In the last week or so – dont ask – we have had cause to think rationally and logically and sensibly and do what we should and be grown up about it.

Anyone who has known me, or read this blog for a while, knows these words made me itch. So, in order to deal with this other, more prosaic thinking, I procrastinated by making another plan. The kind of plan that makes me happy and calm, and that I might, because it is not rational, do.


I first had this plan – or a variation of it – when I was taking a gap year between school and university. I meant to work for a big chunk of the year, and then travel in a anxiety-safe anna-type-of-way for a while more. As it turned out, I spent a big chunk of the year unemployed and signing on, and then the rest trying to financially catch up and deciding irrationally to do a drama school course.

But before that I sat down in my bedroom, surrounded by timetables that Id got from the big student travel place in the middle of Manchester, mapping out routes and stops, overnights and sleepers, transfers and quick changes, and all points inbetween. Being very much my mothers daughter, there is little that entertains me as much as a few free hours and an armful of timetables.

And the thing is – theres a lot more of America I want to see, even just get a taste of, however briefly – and I very much like trains. And the fact is, the fact that really means I can justify this to myself: I work very well on trains. I can get more done in a two hour train journey than I can in six hours at my desk, as a rule. My working is thinking, and writing, and if I can line enough work up to be doing the whole way round, the maximised writing I can do will pay for itself.

So my plan, currently, is this.

There are rail passes on Amtrak that last 15 days, and allow for eight separate portions of travel. From San Francisco, there are several different routes we could take – cross-country to a mixture of journeys out to somewhere far off, and back again – but I wanted to work out the best round-trip, and the one that we could have a mixture of sleeping arrangements without spending an extortionate amount of money or relying on any form of transport that isnt a plane.

The train routes that would allow the longest round-trip, passing through the most states I havent already been to (more of that another time) happen, as well, to have some of the most romantic names Ive ever heard.

Also, when I planned it out on a Ticket To Ride board – my current favourite board game and a bit of an obsession at the moment – it took up all the carriage counters each player starts off with, EXACTLY, with none left over. And even if that IS coincidence, I dont care, it pleased the bejeezus out of me.


This is the fastest way the route could be done:

On the first day of the trip, the Coast Starlight would take us from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where we would have to stay overnight, and then have some of a morning to hang around in LA complaining again about how little we like LA (it is a smelly city, do not go there). Midafternoon, we would get on the Sunset Limited. And then stay on it for two whole days. Exactly two days and fifteen minutes later, if there werent any delays (which there will be), would get off in New Orleans. Then, after almost 23 hours in New Orleans (there are slightly faster ways than this, but they dont involve me getting to go to New Orleans, and dont give enough allowance for delays at the next stage), we could get the City of New Orleans (not the most romantic name, I admit) at lunchtime, and arrive in Chicago just after breakfast the next day.

From Chicago – which is a very nice city, but not one I have a driving urge to overnight in for no reason – we could get the Empire Builder – yes, THE EMPIRE BUILDER – midafternoon the same day (which gives a comfortable cushion for delays, if not an unbreakable one), and stay on THAT for two days until we get to Seattle. Or perhaps Portland. It splits just inside Washington state and takes the same amount of time to get to either. Wed have to overnight in whichever one we got to anyway, before hopping on the Coast Starlight – the route on which we started the trip – to roll through the Redwood forests and the mountains of Oregon and Northern California, albeit mainly in the dark, and arrive back in San Francisco the next morning.

In its fastest, form, the trip could be done within ten days, and use up five blocks of travel.
But as I say above, the ticket allows for fifteen days and eight blocks. And Ill be damned if Im not going to get value for my money. The thing to take into consideration with the big US routes is that, unsurprisingly, given the distance involved, theres only one train a day on the majority of these lines, and so any overnight or change of plan most likely involves an overnight stay before catching the train onward at the same time you got off it the day before.

It seems like a couple of days in New Orleans might be the most sensible (or not, but certainly the most enjoyable) way of using a couple of extra nights, as well as meaning we could find a laundrette and get washing done, which would allow us to travel lighter. And the strong temptation is to break the long leg across the top of the country – the EMPIRE BUILDER, let us not forget – by simply getting off the train as it passes through somewhere remarkably beautiful (Glacier National Park seems to be the obvious choice) and spending a night and a day sleeping in a proper bed and marveling at the glory of nature before hopping the next days train.

That uses up another allowable chunk – even though its still the same line, getting on and off the EMPIRE BUILDER (seriously! What a frikking NAME!) that way counts as two. But that still leaves two unused segments of travel, though, because I have a need for neatness, and leaving them hanging doesnt satisfy it. Ive tried to work out a logical way I can avoid Los Angeles and take the gloriously named Pacific Surfrider, which skims the beaches all the way from the Central Californian Coast to San Diego, and still manage to get on the Sunset Limited (which has the added complication of only running three times a week) but I havent quite figure it out yet. Give me a day or two more with these timetables, and we might have a plan.

I think we can do this in the middle of September. I think we will.

I realise this is a lot of detail, but Im determined to keep a proper record of this, and this is the best place for me to do that, so forgive me in advance.

[Oh, and anyone who is willing to pay me to write about this, by the way, is welcome to do so (though I think you all know that I’m just going to write about it anyway, so I can see I’m not exactly offering a pressing exclusive opportunity for you…)(*sigh*) (still though, anyone? No?)]