Train to Adventure: Backpacking Edition
With over #500Destinations your next great adventure is only a train trip away. The best part? You don’t have to venture far in order to embark on a memorable trip. We caught up with Adventure Alan, lightweight backpacking and back country adventure travel extraordinaire, to hear about his recent trip from his hometown of Washington, D.C. to the Appalachian Trail aboard the Capitol Limited.
Amtrak: What inspires Adventure Alan? How do you pick your close-to-home adventures?
Adventure Alan: I get out in nature to recharge my psychological and spiritual batteries after a draining and busy life working in Washington DC. My #1 goal for local adventures is to reduce stress and increase outside fun. The trick is to find great natural areas that I can easily access just a few hours from DC. That way I spend the least time in transit to and from the trip and the most time relaxing and having fun on the trail. For me, the obvious choice close to DC is the beautiful Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
The Capitol Limited is one of Amtrak’s long-distance trains. What made you think to take it just a short distance for your hike along the Appalachian Trail?
Best getaway deal in town! It’s only $13 to get from DC to Harpers Ferry. From there you can step off the train and within 5 minutes be serenely walking on the Appalachian Trail along the Potomac River. And even if you aren’t going to backpack, Harper’s Ferry is a lovely place to stay with a ton of history and super day hiking. Right now you can enjoy the fall colors whether your backpacking or day hiking.
You mention the low-carbon, low-stress appeal of the train. Is this something you consider when planning your upcoming adventures? Trying to get out and explore while having a minimal environmental impact?
First, we try to do our part to reduce carbon by driving less. During the week Alison (my wife who actually works at Amtrak) and I commute via metro or bike for most of our local trips in DC. It only makes sense to extend that to our backpacking trips as well. Plane travel pollutes the most. So we are taking more local trips (no plane travel needed) and then using low-pollution, public transportation like Amtrak.
Second, having a long and stressful drive in heavy traffic (DC’s is the worst in the country) defeats the relaxing purpose of our local trips. This is especially true coming home, where the taking the train reduces the stress of driving back and delivers us home on Sunday evening feeling serene and refreshed.
Any advice for hikers/backpackers taking Amtrak for short or cross country trips?
Uber to train is a game changer. It hugely expands the backpacking areas you can reach by train. Pairing the train with an Uber ride on one end or the other has opened up so many more options than before, especially on the east coast. It’s an entirely new super green, low carbon way to trek.
Point to point backpacker tip: You will need to carry everything with you on your backpacking trip. That means you’ll need to be comfortable traveling on the train in your backpacking clothes. Otherwise, you’ll need to carry separate set of light “town clothes” with you. Ditto for a minimal and light toiletries kit which would ideally work both on trail and in town (if you plan to stay overnight on one or both ends of your trip). For a loop hike (starting and ending in the same place) you may be able to leave your additional gear and town clothes at your Hotel for when your return.
You take great pictures throughout your journey. What type of equipment do you use? Anything you recommend for on-the-go adventure seekers trying to capture their trip in photos?
I have a good article on How to Select a Good Backpacking (or Travel) Camera. I’ve summarized pieces of it here — “Q: What is the best camera? A: The one you have with you.” The old joke is still true. But for backpacking or travel when you are on the move, it can be further refined. “The best camera is the camera you can quickly pull out and shoot.“ Otherwise you’ll miss a lot of great shots. For many, the camera that meets this criteria is their smartphone and that’s just fine.
It’s good to remember that being in a beautiful area and taking an interesting photo in the right place at the right time matters far more than the camera. Many superb photos have been taken on smartphones. And even a $2,000, pro-quality camera will not make a boring shot interesting. So always be on the the alert for a good photo opportunity, then seize the moment and take the shot. You can always delete the photo post-trip if it isn’t great. But the photo is 100% gone if you didn’t stop and shoot it the first place.
Where are you headed on your next Amtrak adventure? Be sure to tag your pics with #Amtrak for a chance to be featured in our Instagram feed.