All the Parts of the Journey
There was the time the California Zephyr took me through the Rocky Mountains. The jagged rocks appeared before me—white capped and gleaming—and Denver lay below me, growing tiny in the distance.
Or the time on the Coast Starlight, bound for San Francisco, I rode for hours along the coast of California. I sat glued to my seat in the observation car as the waves—mere feet away—crashed beautifully into the coastline.
Or the train that took me into the deep valleys of Colorado, to places you can’t reach by car. Red rock canyons rising high, kayakers paddling down a rushing river. Our guide told us it was the most beautiful stretch in the nation, and it was true.
I’ve woken many times to the sights of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, rising high in the distance as fellow travelers, early morning coffee in hand, gasped and pointed as it appeared. I took photos carefully at each place, with my camera pressed up against the glass. Taking 100 shots to find the perfect one.
Even more wonderful than the incredible beauty that I have seen on the trips, have been the people. I’ve formed new relationships within minutes of being on the train.
I watched a football game during a short layover with my seatmate, a first-time train traveler and a girl who unexpectedly went to my alma mater.
I power-walked downtown Denver with my seatmate on an hour layover, a rush of adrenaline as we tried to fit the highlights in before the train began to roll again.
I stayed up all night with people of all political views to discuss hot-button issues in the observation car, weeks before an election, and every person left with new perspectives from the other side.
I have met famous authors, grandparents of race car drivers, mothers with new babies, retired folks living their dreams of traveling all over the country, European solo travelers in the U.S. for the first time, and folks beginning their lives again after hardships, or those starting new jobs that make them feel proud and scared.
“Where did you get on?”
“Just how far are you going?”
These are the entry point, but the topics quickly change. Soon we are talking about our children and our spouses. The things we wished we had done but didn’t. The amazing places we visited that we couldn’t wait for the others to see someday. You are eating meals with people you might never get a chance to meet again, or would never have met as part of your everyday life.
On my last trip, in a perfect Amtrak moment, a new friend brought her banjo on the train. A musician a few rows away asked if he could take it for a spin. In the observation car, he held a spontaneous concert with all of us sitting around recording and cheering. A young model from California snapped photos of his performance and compared shutter speeds on his new camera with a tornado chaser from Texas. I learned the chorus to the song and quietly sang along, drumming my fingers to the beat. As the sun set, and beautiful light filtered throughout the cabin, lighting up each person, each story, it amazed me that people would want to travel any other way.
I have never considered myself a traveler. As a person who doesn’t prefer to fly, I felt my options to see the U.S. were limited. And for most of my life, I accepted that. With a new job that required me to travel and a company that supported my ability to work remotely, I tentatively dipped one toe in the travel pool, and the rest was history. It’s been five years since my first cross-country trip as an adult brought me to the incredible city of San Francisco. Since then, the train has brought me to Los Angeles and New Orleans, Denver and Salt Lake City, Chicago and Las Vegas and more. The possibilities are endless.
I never thought I could be a traveler, but Amtrak has made me one. Maybe I will see you on my next train journey. We can share a conversation, late into the night, as the beauty of the world flies by.
About the Author: Susie Gidseg blogs about her cross country trips via trains and buses, the things she sees and the people she meets on her blog, The Long Way Home. She is also a content studio strategist for Dell.