Day 1: September 29, 2015--Los Angeles to Williams Junction, AZ

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Two years ago today, my wife Lila and I set off on a nearly-month-long train trip across the U.S. Along the way we would experience an inkling of the country's grandeur, immerse ourselves in some of its history and literature, and meet or re-meet friends and family.

I'm going to try to blog this in "real time," albeit two years later (and I'm already behind! Will catch up soon for sure.)

Join us. All aboard!

L.A. Union Station--our starting point, as it appeared before sundown on September 29, 2015.

Off We Go

Like all good journeys, ours started with a single step: out the front door of my mom's house outside of L.A., and down to the corner of her street, where we caught a bus to Los Angeles Union Station.

There, we boarded the "Southwest Chief"--a train we would ride twice again--at 6:10 PM for a 3:50 AM arrival in Williams Junction, Arizona, and a connection to the Grand Canyon later that morning.

We opted not to pay for sleepers in any of the "legs" of our trip. Amtrak's seats are roomy and comfortable, and sleeping was no problem. Besides, our ticketing would have become much more complicated.

The ride out of L.A. took us through Fullerton, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, Barstow, and Needles, all in California; then Kingman, Arizona, before plunking us down at Williams Junction (outside the town of Williams) where a shuttle was waiting to take us into town. I'll fill you in on what we did there tomorrow.

We slept as much as we could in the evening train--easy enough to do with the swaying and clickety-clacking and whatnot. Amtrak courteously turns the lights down and starts shushing people late in the evening--11? 12?--making it that much easier to snooze.

Let me say a word here about the food: we were pleasantly surprised to find veg burgers on the menu (though the buns were a little tough, as bread heated in a microwave can be). There was usually bottled water (though free water was available), diet soda, and lots of junk food, as well as some fairly decent sides: yogurt, bagels with schmeer, hummus with pretzel chips, cheese and crackers, and so on.

This, by the way, was all "Lounge Car" (snack bar) food; we never once sat down in the dining car on the whole trip. But occasionally we requested the Dining Car meals to be delivered to our seats, with some pretty good pasta dishes, salads, and the like. And of course we sometimes brought on fruit, bread, and such. We didn't starve!

"'Legs?' What's a 'Leg'?"

We were riding on the "USA Rail Pass," which allowed us to travel 12 segments (or "legs") in a 30 day period.

As convenient as that sounds, there are a couple of hitches. For one thing, you still need to book each segment, and there are only so many seats available for pass holders on any particular train. I often found myself sweating over whether we would be lucky whenever I called the operator (or occasionally went up to a ticket window in a station). We always were.

And secondly, one trip may involve more than one segment if you have to change trains, as we did in Albany on our way from Chicago to Boston (on Day 7).

Click the "Our Itinerary" tab above to see the 12 legs of our trip in context.

The end of an Amtrak car, shot later in our journey (the morning we left Atlanta, Day 21)

L.A. Union Station (again)
A Sorta Disclaimer Kinda

Since I'm writing this two years later, we're going to have to put our heads together to remember details--and frankly, we'll sometimes get it wrong! (I just looked at our plane tickets for the flight home, and saw that we had a connection in Dallas/Fort Worth. We had both completely forgotten that we were that close to our friends the McClains! Exhaustion had struck... I also can't quite remember how we got home from the airport, but we'll deal with that later.)

But the pictures and Facebook posts will help. For the record, I took 2,256 pictures with my camera, and another 225 with my phone. Lila took 1,350 and 795 by camera and phone respectively. That's a whopping 4,626 pictures in 25 full days of travel! (Day 1 was an evening train away from home--nothin' to see there, folks, move along.)

Yet, a quick perusal shows very few photos of trains--exterior or interior--and very few group shots with all the people we were so happy to see. We'll try to break down the photo count by city/site later. Rule of thumb: The more fun we're having, the fewer shots we take (?)

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