Connecting dots
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Connecting dots

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

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.

The return trip offered some other breathtaking vistas

The other Las Vegas :)

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