago. She is on her way to Montana. We also got to know a young woman who is going to work at a hotel in Death Valley and who will be working on a book, free from distractions. We talked writing for a while and now we’re back in our sleeperette reading, looking at the scenery (most notably the Greenbrier River, which runs beside the tracks) and thinking about bed in about three hours.
Day 2: August 25, 2012
We’re in Indianapolis, where there is a scheduled layover of about an hour. Sleeping on the train was not too bad—the berth was comfortable and I was able to read for a while. The train would inexplicably stop during the night in the middle of nowhere. I guess they have their ways. We get to Chicago about 10, where we have a four-hour layover.
We’re on the California Zephyr, waiting our turn on some single-tracking road work south of Chicago. We got into Chicago and 10:15 this morning, and I was pleasantly surprised to find out we were eligible to wait the four hours for our train in the First Class (Sleeping Car) Lounge. There were free drinks (non-alcoholic) and snacks and we talked to some interesting and nice people
We boarded at 1:15 and are settled in compartment 3 of the last of three sleeping cars. The Amtrak employees have been to a person helpful, good-natured and well-informed. When I asked our car attendant this morning why the train stopped for periods of time, she replied that mostly it was to let freight trains pass (they pay the freight, ha ha) and in one case it was so an obstreperous passenger could be taken off by police. I suppose that counts as drama on the rails.
I would also advise any two people sharing a roomette on a trip like this to pack one large suitcase which can be stored and a carry-on that contains essentials that you need for each day. Also, don’t count on wi fi. I’m getting some things out on my iPhone, for which reception has been fairly consistent. Another thing I would do is bring snacks. The sleeping car has a stock of water, coffee and juices, but unless you want to pay an expectedly high price for Nabs, bring your own.
We crossed into Iowa about 5:30, and I can report that it too is flat and covered with crops. Much of the corn looks like it has been burned up by the drought. It’s a sad sight—acre after acre and mile after mile of brown corn stalks. I suppose all that it’s good for is sileage, and that’s not worth very much from what I hear.
We move into Nebraska about 11 tonight and traverse the state in the dark. With the light will come Colorado and what I hear are some truly spectacular views and vistas. I’m looking forward to it.
Day 3: August 26, 2012
We’re about 40 minutes outside Denver and the land is still flat. I thought we’d be among the mountains, but that shows how much I know about geography.
If you take one of these trains, bring your appetite. Every meal is about twice as much as I can eat. Too bad there aren’t refrigerators in the rooms, If there were, we’d end up sitting on them because everything is crammed in. It makes me think of the Apollo spacecraft (and by the way, Neil Armstrong passed away yesterday. He was indeed a brave and resourceful pioneer who always acknowledged the thousands of people who put him on the moon.)
More later as we get into the mountains. Singin’ “Rocky Mountain High!”
We’re moving through the western suburbs of Denver, and I see mountains! At least, I think they’re mountains. Maybe they’re just foothills since they don’t look high enough to be mountains. Yes, I know I am an amazing geologist. Not.
Neither am I a botanist. The vegetation looks subtly different here, although I can’t say what the difference is. I suppose that climate and altitude make a difference. Wow. I should be a horticulturist as well.
More later as we get into the mountains…if these are foothills now…
We’re on the western slopes of the Rockies, and the passage through the mountains was magnificent! Seeing them in a video or picture or reading a description doesn’t begin to do justice to the beauty and grandeur of these slopes. We’re going to be going through the western slopes for about three more hours so there should be plenty of beautiful scenery ahead.
We went through the Gore Gorges which were formed by the Colorado River. I am struck by the size of geological formations here, having never seen these in the West. The Colorado in this section has a number of fisherpeople and rafters, some of whom have a tradition of mooning the train as it goes by. The train crew calls the Colorado “Moon River,” in fact!
We cross into Utah about 7:30 this evening, which I understand is mostly desert. Until then it’s Colorado, Colorado, Colorado all the way!
The mountains and foothills of the Rockies shifted to huge outcroppings of folded rock. I would call them mesas but they didn’t have flat tops. Then, somewhere around 5 PM, the landscape changed to a desert with huge piles of what looked like either sand or gravel. And apparently we crossed into Utah, with notice, without a sound. And so, Utah this evening, Nevada early tomorrow morning and California in mid-morning. We are “winning near the goal” as Keats said about something else entirely.
Day 4 August 27, 2012
One advantage to staying on Eastern time is that you’re up before anyone else. We were up at 4:30 local time. Alyssa said that when she travels she stays on Eastern time.
We’re about two and a half hours out of Reno. I have to confess that I hit a kind of wall last night. I felt like I had been on a train forever and would never be able to get off. I was tired of looking at desert, too. I was unfocused to write and wanted some room to spread out in. It just shows how hard it is for me (us) to relax. I’m anticipating getting off the train about 5, getting to Oakland Airport, boarding a plane about 11 and being home about 7 AM (Eastern Time). I feel better after a night’s sleep. Shakespeare was right: “Sleep, that knits up the raveled sleeve of care…” Rock on, Will S.!
After a stop in Reno (the conductor advised passengers not to get off and hit the slots at the station. People have been left doing so, apparently), we came into California and the little town of Truckee.
We are in the Sierras now and we’re entering some spectacular scenery. I’ll take a break and take some pictures and then come back and talk about the people we’ve met on the train.
I think I wrote about the wonderful quality of the meals. I’ve also enjoyed talking to people we’ve shared a table with. With one exception, people were open and friendly, and talked openly of their travels and experiences. We talked with people from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Chicago and other stations on our route, as well as Scotland and England.. I talked with railroad employees, teachers, writers, and government workers.
I have to also say something about the friendliness and competence of every Amtrak employee we came across. We had most contact with our sleeping car attendant, Stephanie, who was friendly, energetic, helpful and knowledgeable. She kept a special eye out for my dad when he couldn’t find his way back to our room a couple of times and brought my dad some meals when he found it difficult to walk the length of three cars to the dining car. When the toilets failed on our sleeping car (there were plenty on the other sleeping cars), she took it personally, apologizing profusely and telling us how to contact Amtrak for a refund or ticket credit. The air conditioning kept popping a breaker, and she would reset it about every twenty minutes. I have never met such a dedicated, personable hard-working young woman. Amtrak should be very proud of her!
Let’s see…we ate our last meal aboard the train and came through Sacramento. We’re running about 15 minutes ahead of schedule and should be in Emeryville early. From there we transfer to another train for Oakland, catch a cab for the airport and an 11 PM flight to Dulles, arriving at 6:50 AM local time.
I’ll have some reflections on the trip Tuesday after I get home, unpack and take a nap. First things first.
Day 5 August 28,, 2012
Our overnight flight from Oakland was early, so here I am at home and happy to be here. I couldn’t help contrasting the tension and pressure of air travel with the relaxed nature of life aboard a long-distance train. I’m glad we went, but I wouldn’t want to do it again any time soon. Now for a nice nap to catch up on lost sleep!