So, my around-the-country train trip is underway! My Amtrak rail pass gets me 8 legs (i.e., 8 train rides) over the course of 15 days. I started on 12/15, so I need to be done by the end of the day on 12/29. As it’s scheduled, I have 5.5 hours to spare as the last leg of my trip gets me into NYC on 12/29 at about 6:30 pm. A lot has happened in the last 15 hours since I’ve started this journey! Here’s a recap:

So I left last night (or, technically, this morning) at midnight (11:59 pm is what they’re calling it) on an overnight train from Pittsburgh to Chicago, which was a 10-hour trip. Luckily I was able to get some sleep on the train, and I definitely learned a lesson on how to pack more efficiently for these overnight trains in the future! I had to make too many trips to my luggage to get a blanket, eye mask, contact case…I finally gave up after 3 trips and decided to just make the most of what I’d already gathered, and repack once I get to Omaha (my next stop) for future legs. I think that’ll help me sleep better because I got what’s more like a lot of short, 45 minute-1 hour naps, instead of a full night’s sleep, and now I am feeling it. (My Fitbit tells me I didn’t sleep at all…it only registers if you’ve slept for an hour or more, consecutively. Boo.) This leg also marked time change #1—I won’t be back in EST until the very last leg of my trip on December 29th! There’s a lot of country outside of the East coast bubble.

It’s convenient that one of my oldest friends lives in Chicago so I was able to hang out with him all day in between trains. We ate at the French Market (which I discovered on my two-times-ago trip to Chicago but didn’t get to explore all that much), then went to Millennium Park, and finally to a Christmas market that I stumbled across. (Potential goal for this trip? Find a Christmas market in every city! They’re my second favorite part of winter [after my birthday]. 🙂 We shall see…)

Lesson of the day for myself: look for bag check in every future train station! As I’m sure you can imagine, wearing 3 week’s worth of clothes and activities on your back is heavy! And it’s certainly different to carry that all around a city versus testing the weight by standing in one spot in my apartment! And especially when the bulky ski jacket that you need to bring for those two days in Montana doesn’t fit and you have to carry it separately.

Union Station, Chicago.

And now, I’m on my way to Omaha! Yes, in 24 hours I’ll have gone from Pittsburgh all the way to Nebraska. And this isn’t even my longest travel day (that’s later, when I go from Montana to New York- 51 hours on a train with a 3-hour break at hour 30!). I think now that I’m riding the train in the daylight, I’ll be glad (a) to see the sights of the towns we’re passing through and (b) that I brought a variety of things to do to keep myself occupied…like writing my first blog post of the trip! (Next up is probably grading outtake exams for the class I TA’d this semester…guess which is more fun 😉 )

Eventually I will make it all the way West on this route!

I’m enjoying myself so far but at the same time it doesn’t seem real. I’ve been thinking about this trip for months but in spite of that it seemed to arrive so quickly. Yesterday I was in lab- now I’m on vacation and I’ll keep getting hundreds of miles further away from home every day. I won’t be back in Pittsburgh at all this year! It seems early to say that considering there are still two full weeks left of 2015. And all the cities I’m seeing so far are places I’ve been to already. Chicago was a necessary stop since there are no direct trains out of Pittsburgh that go all the way to the West coast. And I’m stopping in Omaha to visit a friend who moved there from Pittsburgh. It’s not until the leg after Omaha, when I go to Salt Lake City, that I will start to see places that are new to me. I’m looking forward to that in its own right after these first few days of seeing friends.

The takeaway message today for all you at home is this: I think I like it so far! It’s just such a different sort of trip than I’ve ever done- than most people ever do- and I have to see how much I like a trip that’s based a lot around traveling versus being somewhere. But I like the train, and seeing small town America out the window is certainly more pleasant than clouds for hours when you’re flying, or the highway when traveling by bus.

Train routes: Pittsburgh to Chicago- Capitol Limited; Pittsburgh to Omaha- California Zephyr


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