Less than a year ago, I read the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. It chronicled her journey of hiking the most dangerous mountain range in America – by herself. After I finished, I was dying to do something similar. Nathan laughed at me a little because he knew I hated hiking, but I was determined. I couldn’t figure out what I could do (because truly, hiking for a month by yourself is more dangerous than I’m willing to risk). When I saw an article detailing a man’s Amtrak adventure across the country, I was hooked.
The day I left, I was filled with nervous anticipation. Equal parts fear, excitement, and anxiety gripped me as I walked onto the first train. I made it to Washington, DC, without incident, though, and with 2 hours to kill I immediately started the 1.5 mile walk to the White House.
What I saw on the way was deeply disturbing – somehow, it seemed like the homeless population had grown exponentially since my last visit. I was struck that, as I took pictures of the central building of our government, there were people surrounding it who desperately needed help. I know not every problem has a neat solution, but I was filled with sadness at the desperation of so many, right in our nation’s capital.
A few hours and a latte later, I was officially Chicago-bound. My first overnight train experience was not very pleasant. I had an aisle seat next to a man who, while not unkind, I did not want to accidentally fall on while I slept. Adding insult to injury, I quickly discovered this train didn’t have Wi-Fi…and neither would the next one. I was dependent on internet to get my work done, so I scrambled to figure out a plan.
The next morning I made it to Chicago, and immediately started exploring. I got to see The Bean in Monument Park, the Chicago Public Library, the Art Institute, and several other famous places. While the city wasn’t my favorite – so many chain restaurants, too many skyscrapers, and not much charm – it was fun to explore for the first time! Plus, I needed to walk…I was about to get on a train and not get off for 2 days!
A short time later and there I was, about to get on the infamous California Zephyr. I prayed for a window seat and because of a grumpy man, ended up getting BOTH an aisle and window to myself. Yay! Over the next couple days, I watched the most amazing scenery ever…you haven’t truly seen a mountain until you’ve been to the West Coast. On top of that, the train actually went THROUGH the mountains, and I often found myself staring at the snow-covered ground hundreds of feet below.
A few highlights, since I can’t possibly cover it all: we went through the 4th-longest tunnel in the Western Hemisphere, which made for a full 10 minutes of darkness. I got to experience Denver for a few short minutes but fell in love. Even though I know it’s a big city, it felt quaint, charming, and welcome. I’d love to go back one day.
On Wednesday, a mechanical failure caused our train to get stuck for over 3 hours. This didn’t matter until I realized my chances of walking on the Golden Gate Bridge were now gone. I was disappointed, but so anticipating a hot shower and a comfortable bed that it didn’t faze me as much as I would’ve thought.
The last day was honestly pretty miserable – we were delayed 4 ½ hours and I didn’t get to San Francisco until almost 9pm. But it was worth it. My cousin (and hero!) Tyler picked me up and we ate an amazing seafood dinner, got ice cream at Ghiradelli Square, and looked over the whole city at the Twin Peaks. This was the highlight of my whole trip and as I headed out the next day, I knew it was all worth the travel for such an amazing sight – and to be with family.
So…what did I learn? And would I do it again? Well, I covered 6 things I learned on Friday’s blog, but I think the biggest thing I learned was that I am capable. This sounds a little silly, but it’s hard sometimes to believe I’m actually an adult. I oftentimes feel like a little kid trapped in an adult body, with way more responsibility than I want to handle.
On this trip, I felt like an adult. I booked the whole thing from start to finish. I was on time at every stop. I saw so much of the country and stood in awe at God’s creation, which literally took my breath away on several occasions. I spent way too much money on coffee and way too much time reading. I met people from different parts of the US, taking the train across country for their own personal reasons. And I loved every minute of it.
Sure, I missed having a shower for days. I missed sleeping horizontally on a mattress. I missed Nathan. But I got to experience so much. I got to live out my dream of going across the country. And I did it all by myself.
So will I do it again? Well, probably not the exact same thing. I tend to desire new adventures rather than a repeat. But the fact that I’m still excited and happy after days without showering, sleeping well, or eating a hot meal makes me think this isn’t the end of spontaneous travel. My heart loves a good adventure, and I don’t think that will change.
Note: I didn't want to overwhelm the blog with images, so here's a slideshow of some favorites from my trip across the country. Enjoy!