Step 1: Amtrak Ticket

In Spring 2023, I will hike sections of the Appalachian Trail, creating videotaped presentations on the cultural and natural history of each section. I’ll be documenting the preparation here, so keep an eye out for updates as the project comes together…

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. That includes learning new skills and using new equipment, selecting and researching subjects and planning the itinerary.

The natural first step was to set my departure date from my home in Houston. 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 the hike has to be in May for me to stand a chance of having somewhat 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 detest flying, renting a car would cost too much, and Greyhound buses are inevitably crowded and potentially involve changing buses at 3 a.m. at some rundown rural bus station (been there, done that).

National Park Service volunteers on the Amtrak

On my last Amtrak trip I enjoyed learning from National Park Service volunteer interpreters about the civil rights history of the states our train passed through.

So I knew I’d start my trek on Amtrak, and I knew for sure I would book a roomette. I love trains but I have never been able to get decent sleep in coach. With COVID still lurking, I also appreciate the solitude of a roomette. It has been my dream for a long time to travel on Amtrak in a private room, but the cost kept it out of reach. 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 weeks or even months before your departure date. So I did it. And that was the step that made it real.

The Crescent, which chugs up the east coast from New Orleans to New York City, doesn’t depart 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. (I’ve also been warned that the train from D.C. is notoriously late, so that’s a consideration.)

My ticket is in hand. Next steps: presentation topics, itinerary, and the equipment I will need in addition to my regular backpacking gear. Onward!

This project is an interpretive hike. If you’re not familiar with the meaning of interpretation in this context, you can read the definition provided by the National Association for Interpretation. I earned certification as an interpretive guide earlier this year and currently apply interpretive principles to the guided hikes and natural history demonstrations I do as a volunteer at a nature center near my home. In practice, it means that rather than rattle off facts about or my impressions of a place, I will find a theme and structure my video presentation around it, giving it extra depth and meaning. I will bring my perspective as a journalist to bear on the video series as well.

(Featured image credit: “Amtrak, Train” by Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.)

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Comments 8

  • Jhony : Aug 10th

    Thank you !! My first follow for the 2023 class. Looking so forward to it. I checked you IG too. Now even more impressed than I was to start.
    Again. Thank you

    • Ruth Nasrullah : Aug 20th

      Thank *you*! I appreciate you virtually joining me on this trek.

  • Natalie : Dec 16th

    Ruth,will you be coming through southern Pennsylvania?

    • Ruth Nasrullah : Dec 17th

      I do hope to do a segment at the AT Museum, so yes…tentatively.


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