After spending four years living abroad, I came home wanting to rediscover the American West with a new fervor and appreciation. Somewhere along the way, I heard you could take a train from the San Francisco Bay Area to Seattle: an overnight, day-long, 22-hour journey past mountains, woodlands, lakes, rivers, cities and small towns.
So this January I booked a one-way ticket from Emeryville to Seattle (flying home for my return). I knew I wanted to go in the winter because, while the Pacific Northwest has rich and warm summers, I felt a calling for snow and solitude. I will admit I was a little nervous going alone. Even though I've taken plenty of trains in Europe, where their use is more common, I wondered if I would I feel safe in the U.S. of A. But trusting my safety to Amtrak, I went ahead and booked solo. I also wondered how I would find Seattle in the winter when my previous trips there were filled with summer wine and sunny days. Not everyone knows Washington has thriving wineries in the eastern part of the state. Down by the famous Pike's Place Market, you can sample these Yakima Valley wines at the Tasting Room cellars. And maybe then try the Aqua Verde Paddle Club (and Mexican cantina!), my headquarters for kayaking the shimmery Lake Union, a smaller body of water connected to the greater Lake Washington. Both are great activities, which I highly recommend to jumpstart any one of our popular San Juan Islands hiking, biking or multisport tours along the Washington coast.
Therefore, I found myself in Emeryville in the middle of winter at 10 at night with my luggage, music, blanket, slippers, knitting, writing, reading and smuggled beer. That is to say, everything I thought I could possibly need in the next 22 hours. (I didn't know you couldn't bring your own beer on board, honestly! FYI, it's very much not allowed.) My hoppy IPA put me to sleep around midnight and I slept well until 7:30 a.m., when the cacophony of passengers and train tracks woke me. Light flooding onto my seat, I could see we were out among the sparse trees in Northern California, and I watched the last of a sunrise over a snowy plain. I made my way to the dining car for the first of three coffees I would have that day, and then settled back into my window view. I can truly say that taking the train such a distance was one of the best things I've ever done although I'm sure that delays or "characters" on your train could make for a different experience. While definitely not Premiere, or even Casual by Backroads standards, I certainly found Amtrak comfortable and friendly. Train travel might not be for everyone, but if you want something unique to bookend your Backroads trip, you might enjoy the journey. I've heard families with children appreciate the train because kids can move about and it is more engaging than car or airplane travel. You can even book an entire cabin with overnight couchette beds to have more space and privacy, and in the future, I would take advantage of the dining car service.
Once in Seattle, my friend met me at the King Street station, a classy historic building. The rest of the weekend was filled walking and cycling the Sammamish River Trail in Redmond, to the east of Seattle proper. We rode bikes to the Red Hook Brewery which is, fortuitously, directly across from the acclaimed Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery, so there's plenty of poison from which to choose. And if you are there in the summertime, the winery hosts a summer concert series which, locals assure me, is absolutely fantastic. As part of my renewed passion for the American West, I wrote this poem in anticipation of my winter train trip. It is a poem for open eyes and adventure, an escape from my commute and my gray suburban life. Maybe it's a battle cry, calling us all aboard to come upward and onward through that majestic unknown. But, as much as I want to use poetry and words like "inspiring" and "majestic" to describe a journey to Seattle, I can also just say I really, really liked it. And I think you would, too.
The Pacific Northwest
When it's blue that you need And you hope for what's green Yellow and red, Purple and pink That freedom to breathe And freedom to sing To know in your soul Open land, openly Take the train to the North Through the snow and the trees As the Pacific Northwest Calls those who believe In open land, openness Deep blues and deep greens So reach for the stars And fall with the leaves Run for the hills toward Northern lights, Northern dreams To know in your soul Open land, openly And see for yourself What's blue, and what's green.
By A.G. Lucas