It has been well over a month since my last post. The silence is all for good reasons. I’m in a couple of different writers groups, and this past month they have required my attention, either reading and giving notes to my friends’ scripts or submitting work of my own to the group. All good things, but unfortunately those commitments fill my allotted time to write for the site. But now I’m back, and I believe I’ll be more consistent with my posts going forward.
I had my 20th Anniversary High School reunion Labor Day weekend. Instead of flying back to Illinois, as I usually do, I decided to take the train. I’ve been feeling antsy this year with no international travel plans (hopefully next year) and felt the need to mix things up and do something different. Also, my soul needed a slowdown. I love Los Angeles, but the place is like plaque on your spirit that builds over time. I needed to get away and shed the callouses. So I booked an Amtrak ticket from Union Station in downtown LA to Galesburg, Illinois - the closest station stop to my hometown - and boarded the train hoping for some quality “staring out the window” time. Beyond that, I didn't know what to expect. Most of my ideas of train travel were informed by watching classic movies: singing songs in the lounge car about snow in Vermont, making nefarious deals with strangers, solving murders, rendezvousing with mysterious women whose motives are questionable. I must admit, I'm a little disappointed to report my experience was different than what I saw in the movies.
The trip was over 40 hours in duration. After a two hour delay leaving Los Angeles I started to wonder if I had made a big mistake, but once we were on the train and chugging east, the experience improved. I booked a sleeper car for the full experience, which turned out to be a great decision. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner were included in the fare as a “first class” passenger. It was community seating, so with each meal I got the opportunity to meet my fellow travelers. Despite my introvert leanings, I enjoyed meeting the strangers on the train, whom after a meal or two were no longer strangers (nor nefarious). I’d say a majority of the travelers were retirees who had time on their hands and were in no particular hurry to get to their destinations. But there were also few people my age, who like me, were looking for a different travel experience. There were travelers from all walks life and over a meal on a train we got the chance swap stories and lend a listening ear. I make significant efforts to avoid conversation with strangers sitting next to me on planes, but on the train it was different. It was part of the experience, and I enjoyed it.
The travel time included two nights and one full day. Waking up to the sunrise over the northern Arizona desert was a great way to start the day. When I wasn’t in the dining car eating, I passed the time in my room reading and writing. I downloaded several TV shows on my iPad to watch, but found I didn’t need them. The changing landscape captured my imagination; let my mind wander and the minutes pass. The best place for landscape watching was the lounge car with its expansive windows that extended to the roof. Here is a picture of me in the lounge car.
All in all, my Amtrak adventure was a positive experience, and I would consider doing it again. It’s not a bad way to travel, as long as you’re not in a hurry to reach your destination. I would recommend spending the extra money on a sleeper car, especially if your travel includes overnight passage.
When I haven’t been barreling down a railroad track, I’ve been traversing trails up Southern California’s mountains, summiting three peaks in September. After completing the LA Marathon last spring I was looking for a new challenge, a new goal to accomplish. I learned about the “Six Pack of Peaks” - a series of hikes up six of the tallest mountains in Southern California - when I was researching local trails and decided to make it my summer project. Last weekend I finished the "Six Pack" with a strenuous 18-mile hike that took me to the summit of Mount San Gorgonio. In total, my summer project involved over 30 hours of hiking covering 80 miles and more than 27,000 feet of elevation gain. It was well worth the effort. Leaving the urban jungle of Los Angeles for Southern California’s wilderness was good for the body, mind, and soul. I’m already thinking about hiking goals for next summer.
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A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES