Always craving an escape from Vancouver, I recently decided at the very last minute to book a seat on the Coast Starlight and head to Los Angeles for some sunshine and to visit my friend Ben. According to Amtrak, the Coast Starlight route from Seattle to Los Angeles is “widely regarded as one of the most spectacular of all train routes”. I’ll admit, I’m still a bit skeptical of this claim and think the marketing team might have been having a laugh during that particular brainstorming session.
Deciding the night before to embark on such an epic journey such as this is the wisest of choices, as I barely slept before heading to Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station at 4:45am the next morning. From here, I caught the 5:30am bus connection to Seattle and barely made my train departing Seattle’s gorgeously restored King Street Station a few hours later.
After finding my assigned seat in the coach class carriage, it truly sunk in that I was going to be spending the next 36 hours on the train. In the name of thriftiness, I had decided against the sleeper cabin, so the prospect of spending that much time in a seat became slightly distressing. Luckily, Amtrak has made slight attempts to ensure coach passengers are “just as comfortable” as those in the sleeper cabins – my seat folded out from below to prop my legs up! ;) It was a revelation compared to restless sleeping attempts on an airplane.
Travelling by train, alone in this instance, brings a particular type of joy to my travel-loving heart and soul. I immensely enjoy the opportunity to be alone with my thoughts, watching the world go by, seeing the landscape shift slowly as we pass through different latitudes on the globe, and feeling the relentless movement of the train beneath me.
Air travel often brings anxiety and claustrophobic feelings, but trains allow for freedom and flexibility. Tired of sitting? Take a wander down to the observation carriage, where floor to ceiling windows allow for an even better view of your ever-changing surroundings. On the Coast Starlight route, Amtrak has partnered with the US National Park Service to offer informational talks from Park Rangers in order to connect our journey inside the train to the land outside of it.
The first few hours seemed to crawl by, as it seems the slowest part of the journey is Washington to Portland. Most of the views on this leg of the trip are pretty standard Pacific Northwest scenery – lots of small towns, farms, industrial parks, factories etc. That said, perhaps I’m biased, as I’ve spent the majority of my life living on the West Coast and take this type of scenery for granted.
Slowly, the lush evergreen leaves began to change colour as we headed further south through Oregon. At this point, I had stopped keeping track of the time, instead relying on the sun for a sense of where we were in relation to the clock. I began to feel a warmth coming through the windows, with the typical Pacific Northwest chill transforming into something more hospitable. Grass turned yellow again, as if we were moving back in time to the peak of summer. Livestock – including horses, cows, and llamas – lounged languidly in the fields, tails flicking away bugs. Although I couldn’t hear through the windows of the trains, I imagined the sound of crickets.
Watching a great murmuration of birds across a gorgeously cerulean sky was a particularly beautiful moment. As I listened to my music, I felt peacefully alone on the busy train and stared in awe at the birds moving with ease through the sky. Oh, to be a bird!
Slowly, the day faded into evening, and the train picked up momentum as we neared the wilderness of southern Oregon. As the sun fell farther behind the horizon, colours shifted and it became more and more difficult to stare out the window without wondering what lay hidden in the shadows.
I soon found sleep, eagerly awaiting a morning wakeup call in California.