Posted by: GeekHiker | March 23, 2010

Vancouver Olympics 2010 – Days 13-14 – Slow ‘Ridin

Under normal circumstances, I’d have wrapped up the Olympics travel posts with “on day 13, I got on a plane and flew home.”

I’m cooler (or at least geekier) than that, though.  Since I scored a pretty good deal on the flight up, I decided to spend a little extra time and money on the way home:

I fulfilled a long-time dream and took the Amtrak Coast Starlight.

In terms of expense, it wasn’t too bad.  Coach for the trip runs $98.  I added a room for around $200, but that includes meals.  I figured I’d easily eat $75-$100 worth of meals over the 36 hour trip, so in the end the price wasn’t outrageous.

The day started early, early in the morning.  JaG graciously drove me down to Seattle, bypassing the longer bus ride out of Vancouver (no direct train service, sadly).  There was, of course, the interesting trip through the border (one Canadian passport and one U.S. passport makes the officer look at you funny), but once we convinced him that JaG would, in fact, be returning home to go to work the next day and had no intention of invading the States, we were allowed to pass.

After a quick drive down I-5 and a stop at a gluten free bakery (darn good gluten free cinnamon roll, by the way), we worked our way through downtown Seattle to the train station.  The station itself is currently undergoing restoration, so hopefully the grand room will have its 70’s drop ceiling removed soon and be restored to its former grandeur.

Tickets in hand and bags checked, JaG and I said our good-byes (*sigh*) and I boarded the train.

There’s not much I can say about the trip itself.  It is, after all, a thirty-six hour run, and pictures tend to communicate things better.

Vancouver Olympics 27
Passing Mt. Rainier just south of Seattle

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Crossing the Wilamette in Portland. JaG, does that bridge look familiar?

The train trip is relaxing, for one thing: you spend your time staring out the window at the scenery going by, reading, writing, whatever. Outside, rain fell for pretty much the whole trip, but inside one stayed warm and comfortable, rocked by the train.  The staff on board is very friendly and attentive.

(The oddest moment of the whole trip, actually, came at the end: following 36 hours on the train, a bus and taxi ride, I arrived at home and felt a little motion sickness (something I rarely get).  It took me a few minutes to realize that my body was still used to the motion of the train, and standing on an unmoving floor was throwing me out of whack!)

Vancouver Olympics 29
Green hills descending the Cuesta Grade into San Luis Obispo

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Looking towards the engines as the train rounds a curve in the Cuesta Grade

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The morros near San Luis Obispo

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The sun emerges from the storm just as the train arrives at the coast

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Steaming along the coast

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A rainbow emerges from the clouds

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Storm waves hit the coast as the sun starts to set

I think the drawback, for me at least, was doing the journey alone.  Maybe it’s because I’d always thought it would be a fun trip to take with friends or a significant other.  Maybe it’s because most of the people my age were traveling coach, whereas I was in a sleeping car, on a weekday, so it was mostly seniors.  This was okay, but dining was railroad style (you’re always seated with strangers to keep the tables full) and, while I have nothing against those who are 50 years older than I am, conversation was often difficult and a bit stilted.

On the plus side, I wasn’t driving or going through airport security.  I ate well, read, worked on a couple of posts I’ve been thinking of for a while.  I watched the rain fall outside while staying warm in my little sleeping compartment.  I got to be rocked to sleep by the train that night, except when I woke up around midnight, looked out the window as the train passed through Northern California, and saw a moonlit pine forest and bright snow passing by.

The Coast Starlight is worth the trip.  Hopefully I’ll one day get to share it with someone, but it was still a great way to end my two week vacation.  Certainly better than boarding a plane and going back to work immediately!



  1. You went to the olympics and you did a train ride… tan infeliz.

    (I don’t have a direct translation for what I want to say to you so I just went with straight on Spanish. Sorry.)

  2. omigosh, how beautiful! You saw a rainbow! Do you mind if I use that picture as my desktop background?

    It sounds like a relaxing trip home! But I can see your point on having a snuggle-buddy with you. I really can’t see when it wouldn’t be nice to have a snuggle-buddy, but then I’m probably biased.

  3. I’ve always wanted to take a lengthy train ride, seems so romantic and old-school. What a most excellent vacation.

  4. Road that train a few years back on the way to White Fish, Montana (Glacier National Park). We had free tickets (Thank you frequent flier miles) but they were coach. The coach seats are comfortable but they are a little short to sleep comfortably in (or I’m too tall.)

    Train trips are definitely relaxing.

  5. Arrrrrrr! 😀
    I shoulda bought those stripey socks!

  6. wow! simply, wow. those views are stunning. thank you so much for giving me one more thing to add to the bucket list 🙂

  7. Narami – LOL, sorry I couldn’t take y’all with me!

    MissMcCracken – Sure, go ahead. Friends would be cool too. There was a bunch of college buddies who had a cabin that were up late playing trivial pursuit that sounded like fun too…

    S’dizzle – Well, go for it! It’s actually not too expensive…

    Homer-Dog – That sounds like a great trip, but I can see where the coach would be a pain…

    JustAGirl – You still can…

    BlakSpring – LOL, I have so many more things on my list from your blog!

  8. I took Starlight (I think) from Portland to Seattle one time. Business Class! 😉 It was pretty neat but I fell asleep rather quickly on a train because of all the gentle rolling/rocking. There is something very nostalgic and even a wee bit sad about the whole traveling by train thing. I felt as if I were in an old black-and-white movie. Even the staff working on the train looked as if they were from the 30s! And the little towns that I saw through the window — perfect!

  9. Train ride and great pics!!! Now I’ve got to add train ride to my bucket list!

  10. […] at up to 125 mph (200 kph)), in quiet comfort all the while.  As much as I enjoyed my trip on the Coast Starlight a few years ago, rail travel outside the States really is a wonder to […]

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