USA trip: The Great Train Adventure

Last Friday I shared the highlights from watching my first live American baseball game in Seattle. Suzie is a big fan of train travel and we decided to travel together to the ACFW writing conference in Indianapolis on the train. The Amtrak Empire Builder train travels along the main northern train line from Seattle to Chicago. Our plan was to catch a connecting train in Chicago to Indianapolis. Below is a photo of the Empire Builder train at King Street Station, Seattle.

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Suzie and I shared a roomette. During the day we had two seats facing each other, with a fold up table between us. At night the seats converted into a lower bed and an overhead shelf was pulled down to create an upper bunk bed. The sleeper carriages have an attendant who looks after you, and all your meals are provided in the dining car.

Amtrak have recently announced their new Writer in Residency program. They are offering free trips for writers, and I can understand why many writers are interested in applying. Suzie and I spent most of our time on the train writing and brainstorming new book proposals while we enjoyed the scenery. I started brainstorming and outlining three new book proposals that I hope to sell to my publisher.

There is something inherently relaxing about train travel. I didn’t get a lot of writing done on my current work in progress (The Doctor’s Return, August 2014 release) despite having a deadline less than three months later. My problem (if you can call it a problem, lol) was that I was entranced by the view outside the window. I’m used to seeing gum trees in Australia. The Pacific North West, for example, was a big distraction with miles of fir trees in the gorgeous Cascade Mountains.

We spent two nights on the train. The sun set on our first night while we travelling in Washington toward Spokane. We travelled overnight through the northern part of Idaho and woke up in Montana. The photo below was taken from the train in Montana.

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The Canadian Rockies were on the far northern horizon as we continued our journey through Montana toward North Dakota. The Amtrak staff were super-helpful and the servers quickly learned how I like my English-style cups of hot tea with two percent milk instead of cream. I also tasted grits for the first time, courtesy of another passenger who shared our breakfast table. We met some interesting people during our meal times, and I was delighted to meet a group of Aussies who were travelling to Minnesota.

I’ve always wanted to see prairies, since I was a little girl who loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books and the Little House on the Prairie tv series. We travelled through hundreds of miles of flat prairie and beautiful mountain scenery in Montana.

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The sun set in Montana on our second night and we woke in the morning in North Dakota, not far from Fargo. We were supposed to be in Minnesota by morning and stopping for 45 minutes in St. Paul. Suzie and I had arranged to meet our other writing critique partner, Stacy Monson, at St. Paul station. We ended up seeing Stacy for ten minutes on the train station platform. Those precious minutes were a highlight of my trip.

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I was thrilled to see the Mississippi River for the first time in Minnesota. At one stage we stopped beside the river for half an hour while we waited for a freight train to pass us. The stops along the river provided great photo opportunities and another distraction from writing.

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By lunch time on our second day in Minnesota, we knew for certain that we were going to miss our train connection in Chicago to Indianapolis. The Amtrak staff were helpful, and kept us updated on our options during the afternoon and early evening as we travelled into Wisconsin. The sun set before we reached Milwaukee and travelled along Lake Michigan to Chicago, Illinois.

Stop by next Friday to learn about our unexpected overnight stop in Chicago and impromptu road trip to Indianapolis.

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