The Empire Builder
This train, man. I’ve been on this train for as many months as I’ve been doing this blog, and I’ve yet to tire of its views. Stretching across the northwest, it connects Seattle and Portland to Chicago, taking you through some of the most mountainous and also some some of the flattest land in the US. And as you can see from the photos above, you get some stupid-good views.
Not to say this train isn’t without its hardships. The oil boom in North Dakota and eastern Montana is mainly reliant on freight trains to ship oil out of the area, and coupled with the extremely cold winter (and it’s effects on equipment) there have been huge delays in the train’s run time. It’s a bit of a roulette, unfortunately, as these problems only sometimes effect the train’s service.
Honestly, for me it’s hard not to ignore the irony of the most environmentally-friendly mode of transportation (minus bicycling, natch) being affected by out insatiable desire for oil. I’ll leave you to your own politics there. But, I don’t want to put a sour taste in your mouth about this train, because if you start worrying about time delays with the US’s trains you really do miss the forest for the trees. The delays can actually work in your favor for sightseeing, of which these pictures are only a small, small sampling.
Once you see it for yourself, it’ll be much easier to accept those little nuisances for all of this train’s beautiful attributes. See, my first time ever taking this train was back in October, when I became one of its 530,000 passengers for 2013. Despite all the things I had already seen and done in the past 13 days, leaving Portland it was easy for me to fall in love with the beautiful, remote parts of the country the Empire Builder takes you through.
This train is in it’s 85th year of running, which is pretty bad ass, and I was treated to one of its fancy roomettes. From reading this blog, you all know I do all this traveling on an incredibly tight budget, so I’ve always been riding in coach. Coach seats are huge and comfy on their own and super easy to sleep in, but I’m not gonna lie it was to be spoiled a little on this trip, mainly because I got to sleep laying all the way down. Luxury.
Pulling back in to Chicago, I was reunited yet again not just with my home, my friends, and my dog, but also with the satisfied feeling of having had another amazing adventure. This is such a great addiction to feed, and I’m already planning for my next fix. It’s been fun being out alone in nature, but I’m thinking somewhere a bit more densely populated, maybe back east? What do you y’all think?
Me and trains, man. Me and trains.
Train Number 29
This train means a lot to me.
Photos from the Capital Limited, a train I actually take like once a year to go back to rural Virginia and visit family that I don’t see often enough.
I cut out most of the mushy stuff.
Train Number 50
There are two routes to get to Washington, D.C. from Chicago. The shorter of the two is the Capital Limited, which takes you through the northern halves of Indiana and Ohio before cutting straight through Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland. The Cardinal, however, literally meanders through the southern parts of Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia, choosing to ride the Virginia/West Virginia border into D.C. and avoiding those yankee states entirely.
That, and it takes six hours longer.
In a lot of ways, the Cardinal has the classical notions of taking the train. It’s a single-level train, with just a small lounge to sit and have coffee in. It takes you on a twisty route through appalachia, and there’s no doubt you’re going through coal country. You’ll see cleared land, and not shortly after energy plants and coal-based towns accompany. I grew up in rural Virginia, and trips to West Virginia always meant being a passenger in long car rides through the tree-dense hills. This scenic train ride brought me back to that in many ways, and reminded me a lot of my trip on the Coast Starlight (see the pictures from that here), but Burtynsky-esque scenes that pocked the landscape were sobering.
That said, this was an incredibly social train as well. I’m a total weirdo and talk to strangers pretty frequently, that’s just part of taking pictures of people, but living in big cities the past seven years almost made me forget about how chatty people from the country are. These folk, with their bright, full faces that laugh easy, are ice breakers for those of us who treat public transportation as a daily exercise in burying yourself in a phone or book and interacting with as few people as possible.
The Cardinal left Chicago only half-full, but by morning it was loaded with complete strangers enjoying the company of their new friends. I even had a cartoon drawn of me wearing a narwhal costume for some reason.
It’s been a month since I was on this train, but I’m getting on another train in four hours.
I couldn’t be more happy.
Polaroids of our new years eve party by Brent Knepper.
New years is the anniversary of Cards Against Humanity (this was our fourth birthday), and we always like to have a little celebration to mark the occasion. This year we rented the Open Loft in Boys’ Town and invited all of the friends who we’ve worked with throughout the year to hang out with us.
We had Spelunky and Samurai Gunn tournaments (Nick Suttner got a jetpack in a crate in 1-2 and got to the city of gold, winning by a landslide; I think Mike Boxleiter was the best at Samurai Gunn) and we played Werewolf, The Resistance, Coup, Dungeon Roll, Anomia, Timeline and all of our other favorite party games that aren’t Cards Against Humanity.
At midnight we sang and danced to Jonathan Mann’s 2013 song.
I often worry that there’s not a “scene” for the things that I love and I don’t fit in at events for games or graphic design or comedy or whatever, but ending the year with all of the designers, comedians, hackers, game developers, and friends that I’ve been lucky enough to spend the last twelve months with felt pretty close.
Thank you all for making 2013 an incredible year. Now let’s do it again.
Aw jeez with the emotions again.
What an amazing night with so many of my amazing friends that I photographed with an amazingly awful camera.
Train Number 28
It took me two and a half months to come up with writing okay enough to justify posting this.
The Empire Builder. The last train of the trip that I thought it might be cool to run a blog for, and now thousands of you follow it (you all are crazy and I love you). I spent about fifty hours total on this train, with a nice break twenty hours in to hike up a mountain, admire the views, check my phone, and eat pizza. The country this train takes you through is stupid, by the way. It’s so beautiful that it was pretty hard to do anything other than sit quietly, eat oreos, and feel appreciative.
So many things could have gone wrong on this trip, you know? Like, I guess there were two situations where I was stupid and risked my health/safety. That’s just part of the deal with these things I think. Besides, I can’t even count how many good things happened. All the amazing little moments that make up an adventure like this. All the sweating. All the tastes. All the people. It’s all still very real and I can feel my emotions change whenever I read back through everything here. If you picked up on this blog late into the trip, or after the fact, you owe yourself to go through from the beginning. At the bottom of this blog, I’ve added links to posts from each train I’ve taken, and each place I went to. Tryin’ to make it easy for you guys.
Train travel in the US is a really unique experience, and while I’ve done a lot of it over the years, dedicating two weeks of your life to it is something everyone should try. When I first started telling people about the idea for this trip, they made a lot of references to going to Europe and train tourism. That’s cool and all, but there’s something very special about this whole trip starting from my local train station, covering an area twice as wide as Europe, and having the travel only cost $450.
So, now I’m addicted to this kind of exploring and adventuring, and I’m still taking trains to places! Since this trip, I’ve dedicated to taking shorter train adventures once a month, and I’ve decided to let this blog be the landing spot for photos for all my train travel from now on. I’d love to see what all I can do with this thing, and hopefully in the spring I’ll be able to do another long pass.
I got all emotional yesterday.
Train Number 14
Now, this is a train ride! The Coast Starlight was my west coast train, taking me from LA to Oakland, then from Oakland up to Portland? You get good rest stops to stretch your legs (something I’m doing every chance I get after two weeks of being on Amtraks) and a great guy came on in southern Oregon to give an audio tour of the land surrounding the train up through Eugene! According to him, the Amtrak cuts straight through the beautiful preserves and gorges in that area, where otherwise the only roads are ATV trails. No car drive can take you through the scenery this train does.
I just left Portland yesterday, after arriving a day earlier than planned. As to not give the city of roses any kind of advantage of extra coverage, I immediately biked far outside of the city to a remote spot in Oregon. More on that later!
Seriously, do yourself a favor and take this train north one time in your life. Must be north though! The southbound one runs at night, unfortunately.
Oakland and San Francisco
It was a little too ambitious to try to cover both cities. My train arrived and departed in Oakland, and it would have been silly to not go to San Francisco. Still, though, Mission: Redwoods accomplished.
Train Number One
The Sunset Limited. This used to be the US’s only cross-country train, which is to say now there just isn’t one. Unfortunately, after hurricane Katrina a large amount of track east of New Orleans was damaged, and nobody thought it was worth the money to fix it. I took it, including my pit stops in Texas, from New Orleans to Los Angeles. Cutting through desert and mountains, riding right along the mexican border, holy crap was it a beautiful ride.
Annnnd, here’s the other one. Obviously, the weather has been a bit more cooperative for this ride, although there was something really beautiful about flooded Mississippi.
The Number 59 Train.
AKA the coldest train of my life. I think I’m traumatized from trying to sleep on there. Either that, or more likely I am just some baby-ass baby. We left Chicago at night, and by sunrise the train had made it to Memphis, where I quickly stepped outside to warm up in the balmy 69° weather. Air conditioning, man. What the hell.
Anyway, I’ve done a lot of planning and careful watching of the weather forecast for the next two weeks, and I really thought everything was on my side. You can imagine how bummed I was when the train made its way through severe storms and flash floods. Everything of value I brought is being kept in a dry sack, but I couldn’t shake how put off I was by the idea of spending a day photographing a flooded New Orleans.
But things have a way of working out, and on the train’s way into the city a quick shift occurred in the weather and I stepped off the train into a bright, hot, and friggin’ humid New Orleans. I had, tops, another three hours of daylight to go shoot in, so it was incredibly inconvenient to see I snapped my bike’s rear derailleur hanger in half. I called around, found a bike shop who was open the idea of rigging something to work, did said riggin, then set off in search of New Orleans’ world-famous vegan cuisine!!
I’ve been riding the Amtrak for over a week, and this is the first of two trains I have been on in that time. Admission: I’ve put probably too many photos on the railpass tumblr so far.