An American Tale Part I: Amtrak-ing in the West

Trip Start Sep 1995
Trip End Oct 1995

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Flag of United States  ,
Tuesday, October 31, 1995

Romancing the rail...

Armed with a 30-day "Far West Rail Pass" from Amtrak, the US national railway - and a whole host of other items in my luggage which I was to later find out to be unnecessary dead weight (hey, this was my first backpacking trip after all!) - I embarked upon sunny Los Angeles as the start of my great Amerika journey, with a great stumble.

Okay, it wasn't that bad. Just that I hadn't learnt how to balance my backpack and made the fatal mistake of bending down to pick up something, instead of squatting down slowly
while shifting the weight on my back. So it was a tad embarrassing to lose one's balance and had to be helped up by the driver who fetched me to my hotel in Anaheim (whom I have had to tip generously to refrain him from rolling on the floor with laughter). But it was still a wonderful beginning - to my one month of absolute freedom...

Freedom, alas, I found came with a price: hassle and more comedy of errors. After an overdose of saccharine theme parks in touristy LA, I was gaining confidence in my new-found independence and feeling proud at my adeptness in planning the exciting train expeditions ahead, starting with the easy short connection from Anaheim to LA.

With a keen sense of anticipation, I hopped onto the first vehicle that came. Hm, why did it look so much like the MRT (Singapore subway) back home? Oh dear, those seats didn't look too comfortable for long journeys... I arrived at the huge LA Union Station wondering why my ticket was never collected by anyone. And the penny finally dropped. I was on a subway. Coming from tiny Singapore where we are not given to travelling long distances, and being generally "swah-gu" (i.e. mountain tortoise, or ignorant) about tracks being used by different types of trains, I had taken the Metrolink instead of the Amtrak.

Well, we learn something new everyday, don't we? And I did get to my destination, by hook or by crook (oops, thank goodness I wasn't caught).

How could I have mistaken a subway for the real thing?! Amtrak trains were fantastic, superb, spacious, and all I imagined the setting for a romantic railway odyssey to be. With tremendous relief, I sank into the big and comfy seat with plenty of leg-space, feeling like a queen in a first-class airplane seat.

And thus, I embarked on my first memorable train voyage - a 33-hour sojourn on The Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle, with dramatic views of the Pacific Ocean coast, sometimes with the water edges right below the window, and subsequently giving way to gorgeous views of fertile wine valleys, dense forests and snow-covered mountains...

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