Tag Archives: Coast Starlight

The Joy is in the Journey

It’s nice sometimes to take a day or two get away and clear your head. Riding the Coast Starlight last weekend from LA to Portland for ITSC and NCCE was my chance to do a mental shut down and restart, clearing out some brain space for the massive information download I’d be experiencing at these back to back conferences.

The 30 hour rail journey was just that. Even though I brought reading material I spent most of the time just staring out the window. Saturday the train hugged the California coast up to San Luis Obispo then headed inland through lush green hills toward Paso Robles, then north to San Jose, Oakland, and over to Sacramento. Sunday morning I woke up to snow flurries as we crossed into Oregon. Passing Klamath Falls the train chugged up into Cascades toward Cascade Pass (about 5000 ft) and eventually down to Eugene. From there it was a straight shot up the Willamette Valley to Portland.

Some Random Observations from the journey:

  • A dozen deer leaping through the hills outside Santa Barbara
  • 12 foot surf crashing along the coast near Pt. Conception
  • several startled cattle scrambling ungracefully away from the train as we climbed out of San Luis Obispo
  • Rolling hills near Paso Robles turned a velvety green from recent rain storms
  • Sipping coffee early Sunday morning in the Parlor car, watching the wind & snow swirling outside through the Shasta/Trinity National Forest
  • peeking through snow covered evergreens at the view of Odell Lake climbing up toward Cascade Pass
  • Clear blue skies and views of Mt. Hood outside Salem. (Oregonians would say, “The mountains are out today.”)

During my rail trip last summer (see Amtrak Adventure blog post from July ’08) I lamented the fact that I was unable to get Internet access on the train. This time I was armed with my Blackberry and it’s 3G connection to keep me in touch with my twitter & plurk friends. This also allowed me to post pictures, videos, and even do a couple of Skype video chats from my compartment. The laptop tethering worked great when I was able to get a cell phone signal. (See photo slide show and video below.)

Arriving at Portland Union Station late Sunday afternoon I hopped on the MAX light rail to the ITSC Conference at the Portland Airport Sheraton. With work 1000 miles away and my head clear it’s time to do some learning. Let the conversations begin.

Amtrak Adventure – Part 1

I’ll be taking a departure away from technology issues for the next few posts to submit a little online journal of my travel across the country with Dad on the Amtrak Coast Starlight and California Zephyr.

I got this hair-brained idea standing with my shoes off in an airport security line muttering to myself, “There’s got to be a better way!” I knew that I needed to get to Washington DC for the Discovery National Institute by July 21st. I knew that I didn’t want to take a “red eye” flight and arrive in DC at 5:30 in the morning. I also knew that driving from LA to DC with motels, food, and $4.50 per gallon gasoline was also not a desirable option.

Why not take the train? According to those “Great Rail Excursion” shows on PBS, the California Zephyr is one of the most scenic rail journeys in the US. Booking a sleeping compartment would not only gave me a private room to sleep in, but also included all meals in the dining car and first class treatment on board and at train stations. It seemed like a no-brainer.

So rather than take a “red eye” from LA to DC, here’s what I chose instead.

Coast Starlight from LA to Emeryville, CA (near Berkeley).
California Zephyr from Emeryville to Chicago.
Hiawatha commuter train from Chicago to Milwaukee.
Visit with family for a few days then fly from Milwaukee to DC for the National Institute.

We’ll see as these blog posts progress if this was a good idea.

July 15 – Coast Starlight

As we boarded the train we met Howard, our sleeping car attendant, who showed us to our compartment, explained how to work all the gadgets in our “roomette”, and told us where to find the dining, lounge, and observation cars. Leaving Los Angeles the first thing I noticed was the quiet. The superliner compartment was blissfully silent. No loud jet hum, coughing or sneezing passengers, or crying babies. I didn’t have to be told for the 100th time how to put on my seltbelt because there aren’t any. And there was no talk of oxygen masks falling from the ceiling or reminders that my seat cushion also serves as a flotation device in the event of a water landing – which in my mind is still called a “crash”.

Shortly after we were underway, Chris, the dining car steward, popped his head in our room and asked what time we would like to reserve seating for lunch. Meals are included for sleeping car passengers. Then, just before lunch Howard came back to deliver our complimentary champagne. (I think I’m starting to like this.)

For lunch Dad and I shared a table with a husband and wife who were traveling to Oregon to check out colleges for his graduate studies. Wonderful conversation – along with a nice plug for the DEN – was accompanied a fine meal with real silverware! Did I mention to beautiful ocean view right outside the window?

At San Luis Obispo, the train headed inland and the rest of the afternoon was spent reading in the observation car and enjoying the peace & quiet of our “roomette”. I took advantage of the time to make a few phone calls just because I didn’t have to shut off my cellular phone – or any electronic devices for that matter. We even had a standard electric outlet in our room for plugging in the laptop computer. Internet access is another issue. There is no WiFi or ethernet connections on the train and I’m too cheap to buy one of those mobile wireless cards so I’m dependent on whatever free WiFi I can find. No luck today.

At 7:30 Chris announced over the intercom that it was time for us to head up to the dining car for dinner. I had the steak and dad had half of a roasted game hen. Another fine meal.

We pulled into Emeryville at about 10:20pm, just a few minutes behind schedule. Ack! No free wireless at the hotel across from the train station – should have checked that when I made the reservation. Not sure when I’ll get to post this or what kind of access I’ll be able to find for the next few days on the train to Chicago. We’ll see what happens…

CLICK HERE for Part 2