A trip on the California Zephyr


While Dana and Emme remained behind in Truckee for ski week, I hopped aboard the California Zephyr to be with my mom, who had a surgery scheduled for last week.

It was an amazing trip.

Five seconds in, sitting in my tiny private room — a “roomette” as it’s called — I wondered why we didn’t travel by train more often.

Of course, the train was four hours late, so that may have something to do with it.

But still, it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Indeed, as soon as the train arrived and blew its whistle, I was reminded of a quote from Steinbeck in “Travels with Charley.” He was talking about how a ship’s whistle could get the hairs of his neck to stand up and his feet to tapping, and that’s exactly what I felt. The whistle sounded and I felt an electric surge: the adventurer’s call to action.

The blissful feeling of adventure only quickened when I locked myself in my room, closed the blinds, and took out a book, knowing I had four hours to kill and no one to bother me.

My definition of adventure, apparently, has changed over the years.


I fully admit to nerding out by putting California Zephyr on repeat and listening to Jay Farrar’s lyrical take on the trip while reading.

And who knew, if things got really wild, I could have taken a nap in a pull-down bed.


Or taken a selfie in my very. own. mirror!

I know, wild. Just try to hold me down.


Ultimately, I spent about half the time finishing “Season of the Witch” (highly, highly recommended) and taking photos so Emme and Dana could share in the travel later.

The snow-less landscape frightened me for summer, when we’ll have to deal with some Cormac McCarthy-esque water shortages. But it was, indeed, beautiful. I half expected the Hole in the Wall Gang to gallop alongside and bicker about how much dynamite they needed to blow the train doors.


I really liked when we cruised through Auburn and caught a glimpse of the freeway. I could have rented a car and made it to Vacaville much, much faster, but the cost was nearly triple the price of a train ticket, and it’s really hard to read and drive at the same time.



Somewhere near Roseville, I spotted an equestrian center straight out of the rolling Kentucky hills. I had never seen anything like it, and I knew Emme would be impressed.


Finally, after rolling out of the Sierra, through the foothills, and into the flatlands of Sacramento, I disembarked in Davis.


While waiting for my mom, I got to stroll around downtown and even found the apartment Dana and I lived in when she was in law school 15 years ago (top right corner).


All told, the trip took about four hours and was well worth it. I didn’t even see the dining car of the famous observation car, because I was too busy taking in the views and just chilling out, reading and occasionally nodding off while thinking of Butch and Sundance or Roger Thornhill, of the iron horses of yesteryear, crisscrossing frontiers that even decades and decades later still seem alive with adventure.


  1. I love trains. Awesome trip and then of course ending in Davis.

  2. I can’t wait to get my 4-year-old on one of these. For once we might be able to travel at the speed of getting from point A to point B, without me saying, “You’ll have to wait until I reach the stop light.” Instead there would be shared scenery and flowers and frolicking to the food car. Someday.

  3. Mike, have you and Emme gone on a train trip? If the wife lets us, I think my son and i are ready for our first.

  4. Mike, have you and Emme gone on a train trip? If the wife lets us, I think my son and i are ready for our first. he’s six.