A Long-Distance Train Isn’t a Cruise.


Mount Shasta and Shastina, California. USGS Photograph taken by Lyn Topinka, 1984. This photo in PD
 I often run into people who have the idea that a cross-country train trip is basically a cruise on land. Nope. Not even close. On the train, there’s almost always something to see outside and sometimes it’s truly spectacular: a snow-capped Mount Shasta (photo above) or a 90-minute run just a few hundred yards from the Pacific Ocean on the Coast Starlight. Or you’re following the Colorado River for more than 100 miles through a series of canyons on the California Zephyr. A long-distance train ride is both transportation and a travel experience.
In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I have never taken a cruise. That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy the experience. I’m not a gambler, so the on board casinos are of no real interest, but I keep hearing stories of the unbelievable buffets and the lavish entertainment. All fine, but I just can’t imagine spending a week or ten days with so many other people. The newest and biggest cruise ships can accommodate as many as 4,000 people. I couldn’t deal with that.
Cruising has two big potential negatives for me. The first is the possibility of falling ill with some kind of intestinal bug that’s running rampant through the ship, knocking down passengers and crew like so many tenpins. And it seems to happen several times a year despite whole detachments of crew members constantly wiping down door knobs and hand rails with disinfectant. That alone is enough to give me pause.
seven seas
 The other is bad weather. I traveled by ship on my first trip to Europe back in the mid-1950s. It was the M.S. Seven Seas and on our return to New York City we skirted around the fringe of a hurricane in the North Atlantic. I do not recommend that experience. One minute, as the ship rose then passed over the top of an ocean swell, I had the sensation that I was going to float up off the deck. Then, as the ship descended into the trough and struggled to rise again, my knees buckled and for several seconds, it was as if I weighed four or five hundred pounds. There were three days of that. The worst comes when, with only seconds of warning, your stomach rejects the morning’s breakfast. It was Ewald, the German steward who looked after ten of us crammed into one cabin, who taught me the phrase, “Nicht kotzen!” (Don’t puke!).
All of this brings to mind my grandfather saying that there are two stages of seasickness—in the first, you’re afraid you’re going to die; in the second, you’re afraid your not going to die.
So I wish you bon voyage. I’ll stick to the long-distance trains.