My Oregon Trail - on that midnight train to Portland

On my episodic train ride on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight up the Pacific coast I would have only one overnight segment, from San Jose to Portland. This ended up being about a 19 hour trip and I loved every bit of it. I had a Roomette sleeper which allowed for good night’s sleep in a cozy bed.



As we rode north we were, by running a bit late, still in California at sunrise. I have posted a picture of Mt Shasta at sunrise already so won’t repeat that shot here. But any day that begins with this view out your bedroom window is a good one.


I quickly got up and went to the dining car to enjoy this view over breakfast.


The views to the West were more open at this point.

Pro tips: A word about picture quality here, since the shot below shows the issue. The landscape shots in this post were taken from inside the train, so picture quality suffers from the glass and dust on it, and sometimes water droplets. And try as I might, light and glare reflections off the glass are nearly impossible to eliminate. (Though sometimes, as above, it is desired to create the in-the-train perspective.) Also the train is usually moving, one hopes. 

So I would jack up the ISO to allow for faster shutter speeds to freeze the ground moving by. This also introduces some degradation. That is especially noticeable in lower light, such as at sunrise here. But at least the jostling train doesn’t render quite everything a blur. Also, I would shoot at a wider focal length and then crop down because timing and aiming shots on a moving train is hard. Finally, I shot in manual focus because that is much faster on the lens I use for travel, but it means that I had to set focus and hope for the best.

So as can be seen below, these are not very sharp images. Even the ones here that look okay online, do not stand up to much scrutiny when blown up, due to a lot of noise and grain. But if I hadn’t taken the train I wouldn’t have seen all this anyway so it’s worth it. Mainly I was aiming for a good composition and not worried about crispness.

In a way, I think the effect ends up being somewhat painterly, torn from the canvases of the Hudson River School, which isn’t a bad thing of course. That is especially evident in the trees and shrubs in the foreground which were moving by more quickly. Not all photography has to aim for perfect sharpness. For all it’s many faults as a technical photograph (I hadn’t planned originally to include it here because of them) the more I look at this shot below the more I like it. If I could paint anything like this I would be extremely happy with the result. If you focus on some of the trees or shrubs you almost see brushstrokes.


After breakfast I sat in the observation car and even an hour later we were still getting views of Shasta, here from the north looking back. I think if I do this trip again I will make Shasta a stopover.


Eventually the train took us into Oregon.


And after awhile we moved into on-and-off-again fog. Spent the day mostly relaxing. 


Once arrived in Portland I walked the few blocks from the train station to the Society Hotel for the night. It’s a European style small inn, with dorm or small private rooms available, no amenities, shared baths, and all exceptionally clean; a very good value in downtown Portland. This sort of hotel should be available everywhere. It is a step up from a room in a hostel but is priced similarly. I don’t need a TV, alarm clocks, fancy lighting or a bed bigger than what I have at home. The hotel was not my destination here, just a clean and secure place to sleep for the night.


I got a room in Portland, rather than just immediately renting a car and heading to the coast, because I did not want any travel connections that could be upset by a delayed train. The train was due to arrive an hour and a half before the city car rental desk closed for the night. (Airport rental desks stay open later.) But, I did not want to be worrying if the train was running late. It turned out that I would have missed the closing time by 20 minutes had I tried to make it. So planning to stay over in town was a good call. Make no plans that will be upset if a delay occurs and then you never have to stress over delays.

Next morning the city office of Hertz was an easy walk, conveniently the App directions went past and then right up to the counter at Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts.


Then I would rent a car and head for Astoria, for close to a week driving along the Oregon coast. Pro tip: sometimes the car rentals in the city office are much cheaper than out at the airport. This week-long rental cost only $110, considerably cheaper.



©️ 2019 D Abbott