Monday, 22 August 2011

Trekking Down the West Coast by Rail

When Jules was planning our big trip to the US and Canada, she asked me how I would feel about undertaking a long train trip from Seattle down to Los Angeles. We have always enjoyed a good train journey, but this one would be a thirty-four hour run so she just needed to check whether I was up for it. We both agreed that after five weeks of serious travelling, a long relaxing train trip might be timely. So early one morning we boarded what they call the ‘Coast Starlight’ and settled in for the long ride south, which was made even easier with the complimentary champagne that was provided upon boarding. We initially made our way through to familiar territory in and around Portland, but eventually we began our gradual ascent into the Cascade Mountains. Slowly, civilisation began to be left behind and our attention was locked to our window as the beauty of the Oregon pine forest and stunning mountain views captivated our attention. We were directed over the PA to specific areas to view by the often humorous conductors and more particularly by a very friendly gentleman named Gareth who was running the ‘Parlour Lounge’ where we ate as the sun began to slowly set. In the morning we woke to a very different landscape and in our sleepy daze we thought that we might be back in Australia. We had actually crossed into California and the lush green mountains were now long gone, being replaced by dry open plains. From the comfort of our sleeper cabin, we could see wheat fields, gum trees and grape vines that looked all too familiar. The only difference was when we would come across the occasional collection of oil wells that looked like a scene straight out of the James Dean movie ‘Giant’. We passed through San Jose before eventually hitting the coast for what we were told would be the most picturesque part of the journey and the sunny day would ensure that the Pacific Ocean would indeed look its best. As described, this stretch was quite amazing as the tracks hugged a rugged coastline that again looked very Australian. Back in the Parlour Car, Gareth was again providing his chirpy comments on the passing scenery, based upon his twenty-two years of experience running up and down the line. Being the height of summer, areas like Santa Barbara were bustling and the increased action suggested that Los Angeles was not far away. The truth was however, that we still had two hours to go and as the sun set, we eventually saw the lights of the big city and slowly pulled into Union Station. Our rail journey was over and to our surprise it had gone very quickly. Gareth had kept us entertained and made sure that we were looked after with a steady supply of meals and the odd glass of red wine. There certainly was no need to visit the on-board cinema, everything we needed to see was right outside the window.

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