Two weeks ago we finished our NYC adventure with a 60 hour train trip across the United States. We couldn’t have predicted it when we booked the tickets in February, but it ended up being a helpful bridge between NYC and CA. It distracted us many times from the fact that we were leaving a city we had fallen in love with and friends we had become close to. The idea of taking a train across the country was planted by my dad about six months before we even left for NYC. Rob and I dismissed it initially, assuming that you couldn’t do something like that in 2015. Then a Lyft passenger mentioned she had taken her boyfriend on an across country train trip and had a blast. That helped pique my interest and I started considering it more seriously. It seemed fitting to end our time in NYC with a cross country expedition since that was how it started over a year ago. The Excursion
NYC Penn Station => Washington DC Union Station
- This leg took about three hours.
- We checked our bags in DC to be transported through to San Francisco.
- We hung out in the Amtrak Lounge, enjoying free goldfish and noticed that our fellow passengers were at least 50 years older than we were.
Washington DC Union Station => Chicago Union Station (Capitol Limited)
- Our first overnight leg. It took about 17 hours.
- Saw a lot of beautiful fall colors in Virginia and West Virginia
- We spent the first five minutes sitting across from each other in our roomette just staring at each other. Neither of us knew what to do and I was a bit nervous this was how we would spend the next three days.
- There was a five hour layover in Chicago so we took in some sights, worked out, and grabbed a healthy lunch at Whole Foods.
- Our first night’s sleep was a bit rough. The sounds and movement of the train weren’t as lulling as I had hoped. There was also the unfortunate incident of the old man, the bathroom, and me at 3am. Lesson learned: sometimes people forget to lock public bathroom doors.
Chicago Union Station => Emeryville Amtrak Station (California Zephyr)
- This was the longest leg of the trip, taking about 40 hours.
- From Chicago to Denver we saw a lot of plains and fields that seemed to go on forever. It was interesting in the beginning but after a few hours it got repetitive and slightly boring.
- Denver to Salt Lake City had some of my favorite scenery. We climbed through the Rockies, chugged alongside rivers, and disappeared into tunnels for minutes at a time.
- Salt Lake City to Truckee, CA had scenery ranging from large, intricate mountain ranges in the distance to beautiful old redwood trees right next to the train.
All of the sightseeing was done from the viewing car of the train. While we made several stops along the way, we didn’t stop longer than about 7 minutes at a station and that was only at designated smoke stops. Most stops were only a minute or two long so there was no time to do anything more than step out, stretch your legs, and get a breath of fresh air before the conductor yelled “All Aboard” and we were off again.
The Accommodations We had a roomette on both the Capitol Limited and the California Zephyr. Our roomette came with two seats facing each other, a tray table that could be pulled out in the middle, a narrow closet, and one shelf area for storage. In the evening, the car attendant pulled the seat bottoms together to make the bottom bed and pulled the top bed down from the ceiling. When the room was in “bed mode” there was only enough floor space for one person to stand. We had to get really good at coordinating with each other while we were getting ready for bed.
There were multiple bathrooms and one shower that we all shared with the other roomette guests in our car. To have your own bathroom, sink, shower and a little more floor space, you could splurge on an actual bedroom (we paid $1000 and the room would have been $2000). I think the next time we take an extended train trip, (yes, we’ve already talked about taking the Pacific Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle next year!) I would pay more to have the room. I didn’t like sharing the bathrooms and especially didn’t like brushing my teeth in the shared bathroom. I didn’t mind sharing the shower. It was the size of a regular stall shower so there was plenty of elbow room and it had a room next to it to change. I would probably use the public shower even if we had our own.
The Journey A fellow journeyer said that he thought of plane travel as a means to an end and saw train travel as an end in itself. He described perfectly how I feel about our trip. The goal obviously was to get us back to CA, but all of the beautiful scenery we saw and the characters we met, made the trip itself its own amazing end.
All of our meals were included in our ticket price (excluding alcohol and snacks that could be purchased in the snack car) and the experience of eating each meal in the dining car was probably my favorite part of the trip. I enjoyed making a reservation for dinner, and I had a lot of fun chatting with each of our different meal companions. They were all kinds of different people. The minister who ordered a bottle of wine for dinner, the couple who brought their own spice, Peri Peri, with them everywhere because they love spicy food, and the guy who overshared about his divorce. We were even impressed with the food. There wasn’t much variety, but everything was done very well. We both had one of the best steaks we’ve had in awhile on our last night. They were able to cook it to the exact medium rare that we love, which we weren’t expecting from a kitchen on a train.
We spent our days working, taking in the passing scenery and playing card games. After the first rough night of sleep, I purchased earplugs which enabled me to sleep deeply the second and third nights. The rocking and swaying of the train ended up being very relaxing. I honestly enjoyed our experience and would love to share it with our friends and family in the future. There are many other lines that Amtrak offers, in different parts of the country, and I hope to travel on them all someday.