My biggest bucket list item in recent years was to attend my
60th high school reunion in July 2023. I live in California. The
reunion would be in East Aurora, New York, near Buffalo, a trek of about 2,500
How would I get there? It would be a solo trip. Could I drive? At seventy-eight years old, I couldn't see myself driving 500 miles a day for five straight days, even in the comfort of my Tesla Model 3.
Could I fly? I've flown many times over the years, for both business and pleasure, including quite a few international flights. The last time I flew was in 2018. That year I flew on eight different planes, all of them Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 Max 80s. Those flights were fine, but it troubled me considerably when, a few years later, several of those planes mysteriously fell out of the air. Call me a coward but, as a risk-averse control freak, I'm not eager to fly again.
Moreover, as a committed climate activist, I've been flight-shamed by environmentalist Greta Thunberg for the huge carbon footprint of air travel. Add to that the heightened security since 9/11, the way the airlines pack passengers into their planes nowadays, and the bad passenger behavior I've read about during and in the aftermath of COVID.
That left Amtrak. For years I've had a latent desire to travel cross country by train, and besides, the carbon footprint of train travel is smaller than either flying or driving an ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle.
So, I bought an Amtrak U.S. rail pass for $499. The pass covered all of my train travel in coach class, which amounted to six trains over three weeks. I splurged on a roomette for the segment from Chicago to Buffalo, so I could get a comfortable night's sleep before arriving at my destination.
How did it go? Scheduling was a logistical challenge, but I was up to the task. And the rail pass allowed for last-minute changes and flexibility as my travel plans changed. Seating in coach was quite comfortable, but not for sleeping. Although all Amtrak trains are supposed to have WiFi, on only one of seven trains I rode did it actually work. On the trains out and back between Fullerton, California, and Chicago, forty-two hours in duration, there were definitely spells of boredom, as well as sleep deprivation.
At times the rails were smooth and the ride quiet, but since Amtrak shares the national rail infrastructure with frieight, there were also times when the train lurched from side to side for long stretches. Freight trains also disrupted the Amtrak schedules, causing delays and making some of the trains late.
The bottom line for me on train travel: I would gladly travel on Amtrak again, for trips of twenty-four hours or less, provided Amtrak's routes can take me where I want to go. The trip I just finished was a fascinating, but arduous, experience. I'm glad I did it once. I learned a lot, and I'm pleased with myself for having the stamina to return to California no worse for the wear, after three weeks on the road.