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hen I stepped onto the platform at the Amtrak station in Glenwood Springs and watched dozens of Amish community members embark from the cars, it was a surprise and the start to a great journey. For years, I had wanted to visit the giant redwood trees in Northern California and have always been intrigued by the long-distance trains that cross the country, specifically the California Zephyr route that travels 2,438 miles between my home state of Illinois and California. But, I never imagined what experiences and friendships would develop along the way. It was a two-hour drive to Glenwood from Steamboat Springs, and the city offers free parking a couple blocks away from the train station near the Garfield County office buildings. With a $200 round-trip coach ticket for myself and a $40 round-trip ticket for my bike, I was all aboard for the 24-hour trip to the San Francisco Bay Area. Boarding the train, I had no idea about the politics surrounding Amtrak and how a proposed cut to federal subsidies would force Amtrak to eliminate the Zephyr. An Amish man I spoke to on the platform explained that members of his family were on a vacation from Shipshewana, Indiana. His family and other members
Above: Members of the Amish community unload from the California Zephyr after it pulls in the Glenwood Springs Amtrak station. On the cover: A photo of the California Zephyr. (Jack Affleck of visitglenwood.com) of his community shy away from using most modern forms of transportation, and more of the Amish stayed on the train as it headed further west. The Amish are not the only ones who count on the train. An older woman I spoke with did not have a vehicle and was going to visit family. Others wanted to experience the train route that some believe is the most scenic of the 15 longhaul Amtrak routes in the United States. “It is phenomenal,” said Aviea Rosie, an Amtrak attendant from Miami doing her first stint on the Zephyr route. Aviea and I first met when she
came to clean some sunflower seeds littering the carpet under my feet. Her tool for doing the job was a stringy mop. “They left the vacuum but didn’t leave the charger,” she said. While Aviea used what she had to get the job done, I relaxed in an uncrowded train car with my own row of seats that felt like recliners, with all the legroom I wanted, 45-degree reclining seats and foot rests. I then met 29-year-old Jesse Jameson, who said he was taking a trip across the country to figure out how he wanted to spend his 30s. Jesse told me four years of his
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tant came back and lectured Jesse but 20s had been wasted. allowed him to continue the trek to I was taking notes about the train California. ride, writing about how one rafter For Jesse and me, it was our first floating down the Colorado River in long-haul train trip, and I declared it the canyon showed off to the train travelers by performing a backflip off was the best way to travel if you have some extra time. his boat. I did not realize this experiCountless others enjoying the river greeted the Amtrak train by showing off their tan lines and revealing their backsides by mooning the passengers. Jesse, however, was digging a little deeper with his note taking. He was not writing Conductor: responsible for all on-board services, includabout how Colorado ing ticket collection, safety of passengers and the safe river rats like to greet operation of a train. the Amtrak passenDining car steward: responsible for the operation of the gers as the train passed dining car and staff. through the canyon. Lounge car attendant: provides services for passengers Instead, Jesse had in the sleeping cars, including room preparation, luggage service and any other services. four pages written so Train attendant: provides services to the passengers in far about his life and coach. some humbling events that led him to discover he had Crohn’s, an intestinal disease Sleeping cars provide a wide range of private rooms. that made him lose 40 Coach cars have wide reclining seats with leg rests. The dining car offers a wide variety of meals, rangpounds and robbed him ing from hot dogs, steak and pasta specials. of what he thought were Announcements are made regarding dining car hours. some of his prime years. The observation car has large windows and lounge seatHe nearly died, he ing. said, and had surgery to The cafe area is located on the lower level. remove eight inches of Bathrooms are located on the lower levels of each car. his intestine. In addition to that, the tattoo-covered masBring a pillow (both head and neck) and sleeping bag or sage therapist from blanket. Florida, who talked Seats at the front of the car have the most leg room. about wanting to work Bring snacks and beverages if you do not want to rely at a high-end resort, also on the cafe and dining car. had a history of abusing During some stops, passengers are allowed to get off drugs, and he did a stint the train. Get out and enjoy the sun. Passengers cannot leave the train during “quick stops.” in rehab. Talk to people. Long-distance trips attract a “What drugs?” I very social group of passengers. asked. “You name it,” he answered. Jesse was full of ambition and said he wanted to share his ence was in jeopardy until I talklife story with the world while traved to two California Railroad Museeling to visit family out west, then um volunteers, train enthusiasts who returning to Florida. provide occasional historical comHe still seemed to have a tendenmentary to passengers over the train’s cy to get into trouble, and Jesse’s life speaker system. story became more interesting when Mike Eash and Niels Harms he returned from the downstairs bath- together have logged 6,500 hours of room with a look on his face like he volunteer time on the trains. had just been grounded. “The long-distance trains might be “They caught me smoking weed in on the chopping block,” Niels said. the bathroom,” Jesse said. “We can’t build more freeways. We He was not allowed to leave his have to have trains.” seat until the conductor decided what to do with him. Funding cuts Jesse was told he might get kicked off the train at the next stop in HelpEarlier this year, President Doner, Utah. ald Trump unveiled a transportation Marijuana is still illegal in Utah, budget that would cut $630 million in and with a population of 2,000 peofederal subsidies that Amtrak receives ple, there likely was not a lot of help for long-distance rail service. in Helper as the sun was setting. The Washington Post reported that I toyed with Jesse’s paranoid state, Trump’s transportation budget called and he wrote down phone numbers in the long-distance trains “a vestige of case there were cops waiting for him when train service was the only viable on the platform transcontinental option.” Ultimately, the conductor’s assisWith other options, like air and
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Above: Hikers make their way through Fern Canyon. Left: Giant trees of Redwood Nation Park in California. (Adam Jadhav/courtesy)
“People are missing
the forest while looking for the tree." Steve Krause Redwoods National Park ranger
highway travel, the Trump administration believes Amtrak should focus train service on the busy Northeast Corridor. In 2016, 4.6 million people rode Amtrak’s long-distance trains, with 417,000 people riding the Zephyr. Compared to 2015, ridership on the Zephyr in 2016 was up 11.2 percent, while the entire long-distance rail system saw an increase in ridership of 1.3 percent. Train enthusiasts, such as the museum volunteers on the Zephyr, have held rallies and protests across the country in response to the proposed funding cuts. Some of the first railroads to California went through the redwood forests in Humboldt County, California, but today, Amtrak only offers bus service to the area.
To the woods The end of the Zephyr line is near Berkeley, California, in Emeryville, where I met up with my best friend from college, Adam Jadhav, who abandoned his career as a journalist at the St. Louis Post Dispatch to become an activist and a scholar. Currently, he is a Ph.D. student in the geography department at the University of California, Berkeley. After renting a car and driving six hours north to the redwoods, I had the opportunity to sit in on one of Adam’s classes. He was teaching undergraduates about the impact of sanitation and
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human waste in developing countries, specifically in India. The next four days were reserved for talking about life and exploring the world’s largest trees along the California coast. The redwoods were once viewed as a valuable lumber commodity, and some areas are still threatened today, but instead of chainsaws, foot traffic is now a problem. In the early 1900s, conservationists recognized the need to protect the oldgrowth redwood forest, and they began raising funds. With additional money from the state, California established three state parks in pristine areas. Areas that surrounded the parks were later declared a national park by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. In 1994, the state and federal government partnered to jointly manage the three state parks and the national park, which encompasses more than 200 square miles. It has been designated as one of 20 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the United States. At the Kuchel Visitor Center, Adam and I met with Steve Krause, a ranger who helped us reserve free backcountry permits and plan our trip. People who visit the redwoods are looking for the biggest trees, and Adam brought up the secret Grove of Titans, which were discovered in 1998 by explorers in the northern part of the parks system. Park officials do not disclose the exact
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location of the Titan trees, but the internet has not helped keep the secret, and damage to the trees has been done. Krause was troubled and saddened when talking about the Titan area. Hikers looking for the giants have somewhat innocently created new trails, known as social trails, that have damaged resources and scarred the landscape. He said ferns on the forest floor and other vegetation surrounding the largest trees have been destroyed by the foot traffic. “People are missing the forest while looking for the tree,” Krause said.
In the trees The Redwoods National Park was visited by 536,297 people in 2016, compared to visitation numbers of 4.5 million at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Adam and I forgo the Titans and instead hike the four-mile Tall Trees Trail, which requires a free permit in an effort to limit traffic to some of the most famous trees, which are 600 feet down a ridge along Redwood Creek. This grove of trees, exceeding 320 feet in height, was discovered in 1963 by National Geographic Society naturalist Paul Zahl, who heard rumors from loggers about “great timber.”
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California Zephyr route
Emeryville Glenwood Springs
Stations Chicago, IL Naperville, IL Princeton, IL Galesburg, IL Burlington, IA Mt. Pleasant, IA Ottumwa, IA Osceola, IA Creston, IA Omaha, NE Lincoln, NE Hastings, NE Holdrege, NE McCook, NE
Fort Morgan Denver Fraser Granby Glenwood Springs Grand Junction Green River Helper, UT Provo, UT Salt Lake City, UT Elko, NV
Winnemucca, NV Reno, NV Truckee, CA Colfax, CA Roseville, CA Sacramento, CA Davis, CA Martinez, CA Emeryville, CA
Above: Katie Berning/staff Below: Sunset from Gold Bluffs Beach. “One particular redwood rose above the others like a candle,” Zahl wrote. The discovery of the Tall Tree and its siblings renewed the effort to establish a national park in 1968. Hiking back up the ridge, three fighter jets flew loud and low overhead. The sounds were loud and shocking, but my mind drifted back toward the rare and unique experience I was having with the people I had met and the friend I had spent countless hours with in college shooting darts, drinking beer and discussing journalism and our future. We are close. After his father was tragically killed in a car
accident while we were in college, I drove my friend to the car at the wrecking yard and helped Adam retrieve his father’s belongings. The hikes allowed us to talk openly about everything. On Adam’s mind were questions about capitalism, while he works to better the world through his research, and thoughts about reuniting with his wife, another scholar who has only visited the U.S. shortly for a stateside wedding ceremony in St. Louis. I had just finished with a serious relationship but was still loving my journalism career and thinking about the future. I think we both figured some things out. For our last night in the woods, we hiked four and a half miles to Gold Bluffs Beach campground, which
has a backcountry camping area reserved for hikers and cyclists who do not need a parking spot. Fern Canyon, a popular site accessible by car with wooden pedestrian bridges going over the creek and ferns lining the walls, is nearby. At Gold Bluffs Beach, we lit a fire and met Jordon Pesce, a skinny, tall 25-year-old with a full beard from Juliet, Tennessee, who gave up work as a diesel mechanic to hike the Appalachian Trail for six months. He did not seem excited about figuring out a new career, but he was skilled when it came to making Jiffy Pop popcorn with a camp stove.
Redwood National Park recreational use
“If I could work at REI and talk trail every day, that would be OK,” Jordon said. On his Appalachian hike, he was given the trail name of Pineapple Express after pulling out a pre-cut pineapple and sharing it with his new friends. “That's how a trail name happens,” Jordon said. “Everyone has their own path; quitting everything to go on a hike is a big change, but it was the best decision I made.” My trip also ended up being one of the best decisions I have ever made, but it was time to get back on board the Zephyr, and this time, there were repeated announcements about not smoking in the bathrooms. While traveling along the Truckee River, a woman from the area marveled at how the unprecedented snowfall over the winter had kept the river running high in July. The wave to the train from California rafters was a lot more civilized than the way people greet the Zephyr in Colorado. I could not wait to see how they did it in Nevada. ✤