Riding the Rails, the Challenges and Joys
Our First Vacation in Six Years: The Trip
|Amtrak arrives at the Las Vegas, NM historic train depot|
Amtrak is a great option for anyone who wants to get from here to there, hates airports and doesn’t want to drive. You can indeed see the country as it lurches by and if you are in a roomette or deluxe room, you get an unending number of meals. Well, not unending, but it seems one meal service is barely over before the steward starts taking reservations for the next one.In our little corner of the world—Las Vegas, NM—we still have an Amtrak station. When we decided to take a trip to Pismo Beach, Calif., one of our favorite destinations, we decided the rail was the way to go. Realizing there would be challenges, like getting a rental car, we decided to go to AAA Travel in Santa Fe, NM, (thank you Teodora!) for help in planning the trip.
It had been at least 15 years since we took a train trip, also to Pismo Beach. For that trip we got off the train in Pasadena, boarded an Amtrak bus, and arrived in Bakersfield, where one of our sons was living. Knowing he would pick us up at the bus terminal took care of concerns about getting to the car rental agency located at the Bakersfield airport.
This time we didn’t have that advantage. We had to rely on AAA to make arrangements for us to get from the San Luis Obispo depot, where we got off the train, to the SLO airport car rental agency. On the return trip we had to get the car back and find transportation to the SLO train station before the Pacific Surfliner left at 6:45 a.m. for our connection at Union Station in Los Angeles. Thanks to AAA we got the car rented in advance (of course) and an agreement from Hertz to pick us up at the train station. To make life easier on our return date, AAA located the phone number of a 24-hour cab company that would pick us up at the airport and get us to the train station. Am I making this too complicated? Perhaps, but we are at a point in our lives when things like tight schedules and the possibility of missing our connections makes us nervous, VERY nervous.
The on-board portion of the trip went like clockwork (or as much as train travel can) and I’m pleased to say the trip was flawless. Well, maybe not the part where we had to wait for three hours for the coroner to release the track ahead because someone had been hit by a train coming the other way, but that’s another story.
Travel on the whole—moving down the track—was fine. Sleeping on the train? Yikes. We took a roomette (which we did the last time we went by train) believing this would be more comfortable than going by coach. We were on the train overnight going and coming and it made sense to have the privacy of a roomette and a bed to sleep on. Having a bathroom down the hall was a bit inconvenient (I’m being kind here) but we managed, sort of.
I can tell you my bones still ache. My husband is still recovering from a crack on the head and a fall from the top bunk. It happened when he tried to get up in the middle of the night, forgot there was no head room, and then missed the step on his way to floor level. Between knocking himself silly and a bruised and swollen leg he refused to get back on that precarious perch, and wouldn’t let me get up there either. We spent the rest of the night wedged like two sardines on the bottom bunk. That, my friends, is true love.
Even though there was a shower down the passageway, the idea of using it was pretty off putting when I thought about the jerky movement of the train and a slight discomfort (outright terror?) that the lock wouldn’t hold and someone would walk in on me. Grimy doesn’t begin to describe how both of us felt after getting off the train going and coming.
We had traveled this way before and didn’t remember it being so uncomfortable. It finally dawned on me that the real difference is that we’re both 15 years older and 15 to 20 pounds heavier. Those roomettes are not designed for anyone with any meat on them at all!
Using the toilet was a whole other adventure, and forget brushing your teeth, trying to freshen your makeup (this is where guys definitely have an advantage) and organizing your hair when you’ve been sleeping (more or less) on it all night.
There are options to the roomette of course. The coach cars do have quite comfortable seats that recline. We have friends who have traveled this way and found it perfectly acceptable. Others have said it’s fine as long as everyone in the car agrees to settle down and sleep, but that doesn’t always happen. One friend told us of a trip to Chicago. “At about midnight one family hauled out their sandwiches and wine and made a party of it.”
The other option is a “deluxe” room, which has a bathroom and a foldout bed at floor level that will accommodate two people so no one has to ride the rails suspended on something the size of a half-panel of a folding door.
Would we do it again? Yes. Does that surprise you? It’s an adventure. There is something wonderful about riding on a train, but only if you’re not in a hurry. Maybe that’s it. You are forced to relax and reset you internal mad rush to nice and easy, slow but sure.
What I liked:
- Train travel is affordable.
- You do get to see the country.
- The slower pace (if you’re ready for it).
- The attendants, conductors, red caps, and other staff members affiliated with the train are wonderful.
- The food is okay and there is no lack of it. (Coach pays for meals; roomette and deluxe travelers meals are complimentary, except for alcohol).
- Seating in the dining car is family style so you get to meet interesting people.
- On the whole other passengers are courteous and respectful.
- The train depots are wonderful, harking back to another era.
- There is no hassle related to terrorist and security issues (ala airport TSA craziness)
- The “crossover” from one car to the next
Overall the experience was enjoyable.
More about the journey next time.