Taking the Long Way Home

Taking the Long Way Home

Early on a Sunday morning in July, I boarded an Amtrak bus in downtown San Francisco, and crossed the Bay Bridge to Emeryville on the way to my to New York. Traveling at sunrise, the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, makes even Alcatraz Island beautiful.

California Zephyr

When I arrive at the Emeryville station, I head to the platform and take out my phone. Unlock. Open the camera app.  Mode: video. The California Zephyr rolls into the station, the engineer cheering out the window at those admiring from far below.  I see the familiar sight of the Superliners. It’s been two years since I’ve been on one; these days I spend most of my traveling time in Amfleet coaches.

Once on the train, I eagerly climb the staircase to room A, a beautiful bedroom that would be my home for the next 52 hours. I immediately claimed the top bunk as my own, but sleep would have to wait–there was an entire train to explore.

My first stop was the observation car. I’ve seen videos and pictures of these before, but the firsthand experience was second to none. They offered panoramic views of California, and I spotted everything from cars to wildlife to other trains. A man from the California State Railroad Museum boarded in Sacramento and, for many hours to follow, provided us with insightful commentary on what we were passing and the history behind it.

Later, I would enjoy a meal in the dining car. Nothing beats the experience of a well-prepared meal and the beauty of America passing by right outside your window. I, of course, opted for the window seat.

Perhaps my favorite sights were the bends in rails, as that’s the best time to actually see the train on the move. A right turn comes as we follow the Colorado River, the engines appear, then the baggage car, and then the front-most Superliner coach. How amazing it was to see snow-peaked mountains in the distance, the river in the foreground, and the mighty California Zephyr dominating the landscape.

Lake Shore Limited

After finally arriving in Chicago and having a few hours to explore, it was time for the final leg of my journey aboard the Lake Shore Limited. This train takes you from Chicago all the way to New York City, downtown to downtown. Though I have lived in New York my entire life, I had never before ventured far upstate, so what better way to do so than to see it from the comfort of a Viewliner roomette!

I boarded the train rather late at night, so I decided it was best to go to bed right away; in the morning, I woke ready for breakfast and my first experiences of upstate New York.  Though I had spent days seeing everything from plains to mountains, ranging in elevation from 500 feet to 9,000 feet, something about this being my home state made the experience even more breathtaking. This was my home, and the Lake Shore Limited gave me a new way to appreciate that.

Three days later, we arrive in New York’s Penn Station. The familiar warm air greets me as I exit the Viewliner and make my way upstairs to baggage claim. While waiting on my bags, I considered my 80-hour adventure. What air travel neglects is the beauty of the experience; regardless of which two places you’re flying between, the atmosphere can only change so much. Amtrak’s trains offer experiences like no other, as you’re right there on the ground, experiencing life in real-time alongside residents of every large and small community through which the train passes.

I chose to live on these trains for 80 hours, and oh, yes, I lived.

About the Author: Dalen Ferreira is a New York born-and-raised train enthusiast and a music student at Harvard University.