This is not strictly-speaking a PDX adventure, but it began and ended there, so close enough. I had the pleasure of taking the Amtrak Coast Starlight ($$$,****) to and from Los Angeles earlier this year. I chose to go this way for a few reasons, incuding the need for some solitude to get some work done, the need to relax and enjoy something like a vacation, and the desire to see what lies between Portland-Sacramento-Los Angeles, three of the four cities I have been to on the West Coast since moving to PDX April ’12. I have also been to Seattle, which is where the Coast Starlight originates, but I took it from right next store at Portland Union Station.
Twenty-five minutes to train time, I strolled over to board my train. I checked my bag and my male bestie and I waited in line 30 minutes, as the train was late. This was good, as unlike normal, when I do not sleep the night before I travel and spend all my time prepping, I went to sleep for six hours, and woke up in panic mode and thus forgot things. So, my dear flatmate was kind enough to walk forgotten things over to me while we waited, arriving right before I boarded (thanks again, Jack!).
Then, we were off. We left in the late afternoon and by the time we hit Salem, OR, we had made up some time and I was settled in and knitting away, instead of working, and was rewatching Game of Thrones on my laptop in preparation for Season 3. I figured I had 30 hours each way, so I had time to work. Yes, thirty hours! The Coast Starlight is not the way to go if you have to conserve time. It is for those who want to leisurely get to their destination or are afraid of flying or Big Brother Security Checkpoints.
Here was my opportunity to see parts of Oregon I had not yet seen, and boy were they lovely. Vibrant, dense rain forest, snowy mountain peaks, rolling hills…it was magnificent. Here is a random window shot.
I had picked up a neighbor in my row somewhere shortly after leaving PDX, but he was nice enough, and spent most of his time elsewhere on the train, including setting up a mat and blanket in some room downstairs in a train car, so I had my peaceful trip still, though I did get him totally hooked on Game of Thrones, even though he could not hear it and only saw some of the episodes while I was watching and he was in his seat.
Despite my desire for quiet and solitude, I made a reservation for dinner in the communally-seated dining car. I had a lovely time with a vibrant, passionate, 76-year old environmental activist; her impatient, bored, but well-behaved granddaughter; and a very nice younger gentleman who turned out to be Mr. Isaac Marion, author of the book Warm Bodies, then also a new major motion picture. Surprise! The grandma asked him some excellent questions about his process from writing to publishing, and I took many mental notes. Now I wanted to read his book, think on those mental notes, and also provide some feedback for him, as he mainly hears from young people. He told us, true to form, that the movie was not all that the book was, but seemed overall happy with what they did with it (or at least expressed no bitterness).
My Amtrak disappointment #1 was that their menu claims that you can get an alternate sauce for the steak (instead of the mushroom sauce), but they don’t have that any more. I had the BBQ pork ribs special instead, and it was yummy, though not as tangy as I would make mine, and I ended up dropping some of it on my white old navy shirt and only had a wool hoodie to change in to, so spent rest of time a bit warm.
Tip: Remember to bring clothing in your two allowable carry-ons, but I skip ahead.
Dinner over, I headed back to my seat to change, settle in, and knit. In addition to the dining car, there is a cafe beneath the observation lounge where you can buy cheaper foods and have them microwaved, cookies, candy, diet and regular sodas, milk, cereal, beer and wine.
Amtark disappointment #2 came when I began menstruating earlier than expected with only three emergency tampons in my bag, no drugstore products in the cafe anymore, and no stops where I could run in to the station to buy some. Bad planning, Amtrak! (Bad planning, Hattie!) I finished season one and decided to go to bed… still in Oregon! Having last lived in Puritan New England, I am not used to the size of the states in the West. Remember that I was spending thirty hours to go from the middle of one state to the southern part of the next, with no states in between. I used to take the train from Boston, MA, to Providence, RI, in about an hour or in two hours if I left from my home in Salem, MA. and had to transfer downtown. I did not get a sleeper room, and slept fine in my chair, though I could have used a second pillow (I forgot my travel pillow), but I think that when I have money, I will start taking the train with a sleeper, as it looks more comfortable and those passengers get some preferential treatment, with a whole second dining car/lounge to themselves and wine tastings each day. I woke up at the Oakland station, and said good morning to California with only ten hours to go (laugh at the word only).
Here was an amazing stretch of avocado farms, llama ranches, and scenic ocean overlooks, including sunset, of course, though I did not watch the entire thing as I distracted myself at some point and then it was dark again.
Here my anticipation started building again and I couldn’t focus on my writing, so I headed to the dining car for dinner. Who you are paired with is luck of the draw, unless you have three for dinner, and I gotta mixed bag this time. I ate dinner with a overly talkative retired guy, who monopolized dinner conversation, a woman with a sleeping car (is her food included?), and a very nice gentleman who got on in Oakland and was headed to LA on his birthday weekend to test to become a fireman. He was very nice and I hope he did well. I was nonetheless happy to return to my seat and get away from the loquacious bore. Oh, I had the herbed chicken and substituted garlic mashed potatoes for the rice (prior to my new paleo days, obviously), because they offered, but Amtrak disappointment #3, they had no dinner rolls. Overall, a minor inconvenience, and I scored the last no sugar added vanilla pudding for dessert, which I took back to my seat for later.
One of the things I have not mentioned is that there are vast stretches where you cannot electronically access the outside world. I have AT&T iPhone and Verizon iPad… sometimes both worked, sometimes only one got signal, sometimes both were dead. Amtrak disappointment #4 they claimed to have basic wifi (Amtrak Connect), but I was never able to use it. They warn you right up front it does not have the bandwidth for streaming, but I should have been able to surf on their dime instead of mine, but no such luck. They’ll need to work on that. Rumor has it that someone got one bar in the observation lounge, but I didn’t hang out in there as I was interested in peace and quiet and there was a lot of talking going on between tables in there. Maybe next time.
So, I departed Thursday at 3pm, arrived Friday at 8:42pm (18 minutes ahead of schedule, giving me time to buy feminine products before meeting my friends and heading to baggage claim) and did the reverse, departing Monday at 10:10am (on the dot) and well, I hadn’t arrived in PDX yet when I started this post, but expect to around 3:30pm that day.
Speaking of pictures, Amtrak disappointment #5 here I was on this amazing scenic trip and I was taking pictures as we sped by amazing forests, waterfalls, rivers, and lakes, and I was taking pictures through a dirty, spotted window. Could have used some spot remover
I think next time I will sit on the eat side of the train, as I had to look over other passengers to see some amazing valleys and vistas, resevoirs, dams, and waterfalls.
Final thought: what does it say about me that I brought more electronic devices than pairs of pants or socks on my adventure? Laptop, iPad, iPhone, and (as of then untouched) Kindle