Riding the Train: 7 Things I’ve Learned in 5 hours

Dustin and I officially kicked off our tour this morning with an Amtrak train ride from Ventura to Seattle. Before this morning, Dustin nor I had ever been on an Amtrak, so let’s just say it’s been a bit of a learning experience. We’ve been on the train for five hours now, and we have 29 more to go (!). Here’s what I’ve learning about riding the train so far this morning….

1. That bike box they give you is a lot skinnier than you think.

So Dustin and I have watched about a dozen videos of people taking the train to start their bike tour. They show up; they’re stoked; the roll their bikes in a box; they high five and shake their booties and then they’re on their way. Turns out the bike doesn’t actually just roll on in the box, like a hampster in a hallway. If you have dropbars, the handlebar (even turned sideway) is kind of fat and needs to stretch the box sides out. To get our bikes in I crawled into one end of the box and actually pulled the front tire of the bike into the box. So…. the box is big enough to fit me in it. And it’s big enough for your bike. You just have to work for it. Don’t be a Larry and turn your handlebar way down or try to take it off like Dustin didn’t do. (Feel free to read between the lines.)

2. You only get 2 carry-on bags each, so you need to pack your panniers in giant suitcases.

This is another thing that no one has ever mentioned in all their bike touring how-to videos… If you’re riding with front and back panniers, that’s four bags each and you’re only allowed to carry on two bags each. So, if you don’t want to pay the $10 per bag checked baggage fee you have to cram your panniers into a giant suitcase (and then make a plan to donate that suitcase to your final destination). Not a big deal, but something that we didn’t consider until 11pm the night before we were leaving.

The giant suitcases we packed our panniers in.


3. Inside the train, don’t carry your big-ass suitcase up the world’s tiniest staircase. It won’t fit in the overhead (duh)

After we got the bikes bagged and waited around the train station for a while reminiscing about how happy we are not to be Oxnard Train Station security personnel, it was time to get on the train. They scanned our tickets and we carried on our two carry-ons — one giant suitcase and one Ortileb backroller classic each. Since we’re travelling for 32 hours we’re on the second level of the train. At the bottom of the tinieist staircase ever you will see a place for giant suitcases. Deposit your giant suitcase here!!! DO NOT CARRY IT UP THE TINY STAIRCASE! You will end up punching some sleeping man in the face with your giant suitcase (like I did), and the suitcase won’t fit anyway (duh.) and then you’ll have to go the other way with the suitcase, back down the tiny staircase… and it will be embarassing. So. Don’t do that.

4. BRING SUBWAY! Bring soooo much Subway….! And water!

Apparently the train was made for carnivores. If you’re not into ribs and chicken and lamb and hamburgers, bring your own train snacks vegetarians! We’re only 5 hours in and already I wish I had brought a picinic lunch/dinner so bad. I’m so hungry I’m not even mad about this girl eating her horse apple next to me. I’m just jealous.

5. Don’t pack your headphones in your checked luggage (re: your bike)

Oy vey. Dustin and I both packed our handlebar bags in the big box with our bikes… and inside those handlebar bags, we both packed our headphones. Stupido. Now how am I supposed to listen to all 21 hours of The Grapes of Wraps on audio tape????

6. The viewing car is where the party is at.

In every (most?) Amtrak train, there is a “viewing car” with giant windows where people can go and sit at tablees or face the windows. In the last five hours I’ve learned that you sit in your assigned seats when you want to sleep, or talk about business, or play your RPG (Dustin), or listen to audio books (everyone except me), and the viewing car is where you go when you want to par-tay. (Part-taying is actually optional, but that seems to be the place where strangers are laughing and mixing and mingling and consuming large quantities of vacation alcohol.) The big, bright windows and the off-chance you might meet a new stranger make the viewing car highly rated in my book.

7. John Steinbeck was not full of shit

Riding through Central California we’ve seen lots and lots of vineyards, and cows, and mountains, and produce and it’s quite nice. I can see why Steinbeck spent so much time musing about this part of the state.

See You In Seattle!

The eighth thing I’ve learned is that I love my Sharkk wireless keyboard that is allowing me to type this blog post in record speed from a train! And the ninth think I’ve learned is that it’s kind of hard to type on a train that feels like a whale watching tour boat. So, with that said, I’m off to go try to find an Iceburg salad and a bag of Doritos from the snack area of the train. See you all in Seattle where Dustin and I will be cruising and perusing with Tony and Jane Fader! (YES! #GiveMeMoreCoffeePlease)


About Chelsea A.

A slow rolling cyclist looking to be an active participant in my own life. Interested in straw bale building, Wayne's World, books on tape, and taking it all one day at a time.

Posted on May 26, 2014, in Cross Country Bike Trip Journal - 2014 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I’m gonna learn soooo much these next four months!


  2. jim@pattisonnet.net

    Are you still planning to come see us in Mossyrock? We’ll be back sometime next Monday.Jim and Gail (from Gaviota)


    • Hi Jim and Gail! So glad you’ve stayed in touch!! It looks like Mossyrock is about 2 hours (118 miles) south of Seattle– and we’re headed north from Seattle to Anacortes so I don’t think our paths are going to cross this week. But we would love to take a trip to WA to see you and Mossyrock in the future since (as we discussed at Gaviota) we are strongly considering moving to your neck of the woods.

      Please do keep in touch and follow along with us as we head East. We’ll be in Seattle until 6/1 then we’re off to the Atlantic! 🙂

      — Chelsea and Dustin


      • jim pattison

        Sorry to miss you. From the map it looks like you are crossing MN on highway 95 and WI on 8 going to 2 in MI. We just drove that route and used to live just off 95 so if you have any questions on that route just holler.


  3. Chelsea, Dustin:

    Myself and my Dad met you on the train somewhere between Sacramento and Portland. I agree on the carnivore focused food – our first stop in Portland was to find a subway sandwich place!

    So great to meet you both and learn of your adventure. Really looking forward to hearing through this blog more about your bike ride across the US as it unfolds.


    • Gary! So glad you came to check out the blog and that you plan to keep in touch. It was great to meet the two of you on the train. I love that you’re taking the time to see the states via train; it’s the second best thing to cycle touring 😉

      We just left Seattle today and now I am writing this comment in a parking lot in Whidbey Island, WA. It’s truly beautiful. Expect a blog update soon!


  4. chelsea and dustin greetings from england i shall be folowing with interest your cycle ride it was good to meet you on amtrack.being. in the construction business i am particularly interested in your quest for information about cob and straw bale building methods.
    wishing you both well
    ged pinder


    • Hello again, Ged! Great to hear from you! We’ll be sure to keep you (and the blog) up to date as we learn more about straw/cob building. There’s two houses in Whitefish, MT we’re looking forward to checking out. How’d life in London? It’s been raining cats and dogs here… wonder if it’s more dry on your side of the pond.


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