There are few traditions more American than the road trip. A cooler of food packed into the car. Great plans laid to see the largest cherry pie in the world or the largest ball of string. Eager members of the party exude impatience to stand on the corner in Winslow, AZ. It is true Americana.
These fantasies become twisted and fade away after hours upon hours of sitting in a cramped car. They diminish to such a point that I can never say that I am “taking it easy” like the Eagles suggest. I can never get comfortable. The McDonald’s bag from breakfast takes up too much room near my feet. The pillow I squashed against the window encroaches on needed elbow space.
Not all road trips are inspired by the chance to see the world’s largest butter sculpture. Some trips are more about logistics than sightseeing. Actually, more often than not, you just have to get from point A to point B. This road trip is the silent killer of curiosity and spirit. They are also the bringers of back pain, fast food diets, and mind numbing stupors from vigilance to the roadway. These symptoms of road trip-itis have become all too familiar to me over the past few months.
In the last two months, I have traveled from San Diego to Dallas, Dallas to Miami, Miami to Dallas, Dallas to Fayetteville, AR, Fayetteville to Dallas, Dallas to Petoskey, MI, Petoskey to Milwaukee, WI, and Milwaukee back to Michigan. All in my car. I’ve crossed through 17 states and most of them more than once. The shorter journeys to AR and WI were escapes to the outdoors for camping and hiking. The longer trips were the dreaded logistical trips. I just needed to get there.
Route 66 lost all its appeal after my second pass. On my way to Miami, driving became inconvenient. On the way back from Miami, driving joined the collection of experiences in my mind that included my wisdom teeth extraction. It was right before the Dallas to Michigan leg that I decided that I would never cross the country again in my car. I couldn’t. So it became a dilemma for me on how to get back to LA. Sure, I could fly, but who likes flying these days?
Then I found it. The perfect solution.
My meals would be provided without pulling out my wallet every time I wanted to eat. I would be able to use a restroom without looking for blue signs by the highway exits and judging their relative convenience. I would be able to sit and look at the scenery without pulling over to a “scenic rest area,” and to put the matter over the top, I would be able to lay down flat at night to sleep. All for one flat price. I was going to road trip across America with Amtrak. I booked a roomette on the Southwest Chief. The cross country trip was going to be saved.
It was time to start taking it easy on these long distance trips!
My trip with Amtrak across America was amazing. I met some interesting people and enjoyed myself immensely hearing their Americana stories. I was surprised to find that I lingered after meals talking to my randomly assigned table mates because we’ve found topics to discuss long after the meal is over. I met a retired train engineer that educated me on the maintenance of the track system. Did you know that there are specific machines that fix the track by raising the rail, tamping down the dirt beneath and repositioning the ties and support beams? Turns out that service is what creates the smoothness of the ride.
I was surprised, abashed even, that I hadn’t considered train travel in my own country before. I’ve traveled on trains in many other countries and found them to be the preferred method of travel. You see so much more of a country from a train. Why hadn’t I thought of train travel in my own country? I was trapped into thinking that car travel was the only way to travel in the US. I had bought into the idea that was made famous sixty or more years ago when route 66 was in its heyday. With everything else that has changed in sixty years, you think that my mindset on the great american road trip would have changed too.
It now has.
The Great American Road Trip is actually a Great American Rail Trip. I have never before seen my country in this way. Train tracks don’t typically follow the road ways, so instead of staring at the taillights in front of me, I passed through farms and grassland. I saw herds of cows, flocks of wild turkeys, and a gang of elk. I even passed the most perfect farm house surrounded by an oasis of trees that threw my imagination into overdrive thinking about what life must be like to live there. Rocks that have been carved by water’s power provided landscapes to ponder. Elevation changes and mountain ranges kept the view interesting too.
The big emphasis was that I was able to see it all. I was not worried about driving next to huge semi trucks or questioning the sobriety of the swerving driver in front of me. I just sat back and relaxed and took in the scenery. I imagined that road trips sixty years ago might have come close to being that enjoyable.
Many American’s are finally not letting work get in their way of travel either. Many people work remotely nowadays but sadly some are tied to their work even while on vacation. Amtrak offers a solution to this with their lounge tables complete with charging stations to keep your battery life up. A hipster percussionist for a symphony learned a new piece while in route to perform it. A young lawyer finished writing a brief on his way to visit his parents. These folks didn’t allow their jobs to interrupt their travel plans.
Moreover, my modern sensibilities were catered to on the train. I had wifi, soy milk, and numerous outlets to charge the four devices I refuse to travel without. The staff kept everything moving. Outside of the dining car there was a cafe car to purchase snacks, soft drinks, or an alcoholic beverage of choice. I gave thanks that I could savor a glass of wine while watching the sunset over the Great Plains instead of giving a steering wheel a death grip due to the glare. There were also extended stops a few times a day so I could get out and stretch my legs. What more could a girl ask for?
I really have to thank Amtrak. After 6,755 miles of driving in the past two months, the experience on the Southwest Chief gave me back my love for the road trip. Amtrak offers 21,000 miles of track on which to experience different parts of the country including other long distance trains like the Empire Builder, the California Zephyr, and the Texas Eagle. Amtrak will be my new go to for transportation in the US.
l actually look forward to my next cross country trip instead of just the destination. Amtrak offers the chance to meet people and learn from their experiences. Most importantly, Amtrak offers the ability to enjoy the American experience of the Great American Rail Trip while taking it easy.