On August 6, 2021, I took a giant leap of faith for new opportunities– I was headed north of Seattle, Washington as a permanent United States resident.
Jonathan Asamoah, a childhood friend and a fellow Ghanaian, was gracious enough to accommodate me in his four-bedroom home in Marysville, some 34.5 miles from Seattle.
Initially, I had wanted to stay there for a few months, but a few months turned into a year. I knew when the time was ripe to chart my path.
On September 1, 2022, I was en route to my new home, Laurel, Maryland in the Washington metropolitan area aboard the Empire Builder – an Amtrak-operated train.
I was checked into seat number 62 in the upper deck known as coach class — almost $400 for a one-way trip. At 5:50 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, our train departed Everett.
The three-day voyage saw passengers journey through the states of Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. It was dark during the first night of the trip in Idaho. After dinner in the dining car, I reclined into my spacious seat for a fine sleep.
As a coach class rider, I paid for my own food. Those in sleeper cars – riders with a bed and shower – got free meals. I’ve vowed to get a room when next I’m on such long rides.
I awoke to a bright-orange colored sky in Montana, much of the scenery was plain empty fields, but thankfully we had a lounge car that offered panoramic views of the landscape, the gorgeous mountains and various rock formations.
As much as I could, I took in their energy and presence. The different shades of trees, green and brown grasses were heartwarming to take in as I buried myself in Armistead Maupin’s ''28 Barbary Lane'' - a book which was originally serialized in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1978.
One of my American friends, Todd Benzies, gifted me this treasure a week before my departure because the TV version on Netflix “Tales of the City’’ is a beloved series of mine as an openly gay man.
Like many passengers, I lost mobile service on parts of the ride. Occasionally, I’d see one passenger lift her mobile phone to the roof of the train in hopes of getting one bar of network signal.
She wasn’t successful and laughed with her two friends at the experience. For me, it was a badly needed break from our over-reliance on technology. It was pleasant to switch off from the daily bustle.
The first long stop, where we were allowed a few minutes off the train to stretch our legs was in Whitefish, Montana.
In Grand Forks and Fargo, North Dakota we were grateful to have some time to wander about the train while passengers detrained and entrained. It was a long ride gazing into the sky and admiring the nature that surrounds this state. Then onto Minnesota.
North Dakota and Minnesota are bordered by the Red River, which unlike most rivers in North America, I learned, flows north into Canada to empty into Lake Winnipeg. From there, it then empties into Hudson's Bay. Watching the flow in the comfort of my seat with my legs up on the window was calming and even therapeutic.
By 1:05 p.m. on September 3, we arrived in Minneapolis, a gorgeous city. Finally, we could see more buildings and life taking its course. Yet another time to savor in the energy and life of the state. Passengers had the chance to get a bite. Then we were back en route to Wisconsin.
The train itself at this point was filled with chats, some reading, others just taking a nap, perhaps wishing we were already in Chicago. The Empire Builder faced a nearly four-hour delay. We weren't given a reason for the delay, but some travelers transferring to other states were forced to adjust.
As a first time Amtrak rider, I was unnerved. When I first booked my train, I was instructed to call the customer service if any travel issue arose. I finally got through and the agent said I needed to book a hotel room then claim a refund on the next working day.
We were around Milwaukee at this time, and I had received a new booking for Sunday, September 4. At almost 10:00 p.m. Saturday, we pulled into Chicago. Surprisingly, they had the departing train.
Hurriedly, we got onboard as other passengers waited. The train departing Chicago ran 764 miles through Cleveland, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington.
It was time for dinner, and some badly needed sleep all the way through Cleveland. By 7:00 a.m. Sunday, I woke to a bright morning sky as we pulled into the Pittsburg station, where some passengers detrained. Then, we continued our voyage, observing the beautiful scenery, remnants of old warehouses and homes.
Picturesque rock formations and creeks filled the stretch in Maryland. I saw quite a number of people trying their luck at fishing in the morning. The weather was much warmer when we came to a stop at Rockville.
What should have been a few minutes of stretching ran into almost an hour. We were informed that a train had derailed. Just a few minutes past 5:00 p.m., we arrived at the Union station in Washington.
An Amtrak staff member loaded my baggage on a trolley and took me to where I was expecting an Uber ride. Finally, I took deep breaths and gazed onto the U.S Capitol in front of me. In less than 30 minutes, I arrived at my new apartment in Maryland.
I plan to take many more train rides for interstate travels in the future. My epic journey afforded me the opportunity for front-row seat at the mesmerizing and diverse terrains of the U.S.