Florida to Oregon by Train: Day 3

I'm taking the train from Jacksonville, Florida to Portland, Oregon for the AWP conference, where the Write.as team will exhibit. This is the story of that journey.

Previous: Day 1, Day 2

It's 3 am and we're going through... some city. Cleveland, I guess. Yep — Cleveland. My left hip is killing me. Somehow the arrangement of my limbs isn't only affecting the muscles around my hips, but also around my knee. Is my leg asleep, just not at the pins-and-needles stage yet? No idea, but it's stiff in ways I've never felt, so I have no idea how to fix it. Anyway, next stop: Chicago.


As I've written about before, when you're working on something you love, it can be all-consuming. You might put in 16-hour days and think nothing of it, that you'll never burn out, because you love the work. I have trouble with just one more thing syndrome, and find it hard to stop working after 8 hours or so, unless I really try. So being on a train helps disrupt that. Yesterday I felt like watching the scenery and listening to music all day, so I did. This morning, I woke up ready to work again.

I finished some marketing collateral for the conference while sipping some coffee in the observation car, feet kicked up, Indiana corn fields rushing by. We passed marshlands and families of deer; brick factories and expansive railyards.


I was a little more prepared this time when I got off the train. I had forewent a heavy winter jacket when packing, because I saw Portland wasn't going to be that cold.

Of course, I forgot I'd also be outside in DC and Chicago.

So instead of suffering the biting cold like in DC, I at least put on a long sleeve shirt under my hoodie. I loaded my pack on my back, and waddled in a funny way down the platform, since my sore hip muscles were now the lucky recipients of 50 extra pounds of cargo.

Chicago's Union Station is an blend of Art Deco style and... classical something something? Maybe it's just all Art Deco, I don't know. But it certainly made me slightly confused, then intrigued, as I walked into the station.

I soon found the “Metropolitan Lounge,” which as a customer with a sleeper car ticket, I had free access to. This lounge was much nicer (and larger) than the ClubAcela at Washington's Union Station. But like that lounge, I could leave my bag and go wander the city.

So I did. I dropped my things off, and in short, found my way to a Starbucks and an 8K race that happened to be going on, then walked over to the lake, then back to the station. It was the first time I'd spent any time in Chicago, but for some reason it just wasn't bringing me much joy. I got annoyed by all the glass skyscrapers and the corporate-sponsored fixtures in Millenium Park, like BP Bridge and the McDonald's Cycle Center. Who does that? I think I was just hungry.

So I stock up on some food before heading back to Union Station. I figured some hard-boiled eggs and cheese sticks would keep me close to my diet goals.


Despite a friendly man telling me my car — number 2730 — was at the very end of the train, I responded a confident “Yep!” when passing an earlier attendant on the platform that asked me, “Car 730?” I almost got settled in to my cabin and kicked off my stinky shoes before a woman came by and asked if we had both been put in the same room.

No, I just don't follow instructions sometimes.


The conductors on this train have all been extremely amiable. Over the loudspeaker, the attendant for our car kindly explained all we needed to know about staying on board, and seemed genuinely pleased to address the passengers who were about to go on their first-ever train ride. The conductor who came by for our tickets — a man you could aptly describe as “jolly” — made the same joke about people washing dishes in the dining car if they didn't have the ticket three times before he got to me.

Getting on the Empire Builder today felt like I was embarking for the west coast with a merry band of travelers — strangers who are quick to become friends, should you choose to have them.


The past few days of traveling and sleeping on trains meant that, well, I hadn't showered in a few days. And the attendant's early remark about the “recycled air” on the train made me that much more wary when I did find out how bad my shoes smelled.

So I got to enjoy another first: showering on a moving train.

It wasn't all that bad; only one jarring movement had me truly concerned I was going to slip and break my neck, but I didn't. I showered like I would at any hostel or campground, and carried on, now refreshed and feeling a little more human again.

Later, at dinner, I was joined by three strangers. They do this at each table in the dining car — put you with others, so the seating space is maximized. My booth-mates weren't exceedingly outgoing; while a table next to us carried on about Dungeons and Dragons and another table easily went through normal small talk for a train (where ya from, where ya going, etc.), we all kind of stared out the window toward the sunset.

At several points I considered striking up a conversation, but had the feeling I'd have to then carry the thing, so I decided to enjoy our quiet, instead. I thought about how originally, I wasn't sure if I'd “survive” several days on the train, but now I didn't want it to end. I guess this might be a regular thing for me now.

It's now almost 10pm central time, and we just pulled into the St. Paul / Minneapolis, Minnesota stop. While there's more to say, I'm excited to sleep entirely horizontally tonight, and wake to a full day traversing the West tomorrow.

To be continued...

#travel #FLtoOR #trains