Monday, 23 August 2010

The Midwest by Train

You're waiting for a train. A train that will take you far away. You know where you hope this train will take you, but you can't be sure. But it doesn't matter. Because we're going together.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception
So here is the blog post from the epic train journey. I tried to write it as we were going along, so it's in a series of (relatively) short updates. I hope you don't find it as wearying as we did....

1 hour to go - we're going on a train!! Amy is slightly excitable and keeps bouncing up and down, which I think is freaking out the Amish group nearby slightly. We will set off at 2pm (central time), and we're scheduled to take just under 52 hours, though the train is nearly always late so we'll see about that.
8 hours in - What the Amtrak brochure said about meeting people has certainly been borne out. Having settled into our seats, found the toilets and eaten lunch we went over to the observation car to watch the plains of Illinois and Iowa rolling by. We sat next to an elderly couple on the final leg of their long trip round the USA, and chatted with them for a while. I was delighted to find that they were the first real life birthers I've met on this trip, and as well as believing that Obama was born in Africa the guy warned me that America wont be free much longer because the young people don't respect the flag and the communists and socialists are going to take over. But he also told us some entertaining stories about the Canadian border control taking his gun away from him and his grandfather being arrested for brewing whisk(e)y, so that was alright. Following that we treated ourselves to dinner in the dining car, which meant we got to sit next to a young couple from the complete opposite end of the political spectrum, who seethed at us for having free healthcare and cheap university education. And then talked us through their proposal to set up a commune of former students. Slightly different then.
13 hours in - I think I'm going to enjoy this. After trying to sleep for a couple of hours I gave up and went to the observation car with a book. A guy was asking for paper because he was trying to write a country-style song, so I offered him paper and my ukulele and we added some chords to it. A man nearby helped out with the lyrics, and since he turned out to be a gospel singer we spent a while teaching each other songs. At which piont someone else went to get her friend who also plays uke. Since she's actually good at it she took over for a while, holding the fort until the guys with the guitars arrived and the gospel singer's grandson turned up with his amp. Absolutely wonderful fun! We just stopped for a while at a town called Lincoln (I think it's named after the car) so I'm going to call it a night and hopefully get some sleep before we get to Denver, though since we're running two hours late already that might not be too hard. / 19 hours in - This morning I woke up in time to see a beautiful sunrise behind the train. Although the plain still feels a little like it might go on forever it is being broken up by increasingly frequent hills and small rises as we progress through Nebraska. When Amy wakes up we'll go and investigate breakfast.
26 hours in - look at the VIEW!!!! It's absolutely amazing! The Rocky Mountains gradually appeared over the edge of the plains, without any real foothills to disguise how huge they are. The train snaked its way somewhat precariously between rockwalls and alongside sheer drops, cutting through tunnel after tunnel. After passing the highest point on the Amtrak network (also in a tunnel!) we joined the route of the Colorado river near its source and will be following it for about 200 miles. What started as a clear blue stream has already become a ruddy brown, with rafters chasing each other down rapids. The scenery is just stunning, we've been sitting by windows with our mouths hanging open for the past 5 hours! We've been assisted by a couple of locals who got on at Denver, though we're starting to get odd looks because we keep ordering identical meals....
44 hours in - we just put our watches back by an hour for the second time this trip, making it 8am Pacific Time. The sunset in Utah last night was just stunning, a group of us were wishing that the train would turn to give us a proper look at it, though with the camera I've been using I'm not convnced I could have done it justice anyway. We're still running two hours behind schedule but we've booked a table for breakfast to fortify ourselves for the last leg through Nevada! Slept much better last night too. 8-)
50 hours in - we've been travelling all day at around 5,000 feet on a huge plateau, though we've been descending steadily for a while now. There are pine forests all over the mountainsides; we spoke for a long time to a Mormon couple, and the husband leads a scout troop who go camping in the mountains. Amy might just change her mind about coming home. We are in California now though, so nearly there!

And we made it! We came in just over an hour late, so the whole journey took around 53 hours. We were met at the station by Amy's aunt Margaret and her husband Tom, who took us home for a shower, dinner and an early night. Amy's picked up some sort of bug, so she's feeling pretty grotty at the moment, but we still managed to visit Stanford University today so that she could ask about postgraduate courses. If it cools down we'll spend tomorrow cycling around San Francisco!


  1. I'm so glad you guys got to travel across the US properly, that sounds like an extraordinary journey! (love trains, just love 'em)

  2. Mr Dad says...

    Can you imagine how jealous I am!!! Fantastic journey. 1 hour late on a 52 hour journey is better than most trips in GB.

    My best ride this year has been on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, steam-hauled from Pickering all the way into Whitby. And the locomotive was the Bishop Eric Treacy, former Bishop of Wakefield, who confirmed me.

    But you beat that. Enjoy San Francisco. While you're investigating the University, do check if they need a Chaplain...