Some of you already know I just got back from a month long adventure about 3 weeks ago. And yes… a big part of it was journeying via Amtrak. I started and ended this trip on board the California Zephyr… but also rode on the Wolverine as well as the Lake Shore Limited.
And how was it? Pretty grand.
I’ve always loved riding the train. Even as a kid in Malaysia the opportunity of a train journey was always much anticipated. You know… “can’t sleep the night before bursting with excitement” type anticipation. Having an uncle who drove the train between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore might have just enhanced my love for a train ride somewhat. In my teen years, I would take the train up to Ipoh and then bus it to an uncle’s house in Sitiawan. So, it is safe to assume that train travel is a preference of mine. Even when I take trips up to San Francisco… more often than not it is by train.
Yeah, I can go on about saving gas, smaller carbon footprint… yada, yada… but for me, a big part of it is the journey itself. It is a relaxed way to get to a destination and take in the scenery along the way. The seats are comfortable… and spacious. One can get up, stretch and walk if one chooses to… a luxury one doesn’t get by car unless one stops for a potty break. On the train… potty break anytime! Another part of the attraction for me is the possible opportunity of meeting people, striking up conversations and taking in stories.
More often than not those opportunities are more prevalent on the longer rides. For instance, the train from California to Chicago is a 51-hour ride. My general observation was that after the first 2 hours of self-cloistering folk start to open up with the realization that “we’re all in this together… might as well make it friendly”. That being said, I have had great conversations on the shorter rides as well.
There is also the scenery. I can personally attest to the grandeur of this country that one can spectate via the train. You just can’t do that by plane… and there are certain limitations via automobile. On the train, one can truly take the magnificence in. For instance, on the California Zephyr, the Sierras, High Desert, Rockies and the rolling plains of the Midwest unfolds in dramatic fashion. At times one can’t help but gasp at the beauty one is rolling through. I kid you not… it is pretty damn spectacular!
There is also something luxurious about riding the train. It also harkens back to a time when the train was the main mode of transportation on long journeys. Just look at the many old stations and how grandly they were designed. It is no wonder that folk dressed up for travel back then. There is a sense of history about it. And if you are a nerd like I am you can spot areas of history along the way.
Sure, I’ve fantasized over the years about the likes of the Orient Express and its ilk… train journeys of a bygone era. Then again, I’m not sure if I could take the pretentiousness and snobbery that was attached to that ride for more than 10 minutes. I actually kinda like riding with the fellow regular folk… like the ones that journey by train these days… and who I’ve had the pleasure of riding with.
So, if you are planning a vacation… make the journey a part of it by riding the train. Take it from me… it is an affordable and stress-free good time.