Sometimes the long way around things is more exciting and interesting. So rather than select a 39 dollar flight from LAX to Seattle, I decided to go by Amtrak.
Rather than a few hours, this would take me a couple of days.
The journey began in Los Angeles, as I dropped my hire car at the airport. Amazingly there were no dents, despite my ‘confident’ driving style.
The bus to the airport was the first leg. So I boarded with my Seattle outfit cradled in my arms (duffel coat, scarf and gloves!) and we rode to the terminal. I then had to find a bus to Westwood University, I narrowly missed one, but I’d built a lot of time in, so I didn’t panic! I was paranoid I’d miss it, so annoyed every bus driver by asking if they were going to Westwood, despite it not being on the front of the bus. Stupid tourist huh!
I alighted the bus in Westwood area, and learned that my Amtrak bus stop was actually 17 minutes walk away, uphill, Seattle outfit still cradled in my arms! I double checked with some locals, somehow refusing to believe my usually trusted iPhone! I dragged my entourage (of me) up to the bus stop, but when I got there, there was no Amtrak sign. This made me realise how much we depend on signage!
I walked into the Uni, up and down another hot hill, to double check. I also took the opportunity to buy a pickled sausage. The reception area googled it, just as I had done and I then returned to the original bus stop and noticed the clear Amtrak sign. Ugh.
After another 40 minutes (thankfully I always build in faffing time!) the bus came. It wasn’t some huge Winnebago thing, but a regular bus. I would be on this for 3 hours until I even got to touch a trains interior.. it had a 2ft squared restroom though, which I sampled.
The bus featured the usual seat pattern that makes you want to vomit. Apart from that, it was nice enough, so I put Sinitta on the mic (headphones) and we set off!
It was long, but I used the time wisely by browsing social media.
The bus pulled up 3 hours later at a darkened Bakersfield station, my dreams of a panini and a cappuccino between transport legs were dashed! The best I could find was a coffee machine which offered me a 1 dollar coffee, which plopped out of the machine with minimal grace, yet tasted divine.
The station had surprisingly good wifi though. Wifi is a constant source of surprise and annoyance. I travelled most of Japan struggling for wifi, yet I have it here in an American outpost station with a 2 option coffee machine.
The train then arrived and it was huge, like a monster! Boarding well before time, I found a seat with a table so I could be an executive. However, in reality I wasn’t going to let the (questionable) people around me get sight of my expensive and tempting MacBook!
I went to the buffet car 3 times, each time returning with a food less healthy than the time before. The hours soon passed and I wrote some blogs and articles (i.e. did some work) into the notes section on my iPhone. I wore my earphones without music, as the guy opposite kept trying to engage in mindless conversation.
Arriving at Sacramento, I felt a bad omen. The next (and final) train to transfer onto was not there! One hour and a half late. Not great at midnight. The Sacramento station hall seemed full of the most unusual passengers too, one particular lady in a mauve dressing gown, no less! Then, the next guy next to me made a fresh triple layered mayonnaise sandwich. Americans! Furthermore, a lady eating a continuous stream of potato crisps actually belched between packets.
We were later called out to the platforms and it took us ages to board, they almost take you on one by one. No wonder if was late if they’ve been doing that all day!
I soon found myself in a darkened carriage, with some Christmas lights at one end. I found a space and pretty much bedded down straight away, thanks to some dream water (half legal sleeping potion available in the USA). Despite being upright in a seat, and uncovered, I slept well. The drugs did their work. I drank my dream water with an amuse bouche of cheese flavoured popcorn.
As I woke up, I realised I’d made a rookie error and had chosen one of those seats between two windows. I realised that I might need to move later.
I got hungry quickly, so explored the carriage at 7am the next/same day. They put you at mixed tables, despite there being space in the carriage. But, you know, it’s kinda cool, and encourages bonding, of a sort.
I had an omelette with a scone (also called a biscuit) and was scared to order ‘grits’. I was also awkwardly British about opening any conversation, so they probably assumed I was from Albania.
After breakfast, I realised why I’d chosen this trip. The skies lightened and there was the experience; the view. Forest, snow capped mountains and the sight of snaking train through the landscape was just swell. The panorama carriage was awesome too, and I didn’t even feel ashamed at using the word awesome.
The journey continued and the scenery got more and more awesome, with snow and mountains and snow and mountains. Always a crowd pleaser! The lady next to me asked I knew where we were. I clearly looked local in my redneck type cap.
Lunch was wholly microwaved and a scold risk.
The snack shop guy is quite jovial though, I think he thinks he’s a movie star. There’s also a nice lady taking care of my car, business class. She knows our needs.
Taking photos of the scenery is so bloody hard. Every time I get ready, some trees appear alongside or we enter a tunnel. Plus, the windows are a bit dirty. As I laid trying to sleep, every time I saw some great scenery I assembled myself to shoot, then said scenery disappeared. I must’ve looked a right doofus to my fellow passengers. Or the unluckiest man alive.
We passed for hours and hours through Oregon. There were lots of snow, tree and generally damp looking things.
Things started to get ugly though, as the delay somehow manifested itself into around 4 hours. My fellow passengers were not as calm as I. I indeed felt like punching the guy across the aisle who complained about his mere 30 minute trip being delayed.
Ooh, drama! Well, anyway, I ordered some food to my seat to call me, and it was delivered to me by a porter lady called Ginge. As I ate, Mr Angry of Tacoma etched out an angry email with his MacBook keys, and occasionally broke into complaint-related Tourette’s.
Then, even I got fed up. It was dark, I was aching and stiff and feeling two days of travel. But, damn, I could be in a much worse situation! The aches were worth it for the chance to have got so close to an awesome, and mostly remote, landscape.