Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Coast to Coast: Utah-California-Maryland

After having dinner with the in-town kids, then seeing Sara off on Sunday afternoon January 3, I went over and spent a pleasant evening with Sam and Madison at their cute apartment. Late that evening, after some adventures in navigation, Sam dropped me off at the train station in Salt Lake City and I got ready for my first overnight train experience in 40 years. I had booked a sleeper compartment on the California Zephyr and I was excited!

My deployed bunk. 

When I boarded the train, the attendant already had my seats converted to a bed. Since I was by myself, I wasn't using the upper bunk, so it felt plenty roomy enough to me. I didn't see the upper
bunk deployed, so I don't know how "cozy" it would be for two people.  I was already in my jammies and just had to brush my teeth and take off my shoes to be ready for bed.  I slept fine once I got nested in and calmed down. I was even a good girl and wore my elbow and wrist braces which generally make it harder to sleep but keep my hands from being numb all day. There were total blackout curtains, so the place was plenty dark, and there were outlets and lights close by if I needed them. I found places to tuck my clothes and even a shelf where my camera bag fit so I could keep it in the compartment with me. The bed was also long enough that I could put a few things at the end of it without interfering with my sleep, so I think it would be okay for someone taller.

I loved the motion of the train, and waking up to the sunrise over the bleak Nevada wilderness was actually pretty spectacular. The rest of the morning was spent taking a shower (teeny-tiny, but reasonably clean, with fresh towels and hot water), getting my included breakfast (lots of choices--I had the steel cut oats and fruit), then returning to my now-converted room with 2 seats to watch the Sierra Nevada roll on by. I had Harry Potter movies queued up on my computer (there was no internet on this train--but I knew that so I'd downloaded beforehand) and had a lovely, relaxed day putting my feet up and knitting.

The sunrise and the Nevada wilderness rush past. 

The Sierra Nevada outside my window. This is my
roomette with the bed folded into seats and the tray
tables down. 

Later on was my included lunch, then at 2:30 PST we got to Sacramento. I call that leg of the trip a total success and I would do it again in a heartbeat. Flying is quick, and even cheaper at times, but the pace of this trip for me was so delightful. The train is much more social than flying, probably because people are more relaxed. You eat your meals with other people--no empty seats--and everyone was friendly. In the main, the fact that there was less stress, no security lines, and a more relaxed atmosphere combined with the delight of something entirely new, made it really, really fun for me.

I can understand why some folks might be disappointed or give train travel poor reviews, and I think it would have to do with their expectations. This was not luxurious or exclusive-feeling. The population was diverse. The train, while appropriately maintained, was not new or high-tech. The attendants, waiters and conductors were all very nice, and answered all my questions and helped me with everything I needed, but they were also helping lots of other people, so occasionally I had to wait for things. As I mentioned, there was no internet (this is clearly omitted from the list of amenities on the Amtrak website, so no one should expect it), and the food, while pretty good, was not gourmet. It's a train, which means spaces are small, and yes, it is in motion all the time (I saw this as a complaint in several reviews I read). If you don't have a sleeper compartment, well, that's a whole other kettle of fish for a long-distance trip. There wouldn't be a shower, and the bathrooms would be used by many more people. There wouldn't be any privacy, and no attendant to call. So, if you're considering this, just make sure you create for yourself a balanced and realistic perspective. For me, because I was going to a small town, it was actually cheaper than flying all the way to Fresno, the nearest airport to my friend's house, but it was over twice as much as flying one way from SLC to a large market airport, such as San Francisco; but from there, my friend would have had a 5-ish hour round trip to pick me up, or I would have had to rent a car, get a shorter-line train, or find a bus or shuttle that would take me the last 150 miles. So, for me, this was actually the best option for the ratio of price to convenience.

I had a few hours in Sacramento, so I went to a train museum that is right next door to the station, then walked up and down a couple of blocks of Old Sacramento. Mini Donuts for the win. My second leg was a regular train seat in a typical coach, but it wasn't too crowded, and there are always a variety of seats on the train--booth style with a table, facing each other, or occasionally, a single seat tucked in a corner. I got one of those, again because it had room for my ever-present camera bag that just can't be out of my sight. Sometimes I get tired of dragging that thing around, but I don't have a better solution, and it seems I always need my gear when I travel, so there you go.

I arrived in Merced at 7:30 Monday evening, and Gwen and Arlis were right there to meet me. We went for awesome Mexican food, then home to the farm. I love that place. I've only spent a few days there in the past 6 or 7 years, but it's become one of my favorite and most comfortable spots to visit, with all the feelings of home. After all the energy of being in charge of driving all over creation,  and arranging for the holidays and seeing my mom, and everything else, it felt very relaxed at Gwen's. We stayed in comfy clothes, talked about our business and generally did what we wanted for 3 days and I needed it, just for the change of pace. I loved being with all my family members for the previous 3 weeks, but sometimes it's nice to be with a peer, and especially one who doesn't really need anything from me. I like to be needed and useful more than just about anything in the world, but even we INFP's need a vacay occasionally.

This place is iconic to me. So classic and beautiful.
Built circa 1905 I think. 

What's an iconic California farm without a gorgeous orange tree?

Or a mounted moose trophy?

Or a gorgeous old barn? 

Or a gorgeous dog? This place has all the boxes checked.

On Friday morning, we loaded up her Mini (which is even more mini than my Mini) and drove down 99, past Bakersfield where my daughter-in-law is from, picked up I-5, climbed through the Grapevine, past the wonder that is Los Angeles, past Disneyland and on to San Diego. We were there for TNNA, a business-to-business trade show for Needlepoint and Yarn. Gwen was teaching and has a board position with the organization. I had been hired on to take archival and social media photos for the show. Most of the weekend was hard work for both of us, but was tempered by the fact that our hotel was right on the water, and well, it was San Diego after all, with lovely weather, palm trees and the Pacific right outside our windows.

Sure am grateful for this pal. 

You know, just San Diego in the dead of winter. 

Finally, on Monday night, after delicious Indian food in the Gaslamp District, I called for an Uber, packed up and went to the San Diego Airport. I rode the red eye to Atlanta, then at 9:30 on Tuesday morning, January 12, I touched down in Baltimore. It had been 28 days almost to the minute from the time Sara and I drove away on December 15.

It was thrilling to see this on the last leg of my overnight
flight. I stretched right out. 

And finally, sunrise over Maryland. Home at last. 

It's been good to be home for the most part. Oddly, I've become self-conscious or something about my travel and wish it wasn't the thing that defined me in some people's eyes, but it comes up all the time as the first thing people mention. I'm sure I do the same thing to my friends who travel and I am upset with myself that I've been almost defensive about it a couple of times. I can't put my finger on the feelings causing that response, but it is what it is. Time to be a big girl about it. I think some of my raw feelings these past few weeks stem from getting home and diving straight into a new stage of my life, one that doesn't always feel like it's exactly what I want to be doing. More about that in the next post.

For now I am home, and I'm grateful.


  1. Your travel includes so many of us and we don't have to leave our homes. I've been so many places with you and enjoyed them along with you. Also happy to have you home. Try to enjoy where you are, home or on a jaunt. They all have merit.

  2. great description of Amtrak. I concur. though I haven't travelled in a sleeping car since I was 6 or 7. ;) If you go coach, trying to eat in the dining car was a little hard to schedule. Plan on packing a lunch or utilizing the Cafe Car below the Viewlounger. The pace and socializing was nice. You can stay all to yourself in your lounging seat or visit and chat in the lounge car.


Thank you for sharing your insights!