Soon I'll be climbing aboard a train to visit my parents across the continent. Here's my itenerary. It's going to take four days! I decided to splurge on a sleeper car. Will update with photos and relections during the trip.
San Francisco => Emeryville
The concrete and glass of downtown have a golden glow as I ride across the bay bridge. It's yawning and slowly casting a blanket of fog into the bay.
Amtrak California Zepher
Emeryville => Chicago Union Station
I realize I didn't book the sleeper car for this segment of the trip (I blame Amtrak's clunky online booking website.) I climb upstairs into coach and select a window seat on the right. I hear the Amtrak slip checker guy coming up behind me and quickly stuff the rest of my bread in my mouth. He doesn't seem to take any notice of my bread-filled mouth. He just asks for the destination slip I'd been given by the ticket checking guy. I mumble something handing it to him, he writes my destination on it and slots in above my seat. Several minutes later I accept that I chose the wrong side for the good views of the SF bay so I switch over to the left and the slip checker guy is kind enough to move my slip over there for me.
I hop over to the observation car as we near the 7000ft peak of our ascent and share a booth with some friendly older folks from Guerneville. There's snow on the ground. We're rolling along the edge of the American canyon which which I manage to get some glimpses of, but can't get any pictures or videos because it's crowded.
Most of my day consists of napping and working on my laptop. I get a burger from the cafe. It's about as good as it looks. We stop in Winnemucca, Nevada, and we're allowed to get off for fresh snowy air.
Here's some vids a took today:
I slept decently considering I was laying across two seats barely big enough for me to curl up in the fetal position. Had to turn over several dozen times to keep from getting sore. I wake up to undulating snow frosted dynamic rocky countryside streaming by outside my window. The train gently arcs left, right, up, down. I sit in the observation car and write in my journal for a few hours. I usually avoid having devices near me while writing so I don't get any photos of this area. This landscape seemed too holy to profane with my smartphone camera, anyway. I was feeling great. Yesterday I was a bit grumpy from a lack of sleep.
We stop at Grand Junction, CO. I'm able to do some squat jumps and pushups to get the ol' blood flowing, feeling the altitude. I stock up on some snacks and even some healthy food at the station's convenience store.
We're travelling along Green River. Someone else in the observation car relates a story about their 3rd great grandparents emigrating to Oregon along the very same river. They burried a son around here.
We spot a bald eagle. Several actually. It's bald eagle paradise! A conductor tells us that they choose certain trees due to the view they offer of their hunting grounds and secreet a poison that kills the tree leaving it barren and perfect for an eagle's nest. That's why certain tall trees near the river are dead, apparently.
Trees cast off snow as we pass, as if in surpise at the passing train. Maybe it's the vibrations. Snow packs release what looks like steam that curls downward.
The conductor comes to the observation car and tells a group that he's also a part-time comedian. He says he can tell the sympathy laughs from the real laughs, but he'll take 'em all. He makes announcements that start off sounding serious, like make sure to watch kid's feet as they walk between the cars, `cuz if they get stuck we'll have to call the toe truck. He's got infinite dad jokes.
The conductor announces that he has a riddle for anyone who wants to become a junior train conductor. "A train leaves Chicago at 9am" he says "travelling at 80mph for (I forgot) miles to Emeryville, CA. What time will it arrive?" I do some quick math and get 3:28pm. I overhead the people in the booth next to me talking about it and I use it to strike up conversation. "I couldn't help but notice you talking about the riddle", I say, "do you think it's just a straightforward math problem?" They remind me about timezones which I hadn't accounted for. 1:28pm was indeed the correct answer and I won myself a little junior conductor pin.
We're pulling in to Denver as I'm writing this. I'll get some time to de-train and stretch my legs and maybe explore a little of the area around the train station.
Here's some views from out the window today.
I grab some to-go food from the train station and find a seat in the observation car. An older woman with some Japanese takeout asks if she can share the booth with me. The conversation starts off normal enough. She's a grandmother with a big family going to visit grandkids in Illinois. She lives on Mt Shasta which she says rather matter-of-factly is a sacred, high-vibration place. It turns out she lives at the Stargate Experience Academy, which she says teaches meditation and channelling techniques. She says that it's the Lemurians, who are living within Mt Shasta, that make it an ideal place for mystical experiences, for which people travel from around the world. She tells me about a book she just read, Devine Design by Lorie Ladd, which had a lot to say about the Lemurians. I ask if they're extraterrestrials. She pauses to think for a moment, and with a chuckle says Well yes, but so is everyone, in a sense. We're all beings of light, i.e. beings of five or more vibrational dimensions, who have chosen to be born into and confined within material bodies of three to four dimensions in order to have certain experiences of our choosing, even ones we might, from our current limitations, consider undesirable. As part of the deal, we have agreed to temporarily give up our identities as beings of light. The Earth a conscious being who invites beings of light to her to make this deal with her. But, this has created a lot of problems, because with these lower dimensions comes all the bad things like war, poverty, disease etc which don't exist in higher dimensions. For this reason the Galactic Federation of Light caused the great flood that destroyed Atlantis and Lemuria, the latter of which was a continent like Atlantis but in the Pacific around present-day Hawaii. Now instead of flushing it away, the GFL is trying to address the problem by channeling knowledge to us in order to raise the vibration level of the planet to the fifth dimension and beyond. She also claimed that Gen Z was exempted from the requirement of forgetting their true identities before being born into material bodies, so they know who they are right away without having to do any meditation or channelling.
When the conversation turned to her religious beliefs I was like Oh, am I talking to someone who's lost touch with reality? But her vibe was certainly not that of a mentally ill person, but rather that of a kindly grandmother who just happens to have some wild New Age beliefs. So after a moment of concealed panic, I settled into the weirdness. And I'm not trying to make fun of her at all in relating this. I was just fascinated to meet someone with a strongly held, unique belief system who seemed mostly pretty normal, and just wanted to understand how she saw the world. This made me want to visit Mt Shasta to see for myself if I can feel those vibes.
Tonight there's someone in the seat next to me so I can't lay down in coach, but I find that I can lay down in the observation car on one of the coushioned bench seats. Other than an Amtrak employee asking me where I was going around 4am, it's a peaceful sleep. Fortunately I have my sleep mask to block out the lights which were on all night.
I wake up in Omaha, Nebraska. We're stopped but start moving by the time I'm awake enough to think of getting off for some fresh air. The scenes passing by the train this morning diametrically oppose those of yesterday morning. Nothing really seems worth photographing, much less sanctifying. Wide open plains dominated and subdued by human industry.
Also, I made it to Chicago!
Amtrak Capitol Limited
Chicago Union Station => Washington DC Union Station
After roughing it in coach, travelling in the sleeper car feels like such a luxury. There's a really friendly Amtrak employee who greets me and shows me to my roomlette. He's got what sounds like an Italian accent and almost every sentence ends with an "...okay?" He takes my dinner order and shows me to the dining car. Aside: I want to learn what the official titles are of these various Amtrak employees I've interacted with.
Sitting at my own booth in the dining car with my complimentary reheated Thai curry, I feel a little nostalgic for last night sharing dinner with New Age grandmother. Is that kind of serendipity as likely when you're living high on the hog? But it feels so good to be able to stretch out all the way in my bed without any weird bumps or lumps... Also, there's free coffee in the sleeper car.
A view from my window, somewhere in West Virginia.
Obligatory photo at the capitol building.
Escaped the chill to chill with the plants at the national botanical garden.
Saw some art outside the national art museum
Lunch at "Rice Bar"
Washington DC Union Station => Greenville, SC
Eight year-old me would have been beyond stoked at the prospect of riding a train into Appalachia. Like every fairly normal boy, I had a train phase, and as a Floridian flatlander I was mesmerized by mountains. The sleeper car attendant is as sweet as pie; a southern drawl as thick as molasses. She directs me to my roomlette which has its own toilet and fold down sink. She takes my dinner order and leaves me to get settled in. I am surprised when she comes back a few minutes later with a bag; I want to have my dinner in the dining car, but she hustles off before I could ask about it. I find my way up to the dining car on my own.
In retrospect I regret not doing my homework beforehand: after my trip I learned that you're supposed to tip sleeper car attendants, who work very hard to make sure their guests have the best possible experience. I remember the attendant from the Capitol Limited train asking the guests over the intercom to try not to call him too late, he has to catch a little shuteye too, after all. I tipped the folks in the dining car but in my ignorance I never tipped either of the attenants on my trip even though they did a great job.
After dinner, another Amtrak employee knocks on my door to let me know we'll be arriving in Greeneville around 5am, and so he'll be waking me up around 4:15. I ask the attendant to set up my bed and try not let my excitement or the rollicking of the train car on the old tracks keep me awake too long. In my dream, there's a "bang bang bang" that keeps repeating. I wake up with a start: It's the employee giving me my ungodly early wakeup call as promised. We come to a stop and I step out into cold, fresh, fragrant mountain air. My dad is there in his truck waiting for me.
Dad’s Pickup truck
Greenville, SC => Asheville, NC
It's a fairly uneventful ride to Ashville. There was a little confusion about where I would go when I got off the train. I didn't get my dad's text that he was already there waiting for me, so I go into the indoor waiting area at the station. He sees folks getting off of the coach cars and expects me to be one of them, but the sleeper cars were farther down the track out of his view. After a few minutes of mutually confusing texts, we relize what's happened and find each other. Thus concludes my cross-country Amtrak adventure.