Posts in United States

Weekly Photo Mojo: A Silver Lake Reflects the Sky in Infinite Symmetry across Oregon.

It was Day 3 of my train adventure across America and my last day on the Empire Builder. We were just entering into Oregon when I woke up and looked out my sleeper car and peeked out the window and saw this. Immediately I grabbed my Canon, racked the shutter speed up to 500, and began snapping photos.

The clouds and the sky melted into the horizon becoming one with the mirror lake. The world could be flipped upside down and we’d never know.


If you like the photo, share this inspiration banner!


This photo is from a cross-country 6 day train adventure across the United States on Amtrak and the pre-cursor to my trip to Southeast Asia. If you want to check out the daily recap from this trip and life on the train, start at Gnarly Train Adventure Day 1!

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

What feeling does this photo evoke for you?

 **DISCLOSURE** I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a free trip courtesy of Amtrak for review purposes. The opinions, photos, videos, and use of the word “gnarly” are completely my own based on my experience.


Amtrak Train Across America Day 2: Discoveries.

The second day of my Amtrak train adventure across America gave rise to more discovery. Unexpected, one of self belief. The other — forgotten values of America through interactions with people I wouldn’t have spoken to in every day life.

I woke in a slight mental haze around 8:00am. Confusion. Bewilderment. Maybe it was just sleeping on a train that did it to me. Or maybe it has been the lack of sleep I’ve had leading up to this trip.

One might assume I’d be used to sleeping on trains by now. After all, I did cross the United States once before on a more direct route. Add trips to New Orleans and Montreal and expert contortionist could be a skill on my résumé.

Well, you can never quite get used to some things. It wasn’t the seat. They are spacious and comfortable with that marvelous leg rest that pops up to allow you to sprawl out. You can tell I’m a fan.

No, it was the behemoth beside me that probably kept me from a marvelous rest.

It always seems that on every one of my train adventures I am sat with the largest man on the train. Vertical or horizontal.

I mean, I am a small dude, yet the sound of a jet turbine escaping his mouth paired with his constant elbowing often throughout the night could not be defended against.

And in a red-eyed panic I realized I couldn’t find my precious headphones. I must have offended the travel gods in some way. But I did sleep. Kind of.

Dawn cracked, and the egg yolk finally began rising over the horizon, sunny side up.

The fact that I was associating the sunrise with an egg proved just how hungry I was. I had forgotten one of the most important things to pack for a long distance train trip. Snacks.

I was ravenous.

It was in the bathroom as I was brushing my teeth that I realized exactly what I had forgotten at home. My electric shaver. Dammit.

My face was sprouting like a Chia Pet.

After this train trip my inadvertent backpacker beard should be well on its way to grizzly. But what the hell, it’s Movember right?

We were welcomed into the Windy City by the bellowing white smoke escaping the landscape of refineries.

8:45 am, which gave me 5 or so hours to quell my ravenous hunger for Chicago Deep dish. I heaved my packs on, and even though I weighed about 50lbs more than normal , it seems as though I am nimbler than 80.75% of the passengers on the train. We shuffled along the dark and narrow platform, like a cattle in a pen. For a fast walker this is vein bursting.

When the dip, dive, and dodge failed to break through the hordes of luggage wheelers blocking my path, a luggage cart came pressing its way past. I dipped my shoulder and followed it like my lead blocker.

The cold Chicago air bit at my lungs, but it was refreshing. I’ve been in Chicago numerous times, once before on a train, and once on a road trip across the United States, but never long enough to get to know her.

My impression has always been the same. Cold, tall, and covered in sheen. What a woman!

Since the train to Chicago didn’t have wifi and I was aching to gush about my first day on the train, I went to a Corner Bakery for a bite and to warm up.

Creating the legendary Chicago deep dish seems like a secret art form, and with curiosity and hunger driving me, I cold called around to all of the most iconic pizzerias.

I was dying to see just how they create these massive land-mines of flavor, and would have loved to show you the process. But alas, the offices were closed on weekends, so I gave up the futile attempt.

Begging didn’t help…

I chose Giordano’s because it was recommended highly by some Twits (that’s what we call ourselves on Twitter right?) but the biggest reason was that it was only a 10 minute waddle from the station for me.

Away from the glass skyscrapers nipping at the clouds, Giordano’s was tucked away in a small hotel across the canal which surprised me at first. Odd I thought for such a well known entity.

Without going into too much detail since I will share an in depth post on it, I will tantalize you with a teaser.

Massive. Smoldering. Flaky. Cheesy. Molten. Meaty. Bombdiggty.

After a shameful attempt to nom-nom-dominate my meatball stuffed deep dish foe, I succumbed to defeat only after 2 slices.

Time was ticking and it was near departure time, so I headed back to Union Station 2lbs heavier and 10 times happier.

The boarding area to the Empire Builder was tight and smothering, swarming with bodies like an overcrowded kennel. When I stepped up to present my ticket to the attendant, he looked slightly shocked and said, “Oh wow, a room huh?”

“Yep” I said, slightly smiling at his surprise. I proceeded down the platform and was welcomed in by Jim, the roomette attendant, and shown to my room.

My first impression were as follows: Large double window. Two massive seats. Complimentary bottled water and necessities.

Pretty nifty little flat I might say so. It was a little Cold War era feeling, with grey metal and wood paneling. Design aesthetics like bulbous night lights and brushed steel oval touch controls reminiscent of black and white sci fi movies adorned the head rests.

Not bad things by far, but it definitely gives you the feel of the last golden age of Amtrak after the government began focusing on other things.

Given the anti-modern appearance, being in that large room all by yourself with ample space to stretch out made me extremely giddy. And it beats out any other transport in that sense.

The roomettes around me were empty. It felt as though I had the whole car to myself, yet I wouldn’t have to go far for any company.

That swell chap Jim who had greeted me poked his head in with a complimentary bottle of bubbly.


“Hell yes” I said. I kicked back while sipping from the bottle in my unclassy fashion, and watched the grassy yellow plains drift by after departing Chicago.

Between departure and darkness, there wasn’t much to see. In the viewing car spotted a girl sitting alone whom I had bumped into on the previous train and in line to get on the Empire Builder, so I decided to say hello.

It’s strange what travel does to you. For most of my life living in the Washington DC area, we are bred to be like automatons. If you are using public transport you must sit still, shut up, not smile, put on sun glasses, don’t make eye contact, and put in headphones so no weirdos talk to you. That’s just how it is. Travel seems to disrupt that. If you let it.

So, accepting the laws of attraction, I approached her. She had what looked like a handmade scarf and a hoodie that was proudly labeled with a farms name.

It isn’t physical attraction, but a realization that sometimes people and personalities are magnetic and the world brings you together in positive or negative pairings. Be it guy or girl, the world seems to bring you to people you need to meet, at least I’ve encountered that when I’m in a positive mindset.

Mary, it turns out, would be quite contrary. At first conversation flowed very easily just making small talk about our trip and our lives. She was moving to Pittsburgh, but it seemed like her heart lived in Wisconsin. She didn’t watch TV, or gossip, or complain the whole conversation.

“What is your passion?” I asked.

With a soft gentle voice and a smile like she was imagining home, she said, “My raspberries.”

Mary, 28, knew everything about farming and crop rotation. Her favorite thing was a Louis Vouton bag, it was something she created.

“I just love them so much. My apples. My blackberries. My raspberries. I like being in my garden.”

And after a little more small talk, I would then see why the world brought us together for a conversation.

Somehow she had sensed even without me mentioning it that both my parents had passed away. After talking briefly about my revelations and reconciling with my brother, she began questioning about my parents.

“And I’m guessing your mother didn’t die naturally?”

I was taken aback by how much she could guess when I felt like I hadn’t given up any clues. I told her almost everything that had happened in the past five years, something I don’t verbally communicate to many people. She listened intently. I kept talking. And then she posed a question that was hard to answer.

“Do you think you’ll ever see your mother and father again?”

“I don’t know. I’d hope so”

Mary looked as if she would cry.

Now, I am not one to discuss religion, and I don’t particularly enjoy discussing it, but that was why Mary was quite contrary. She was a contrast of myself. The opposite of my non-belief. She didn’t push religion, or Catholicism, into my face like those mass produced bread of Christ wafers, though her faith was very apparent. When she did begin to preach, she would check herself.

Out of respect for other peoples beliefs, I will not talk about how I feel about religion. But let’s just say Mary and I were having a friendly debate.

What Mary did though was she got me to begin talking about my own belief and being. She got me to challenge my mind. And I am open to expanding it these days.

In that conversation I realized just how far I had come leading up to this trip.

There I was, talking about how closed off emotionally I used to be and how it finally feels good to express compassion to others with someone I didn’t know. That hadn’t even happened with family until a week prior.

“It just breaks my heart to hear you don’t believe yet that you will see your mother or father in whatever eternity it may be.”

“Well, honestly, I just don’t know. I didn’t believe in anything at all for the past 5 years. I finally, for the first time, believe in myself.”

And there was the answer to why this trip is a transformational one.

I could take a plane, train, or car anywhere I want, but I’d always be running. At least I had been.

Now, on this Empire Builder train across America, I believed in myself and I was open to the endless possibilities of the world. I had faith in my dream. And I was realizing through interactions with people all over the world, they will challenge me to discover new things.

Mary left when we pulled into Lacrosse, Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin people are hard people.”

It seemed so to live on a landmass with nothing in sight, and from the girl who loved her raspberries more than the world loves Kardashians.

Another perk about having a roomette was that all of the meals on the train are included, and you could be damn sure I wouldn’t miss a single meal,

The dining rooms are communal, and I feel like if you are open to meeting strangers, this is the best part of taking the train. They sit you with another random passenger if there are 3 or less people. And I’ll tell ya’ from experience, you meet some wild characters. And some equally fascinating people.

Sat across from me was Zach, a burly gent headed to North Dakota for a hunting trip. He had the beard and hat to match the intent.

Be it by law of attraction again, or just by coincidence, but talking to strangers on the train makes you realize just how many similarities people have with each other.

People are so intertwined, it’s human nature to interact. In this day and age it is a dying thing.

“I think it’s awesome you just travel to travel. I have a friend who was an up and coming bio-chemist who decided to ditch that and move to New Zealand to study wine making.”

“Ha, that’s wicked. I was in New Zealand for a year myself.”

“That’s what it’s all about I guess. Doing what makes you happy.” He said.

Our waiter for the dinner was an example of that. I will call him Matt. Matt, a gentleman most likely in his 50’s with a grey crew cut and a soft spoken finesse, has worked for Amtrak for 35 years. He was polite, and I knew just by talking to him that he loved his job.

“I’ve done it all on Amtrak. Chef. Bartender. Waiter. Office work. I’ve seen all of the change. And I’ve seen what has stayed the same.”

Passion. It oozes from the employees for Amtrak and its history. In his face shown the disappointment of how the United States treats train travel.

“It’s subsidized, sure, but not the way you think. They might cover 15% of the costs. If that. The other 85% is us. And it just breaks even. The US government just wants everyone to buy gasoline. Drive cars. Buy cars.”

This conversation was sparked when I inclined about the lack of outlets and wifi. Obviously as a blogger, wifi is one of your top priorities. The complete lack of it on long haul train routes across the United States shocked and appalled many customers. And I won’t lie. I was a tad bit offended until discovering the root of it all.

“I see some change coming to these long distance sleepers. Hopefully soon. President Bush wanted to abandon us completely, but Obama hasn’t decided to.”

The forgotten backbone of America.

The splintered wood and cold steel road that connecting thousands of miles of unexplored terrain.

Once upon a time it conjured the spirit of adventure, of expansion, of innovation.

I was on the Empire Builder, deserving of its name as I began to enter into states it connected just as forgotten as Amtrak for their importance.

Like a zipper, the train pulled the fabric of America together. The deeper I go into the north-west, the more it is apparent that Amtrak wasn’t the only thing that was forgotten. It was the values of America that America forgot. I was moving into the cold, hard, desolate lands.

Staring out through the passing darkness listening to the click-clack of the tracks, one has a lot of time to think. For someone who grew up in the capital of the United States, I am guilty of forgetting as well.

Distractions and possessions are an intimate part of your life in that element, but once you break out, you find knowledge in every passing mile and every person.

I tapped the oval touch button in my space capsule, AKA roomette (which I was hoping would be accompanied with a “bloop bleep”) and the lights dimmed. A purple sleep light came on. There was such nerdy delight found in that.

With a stretch accompanied by a roar, I plopped into my sleeper so very content to not have a man-turbine beside me as the big spoon.

Tomorrow, more miles and more unknown.
Like this story? Get caught up on all of the other days on this gnarly train adventure across the United States!

READ – DAY 1: Closure

READ – DAY 3: Discovery.

READ Ginos East vs. Giordanos: A Deep Dish Love Affair

**DISCLOSURE** I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a free trip courtesy of Amtrak Blog for review purposes. The opinions, photos, videos, and use of the word “gnarly” are completely my own based on my experience.

Amtrak Train Across America Day 1: Closure.

Your life can change in an instant, or with one simple choice — like one I made to take an Amtrak train across America. After a year stateside working and saving up money, the pull of my nomadic soul began again. I needed to travel. So, on a whim, I booked a flight to Thailand from California. I just had to get there. And what better way to see the United States than by rail.


Today began just like every other day.

I woke up at the shriek of my alarm clock.

I peeled myself off of the couch that I’ve been sleeping on for the past 3 months.

I showered.

I brushed my teeth.

And then I looked in the mirror. I smiled.

I smiled at myself because today wasn’t just any other day. Today, looking in that mirror, I knew was a day that was extra ordinary.

Today I was not having to rush into work and serve other people for their own pleasure. Today I wasn’t having to fit myself like a gear into the massive money machine construct that is our dear capitalistic nation.

Today was profound.

Today meant I was doing something great.

Today I would do something abnormal. Abstract. Odd. Unexpected.

Today was the day I take a step that will unravel an adventure spanning thousands of miles and multiple time zones.

Today I would begin spanning different landscapes, environments, and cities. Spanning multiple countries and cultures.

Most of all, today marked the start of a journey spanning the far reaches of my dream. This time, that dream wasn’t clouded in a haze of depression and self-doubt. This day, today, I knew I was embarking on a trip of transformation and discovery.

Today, looking in that mirror, I truly felt alive.

Outside, November was throwing one helluva fit. She wailed and cried, hissed and spit. I woke up early, even though I had a late train, for the sole purpose of visiting my parents at the cemetery to say my goodbyes.

For a lad without a car and carrying a massive backpack filled with his entire life, it was quite a far way. I was determined to continue my ritual of leaving a pair of my worn and torn chucks at their graves before I left.

It always represented me leaving my past behind. By leaving my chucks which were falling apart at the seams, I saw it as myself leaving my tattered heart and soul behind to start anew.

But November it seemed, would not break her chaotic emotions, and by the time the weather lightened up, it was too late to visit them.

I took a deep breath and accepted this unfortunate scenario. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe, just as this trip was vastly different emotionally for me than all before, it was time to give up the ritual.

No more was I trying to leave my past behind and forget it. I wasn’t trying to ditch my tattered heart and soul with my dead parents in hopes to find something new. I’ve come to terms with my past and faced my demons as of late. This was a trip to build my self in its entirety into something great.

I’ve accepted my past and I’ve finally found closure.

I finished packing the last of my belongings into my light blue REI pack. Embarrassing fact — it’s a girls backpack, and the only one that fit me.

Another funny thing you realize when you pack your entire life into a backpack is that you see just exactly what belongs. That’s the difference between belongings and possessions people rarely see.

I hauled the hefty pack on and proceeded to do that chicken dance you have to just so you can tighten the straps in the proper fashion.

Hip straps pulled tight. Top straps over the shoulder pulled forward. Bent over, shoulder straps pulled backwards tight. Wiggle until comfortable.

Once situated, I plopped my even heavier tech bag on the front of my body. Every type of electronic you can imagine lives in that, and I know you might think they are all possessions, but they all totally belong in my life. Tech junky.



After a once over of the apartment so not to forget anything (which I would discover later that I did forget something important) I said my goodbyes to a best friend, and started my way to Union Station looking like an awkward human RV.

I soon found myself within the low-lit vaulted ceilings of Union Station in Washington DC. All of my great adventures have started here, and being around all of the travelers scurrying about like busy ants gives you that feeling of perpetual movement.

Yet, most people in this ebb and flow of bodies were there for business, cycling through endlessly each day, whereas I felt like a stationary being trapped in a timelapse. Everyone was in such a rush and all avoiding eye contact with anybody else.

Some people waited at the timetable boards staring as if their mental complaints about it not showing their arrival time yet would have any effect on the screen. I had no need to rush around anymore. And I had no need to wait around for things to change.

My train, the Amtrak 29 Capital Limited to Chicago, arrived on time and we all shuffled forth to board. We were down a platform between two polished silver Amtrak superliners painted American red and blue, and my eye widened with marvel as we passed by these great hissing steel beasts.

Amtrak 29

The benefit of these long distance trains is the massive amount of leg space provided, easily beating out airlines for comfort.

And to my delight, it seems as though these older trains had been freshersized a tad bit. No more tacky rainbow-colored confetti print that gives you a headache to look at. Ya’ know, that décor that looks like a kiddo with a crayon got a hold of a Rorschach graphic. Now, at least for this train, they’ve dressed it in the dark Amtrak blue that is much easier on the eyes.

photo 4-1

Immediately after departure, I took to the viewing car to kick my chucks back and enjoy the views. The storm had passed giving way to a clear blue sky.

Then we were off.

With a screech and a clunk and a hiss and a few other noises, the train pulled out of Union Station. And thus my gnarly American train adventure began!

From floor to ceiling in the panoramic viewing car I watched ivy covered oaks and sycamores flash by in the blur of orange, crimson, and gold of autumn.


Sunlight flecked through one side of the train dancing shadows across my leather-bound journal as I jotted down details.

We passed through a pitch dark tunnel and emerged on the other side of the mountain to cross a rusted steel bridge into Harpers Ferry. A civil war town that I’ve always loved visiting, everybody in the viewing car gathered to the one side to marvel at the old stone houses lining the tree brushed hills of the Shenandoah Valley.

I was already in the infancy of Lewis and Clark’s journey through the wilds of America, and my next train would take me deep into the rugged north still along their path. Here though was where Thomas Jefferson stood and said, “insert awe-inspiring quote here that I forgot.”


Okay, just kidding, Thomas Jefferson stood upon the rock now named after him and declared, “perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature.”

Can ya blame me for loving this little historic town?

Minutes later we were on our way again. It would be a long distance before we saw much else that resembled a town, so I grabbed a Sierra Nevada and sipped a beer as the trees strobed sunlight through the viewing car like a disco ball. Just the train floating over sprawling golden farmland.

I hadn’t had much interactions with other passengers thus far, but I did spark up a conversation with Melissa who was sitting beside me, fascinated by my selfie recordings via my GoPro.


Oh no, I was just staring because it thought it was so cool you could see it on your phone too!

She was an older woman with blonde hair and a quick smile, and she seemed genuinely happy to be on the train.

I’m headed to Cleveland to see the Browns be beaten by the Ravens with my brother.

Oh, so you are from Baltimore?

Oh no, from Indiana, I love them too. But I don’t mess with those…Redskins.

You could hear the distaste of a die-hard fan. I told her about my road trip that I took across the United States when I was 20, and stopping off in Chicago and Cleveland.

And when I was in Chicago, I took the wrong exit and ended up in Cabrini Green. I suddenly realized I had seen that apartment complex on Gangland and America’s Most Dangerous Places.

Talk about a wrong turn” she said, and got up to grab another beer.

When she returned and cracked open a Miller Light, I could hear the similar sound of her heart breaking.

They were out of Corona

I felt sad for her, because it seemed like a dire situation for she was suddenly in, and because of the fact that we had just departed and already run out of her favorite nectar. I always thought it tasted like piss.

Oh the woes of a traveler.

The sun sank below the horizon turning the sky into the color of a melted creamsicle. As the daylight died, the viewing car livened. Cracking beer tops rang out and half the car erupted into song and dance.

One group was blaring their music through speakers they had brought, while two older gentleman bragged about who would be better in a dance off. Soon enough, they were awkwardly moon walking down the aisle as Michael Jackson wooed and yeeheed from the speakers.

Though I was tempted to let loose the dance demon inside and show them how to shake it, I was in a particular mood. And I also didn’t want to show up ever white boy in existence with my divinely bestowed dance skills.

It wasn’t that I was bored or over it. I wasn’t even bothered by the noise. More like I was completely content. I felt a calm over myself being on this journey.

After a couple of hours the music died and the people returned to their seats to sleep. The darkness outside a train window in the middle of nowhere is a fascinating thing. It is like staring into polished black marble, with the faint silhouettes of trees like the veins in the stone.

The rocking of the train and the light hum of the wind lullabies you instantly to sleep. I was startled awake at one point when a train on the opposite tracked whizzed by. It sounded like low and high-pitched howling by spirits, and was as mesmerizing as it was bone chilling.

When we pulled out of the white speckled skyline of Pittsburgh after midnight, a monstrous yawn signaled it was time for sleep. Tomorrow was Chicago, and I needed the energy to hunt down my deep dish pizza fix on a 4hr layover.

To get caught up with my story of triumph from depression to transformation, read Memoirs of a Lost Boy.

Like this story? Get caught up on all of the other days on this gnarly train adventure across the United States!

READ – DAY 2: Discovery

READ – DAY 3: Seeing Clearly

READ – Ginos East vs. Giordanos: A Deep Dish Love Affair


**DISCLOSURE** I was not financially compensated for this post. I received a free trip courtesy of Amtrak for review purposes. The opinions, photos, videos, and use of the word “gnarly” are completely my own based on my experience. 


Weekly Photo Mojo: The Amtrak 19 Crescent Train and a Wild Perspective.

I’ve been raving so much lately about my upcoming 6 day Amtrak trip on the famous Empire Builder train that I thought I’d show a photo from one of my previous trips. Here is the Amtrak 19 Crescent stopped at a station on one of our brief rest breaks during the 26hr journey. I loved this photo because of the perspective, as it seems like the train goes on forever into the distance.


If you fancy spreading the inspiration, share the photo below!

19 Crescent Amtrak Train

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

What feeling does this photo evoke for you?


What, Where, Why: 30 Days until My Great American Train Adventure!


Earlier this morning I received a notification from my phone and immediately I got butterflies in my stomach. 30 days until my Amtrak trip across the United States, and 30 days until the beginning of a new adventure.

So where am I exactly going? What will I be doing on this trip? Why the train and not flying? No worries, I’m here to fill ya in on all the juicy tidbits of this upcoming trip.


Why the train?

First off, let me tell you a little about the train and why I was really wanting to only take that mode of transport across the United States. The train and I are like adventure buddies, and every time a trip is on the horizon, we can’t imagine embarking without each other. Well, at least that is how it is for me, I don’t think the train can reciprocate.

When I decided in the fall of 2011 to travel for the first time, I romanticized a great American train adventure. It would be one reminiscent of the industrial era of the late 1800’s as Americans pushed West across the vast distances on Steam Engines. Or like 1950’s and inspire the kind of magic and excitement like the first Streamliner trains like the California Zephyr and the Super Chief did.

So was it like that? Well, yes and no. Obviously my lofty Western Movie style fantasy was a bit unrealistic, but the magic is still there today. I had never taken the Amtrak train anywhere before, and a 3 day journey is serious travel time, but for me there was no better way to begin a trip than a long journey itself.

On November 1st 2011 I visited my parents graves and left my old chucks behind and boarded a train to the West. From Washington D.C. I embarked on my first train trip, through Chicago where I ate my first deep dish, all the way to Albuquerque and its fiery desert sunsets, to Los Angeles California. Watching the landscape of the United States transform before your eyes really allows you to grasp just how vast and diverse it is.

And that is why I chose to travel by train again. The joy of travel is in movement, and instead of taking the quickest flight to California, I am going to take a train a different route across this time and again feel that magic of movement, of being on an adventure.

As a pitch to Amtrak and its PR/media representatives as a possible partnership for this blog and this trip, I put together this graphic below that explains why I love train travel.


Where am I going? 

This trip I will be again leaving on November 1st from Washington D.C. in the same fashion I left the last time. I will say my goodbyes to my parents and friends, and set off to Chicago which is the main transfer hub to the west. I will HOPEFULLY have time to visit another Chicago deep dish joint and nom nom-dominate one of my favorite foods, and then I will begin a long 5 day trip.


My last trip I took the green route on the map, but this time I will be taking the Empire Builder train on the blue route to Vancouver, Washington. Through the rugged northwest pines, over golden plains, and atop majestic mountains following in the footsteps of the first great American adventurers; Lewis and Clark.

My first trip I was hellbent on starting over and leaving my past behind, but just like the train I will be on, this time I am building upon myself and going the distance, not running away.

From Vancouver, I will have one overnight stay until leaving down the Pacific coastline and rumored to be one for the most scenic routes in the north Americas all the way to Los Angeles.

Amtrak Empire builder is crossing a huge trestle at middle fork of the Flat head river, Montana, U.S.A.

(photo credit:

When I’ve gone across the United States by train or even by car, I’ve always taken the mid/southern route, and finally getting to see the great northern expanse change before my eyes as I sit back in the viewing car has me crazy excited.

Gnarly things coming!

I am extremely excited to say that after conference calls with Amtrak’s PR company and pitching them the trip, that Amtrak will be sponsoring this whole journey! I feel proud that a way of travel I love so much is going to be providing the opportunity for me to show you all just why train travel is amazing.

I am using this trip before my flight to Southeast Asia to begin my push into travel videos. I have a history with videography, and I record a TON of travel footage wherever I go, but I’ve never really taking the leap into travel video blogging. This will be my next serious creative endeavor, and I will be recording the whole journey on the train, and then my whole year in Southeast Asia to visually inspire.

I’m über pumped up for this!

Want to come along for my Great American Train Adventure?

I will most likely be creating a special hashtag for this adventure, maybe #Railtales? I will also be showing snippets on video and photo apps like Vine and Instagram (justchuckinit). To follow along the route, make sure to follow me on Foursquare (justchuckinit) as a check in across the great expanse. I’ll be using Twitter (@justchuckinit) to hashtag about the trip and Facebook to share adventure updates and photos. After the adventure, I’ll be ramping up my Travel Videos section so make sure to stop by there and check out some of my older videos.

Have you ever been on a long distance train adventure?

Disclosure: I was not financially compensated for this post.  I received a free trip courtesy of Amtrak for review purposes.  The opinions, photos, videos, and use of the word “gnarly” are completely my own based on my experience.

Weekly Photo Mojo: New Orleans, it’s in the Clip-Clop of the Horse and Buggy.

One of the normal sights and sounds of New Orleans, especially in the French Quarter, is that of the colorful row houses with wrought-iron railings and the clip-clop of the horse and buggy rides.

Yet another reason why this town just has a soul different from the rest of the United States, and yet another reason why it is my favorite city in North America.


Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

What feeling does this photo evoke for you?


Weekly Photo Mojo: From a New Orleans Marching Band Perspective.

A lot of elements combine together to make New Orleans one of my favorite cities I’ve ever been to, but the most prominent has to be the music. At its heart, New Orleans is a place that thumps against your heart with the sound of tubas, raises the hairs on your skin with the song of saxophones, and gets your feet jiving to the tune of trombones.

And the most cliché and accurate representation about the New Orleans musical vibes is their marching bands. Every weekend throughout the year, you’ll find brass marching bands bobbing and sliding and strutting down the streets in front of a parade of people celebrating a wedding. So I thought I would give you the perspective from these musicians and the fun they bring.


Here is a graphic you can share to give a shot of mojo to friends!


Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

What feeling does this photo evoke for you?


Weekly Photo Mojo: New Orleans Expressed in One Picture.

New Orleans is one of my favorite cities in the United States for many reasons, and a few of them can be summed up by this one photo.

As I was wandering the streets, my attention was suddenly drawn to a woman walking down the street. No, it wasn’t because my male instincts were checking her out (I’m sure she is very pretty) but it was the 1950’s style dress she wore.

It suddenly felt as though I had time traveled. The French style architecture i the houses that lined the street, the brick factory on the left. Take out the cars and give this a sepia tone and you may not be able to tell which decade it was from!

New Orleans hasn’t aged a bit…and that is a good thing.

New Orleans Architecture

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.)

Have you been to New Orleans? Can’t you feel that vibe everywhere?

Great Falls National Park: Best Day Hike Near Washington DC

A fierce white, frothing river cuts through grey, jagged bedrock at thousands of pounds per second. Parallel sits a now docile canal, once built-in hopes of increasing trade and traffic through the region. The thunderous roar of the falls can be heard for miles amongst the green brushed treetops and the lush, fern covered shorelines.

When you think of Washington D.C. do you really ever picture this in your head?

Not many people do. Most will think of a bustling historic city, the monuments overflowing with selfie taking tourists, and the capital of the United States where starched suits zip about like automatons.

But there is a secret escape to the madness of the city. And it’s right in my own back yard.

Just a short drive from downtown Washington D.C. is Great Falls National park, and one of my absolute favorite places to work up a sweat hiking, exploring, and leaping over the rocks all around the raging Potomac River.

So, to break your stigma of Washington D.C. I’m going to take you along a hike of Great Falls on the Maryland side. The Potomac river cuts a line in between Maryland and Virginia, and though I haven’t explored the Virginia side, I’ve heard it is just as ravishing.

Though I have been gushing about the natural beauty and amazing hiking that Canada has to offer from my recent road trip, Great Falls may always be a favorite of mine.

…and as always, click or tap the photos to explode your retinas. And to Pin them 😉


Geese nibble here and there at the start of the trail.



Okay, you can say “Awww” now. Papa Goose got pretty pissed as I waddled closer and closer to take a photo.

(click to play Vine snippet – A Walk-About Great Falls)


C & O Canal packet boat from the 1870’s rest still on the water, each year growing ever more weather worn.



Spring fights to break Winter’s death grip as skeleton trees begin to bloom.



Various dirt paths break away from the Canal towards the river. A bridge takes you to an overlook where the waterfalls and rapids drop the steepest.



Green moss and ferns line the calmer portion of the river. A feeling of serenity as the sunlight trickles through the tree branches.



Puffy white clouds reflect off over a calm flowing portion of the river.



Wandering around off the dedicated path you’ll find small pond, tiny beaches, and bright wild flowers. Looks like a breeding ground for mosquitos to me…

 Bull Frog

…and apparently grouchy looking Bull Frogs.

Black Snake

…and SNAKES!

I’m deathly afraid of snakes. And I happened across not one, but TWO of them. Even though I don’t think these were of the poisonous type, they still scared the hell out of me when I nearly stepped on them.


Moving on from snakes to more beautiful things.


Obviously I have a fascination for “gnarly” things, like these gnarled roots and stumps fighting for space around the stone outcroppings.

(click to play Vine snippet – Water flows under the roots)


20130627-151244.jpg  Uh oh, looks like someone has a leak to fix…



Yes. I hike in a leather jacket, jeans, combat boots, and fedora. It was still a tad bit nipply outside. Okay, I’ll say brisk.



All around, from the canals to the falls, you can feed your waterfall addiction.


20130627-151428.jpg  Whoopsies. Looks like I already broke some rules…

…by leaping around on rocks below.


(click to play Vine snippet – Rule breaking and rock climbing.)



All signs of winter hadn’t disappeared yet. Orange and red were still in fashion for Mother Nature here and there.


There is something mesmerizing about the flow of water, isn’t there?



The work of Mother Nature at it’s finest, she always prevails. Effects from the Ice Age and the persistent flow of water cut multiple arteries through the landscape for the water to flow.


Okay, Okay. I get the hint. No straying from the path… *Guilty as Charged*


A giant rock bursts through the outlook planks with a plaque, dedicated as Olmstead Island. Frederick Olmstead is the reason for the great preservation of the falls and surrounding landscapes. What a swell chap!


I spy…a Blue Heron! Can you see it?


Great Falls National Park Panoramic

(click to view this stunning panoramic photo)


It is wild to think that just miles away from where I live is such an amazing display of the power of Mother nature. Over the length of a mile the landscape falls over 76ft (23m) with multiple 20ft (6m) waterfalls that drop through the bedrock creating the largest waterfalls in all of Eastern United States.

(click to play Vine snippet – Raging Potomac River)



Hawks soar high above on the powerful misty wind stream coming off of the raging river.


(click video to watch Vine snippet – Panoramic views from the lookout)



Taking the trail back to the beginning, rays of a setting sun pierce the thicker pines that line the last portion of trails near the outlook. Great Falls National park not only offers easier trails along dirt paths, but much more intense hikes along the Billy Goat Trail (a neck of the Appalachian Trail).


Now you can see why this is one of my absolute favorite hiking spots. It is nearby “home” and a rad place to escape the hustle and bustle without having to go very far.

Want to hike this rad spot on your next visit? Here’s how:

View Larger Map

  • If you aren’t driving, rent a Zip Car for the day in Downtown and drive.
  • Pack sunscreen, plenty of water, and hiking shoes.
  • Mosquitos can be fierce in the summer, bring repellent!
  • Bring a camera, some gorgeous scenery abound.
  • If you can, rent or take a bicycle. The C&O Canal goes on for tens of miles.


Weekly Photo: Sunning Sunrise over a New Orleans Cemetery.

As we creaked out of New Orleans on the Amtrak Crescent train, we happened to stop beside this massive cemetery just as the sun was crawling over the horizon and flooding through these above ground crypts. All I can say is – hauntingly beautiful.

Recently I took a trip down to New Orleans for a wedding, and subsequently fell in love with this lively city. I was aching to visit the above ground crypts and vaults that New Orleans is known for, but unfortunately I didn’t have time while I was there.

We weren’t supposed to stop beside the cemetery, but I’m glad I could catch this stunning sight. AND I even had time to take HDR photos! Was it because I tweeted Amtrak disgruntled that I couldn’t film from the rear car of the train? I’d like to think so.

New Orleans Cemetery at Sunrise
(click or tap for “ooh agh” moment!)

Weekly Photo Mojo is about stimulating your cortex with retina rupturing and awe-inspiring photos from around the world to help you reach Terminal Vicariosity (The point where the mind reaches maximum capacity from living vicariously through someone else, and chooses to start actually living.

Dig this photo? Please comment, share, and Like!