Area couple reflect on cross-country train tour

Mike and Cathie McDermott took a National Park tour out of Seattle as part of their 42-day trip across the country by train. Photo courtesy of Main Street Travel.

FRONT ROYAL – When Mike and Cathie McDermott dragged their overnight bags and 60-pound suitcase off of an Amtrak train on July 1, they had completed a trip that’ll go down in the books.

The Front Royal couple embarked on a 42-day journey on May 21 that started and ended at Harper’s Ferry, looping around the continental U.S. and taking a few detours to see the Grand Canyon and other national parks.

While at a seminar last August for chronic pain and disease at Valley Health Urgent Care because of arthritis in her back, Cathie McDermott decided it was finally time for her and her husband to bite the bullet and make plans for a train journey they had spent 20 years saving for.

“On the travel channel you see all this beautiful stuff and I wanted to see that,” she said. “We’re more mountain people than we are city people.”

Main Street Travel co-owners Ginny Leser and Cal Coolidge worked with the McDermotts to plan and customize the trip according to the Amtrak system map and destinations. Coolidge said they kept track of their journey and helped the couple with an isolated misunderstanding in their travel plans.

“This was a fun experience for us, too,” he said.

The McDermotts decided that they would see a number of national parks on the way by including Amtrak Vacations’ new Northern National Parks Escorted tour. They enjoyed having both escorted and independent parts of their trip.

“For the national parks we had to have an escort,” Cathie McDermott said. “That way we saw everything.”

From Seattle, they stopped by Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park and Jackson Hole at the Teton Mountain Range before arriving at Salt Lake City. Other than the 10-day escorted journey, the McDermotts’ trip was independently organized with the help of Main Street Travel.

They still weren’t able to hit every destination they wanted: Chattanooga is still on their list as well as Albuquerque, where Mike McDermott wants to stop at the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History to show his wife nuclear projects he worked on while in the Navy.

Amtrak Vacations sales manager Heather Forcier decided to pay the couple a visit after a business trip to D.C. from Massachusetts. She, Coolidge and Leser sat down to breakfast with the McDermotts on Tuesday morning to hear more about the trip firsthand. Although Amtrak Vacations helps plan a few trips of this length, this was the only one she’d seen this year.

Forcier remarked on how many stories Cathie McDermott had to share about the trip, never having traveled to this degree before. McDermott took notes in a journal on the evenings of their journey at hotels and on trains.

“I think the feedback they gave was unique because she specifically hadn’t traveled before,” she said. “She didn’t take any of it for granted, she took in every detail.”

The couple shared stories about seeing a 600-head herd of buffalo at Yellowstone, watching a New Orleans wedding procession through the street, enjoying the view of the Teton Range from an open-top bus and making ties with people from around the world on the train – part of the reason why they choose that particular mode of transport.

Even a nine-hour hang-up in Texas because of track debris from a storm proved to be a memorable moment.

“We laid there with the curtain open on the window and watched the storm, and it was so nice,” Cathie McDermott said.

For them, the biggest challenge wasn’t the weather delays or the fact that only two of their trains arrived on time – it was getting their laundry done. Mike McDermott said he was shocked to get a $45 bill for a small load of laundry at one hotel.

Cathie McDermott urges those wanting to go on similar journeys to bring plenty of things to keep occupied with.

“Be patient, relax. It’s going to take time and there’s going to be waiting,” she said.

The next trip the McDermotts plan on making is a visit to Niagara Falls sometime in 2017. Although they’ve caught the travel bug, this trip isn’t one they’ll soon forget.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com