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December 10th, 2017

Train Ride!

All my life I’ve wanted to do the big cross-country train ride to California and back. This holiday season I’m finally doing it and I can’t begin to describe how thrilled I am. Last July you may recall, I did Amtrak to Orlando and Walt-Disney World. I booked a roomette there and back on the Silver Meteor and loved Every Minute of it. So I gave some serious thought to doing the Christmas/New Year holiday trip to California by train instead of making it a road trip as I usually do. Comparing the cost of a round trip ticket to past trips to the west coast I found them nearly identical, and the time spent just a tad shorter since the train is always moving even when I’m sleeping. So shortly after I returned from Florida I bought my tickets.

The itinerary is thus: Northeast Regional from Baltimore Penn Station to Washington D.C. Union Station. From there I catch The Capital Limited to Chicago Union Station. One day later in Chicago Union Station I catch The Southwest Chief (which runs the route of the legendary Santa Fe Super Chief) to Los Angeles Union Station. That last leg is two nights and two days. So three nights total, and maybe three and a half days. The drive has usually taken me four and a half days and more, but I stop frequently for stuff and a road trip is for exploring. A big reason why I’m more in favor of the train these days is my vacations give me less time to explore the road. Things are coming to a head on the James Webb Space Telescope and even though launch has been moved back to (possibly) spring of 2019, there is still a tight schedule and a lot of work ahead of us. So when I take time off it’s limited to windows I can be away, and usually it’s only a week of time I can be spared. So I mostly use those windows for Walt Disney World trips. Christmas/New Year is another window where I can take more time, but that’s for family holiday stuff and once again it’s just a matter of going from here to there, not exploring roads I’ve not been down before. But I still want that disconnect from my work life for a spell, and if I can’t get it on the road I’ve discovered, to my delight, I can still get it from the train.

The fact that a train ride is slower than riding jet airplane to anyplace is a feature, not a bug! Every vacation, every time away from the office, needs a gateway into and out of your normal everyday world. The road can be all that. So can the train. As I’ve written before, you can get your own room on a train and the food in the dining car is Much better than air fair and you get to chat with your fellow passengers and hang out in the lounge or stroll around which you can’t do on an airplane which is relentlessly made for getting you from point to point and for nothing else. A road trip is a journey. A long distance train ride is a voyage. Either one can be your portal into a different mode of life for a while, where you can find your inner bearings again, look around, consult the compass and chart a course.

As of today I am pretty much all packed and ready to go and it’s only Sunday. I’ve been working it for two weeks now and it’s been a challenge because this trip I really need to travel light and yet there’s a bunch of stuff I will need for two weeks plus in California.

I divided things into two groups…that which I can mail to my brother in California prior to the trip, and that which I either need for the train ride or things I don’t want to risk going through the mail. Turned out most of the first group were clothes and shoes. Two small boxes went to California.

I decided on one backpack and one mid sized carry-on suitcase, both Briggs & Riley made. These take the clothes I need for the train ride, my toiletries kit (I’ve never showered on a train before so this will be an experience…), a small first aid kit, penlight, two books to read, the Leica M3, 50 & 24mm lenses, Gossen Pilot light meter and ten rolls of B&W film, the Sony-Hasselblad (for color photography), assorted travel snacks and a flask of Grand Marnier because Amtrak lounge car liquor menus are pitiful, a small power block with USB charger ports, assorted cables, three nice cigars in tubes (for when I’m in California), my Garmin for navigating the rental car in LA, and watching my train’s progress as I travel, locking cables to keep my luggage secure in my roomette, and my travel folder with my tickets and rental car agreement. The backpack and suitcase will also hold one of my household laptops, the office laptop and charger block.

Plus travel pillow.

The backpack holds mostly clothes and snacks. The suitcase everything else.I’ve already test hoisted the suitcase and it is Heavy but will roll smoothly: Briggs & Riley make them with oversized wheels. It seems a lot to describe here but it’s actually a pretty small luggage set compared to what I generally see on the train and in the stations. My goal was to not have to store any luggage in the central luggage area of my Superliner Sleeper cars, but keep it all in my roomette. Basically all I am taking with me is a backpack and a suitcase that maybe ten years ago would have qualified as airline carry-on. I’m almost expecting someone to ask me where the rest of it is. I’ll tell them it went by UPS and it’s already there.

A friend has kindly agreed to house sit for me (in exchange for food and money). I still need to tell the alarm company about him, and show him around to the neighbors when he gets here so they won’t think I’ve got a squatter.  I will also be posting about my adventures as I go along. This is going to be so very cool…I have never done the long distance train ride cross-country before and I am so much looking forward to it starting this coming Thursday.

 


The Southwest Chief

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Train Ride!

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