Train travel has long been one of my favorite modes of transportation. My dad used to take my brother and I on train trips when we were little kids: not on trains, mind you, but several hours in the car to far-off destinations like New Jersey and Pennsylvania in order to photograph old trains. We grew up in Huntington, NY, with convenient access to the greatest city in the world via our local Long Island Railroad Station. Just an hour’s ride west and we disembarked in Penn Station: so convenient! I’m so grateful that I had such an easy way to get to know NYC growing up.
When I ventured to Europe on my own for the first time in 2005, I bought a Eurail Pass, inspired by heartbroken Jesse in Before Sunrise. The Eurail Pass didn’t guarantee me a seat on my many train journeys that summer, but it did give me the freedom to hop from city to city and country to country, no ticket lines necessary.
The year after that, I planned a trip of a different sort: riding the train across the U.S.! The prospect alone is enough to widen my eyes and flutter my heart. If you ever have the luxury of time, I hope you take a train trip across the U.S. as well. The nice think about Amtrak is that they offer a discount if you’re a AAA member: my one-way ticket from New York to California was just $199! (Admittedly, this was back in 2006. I just checked for a similar trip and found trips for $252. Still fantastic when you consider benefits such as more comfortable seats, more leg room, bigger windows to see the passing countryside, and no checked baggage)
I started my longest train journey ever in NYC. We traveled north along the Hudson River (make sure you find out which end of the train is the front- once you determine that, you can pick the best side to sit on for optimal views) up to the capital, Albany, and then headed due west across New York State. This first bit of the journey was the most crowded, the most claustrophobic. If you’ve ever seen the expanse of the U.S. from east to west, you’ll know what I mean. Once you clear the Great Lakes, the landscape opens up and your pupils dilate at all the earth and sky. It’s just impossible take in all at once.
Of course, the claustrophobic feeling could be blamed on how many passengers boarded in Albany! I went for the most frugal ticket option, so I slept in my regular seat (though I’m determined to have a sleeping compartment on a train ride in the near future!), inches away from other people, some sleeping, some not.
I distinctly remember my seatmate on that train eight years ago: he was from Albany and had never left the country; we were both in our mid twenties. I told him of my travel plans: end the continental part of my trip in San Francisco, then head to Hawaii for a month, and then shared that I’d been to Europe the previous year and couldn’t wait to get back. Sharing my travels and passion is one of my favorite things to do, save for experiencing those travels firsthand. But my seatmate didn’t share in my excitement. Eyes wide, he shook his head and commented, Wow. What are you running from? I was taken aback. Running from? I’m exploring! I’m going for the sake of going and seeing what the world has to offer, to expand my mind and widen my scope of experience. I’m sure I must have stammered out something to that effect, but he wasn’t really open to hearing it. He put his headphones on awhile later and went to sleep.
Luckily, my host in Chicago, found via the Hospitality Club, was a girl who shared my passion. Amanda lived by herself in a cute apartment and right away I could tell that we were kindred spirits. She’d done plenty of solo traveling and was well used to being the guest (this was my first time doing any sort of hospitality exchange), so she was eager to play the host for once. Talk about receiving star treatment! My Chicago host was a wonderful tour guide around her city. She met me at the train station, baked bread, and arranged the couch into a bed with the coziest blankets and pillows. She wouldn’t even let me do the dishes after dinner! I only wish we were still in contact today. Thank you so much Amanda!
I stayed one night in Chicago and boarded the next morning to enjoy the northern route through Minnesota’s Twin Cities, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Washington State. I hung out in the observation car, with windows up to the ceiling, and played Scrabble with some fellow travelers. I stepped out onto the platform in Fargo, ND just so I could say I’d been there, wrote dozens of pages in my journal, and humbly accepted snacks from my doting ‘foster moms’: several middle-aged women sitting in my car who kept reminding me to call my mother and wishing me well on the West Coast.
You might notice that none of these photos are from that cross-country train trip. I have none of my pictures from Chicago, Vancouver WA, Portland, OR, or anywhere in between. My one and only time to Portland, OR– and all my pictures are lost! It’s something I shouldn’t still think about, but I do. This was before I even owned a laptop or traveled with a thumb drive: never again!
I choose to look at it this way: lost the pictures? All the more reason to take another long distance train trip!
Do you have any great train travel stories?
I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge for April. Today’s theme is T for train travel. Yesterday, I talked about self-image, and the day before that I featured reflection photos from New York City. Only six days left of the challenge!