The California Zephyr

Trip Start Nov 10, 2009
Trip End May 07, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Colorado
Thursday, April 29, 2010

Our double-decker retro train is like a silver bullet cutting through the American countryside - a very, very slow silver bullet. I could run faster. But the slow pace suits us as we cosy up in our seats and watch the scenery roll by: forested hillsides, cowboy scrubland, desert-pink canyons and the Rocky Mountains. The seasons too change with the landscapes. One moment the ground is covered with snow, vistas obscured by whipping blizzards, then a few hours later the sun is shining onto baked, dusty wastelands.

We're on the California Zephyr heading cross country from San Francisco to Chicago. We're spending two nights onboard which, when we booked online, sounded jolly good but when we arrived at the door of our teensy, tiny cabin didn't seem like the best idea we've ever had. With no exaggeration, the cabin is two meters square. You have to be a contortionist to get dressed or clamber up the top bunk. It's lucky we're as slim and agile as we are. (What's that you say? Nothing? Good.) Nevertheless, the little cabin is all ours, the seats are comfy and its undoubtedly a step up from the sleeper train in Vietnam. At least here we can raise our heads from the pillows without a dozen black hairs clinging to our faces.

The dining-car has American-stylee booths which you share with fellow passengers at meal-times. Six meals in and we feel we know half the train: Gerry, Sharon, Cheryl, Pat, Anita, Randy... And there's not a soul we don't like - even redneck Gary who, with a mouth full of cheeseburger, nonchalantly tells us if he catches a burglar in his home he'll "just shoot him." Considering he sleeps with two rifles under his bed and has been burgled twice this year, this could happen anytime soon.

Balance is a bit of an issue. On the Japanese bullet trains we spent our time building architectural wonders with playing cards and constructing the Statue of Liberty out of matchsticks, but the Zepher allows no such creative outlets. Just standing to adjust the curtain you'll head-butt the window, rebound into the corridor, smash a hip against a door frame and scissor-kick the conductor. All with a ripped curtain in your fist. Bedtimes are worse, at least for muggins who has the top bunk. After bruising elbows, knees, and head changing into nightwear, I step up. The the train lurches and I bang my hip. When it lurches back I hit my head. Then everything falls down, including myself, and I find myself sitting in a landslide of books, iPods and used tissues.

The top bunk, about twenty centimetres from the ceiling and is designed to hold a slim, horizontal person. Or a thick piece of card. After getting my knee on the wafer-thin mattress it's a further 15 minutes before I'm lying horizontal. Its like one of those boring wooden puzzle blocks - it all fits together, you just have to work out how. Its a game of strategy and lucky for me my lateral thinking has triumphed thus far.  Once I'm lying horizontal, I can tilt my head back and scratch my nose on the ceiling. But despite the discomfort, the train is an exciting way to travel. Indeed, we're beginning to wonder how we'll cope without the constant drone of the engine, without the juddering movement, without dear ole Gary. Who knows?
Time will tell. Lucky for us we don't have to find out just yet.
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Ah, great stuff. It takes me right back.

Mary was kind enough to have the top bunk, as it wasn't very conducive to my claustrophobia!

See you son chaps xxx

Noodlehead on

Is Per Joe's secret lovechild? It seems so judging from his last comment. Bout time you updated your blog you lazy, good-for-nothin' hippies. Bye bye!

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