The 54-hour Train Ride

Some people think that I am insane to embark on such a ridiculously long train ride from West Coast to Midwest of United States. 2 years ago, I wanted to take a train from New York City to San Francisco, but I took a flight instead. And now I have the chance to take it so I seized the opportunity. After all, Don says it is the “most artistic way to travel” and I love trains. I thought it would be a good time to relax, read and think about life. I also thought of driving across but snow and black ice is dangerous and was afraid my car cannot make it.

The cab ride from South SF to Emeryville was expensive but fortunately there was no congestion on the Bay Bridge. One of the interesting things that happened was that I was wearing a Facebook tee so someone asked if I worked for them. And then another lady called me ‘Facebook boy’ because I haven’t introduced my name to her. She’s a nice lady who travels on trains often because she loves trains too. It was a birthday present for herself. She would go ecstatic in the sightseeing car whenever there’s some cool scenery we passed by and she would take pictures of everything. It was nice to chat with her.

The journey from Sacramento, CALFO to Reno, Nevada was the first scenic portion. It was interesting to see the transition from greenery to white snow. The train went slower as it climbed higher. There was also onboard commentary in the lounge car which was pretty cool. I learnt about snow sheds which are used to shield the trains from the harsh winter conditions. We had to crawl behind a freight train for a while before we managed to find a passing track to overtake it.

After Reno the sun set and I could see some casinos in the distance. Ate an overpriced beef short ribs dinner ($19.75) in the dining car and met some interesting people. I added milk to my iced tea and a college kid from Nebraska mentioned that he did it once and his friends think he was weird. But he agreed that it tastes good. So I told him in many parts of Asia milk tea is a common drink and there’s also bubble or boba tea. He said he never heard of it before. Haha

When I woke up we passed Salt Lake City, Utah and we near Helper, UT. It waas so named because in the past, a helper locomotive would attach to a train to help it climb the mountains. I ate a packed crossiant for breakfast. The journey from here to Grand Junction, Colorado was the most scenic. We went through many canyons which look like little tiny siblings of Grand Canyon. There was an almost 2 hours delay when we had to pass a freight train and the switch mechanism for the tracks wasn’t working. Had reasonbly priced burger ($9.75) for lunch. Towards Denver, CO, the train followed the windy Colorado River through many mountain ridges and canyons. By the time we were crossng the tunnel through the Continental Divide it was dark already so I couldn’t see how the Rockys look like.

Before Denver I ate some overpriced microwave pasts ($6.75). I tried to ask how much it costs to upgrade to a sleeper car just for one night. The conductor made a call and quoted me $250, which is the same price as the website. After Denver I asked again to a different conductor and he quoted me $232 which is not much difference. I decided to sleep in the lounge car that night, although there were many people hanging out there.

The next morning we arrived into Omaha, Nebraska. I ate some decent pancakes and sausages ($12.75) and chat with a lady who was traveling to Iowa. She told me that apparently there was an arrest last night. Apparently there was a guy with a guitar and he as harnessing people and she was the 4th person to complain to the conductor. He played something and then asked her for his food. So the train made an unscheduled stop and police came onboard and took him away. So interesting. I was probably asleep when all that happened.

We crossed into Iowa which was mostly flat dry farmlands with little snow. It was pretty boring. The only highlight was when we crossed the Missouri River after Burlington into Illinois. After that it was flat farmland again, just with a little bit more snow.

Finally after a total delay of almost 3 hours, the train caught up with time a little bit and we reached Chicago at about 5.30pm. The first impression when I stepped out of the station: smells like urine, reminds me of NYC. Haha. Found a nice Indian restaurant on yelp and treated myself to briyani. Fortunately, my flight back to Pittsburgh was booked for a few hours later so I had some time to take the metro subway to the airport. Pretty interesting and similar stock to NYC’s too.

On the whole, it was a good time to reflect, read Steven Furtick’s Greater, listen to a few sermons, see some amazing scenery, think about 2012 and what’s in store for 2013, chat with random people, and to be able write all these down in slow moving time. Certainly the most artistic way to travel.

P.S. the only bad thing was I didn’t get to shower for 3 days. Haha.