In a side by side comparison of trains, planes, and cars, trains are the greenest way to travel. Assuming you are not carpooling, purchasing a plane ticket will halve your greenhouse gas contribution when compared to driving, and taking a train will HALVE THAT!
But what about the experience of it all? Can taking a train not only be better for the environment, but better for you? Recently, my mom and I made the journey from Sacramento CA to Portland OR on the Amtrak Coast Starlight. Would I do it again? Absolutely.
To be fair, the journey did not start off well. The train (as is my usual experience with Amtrak trains) was late. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but when your boarding time was supposed to be midnight and it turns into 1:30am, early birds like me get crabby. However, I was surprised to find that the seats were pretty comfortable. Since I am short, the leg rest provided me ample room to stretch out. The car being less than fully occupied also meant that I could have a whole two seats to myself. I had bought a souvenir Amtrak “comfort pack” for my mother and I, complete with a blanket, eye mask, blow up pillow, and a few other little odds and ends. Mom took the eye mask, I took the pillow and the blanket, and we settled in for a little shut eye as the train moved forwards into the dark.
I woke up at 6:30am, which did not surprise me. What did surprise me was the view when I peeked out of the curtain.
Sunrise in the mountains is spectacular! Whispering, I woke my mother and we both agreed that such a view demanded hot coffee and breakfast in the breakfast car.
Breakfast was served to us be a cheery (and cheeky) young man from Columbia. Being vegan, I had steal cut oatmeal with fruit while my mother settled for a veggie omelet with a side of grits. The food was okay, the coffee was good, and the views continued to be fantastic. I almost wish they didn’t serve us quite so fast. We chatted with fellow travelers before making our way back to our seats.
I tried to nap, but the views kept waking me from my slumber. From a sunny morning, we plunged upwards and onwards, into a snow storm. The mountains and the trees grew bigger, and sometimes the ground fell away beneath us. Mom and I moved to the viewing car, where I felt like I was in an entirely different world. If you were to have given me hot cacao and told me I was on the Polar Express, I would have believed you!
It was either that, or I was in a museum theme park ride, and a saber tooth tiger was going to jump out at me at any second! Sometimes things are just so real that they feel as if they have to be fake. I couldn’t believe where I was or what I was doing. I hadn’t seen any sign of human habitation for hours. I felt in my bones, that if I were to magically be transported out of the train and out of view of the train tracks, I would die of exposure long before anyone ever came close to finding me. The thrill of that thought kept me bright eyed until the snow faded to mossy tree trunks and green leaves. When the first farms were sighted, along with adorable spring lambs gallivanting about as if they were in some cheesy post card, I was finally able to drift off into a little nap.
When I arrived in Portland, I realized that I had just spent the most unproductive 12 hours in 10 years. There was no internet (there is in business class, but not in coach) and very little cell phone service for most of the Amtrak trip. I was a little too tired to study, so I had simply talked with my mother, napped, and watched the scenery go by. I was left with nothing to show for my trip, except some pictures, a desire for more coffee, and an incredible appreciation for California’s National Parks. And in many ways, that was as it should have been. When was the last time you did nothing but talk with a loved one for a couple of hours? Or sat quietly in thought? Try doing that for 12! It is incredibly relaxing and makes what is usually just a mission (get from Point A to Point B) into an experience. I never had that feeling of enjoyment in a plane, and certainly not in a car. I have also never appreciated views like I did on the Cascade Starlight when I was hiking or biking around. I guess hiking and biking to me is, like most travel, a mission. When I hike it is for exercise, and mountains are just obstacles to be concurred. Amtrak, somehow, turned our trip into a little something more. Maybe it is the history of it all; the feeling that someone, fifty years ago, took the same route that my mom and I did. I wonder if they felt any different, when civilization gave way to wilderness, and when the wilderness regretfully spat them back out into civilization.
I plan on making the Cascade Starlight a regular fixture on vacations from now on. I loved spending the time with my mother, and I loved just sitting, snacking, and enjoying how beautiful the world can really be. My only regret? Not getting a Moscow mule from the bar. That, or some spiked hot chocolate, would have made the trip complete. Furthermore, booking a month in advance, I was able to get a coach ticket for $66. That is about $60 cheaper than a plane ticket, especially with baggage.
In conclusion? Trains. Good for the planet, good for your budget, and yes… good for you too!
My new to do list? ALL OF THESE!
This week in updates: Disoriented
This week I flew back late on Sunday, worked Monday, had off Tuesday, worked Wednesday/Thursday, and now I have ready crew Friday. (Yay, first cake Friday!) I get off of work Saturday, go to boxing, help a friend move, slumber party, then limp home for an afternoon of laundry and cooking before I start my 6 day work week. When I woke up Monday I honestly didn’t know where I was. The fact that I just left Jesse hasn’t helped, and neither has the start of the worst week of the month, which left me pale, tired, and feeling chubby. However, I have had some unaccustomed back up (see below) and I think everything is working out pretty well. I certainly have had to use less pain killers, because unlike tampons, these black little numbers are super comfortable. Is there a review in the future? You bet!
The Recipe: Simple Vegan Caramel Sauce
I hate that no one makes real caramel anymore. Caramel made with corn syrup? Yeck! Caramel is just caramelized sugar, and with the help of a little soy milk, you have an easy peasy vegan caramel sauce. Just make sure not to drip any on you. That stuff is HOT! Makes about 3/4 cup.
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup soy milk
- Put the sugar in a non stick pan over medium heat.
- Stir constantly until sugar begins to melt. It will happen, TRUST. But whatever you do DON"T STOP STIRRING OR IT WILL BURN.
- Watch in awe as the sugar melts.
- Keep stirring until all of the sugar is dissolved and it is a uniform caramel color.
- SLOWLY add the soy milk and keep stirring.
- Once all the soy milk is incorporated, stir for another 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool.