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The name Coast Starlight is derived from the names of two former Southern Pacific trains, the Coast Daylight and the Starlight.

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Traveltracks: My 30-Day Cross-Country USA Rail Pass Adventure

Episode 4 - Making My Way on the Coast Starlight

Sean Lynch

Sean is a 23-year-old Bostonian who loves to travel, read and write.

After leaving the desert in Tucson, riding up the west coast on the Coast Starlight was fantastic. I was completely overwhelmed by not only the proximity of the gorgeous Pacific Ocean, but by the diversity of the land. On one side of the Lounge Car lush green hills sidled by while on the other small waves easily met the shore. I felt as though each picture I took did not capture my surroundings so as I snapped furiously I also tried to just sit and enjoy the ride.

Since I spent almost the entirety of my ride between LA and Oakland in the Lounge Car, a few amused looks were directed my way as I hopped back and forth to catch photos of each amazing landscape. Once we reached Santa Barbara it was hard not to hop off and turn my 30-day trip around the US into a coastal surfing expedition. Passengers came and went as I remained ogling through the floor-to-ceiling windows completely in awe of the beautiful route. A native of Maine originally, and now residing in Boston, a Pacific sunset was something completely foreign to me. I had imagined a blistering sun slowly descending over a gorgeous coast while I took it all in with my feet in the sand, but taking it in from the train was even better.

We plugged along from stop to stop and the towns became draped in a warm twilight as I admired from my perch. Between the calming motion of the train and the impending darkness I found it incredibly straining not to let my eyes close and enjoy the sounds along with the sights. It only got better from there; snaking through the mountains on the way to Oakland provided scenes of cattle and far off mountains.

An attendant sat down a few tables away and even after a long night, and many trips along this same route, it was clear that even he was amazed by the scenery. Rolling through the swamps of the south and the deserts of Texas was incredible but my ride from LA to Oakland was truly breathtaking.

A few days in Oakland gave me a nice break on firm ground and I hopped back on the Coast Starlight for my leg up to Portland, Oregon. I was exhausted from a rainy few days traipsing around the calf-busting hills of San Francisco and enjoyed a comfortable night's sleep.

When I awoke I found myself looking at snowy valleys as well as a new neighbor. She had gotten on in Redding, California, and was traveling all the way up to Seattle to see friends. As a proud Oregonian she showed me her high school as we passed by it and gave me some insight into the important farming industry of Oregon. I was glad to have such a knowledgeable seatmate to pass the time with.

Finally we made it to Portland and I looked forward to the sampling of famous micro-brews and coffee that awaited. The long trip up the west coast had brought me to my halfway point in my adventure. It had been taxing, but the friendly people, mixed with the outstanding scenery along the way had made the hours speed by.

I’ve found the staff on all of the Amtrak routes, from the Café Car Attendant, to the conductors to genuinely have an interest in the experience of the passenger. When one congenial conductor steps off at the end of his shift, another seamlessly takes his place. It’s easy to notice these things being the long-haul observer as I am, but whether its for fifteen hours or two hours I think most riders will leave with a great experience.

Up Next - Episode 5: The Ride Across the Rockies Back to Chicago