Middle To West

Reflections from a 52-Hour Train Ride Across the United States

Travis W. King
8 min readJul 28, 2022


Preface: Before I started writing my book, before I knew I could actually write, I wrote this. A reflection about an interesting time on a very long cross country train ride. When I finshed the first draft, I passed it to a few magazines and got a few kind rejection letters. What I realized later is, it wasn’t that good.

The story was true, but it wasn’t gripping. It wasn’t punchy. I recently found this old reflection in the reject pile and reworked parts of it to make it sound more like 38-year-old me. To add some sizzle and rhythm. I wrote the first draft of this when I was 31, on the way to my little sisters 30th birthday in San Francisco. Here’s the second draft, about eight years later, for my Medium audience.

Enjoy meeting the characters who ride the train.

Choo-choooooo!!! Photo by Balazs Busznyak on Unsplash.

It’s natural to assume one would choose to take a train over a flight for economic reasons. But me — no, not ME! — I found a flight that was the exact same price as the choo-choo: 164 dollars. It was also leaving on the exact same day from Chicago to San Francisco.

I chose the train to experience the train.

There’s something old-timey and romantic about a train ride. I wanted to get intimate with my country — with the beautiful parts that I knew the tracks cut through. Parts of her I’d never seen.

I also wanted to spend time with myself. I wanted to learn about myself, to get better at being with myself. What will I do with 52 hours trapped in a silver bullet, I wondered while packing my trusty rucksack.

After boarding, the whistle screeched, and I listened to the icy push of the wheels grinding forward over Chicago’s frosted steel. I settled and observed — mostly assessing how people spent their time.

Chicago winters are no joke. Photo by Josh Wilburne on Unsplash

In my car, at least, the most popular activity was looking out of the window. I would have guessed that reading, playing on a smartphone, or watching a movie would have dominated eye-ball attention. But, for a lot of folks, looking out of the window was the activity of…



Travis W. King

Traveling, writing, & working abroad for 10 years. Former Remote Year Dir. of Community. Check out my travel memoir—Not That Anyone Asked—at www.traviswking.com