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San Angelo couple travels across U.S. by train for 50th anniversary

It’s never too late to develop a passion, and sometimes it can be a bit unusual. Bruce and Karlene McLaren, residents of Baptist Retirement Community, have discovered a passion for traveling to new places. Instead of driving or flying, they love to ride on the train, and they recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary by traveling across the United States on trains. They slept in sleepers, ate freshly prepared meals featuring delicious cuisine, made new friends, observed beautiful changes in scenery and explored new cities together. While many people prefer traveling aboard airplanes or by car, the McLarens have found that it’s easier, more comfortable and more convenient to travel by train. While many people dream of traveling to other countries, the McLarens believe there is so much to be discovered in our own country, with its changing landscapes and expanses of natural beauty and culture. They have thoroughly enjoyed traveling from one coast to the other making new memories.

“This was our second trip with America by Rail,” said Bruce McLaren. “Karlene and I will celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary on January 29, so we thought it would be fun to take another trip by train in celebration of that milestone. It was a 14-day trip that began in Chicago and took us through various destinations such as New York City, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Atlanta, New Orleans, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. America by Rail puts the entire trip together and coordinated our meals, gratuity, hotel arrangements, tour guides, charter buses and railway tickets. Everything was included.”

The McLarens took their first trip in 2011, a seven day trip throughout the Western United States. Bruce had first learned of America by Rail when he was researching train rides for fun. He considers himself a ‘trainaholic’ and was excited to share this travel idea with Karlene. They claim the coffee is always fresh and the desserts are to die for. Some perks of train travel are not having to wear a seatbelt, not having to deal with TSA standards, no limit on fluids in travel bags, passengers can leave their trays down at all times; travelers do not have to worry about navigating through ice, snow and other bad weather conditions; and there is more leg room than on airplanes.

“It’s comfortable and not noisy like when you travel by airplane or car,” said Karlene. “There’s no turbulence or road noise. The hardest thing to get used to is walking throughout the train. Bruce and I always get a good laugh when people new to train travel go rocketing down the aisles. It only takes them a day or so to get accustomed to it though. It’s kind of like sea legs, but we call it ‘train legs.’ My favorite destination we visited was New Orleans. We enjoyed an array of fantastic food at various cafes and seafood restaurants, and we had fun experiencing the culture. When we are not exploring new towns, we sit and enjoy the scenery together. Sometimes we chat about the views or our new experiences, other times we just enjoy some quiet time together. It is very relaxing.”

Bruce and Karlene both agreed that one of their other favorite stops was San Francisco, where they enjoyed visiting with their son and granddaughter. They toured the Fisherman’s Warf and had ice cream in Ghirardelli Square. Next, the McLarens plan to travel across Canada by train so they can see the Canadian Rockies, the Great Lakes and Vancouver. They both agree that traveling beats sitting at home and watching TV.

“There is a vast expanse of beautiful land in our country, it would be a shame not to get acquainted with it,” said Bruce. “One of my favorite things about train travel is going to bed at night and waking up to an entirely different landscape when you look out your window. For instance, one evening we watched the bayous, palm trees and lush green landscapes of Louisiana. The next morning, we awoke to the painted colors of West Texas, with subdued purples and pinks around Fort Davis and the mountains. It’s an indescribable feeling.”

The McLarens met many interesting people on their trip as well. Travelers from other areas thought it was funny that Karlene and Bruce used the term ‘y’all’ when referring to a group of people. One of the tour group members Karlene met was a woman from North Carolina who happened to teach at the same school she once taught at in Michigan a number of years ago. After further discussion, they learned that Karlene’s aunt and the woman’s grandmother had taught together at the school at the same time as well. The McLarens chatted with many people, and even with one of the conductors, who gladly discussed train travel and change coming in the rail travel industry.

“When we get back from these trips, we catalog them to share with fellow residents at Baptist Retirement Community and other groups here in San Angelo,” said Bruce. “We print pictures and share our experiences verbally with people. For those who have not traveled as much, they are always fascinated to see and hear about our adventures.”

“The residents and staff and Baptist Retirement Community delight in hearing about the McLarens travels,” said Quinda Feil-Duncan. “They inspire us and enlighten us with their tales of places they explored. The pictures they share with us are breathtaking, and we are grateful for their storytelling skills and fun wit. We are happy to care for the residents’ homes and watch over them while they experience fun travels. We pride ourselves on being a retirement community that enables a lifestyle of ease that frees residents of worries.”

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