from InsideHook

What It’s Like to Watch America Roll by on the California Zephyr

Transcontinental, (almost) 3,000 miles from home


I first learned about the California Zephyr from a song by Ben Gibbard and Jay Farrar, who, in turn, were paraphrasing Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur: “Now I’m transcontinental, 3,000 miles from my home,” Gibbard sings in his, as my buddy Scott Zuppardo describes, “nasally sweetness.” “I’m on the California Zephyr, watching America roll by.” It sounded blissful. 

Today, the California Zephyr route is considered by many to be America’s most beautiful train ride. Beginning in Chicago, and over the course of 52 hours, it chugs through the middle of the country, traversing some of its most beautiful scenery before reaching its final stop in Emeryville, California. From there, passengers can take a bus to San Francisco. 

I’ve always been curious about train travel, but it’s the kind of cross country-trip I would typically reserve for my camper van. A direct flight from my hometown of Indianapolis to the West Coast only takes about six hours, and while I can grit my teeth and get through it if I have to, I don’t like to be confined in a space for any length of time. How would I manage nearly two-and-a-half days on a train?

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