Trekking Tales: Testing out train travel

“I hate flying!” the cruise-line representative stated categorically. “Why don’t you take the train?”

When I phoned to book February’s Hawaiian cruise, the man who answered must have been having a quiet Sunday afternoon. After making the booking, he asked how we would get from Clearwater, B.C. to Los Angeles, California.

“We plan to do some visiting before and after the cruise,” I responded, “so we’ll drive to SeaTac, Washington, then fly.”

“I hate flying!” the cruise-line representative stated categorically. “Why don’t you take the train?”

And that’s how Amtrak got a couple more Canadian customers.

With our car in the motel’s safekeeping and its shuttle taking us to the nearby Light Rail Transit station, we hustled our suitcases in amongst the commuters and watched the freeway traffic and confusion with disdain!

In downtown Seattle, a short trundle had us at Amtrak’s station, ready for 35 hours of train travel.

“Best one we have!” announced the porter as he showed us to Room 4. Our tiny compartment had two facing seats that at night cleverly transform into an upper and a lower bunk. Fine meals were included; coffee, fruit and juice were there for the taking; the porter next showed up with a small bottle of chilled champagne.

“This feels good,” we said to each other, mentally thanking the cruise-line’s clerk for his suggestion. We would return to SeaTac by plane – faster and cheaper – but loved this experience from start to stop. Congratulating ourselves that no ‘nasty’ leaves block the view at this time of year, our payback came when darkness took over for some 12 hours mid-trip. We were glued to the passing panorama for the rest of the time: cities, towns, pastures, rich farmlands, and more.

Animals other than cattle, horses and sheep were in short supply, but eagles, hawks and turkey vultures decorated the sky and treetops.

The storms that had strewn debris in the Fraser Valley had affected many trees in Washington as well. Some were tipped over at ground level, but most were snapped off part way up. Many homes back onto the train line – not usually their best side. Even more distressing were the number of small shelters made of tarps, bits and pieces, and hidden from plain view; some had been destroyed by the storm or pools of water. The train’s whistle tootled constantly, day and night, as we rattled over hundreds of railway crossings. Multi-bridges over rivers and streams had us wondering which one we were crossing, while inland, lofty, snow-covered mountains touched the sky. Although our route parallelled the Pacific Ocean, we seldom saw it. Passing Tacoma, WA and Oakland, CA, we were beside huge inlets, sea-going ships loading at the docks. In between, at Portland, Oregon we crossed the Columbia River.

A couple of hours north of Santa Barbara, huge sand dunes appeared first, followed by glimpses of a shining sea, until the tracks took us right along the cliffs above the ocean. Campsites, people walking dogs along the beach, surfers, and swimmers depicted life in Southern California.

“We’re seeing whales!” came the announcement. Sure enough – grey whales spouted as they migrated north for the summer. I even spotted a dolphin in classic leap, playing close to shore. This time, as darkness fell, it was full of lights. The area around Los Angeles is home to millions of people but we knew we didn’t want to be among them.


The train was a few moments early as we reached the busy station that marked the end of this stage of our holiday. A bus took us to our home for the night – a pseudo-old-timer hotel at the nearby cruise port of San Pedro.