Today’s post comes from Barbara in Robbinsdale.
Once upon a time, I had a very good idea. It was 1998, and my 50th birthday was coming up. I wanted to do something special for this birthday… not a party, something more unusual and exciting. I love traveling by train, and a friend had alerted me to a fantastic deal provided by a North American Rail Pass. An article in the Mpls. Star Tribune read: “The 30-day pass, providing unlimited travel and unlimited stopovers, will cost…. $645… for travel between June 1 and Oct. 15…”
After getting the OK from Husband – “May I have the month of July off, Dear?” (son Joel was 17) – I started planning. I knew from previous experience that I could sleep in coach, sort of, for a night or two at most. I decided to travel the perimeter of the country, as friends/sister lived at several points thereon. Turned out I could schedule myself for a couple of days/nights on the train to get to the next destination, and then stay X # of days with someone. It allowed me to see almost everyone I wanted to, within the 31 days. (Because I stayed eight days in the SF Bay Area, I unfortunately had to skip NYC.)
The Rail Pass required travel in both the US (Amtrak), and Canada (Via); although it felt silly, I flew to Winnipeg to launch on July 1 (Canada Day!), then traveled on Via across the plains and Canadian Rockies, arriving in Vancouver at 8:55 a.m. on July 3. At the time, this was the one link where no train was available, and I took the motor coach, Greyhound, from Vancouver to Seattle, where I found a hotel for one night and a nice Japanese restaurant (it being the one stop where I knew no one nearby).
The rest of the itinerary looked like this:
- Seattle –> Oakland: One night on southbound Coast Starlight. Spent eight days with sister et al.
- Oakland –> Los Angeles: One day on southbound Coast Starlight. Transferred to …
- LA –> Deming, NM: One night on eastbound Eagle. Spent four days with high school friend.
- Deming –>Jacksonville, FL: Two nights on eastbound Sunset Limited. Transferred to …
- Jacksonville –> Charleston SC: One half day on northbound Silver Meteor: – spend 3 days with childhood friend. (Note: In 1998, there were still trains between New Orleans and Jacksonville, not shown on the current map.)
- Charleston –> Washington DC: One night on northbound Silver Meteor. Transferred to …
- DC –> Indianapolis: One night on westbound Cardinal: spend two days with grad school friend.
- Indy –> Chicago: One half day motor coach: (better timing than Amtrak’s Cardinal for last leg of trip):
- Chicago –> St. Paul: One half day on westbound Empire Builder:
I got to see breathtaking, sometimes close-up views of: the Canadian Rockies, chartreuse canola fields in bloom, a Seattle suburb full of blue hydrangeas, cliffs along the California coast, Arizona desert cacti, southern live oaks and Spanish moss in Florida, a sweet little streams with a footbridge in West Virginia, a duck on moss covered pilings in the Chicago River, cattle facing a classic red barn with a sign posted: “Prepare to Meet Thy God”.
Train stations, some outstanding like the ones in Jasper, Alberta, Canada, El Paso, Texas and Union Station in Chicago.
Then I boarded the Empire Builder for the last few hours to St. Paul. Husband met me at 10:59 p.m., at the St. Paul station on, appropriately enough, Transfer Road – I was ready to be home.
Imagine you have an entire month to be spirited away somewhere. Everything for which you are responsible will be taken care of, and money is no object. Where would you go?