Across America by train, a dream come true

Lake Champlain from the Amtrak Adirondack, November 7, 2018 photo credit: Frédéric Guarino

In the summer of 1987 my parents, brother, and dog drove across America from New York to Los Angeles and back. It’s then that I saw first hand that the United States were more a continent than a country. We’d been living in the NYC area since 1982 and had driven down the Eastern seaboard to Florida a few times, but had not ventured west of Pennsylvania yet. I discovered then that Pennsylvania is actually a pretty long drive and my younger brother David and I started a tradition where we would cheer when crossed state lines.

This fall I decided to cross the continent again, from Montréal — where I’ve lived since 2009 — all the way to Los Angeles, by train ! As a European, I’ve always been a fan of train travel, and have long wanted to see the wide expanses of the American West from the ground vs the air. French writer François Nourrissier, a fan of the West, often said that the “grands espaces de l’Ouest” were America’s cathedrals.

I’m traveling via Amtrak, along the following routes:

Montréal to Schenectady via the Adirondack

Schenectady overnight to Chicago via the Lakeshore Limited

Chicago to Los Angeles via the famed Southwest Chief

I’m staying in Santa Monica/Venice for the rest of the month of November to work with Mihai Crasneanu on our new project together. If you’re in LA and want to meet, ping me !

I’ll be coming back via the California Zephyr

and will roll into Toronto on November 28 for my inaugural Lozard Institute class, with Saul Colt as a special guest ! (more info here).

I will add entry logs to this post along my travels, looking forward to your comments !



First stop: Schenectady, NY — November 7

I was recommended Katie O’Byrne’s by a fellow traveler on the Adirondack who grew up in Schenectady. This formerly bustling industrial city has long been a key hub for General Electric, where generations of blue collar workers built turbines. Katie O’ Byrne’s on a Wednesday night wasn’t packed but reasonably patronized and I met 2 regulars, one of whom had gone to middle school with the pub owner (gotta love small towns :).

Aboard the Lakeshore Limited, November 7

At the station waiting for the train to Chicago I met a very nice couple in their 70s whose children live out West and who will travel with me all the way to Arizona.

Aboard the Lakeshore Limited, November 8

Stop over in Chicago to catch the Southwest Chief

Aboard the Southwest Chief, November 8:

The onboard Amtrak steward assigns you a seat in the dining car and that led me to meet some very interesting people on the Southwest Chief: a Singaporean living in London who works for a Chinese family office handling their equity investments, a trio (grandmother, mother, granddaughter) going from Michigan to Missouri. I also came across a die hard train fan who lives in East Michigan and who’s already taken the cross country train a few times.

Aboard the Southwest Chief, November 9

We woke up west of Garden City Kansas and proceeded to cross into Colorado for a short while, before taking the famous Raton pass over the mountains into New Mexico.

We then stopped in Raton, a picturesque town along the railroad. You’re able to leave the train and walk around for a few minutes, a welcome respite.

The Southwest Chief’s service stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico allows riders to walk around the vicinity of the train station.

I went to the Silver Street Market to stock up on fruit and sundries.

The ride after Albuquerque gave us some of the most stunning sights we’ve had to date: lunar-like expanses, bathed in the sunset.

It’s my 3rd night on the train and tomorrow morning the Southwest Chief rolls into downtown Los Angeles.

credit photo Mihai Crasneanu