Zephyr and Starlight


My apologies for not being able to update but, as you can imagine, the Internet has been pretty spotty while en-route.

And there’s a fair argument, here. What are you doing logging into your Internet when the Rockies or the Sierra Nevadas are right outside your window?

I re-boarded the California Zephyr after grabbing the Denver LRT one last time and heading to Union Station. Again, I’m really impressed at what the city has achieved here. I got in around 7 a.m. on a Sunday and the place was hopping. The coffee shop was serving latte, there were scores of people sitting on the leather chairs or the big oak tables, making use of the free wi-fi and doing business. Denver has clearly staked a lot on its investment in its downtown, and it appears to be paying off.

This stands in pretty sharp contrast to Sacramento, which I visited for a second time while laying over for about ten hours for my connection from the Zephyr to the Coast Starlight. I did have time to go see a movie (Zootopia. It’s fun.), but as we hit the evening hours, the sidewalks of the city metaphorically rolled up. There was no place to sit and have a coffee. Even Old Sacramento, which wowed me the last time I was there, was deserted and shuttered. All-in-all, the vibe was not pleasant, and I ended up sitting inside Sacramento’s Union Station for the final three hours, with little air conditioning and not even any wi-fi.

There was one nice place, though: a ma-and-pa restaurant attached to a ma-and-pa business hotel called the Vagabond Inn. It was definitely for the cheaper set, but it was utterly charming for its modest nature. Unfortunately, it closed at 9.

This kind of undercuts the work Sacramento has done to try and revitalize its downtown core. If it has a reputation, at any time, of being a place where people don’t go, that’s a millstone around your neck.

But that’s my only complaint about this stretch of the trip, however. Amtrak has been wonderful. The Rockies provided the expected views, and the Sierra Nevadas beyond Reno topped them. The food was good and the company pleasant, and I appreciated being able to sleep on my back, even if the roomettes are kind of cramped. The Coast Starlight is another underrated gem, allowing me to wake up to the southern Cascades in northern California and to see my first volcano (Mount Shasta). Really cool.

Also, the Coast Starlight has an excellent parlour car with wi-fi. It doesn’t get the traffic that the Zephyr’s dome car gets, but that was helpful for me as I ended up putting down around 10,000 words on the third draft of The Sun Runners. I’ve always wanted to write on a train and, now that I’ve done so, I want to do it again.

The Zephyr was consistently on time throughout my trip — even arriving early at certain stops, requiring us to wait for a bit, and giving us the opportunity to get out and stretch our legs. We had one delay on the Coast Starlight which put us 45 minutes behind at a stop, but most of that delay was caught up by the time we were heading into Portland.

As I write this, Portland is about a half-hour away. I’ll be spending the next two nights there before making a quick trip to Seattle and then boarding the Empire Builder for the start of my journey home.

A link to pictures will come once they’re all downloaded. Probably tomorrow.

(Edited to Add, Wednesday, 10:28 p.m. PT): The photos have been uploaded here.


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