Transcending America’s Pacific coastline aboard Amtrak’s Coast Starlight.
At the end of last year I stated that I’d only be taking one long-haul trip this year, one that would take in Austin, San Francisco and Canada. Between then and March, my itinerary changed so that I could visit my brother in Brazil (and indulge in a bit of utopian architecture on the way) but it was a tough decision. Ever since visiting Montreal in 2007, I’ve long wanted to see more of Canada.
Luckily, I was later invited to my friends Dan & Liz’s wedding taking place in San Francisco in November. This presented the opportunity to make another overseas trip, one that could take in Canada and the An Event Apart conference happening in Washington, D.C. the week before:
- 20 October: Depart London Heathrow
- 21-25 October: Washington, D.C.
- 26 October: Ottawa, Ontario
- 27-29 October: Toronto, Ontario
- 30-31 October: Saltspring Island, British Columbia
- 1-2 November: Vancouver, British Columbia
- 3 November: Coast Starlight
- 4-6 November: San Francisco, California
- 7 November: Arrive London Heathrow
Obviously, this contradicted my desire to cut down the air miles. By my failed logic, if I’m travelling such a long way, I should cram in as much as possible for that distance to have been worth flying — even if doing so would result in further flights. Thankfully parts of this itinerary were joined together by rail, which remains my favourite means of travel.
Still, I end the year with a tinge of guilt, and answerable to the valid accusation of hypocrisy. Having tried so diligently last year to reduce the amount of flying I do, I hoped to keep this year’s long-haul flights to one. With an important part of my family now settled in São Paulo, and some of my best friends based in North America, maybe such lofty goals are foolhardy.
On this, I discovered an interesting quote by Samuel Johnson:
Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.
I lack no courage to undertake a journey; I do however lack the courage of my convictions.
Sat in the front seat of another float plane, I enjoyed a breathtaking view of Vancouver as I descended into its harbour. For such a densely populated city, I felt I’d arrived somewhere small and friendly.
After eight days exploring North America, it was time to visit some of its more westerly extremities. Flying out from Toronto, my first stop was Saltspring Island, via Vancouver Airport and a float plane.
Some cities are best arrived at by air; only by flying over Sydney, London or New York do you get a sense of their scale and majesty. San Francisco is best approached by car, with some of the best views of that city seen as you cross the Bay Bridge. Others are best suited to arrival by train. Toronto is one such city.
After four days in Washington, it was on to another North American capital, Ottawa. I encountered a city that was cold yet plentiful in ATMs that would refuse to accept my debit card.
My North American adventure started in Washington DC; ostensibly so I could attend an edition of this year’s An Event Apart conference. Yet it was also a good excuse to catch up with Shannon, who graciously planned a tour of the city for me and Andy.