I shouldn’t be sleepy. After all, I slept for nearly seven hours last night. Could it be jet lag? No, I’m pretty sure my inability to keep my eyes open has something to do with the rhythmic, gentle rocking of this train.
I’m on Amtrak’s Coastal Starlight, a train headed from Seattle to Emeryville, Calif., part of a three-state westward swing that will eventually land me and my daughter in San Francisco. By the time we arrive at the home of the Golden Gate Bridge, we will have traveled by plane, light rail, taxi, train and automobile. By far, the train is my favorite leg of our trip.
This is my third multi-state train trip over the years and the lull-you-to-sleep motion of a train is part of its allure. I can’t think of the last time I was napping on a weekday in the middle of the afternoon, but I sure did just a little while ago and I can’t promise that I won’t sneak another during the nearly 23 hours on the train.
On this adventure from Washington through Oregon and into California, we’re first treated to an almost-touch-the water view of a picturesque waterway. Next the train is speeding through verdant, fertile terrain, bursting with fruit, vegetables and flowers–an incredible explosion of color. Working our way through the Cascade Range, we cut through dense forests and are given incomparable views of snow-capped mountains. As dusk falls, the train is making a steep ascent up a mountain and from the lounge car with its large windows we have panoramic views of snow on the ground (in early June), towering trees and dramatic drop-offs. At times it feels like we’re teetering on the very edge of the mountain.
Overall I love cross-country train travel because of its ultra-relaxing nature. Once I settle in, I don’t have to concern myself with maps, directions, operation of the vehicle, or even whether we’re on time or not. I can relax–eat, drink, read, walk around, listen to music, chat with my companion or strangers. And especially if one forks over the extra cash and books a sleeping car, one can be extremely comfortable with options to boot. Sleeping car passengers have some additional perks over passengers in coach seats, such as reservations for breakfast, lunch and dinner, no additional charge for meals, light refreshments such as juice and water in the sleeping cars, an attendant to transform the seats into beds and an assortment of toiletries, just like in a hotel room.
The rail cars of the Coastal Starlight include a dining car (tasty hot meals served complete with silverware and china); a lounge car where one can get sodas, cocktails and light food (there’s even a 20-seat theater in the belly of the lounge car); a glass-dome sightseeing car as well as the coach cars and sleeping cars.
And if you’re wondering, rail travel isn’t cheap. It cost $196 for two one-way fares on Amtrak from Seattle to San Francisco and an additional $246 for the sleeping car, which makes the total $442 (which included three meals for each of us). Still, I consider it money well spent considering the experience that comes with it.
Those who travel by rail enthusiastically do it for the enjoyment of the experience. I overheard two women complaining that they wouldn’t take the train again, it took too long. However, as our train pulled into the Emeryville station, I and my daughter were sorry that this segment of our West Coast adventure had come to an end.
For more information on Amtrak, visit www.amtrak.com.