Coming Soon: The Cross-Country American Adventure

Posted by Mike Merritt in Travelogue on

My Route Through America

Anyone who knows me knows that although I don’t stray away from conventional trips, I usually only go when someone else is planning the details. Left to my own devices, I end up coming up with trips that are a little out there. Or at the very least, I plan trips people don’t seem to expect out of me. When I went to Bonnaroo in 2012, it was definitely a trip that some folks I know were surprised I’d take.

So that’s why I can announce that I’ll be going on a cross-country, three-city trip at the end of August and beginning of September. Not just any trip, though. A trip by train.

I will be heading to Chicago at the end of August for to take three Amtrak trains:

  • The California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco
  • The Coast Starlight from San Francisco to Los Angeles
  • The Southwest Chief from Los Angeles back to Chicago

In addition to the train trips, I’ll be spending five nights in San Francisco, one night in Los Angeles, and four nights in Chicago. In all, I’ll be away from home for two weeks, about 4 1/2 days (108 hours) of which I’ll be on one train or another.

Why? Who Does That? Are You Crazy? Why not fly?

The answer to why I’m doing this is simple: I like traveling on trains. In 2010, I traveled seven hours back and forth from Hartford to Washington, DC. In 2013, I traveled ten hours between Hartford to Philadelphia to Williamsburg, VA, and back again. So I’ve done medium-haul trips before and this seems like the next logical step. Of course, each trip cross-country is two days one-way, which is a much different prospect than ten hours one way, but I think I can handle it. Indeed, this trip will show me if I like it or not, but I bet I will.

The other reason I want to travel the country this way rather than flying is to see the country. I’m not the first person to do this, and it comes highly recommended from those who have done it. When you fly, you see sky, maybe some ground and clouds, basic shapes of buildings and fields, and some geographical features, but that’s about it. The train trips will take me straight through the country at ground level. I’ll see miles and miles of fields, yes, and miles of miles of the desert, yes, but also other things. I’ll see small-town America. I’ll see rivers and lakes, mountains, and all kinds of beautiful scenery. I’m also hoping to see some nice dark sky, which we sorely lack here in light pollution-filled Connecticut.

You just don’t get to see on that on a plane. When you travel on a plane, it’s to get to a destination. When you travel on a train, the journey is the reward.

Besides seeing America, I’ll also have the chance to meet America. Due to the trains’ crampness, I’ll have to sit with other people to eat, and so we’ll have to talk to make it not awkward. Now, for someone like me who doesn’t talk a lot, this will be a challenge, but I can get through it. I’m hoping to learn a lot about the people I meet on these trains.

I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and if it is, expect more of these trips to come.

In the Big Cities

I also mentioned visiting San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago. These plans are a little less defined, but I have a couple excursions already planned, or in my mind as things I want to do. Both are in San Francisco:

  • Visit one of the Redwood parks close to San Francisco
  • See Billy Joel in San Francisco (already have a ticket!)
  • See a Second City show in Chicago

The city visits will partly serve as breather time from the train, and partly just serve as reason to visit the cities. I last visited California in 2004, when my family and I traveled to Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Diego. So this time I go north. It should be a good time to see not just the city and the Golden Gate Bridge, but also the Redwood trees. I can’t make it further north to the national park, but luckily there are a couple parks within a short distance that should work as alternatives.

Once I depart from ‘Frisco, I’ll head to Los Angeles on the Starlight. I originally contemplated doing a big loop, and taking the Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle (or vice versa), but eventually decided to temper my expectations. So I’ll take a shorter ride now and a longer one at another time. My time in LA will be short – just a night. I have no doubt that I haven’t seen everything there is to see, but I’ll get there again someday. I will get to see Chinatown during my stay, so that’s nice. I’ll be there just long enough that I could travel to see something else outside that area, but I’ll have a better idea of what’s possible once we get closer to that date.

The next day, I’ll get on the Chief back to Chicago, where I’ll spend a few days seeing the sights there. I still don’t have a great plan for what I’m going to do in Chicago, though a city tour will definitely be on the list.

The Outlook

This trip is the result of months of hemming and hawing on what I wanted to do. Do I go to Chicago, do I go to San Francisco, or do I go to Seattle? As it turns out, I don’t have to make a decision because I can do more than one city. I’ve finally limited myself to two major city stops and one minor one, but I’ll still get to do a lot. Almost like a cruise, but on land.

I do plan on writing about it as much as I can, though I’ll be without wi-fi access for large stretches of time, so it’s not going to be a priority by any means.

I am absolutely pumped for this trip. The end of August can’t come soon enough!

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