Rail Sleeper and other marital adventures

San Francisco’s landmark Ghirardelli Square
plenty of time on the Coast Starlight to think

My spouse cannot sleep easily at home. Put her in the passenger seat of a moving car, or the sleeper cabin of a moving train, however, and she may doze off in minutes. But it is not that I mind that she dozes off. I actually prefer that I drive and she dozes, as one of the great things in our marriage. As a senior manager for more than a dozen years, her occupation can sometimes carry over into “managing” our home life. But I am the architect and the director when it involves our travels. All the details and the purse strings are in my control for these trips. But as we both work a business together, we need all our strengths to be successful. Then, we take the time to enjoy leisure -together.

Using a little imagination, I scheduled a few days of vacation in January before our business cycle begins again. First, to fly up for a day along the waterfront in San Francisco and Jack London Square in Oakland, CA. Then, a sleeper-car train ride north to Seattle Washington. And in a historic part of Seattle, Pioneer Square, another day and a half exploring in weather cool and damp enough to deter crowds, but leaving town before forecast snow was due there.

As many travelers can testify, there are lots of interesting stories when you take time to talk with fellow travelers and locals. Some travelers will humbly mention they rode a bicycle 3000 miles across the country – as therapy after recovering from a bicycle accident. Others are visiting family, or on business, or moved from one part of the country to a totally weather-opposite (and love it). Some we meet are young people, some married couples with toddlers or a trio of children in tow. Others are around our age – late Fifties, and curious about train travel as we were. “Empty Nesters”, especially those with children grown and independent (some actually living far apart from parents) have more time and the ability to travel. While we were fortunate to have had steady careers where we could set aside investments for retirement, we are not the sort of married couple who need, in retirement, to climb the Himalayas, stay in the 5- star hotels, or be always comparing our living standards to friends and neighbors.

Preferring to travel and see the sights on our own schedule, we often take public transit. Often, the price of the airfare to get to some destinations is the majority of expense we have. ( I recall that scene in Ben Stiller’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, where he tells the Customs Agent that he traveled to the Himalayas from New York via Yemen because the airfare to that country was so incredibly cheap). Over the 19 years together, we have explored Northern Ireland and Dublin, Republic of Ireland; stayed in Kauai twice; leisurely driven up the California coast from San Diego to San Francisco; traveled throughout Arizona, but also spent day-trips and some weekends in nearby Temecula or Idyllwild, California. At other times, military service, or an aging relative we had not seen in 10 years were reasons to visit the Atlantic coast. Those were the times my wife and I visited Charleston, South Carolina, southern Virginia, Washington DC, and New York City.

view of part of the Klamath-Siskiyou wilderness from the rail line

I did learn that the budget travel comparison websites do not always provide the best experience for travelers, and sometimes going straight to a particular airline or hotel website is better. In recent years, as a result of some of these experiences, I have left reviews on a site like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google Maps to help other travelers like myself.

Traveling on Amtrak Coast Starlight twenty-two hours, from Oakland to Seattle seems sufficient to satisfy “bucket-list” dreams and not make rail travel excitement wear thin. Speaking of “bucket-lists”, a couple years ago we took our first cruise, visiting a few ports in the Caribbean. In a couple months, in April, friends in our church generally plan an annual hiking adventure from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado river and back -in a single day. Perhaps my spouse and I can do this together?

Now that we have returned home, our business calendar is going to keep us engaged for the full year. In a few months, we may need another few-day trip to refresh. This summer we have plans to visit Orlando, Florida for a few days. A year from then, if I chose to drive across the country, or travel by rail through the Rocky Mountains, or perhaps afford a Eurail pass in the Alps, southern Europe or Britain, I can reasonably be assured my spouse will at best, be thoroughly excited, and at worst, getting the best sleep of her life.