Last night I embarked on my first cross-country train ride, alone, from Kansas City, MO to San Diego, California. It was a cheap ticket, I love riding the train and I wanted to cross it off my bucket list. I boarded the train at 10:30pm last night after carrying my 50 pound suitcase down a full flight of stairs and realizing I had forgotten my blanket. I smiled with excited and immediately began to SnapChat my journey because I knew this was going to be an adventure to remember.
Let’s rewind a bit – my journey really started when I parked my car and had Uber take me from the airport to the train station. My Uber driver was a divorced veteran getting started back into the working field. I learned some really cool things from this man. He was telling me that Uber is the perfect job for veterans to transition to coming back to civilian life. He moved back to Missouri to be more present in his children’s life and was still looking (after 8 months) for another job besides Uber. He said that Uber allowed him to prepare for the interview process at another job because he is constantly introducing himself to people that he drives. He said when he went into an interview, he was relaxed and felt prepared because of what he does as a driver. He always wants his passengers to feel safe and comfortable, as well as that they can talk to him and have a smooth conversation. How cool is that?! I never looked at Uber being a gateway for people such as veterans to get their bearings and it HELPS them with conversations and being around new people in their lives.
Okay, enough about my sweet Uber driver from San Diego (yes he did give me some great places to try) – let’s go back to my train ride. (#KariTravelsAmerica) I got settled in, iPad playing a movie, snack out from my bag (ALWAYS PACK SNACKS, unless you want Doritos, a bagel, or a warmed up sandwich from the café cart) and my drink. I packed a 12 pack of La Croix to have for my journey. I was then watching others get on and get settled and got to visiting with a sweet older couple behind me. Let’s call them John and Sally. They are headed to Orange County to see their daughter graduate. They have become friends of mine while on this train. After some conversation, I felt safe and ready to fall asleep. I was fortunate that I had the whole front row to myself and was able to stretch out a little. My first strange interaction came about 12:30 when I was about to turn my movie off. A gentleman came from the car in front and sat in the row across the aisle from me. He was talking loudly and it was almost garbled words, it was definitely garbled thoughts. He was saying things like, “The devil isn’t going to make me do that.” ” The presidents are all corrupt.” ” I love Jesus.” It doesn’t matter if you read the bible or koran” “I will kill that B***. That stupid *** ****” I became VERY uncomfortable and turned around to look for support from my fellow friends Sally and John. They were asleep along with everyone else. I made the logical decision, knowing this gentleman was struggling with something or someone, to move a few seats a back. I waited about an hour, he had left, and moved back up to the front. It was a scary moment, but I don’t think he was putting me in danger. I just felt uncomfortable. Moving on, as I mentioned earlier I forgot my blanket and by 6:00am I was FREEZING. I huddled up in a ball and put my sleeves down and hood up and tried to sleep for a few more hours.
I was awake and ready for the second half at 7:45am. I pulled open the curtain from where I was sitting and immediately felt the sunshine hit my soul. The views around La Junta, Colorado are BREATH TAKING. I sat and watched out the window for quite some time. Another gentleman boarded the train, mister biker/smoker/drinker man and sat behind me. He was explaining the different mountains, the volcanoes etc. to me as we rode through Colorado into New Mexico. The greens turned to clay and the trees started to be more piles of rock. I felt like I was riding up the tram at Pikes Peak all over again!
I spent a little time doing work on my iPad and had a few snacks ( these are key to survival of a long train) then I made my reservation for lunch. I had NO IDEA what to expect from the “restaurant car”. I, of course, made reservations the same time as John and Sally so we could eat together. We arrived at the restaurant at different times, but I heard John telling the hostess he had 3 and I was on my way. They are seriously so adorable. We had a great lunch just chatting away about marriage, travel, and everything in between. They have been married 51 years and he turns 72 the day after I turn 27 next week. Crazy right? Sally said the secret to marriage after all these years is doing things together and always figuring it out-together. We also joked,” A happy wife, is a happy life”.
Our most recent stop was in Albuquerque and we had 40 minutes to get out and walk/get fresh air/check out the vendors. I found a sweet blanket for $10 that I picked up and I am glad I can now say, “oh yeah, I got that on my trip through Albuquerque.” I now have a sweet gentleman who doesn’t speak very good English sitting next to me all the way to Los Angeles (we arrive in 12 more hours). He doesn’t have much baggage but is already working on his beer and Doritos. HAHA. Rookie, cough cough.
I am almost 24 hours in and have a full night ahead of me but what I do know is this will not be my last cross-country train ride. It is worth the scenery, the people, and the ability to work from my iPad and keyboard on my lap and just let the sunshine fuel my soul for another day.
Tips so far if you are traveling coach on Amtrak for a long ride-
- Bring snacks and bottled water.
- Bring hand sanitizer as the bathrooms are small and I feel like you should clean your hands more than just when you go down there (It’s on the lower level).
- Bring a blanket and light jacket. If you are traveling for more than a couple of hours, especially overnight, it gets COLD.
- If you want to spend time in the observation deck you need to get there early, that place was full by 8am.
- Bring items that don’t require Internet, I am doing some writing as well as having movies on my iPad to watch to pass time. (Harry Potter duh)
- Bring chargers, the train has 2 charging outlets to plug your devices in
- Sit by the window, the views are incredible and if you’re passing something worth seeing or a celebrity house, the conductor will announce it (at least ours is).
- Most seats in coach not only have a foot rest, but the chair reclines AND has an additional section that folds out from underneath that allows your legs to rest on it. I forgot this last night and squeezed my adult body into the fetal position across two seats.
- If you are traveling alone and extroverted like me, make friends, when you have to use the bathroom, or step off to get fresh air they will keep an eye on your seat and your stuff.
- Lastly, enjoy and embrace ALL things that come with train travel. Sometimes you experience people who are struggling, sometimes you can’t speak the same language, sometimes you meet the sweetest older couple ever. Either way, what a cool story to have logged away in all the other happy memories you have when you think of your cross-country train ride.
Here is to the next 24 hours!