Three weeks of free time. What would you do?
Travel the world? I already do that for my living.
Lay in a cruise? Too sedate and confining for this globe trotter.
Hang out with family? Three whole weeks, seriously?
I went cross country in the United States of America, my native country that I hadn’t live in for years. The country that I probably explored the least, much to my chagrin to realise.
My original plan was to drive, one way. With my move to a new continent, the movers can pick up my car at the opposite coast and ship it onward to a foreign destination. Well, that didn’t work out.
By the time I found that it wasn’t going to work out for me to drive my own car, we were two weeks away from my free time. I already had my heart set on hiking, on seeing the national parks of Old Glory. From going Sea to Shining Sea. It was too late to just forget about it.
Plan B. My other dream. To do a cross-country train ride. If I had a fourth week, I would have come back to the original coast by train. Sadly, of most countries I’ve been to, the USA has some of the poorest coverage by rail. As I found out through experience, the country was just too freakin’ big. In fact, with three weeks, I really didn’t have enough time to drive. Manifest Destiny, my @$$. I’d say the politicians of the day bit off more than their followers could chew. Anyway, I digress.
Northern Pacific Railway. That was the route I followed. Quite a bit of history once I found out which tracks I retraced, literally. The tracks obviously have been maintained and rebuilt over the years but the route remains largely unchanged. And I got an unique view of the country I haven’t seen in too long.
So I purchased a 15 day pass, that allows 8 segments. I went from East to West. My three weeks was cut down a little so I can attend a family reunion, hence the 15 day option was *perfect.*
I was surprised how many people were on the trains, all segments. Why would people pay the same price of a round trip air fare on a slow economy train ride that takes you only one way at the price point? I’ve disliked air travel more and more lately but I consider it a necessary method of transport because it gets me great distances in a short amount of time. Train in the States does neither.
Passengers fight for storage space for their large suitcases. On the western legs, people dashed to claim their seats of choice. Wait, that’s Southwest Airlines, too!
The conductors and attendants were fantastic. How these folks choose this job, I have no idea. They were terrific, friendly, and responsive. They didn’t shy away from waking up passengers hoarding two seats to make room for a boarding passenger (*yawn* I didn’t like it. Logically, I concede it is the right thing to do). They knew the line, the scene, the route, the areas. They entertained the adults as much as the children. They made their rounds hustling people off at the right stops. They were people’s people.
The trains ranged from two-level coaches and sleepers to single level commuter movers. All of them gave the aura of being older vehicles, but not so old they can carry off the rustic posture. No locomotives on this one.
Train stations varied from the large Penn Stations in big cities to a single waiting platform that could pass as a mere sidewalk if it weren’t for the tracks.
Old train system, run down carpets, free-for-all seating.. regardless of that, there’s a part of my the shivers and giggles with glee each and every time the doors slam shut as the crew step in and yell “All Aboard!” Well, they didn’t yell it, but in my mind I heard it. That excitement got to me, the sense of adventure trilling through me as the train clackety-clacks over the rains towards the left coast. Westward-ho, mates!
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