A new state rail map shows that it can be done — should you be crazy enough to try it.
Local transit maps tend to stay local. Some designate connections to other lines or systems but it's not really their purpose to expand the map beyond the metropolitan area — say, the way road atlases do. Recently a California design team did what local agencies don't: created a statewide rail map with more than 500 destinations served by ten rail authorities plus Amtrak, ferry, and major bus connections.
"I often find myself needing to refer to several maps to plan a single trip," says Alfred Twu, the Bay Area artist and tech worker who led the project's big design team, which completed the map in two months. "Most agencies focus on their own service and provide limited info on connections even when they are very easy."
The California Rail Map [PDF] inspired us to find a way to travel north through the whole state, beginning just across the Mexican border, riding only local transit — no Amtrak or Greyhound. Twu guided us through the following inland route through the Sierra Nevada range. ("I suspect it is also a beautiful trip," he says.) The itinerary runs through five systems and only requires seven transfers:
- At San Ysidro ride the blue line of the San Diego Trolley north to America Plaza, transferring to the orange line for one stop to the Santa Fe Depot.
- From there take San Diego's NCTD Coaster to the Oceanside Transit Center at the end of the line.
- At Oceanside you hop the Metrolink Orange County line to Union Station in Los Angeles, where you can transfer to the Metrolink's Antelope Valley line all the way to Lancaster.
- From Lancaster you take Eastern Sierra Transit bus all the way to Reno, Nevada, on the system's 395 routes. The trip requires a change from the Lancaster line at Mammoth Lakes, near Yosemite, to the Lone Pine-Reno line all the way to the end.
- From Reno all you have to do is sing a little Johnny Cash then hop the Sage Stage toward Klamath Falls. Next thing you know you've crossed the Oregon border.
If you're wondering whether you can do the whole trip without crossing into Nevada — well, Twu's map suggests you can't. You can leave Eastern Sierra Transit before it exits the California border by transferring to Yosemite Area Regional Transit at Lee Vining. From there you hop Toulumne County Transit to Columbia, then Calaveras Transit to Mokelumne Hill, then Amador Transit to the RT Gold Line that brings you into Sacramento.
From the capital city, however, there's no way to transfer north to the Sage Stage except on Amtrak —
— and if you try cutting west on Fairfield-Suisun Transit, then ride the Vine to Sonoma County Transit, then transfer to Mendocino Transit, you eventually hit a dead end at Willits that leaves you about a hundred miles to Rio Dell, which does eventually reach the Sage Stage via the Redwood Transit System and Trinity Transit:
We went back to Los Angeles and cut toward the coast just to be sure. You can get from there to San Francisco by transit — a feat accomplished by S.F. Weekly writer Joe Eskenazi in the summer of 2011 — and Golden Gate Transit will take you from the Bay toward the Mendocino system. But once there you find yourself once again at Willits out of options.
So Reno it is. Of course, just because you can make the trip by transit, doesn't mean you should. Eskenazi counted 16 buses or trains, operated by seven transit agencies, covering some 480 miles over roughly 32 hours, costing $41.25. Along the way he encountered a rider whose dentures were stolen at a bus station, another who boarded with a fishing pole, and another who "rides buses just for the hell of it."
And was it crazy? Of course. But traversing the state via public transit allows you to meet people and see places you'd never encounter in any other way. You share a seat with a cross-section of California.
But, yes, still crazy.