Step 1: Amtrak Ticket

In April and May of 2023, I will hike sections of the Appalachian Trail, providing videotaped presentations on the cultural and natural history of each section. Most of it is still in the planning stages, but I’ll be documenting the preparation here, so subscribe and get continuous updates as the itinerary and subjects come together, and as I learn the skills I need to become a first-time video presenter.

On my last Amtrak trip – from D.C. to New Orleans, passing through the deep south – I enjoyed learning about the civil rights history of the states our train passed through, as recounted by these volunteers from the National Park Service Rails and Trails program. Sounds kind of similar to an interpretive hike, right?

I knew I had to take a step to make it real, to prove my commitment, like an engagement ring or a preamble clause. Every detail of this hike will have to be prepared well in advance of my start date, and the first step was already taken care of – The Trek, a long-distance backpacking and hiking website, kindly agreed to host my video series.

That out of the way, it seemed a natural next step to set my travel dates – or at least my departure date; the remainder of my time on trail (and thus my return date) could rely on my itinerary. In 2023, Ramadan (the month when Muslims like myself fast from sunrise to sunset) goes from the end of March to the end of April, meaning it had to be in May if I stood a chance of having temperate weather along my route. My birthday is on April 25, a few days after Ramadan ends, so I said what the heck, let’s just pick that day.

One thing I knew for sure: I would take the train. I’m completely over flying; I’ve hated it for years, and renting a car would cost too much, and driving my own car seems impractical, and traveling by Greyhound is crowded and gross and potentially involves changing buses at 3 a.m. in the middle of Nowheresville, Mississippi.

So I knew I’d start my trek on Amtrak, and for sure I would book a roomette. I love trains but hate trying to sleep in coach, and it has been my dream for a long time to travel on Amtrak in a private room. With COVID still lurking, I also appreciate the solitude of a roomette. The cost of an onboard room has always been an impediment, but I wasn’t surprised to find that when you book a ticket nine months in advance, the price is lower by half than it would be a few months or even weeks before your departure date. So I did it.

The Crescent doesn’t depart east from Houston, so I will go to New Orleans for my birthday and get on the train the morning of the 26th. I’ll be in Washington D.C. the next day, which gives me the option of either taking a short train ride into Harpers Ferry or taking another Amtrak route to somewhere easily accessible from D.C.’s Union Station.

My ticket is in hand. Step two: gear.

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