The first portion of the trip from Chicago was an overnight piece, featuring my first formal Amtrak ‘smoke break.’ We stopped on an empty platform outside of Kansas City, MO for 45 minutes, with no other objective than for individuals to get out and smoke. While on this break, the train was refueled and ready to set out for the southwest.
Smoke break outside of Kansas City, MO.
Tonight I slept in my formally assigned seat for the first and only time on this trip. I was squeezed in next to my seven foot-tall seat partner. Ironically, this was the best and most refreshing night sleep I had on all of my adventure.
Somewhere outside of Chicago, we had picked up a few hundred boy scouts and their parents on their way to a camp in New Mexico. Another train car was added because of the sheer number of passengers on the train. Despite the addition, their presence made the first 24 hours of this haul a bit less relaxing.
I woke up somewhere between the border of Kansas and Colorado, as the golden wheat fields transitioned into the tall grown grass of the western plains. By this point, we were running about 3 hours behind schedule, due to track maintenance and whatnot. Typical Amtrak.
In search of something entertaining and trying to find a cure for my boredom, I ventured to the back of the train and once again was greeted by the smells and sounds of hundreds of boy scouts.
By midafternoon, we made it to the foothills of the Rockies. We began climbing up Raton Pass on the border of New Mexico and Colorado. The 7,834ft mountain pass was the steepest climb of the journey, though the views were a little underwhelming.
Midway through the ascent, the train came to a screeching halt and began rolling backwards. It came to a sudden stop again, with the emergency lights illuminating the train. A voice boomed over the PA informing us the train had stalled on its adventure up the hill and some ‘troubleshooting was necessary.’ Let it be known, there was no power, air conditioning or lights during this delay. Thanks, Amtrak.
‘The little engine that (finally) could’ made it over the pass, to much excitement. By mid-afternoon, we dropped of the boy scouts and made it to Albuquerque a mere six hours late. Basically on time, on “Amtrak-time.” As we approached Albuquerque, the thought of enjoying Amtrak’s special cuisine for like my 8th meal in a row was a little less than appealing. After much research using my mobile data — which had just come back after our trip over the mountains — I found a pizzeria around the corner from the train station. I asked 2 conductors for an estimated length of the stop. One said 10 minutes and the other said an hour and 10 minutes. Averaging their times together, I assumed I had enough clearance to make a run for it. It was a hot calzone after all, so worth the risk, right?
The train stopped and I leapt off the train, leaving all of my possessions and camera equipment on the train, thinking of nothing but cheesy warm calzone. Thinking of the possibly embarrassing blog post I’d have to make explaining why my train left without me, I made it to and from ‘Pizza 9’ in 6 minutes and 37 seconds. As I sat down and opened up the box containing my piping hot calzone, it was clear all of my fellow passengers were regretting their food choices. With jealousy conveyed through their eyes, I began to enjoy the best meal my trip.
My after dinner scenes were filled with sunsets and desert. I had justified taking off 3 days of work because I intended to do some editing work on the trip. However, at this point I had spent most of my down time gazing out the window at the scenes surrounding me, neglecting to even open my laptop. I had a large backlog of work ready for me as I sat down after sunset, ending late into the night.
Around 1am, I ventured off into a deep sleep, able to venture into an empty car and spread out across 2 seats. Out off all my nights, this was actually the worst nights’ sleep! We awoke to a stunning sunrise in the Mojave Desert. I tiredly stumbled to the cafe car and was greeted by a lack of apple juice. French toast was one of the only entrees left, but was actually what I was craving, so I’ll give Amtrak a pass on this one.
By now, we had made up some time and were ONLY running 3 hours and 15 minutes late, just 15 minutes later than my connecting train. Thanks Amtrak for causing an awkward phone call to a client explaining my late arrival. Finally, we arrived into Los Angeles at 10:30am, with my next train set to leave at 11:24am.
I can’t say I’ve ever collecter luggage from a baggage claim in a train station, but it can be done. It’s a pretty sketchy experience, but my two pieces of checked luggage arrived intact in Los Angeles, and ready to make our last pull to Oceanside, CA. The regional train in California didn’t have checked baggage service, so I was back to carrying 7 bags through the train station. Shut your eyes and imagine that sight — and this was probably more comical. Oh, and add in the fact I was running on 72 hours without a shower, and you’ve probably got the image.
By the time I boarded the California Surfliner, I was in a train-fog. There was a part of me that was enjoying every second and was ready to turn around and take the train back to Philadelphia, and another part of me that was about ready to throw up from 68 hours of near-constant bumps and sways, mixed with the lovey smell of 2-day old Boy Scouts.
The last leg was only 1.5 hours long, but might as well have been the longest part. About 30 minutes outside of Oceanside, the train pulled along the coast and it all hit me. I had just taken the train coast to coast, a goal of mine for as long as I can remember.
I spent the last 20 minutes or so standing by the door, just staring at the coastline as it whipped bye. I had made it. I got off the train, looked up at the towering pal trees and just smiled. In the midst of all the excitement, I left the infamous grocery bag (from Union Station in DC) on the train. There was a part of me that was sad, and another that just laughed that it found its destiny — being left on the train, riding the rails for the rest of its life. There’s a metaphor in there, but I’m too tired to pull that out, and in 36 hours we’re getting in a car and driving back East, so I’m gonna leave this here and sleep.