24 Hours on the Coast Starlight

Sunday the 11th, 8:23pm — the day of my first departure. Having decided that Portland probably wasn’t worth a detour, I booked the Coast Starlight to Seattle, 24 hours by rail, along with another train from Vancouver to Toronto on the 23rd. (More on that later.) My station of departure was the San Jose Diridon. The train arrived a bit early, so I spent about an hour exploring the different cars and waving goodbye to my family. 

I had never been on the Amtrak before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Fortunately, the train was very comfortable to travel on — certainly much better than the toil of flying. I particularly appreciated the fact that my seat was about a hundred times bigger and more comfortable than your typical economy seat on an airplane, although sadly it came without the ability to squish the passenger behind me with my boisterous reclining. Most of my time was spent in the observation car, which featured dozens of small tables with abundant power outlets and fantastic floor-to-ceiling windows that provided a magnificent view into the constantly changing world outside. A perfect makeshift office!

This was the first opportunity to test the usefulness of all the garbage I packed, and I was glad to confirm that most of my needs were accounted for. My tea-making equipment (…yes, tea is a need!) was particularly comforting: despite the lack of hot water on the train, I was able to brew myself a few canisters of Earl Grey and enjoy the view in the British manner. My power strip was very helpful with my multitude of chargers and even doubled as an extension cord, allowing me to snag a scenic but out-of-the-way seat. I was very glad that I brought my own Wi-Fi on board (via iPad hotspot), since the train internet could in no way be relied upon. (After all, what’s a beautiful view without a browser window open to your favorite social networking site?) I was almost always wearing my jacket, and it even doubled as a makeshift blanket/cocoon at night — the train was chilly! 

One small tragedy is that I forgot my pre-selected bottle of beer, leaving my bird-shaped bottle stopper without a purpose in the world. Steps have been taken to ensure that this mistake does not happen again.

The views along the route were quite good: small towns in California, farmy looking places in Oregon, green forested mountains in Washington. I particularly enjoyed the last leg of the trip, where we sailed along the coast of Puget Sound through Tacoma and straight into the city center of Seattle. Unfortunately, due to the combination of the train’s speed and the reflections in the windows, it was difficult to take photos along the way. Even a shutter speed of 640 had plenty of motion blur in the foreground!

Despite the fact that the seats reclined quite far, it was hard to sleep in coach. I was only out for a couple of hours at most. Two days like this would be fine; more might be tough. Fortunately, the longest of my Amtrak routes is around two days long, and my four day VIA Canada route is in a sleeper berth.

Anyway. Onwards to Seattle!


September 1, 2013