(FYI-rather than keeping a paper journal of our trip, which I have done in the past, I am documenting our trip this time through my blog. There will be three rather lengthy posts, just warning you!)
Train travel is something I have always wanted to try. From "Murder on the Orient Express" to the final scene in "North by Northwest", train travel has always intrigued me. Modern day train travel is not quite so romantic, no burled wood panels or plush sleeping cars, but it definitely has an appeal.
We boarded the Empire Builder very late on a Saturday evening, and pulled out of the station after 11 pm. Charlie and I were seated on the lower bunk of our 'roomette', noses pressed against the glass, watching the world slip by outside our window. As the train slowly left the station, it was whisper soft and so smooth, you hardly felt like you were moving. I was thrilled, but soon realized that feeling only lasted until the train got up to speed, then the rocking and rolling began.
Buildings and houses rolled by, we peeked in lighted windows and were enthralled by the glimpses of life by the tracks. Once the train hit the countryside the excitement had worn off, and we settled in to our bunks, Charlie climbing to the one on top. While it is private with your door and curtain closed, the walls are still quite thin, so we had to temper our conversations so as not to disturb other passengers in adjoining sleeping cars. We quietly chatted well into the night, so excited to be on the road and having a new adventure. The first time a train passed us on the track next to us (incredibly close!) we let out a little yelp of surprise, but soon became accustomed to the sounds and movements. The sleeping car we were in was on the lower level of the train, you go upstairs to walk through the other cars. Our car was the very last one on the train, so we had to walk through six cars to get to the dining car.
Mike had settled in, on the upper level of a coach car, the price difference between a sleeping car for two and the next size up, which could sleep 5 people, was astronomical. The coach seats are actually quite roomy, nothing like an airplane. They are wide, and recline with foot rests, and Mike ended up with two seats all to himself.
Morning found us groggy (you don't really sleep on a train, merely doze), and learning how to walk through the cars. You eventually develop your train legs, but always have to be mindful of the train's movements, and be ready to grab a seat back. The few steps in between the cars always feels like surviving a little bit of danger. Mike and I headed down to the dining car for breakfast, Charlie elected to sleep in.
The dining car is full of windows and light, and the smell of coffee and eggs sorely tempted us. The kitchen is located in the lower level, and food is transported through a mini elevator. Here are the chefs, taking a break at a later stop.
We were soon seated, and our table mates were teachers from Illinois, headed out to Seattle and then heading south to visit their son who works for Google in San Francisco. Lively conversation ensued, as we ate our eggs and enjoyed the views out the window of the prairie rolling by.
We then picked a spot in the Observation Car, with comfy chairs and booths surrounded by windows. I settled in to do some sewing,
while Mike used our laptop and prepared camera equipment. He used his GoPro camera to take time lapse photos of the train trip, which he will turn into a video. I will be sure to post it here when he is done.
Charlie finally joined us, and chose a breakfast sandwich from the Lounge Car to start his day. He loved our little roomette, and spent most of his day there, reading and napping. It was kind of like a very modern fort, all to himself. We ordered our lunch to go, from Charles, our wonderful car attendant. Here he is picking up newspapers at a morning stop, he was in charge of the sleeping car and took great care of us.
The world rolled by our window, field after lonely field.
We swept through North Dakota, stopping at the boom town of Williston
and seeing the 'man camps' that filled the prairies near there.
We spied deserted farmsteads,
dozens of deer running through the fields, and wind turbines standing as sentinels as far as the eye could see. We stopped in tiny towns along the way, picking up passengers here and there.
We had an extended stop in Havre, Montana, where we got out and stretched our legs. The conductors really do holler "All Aboard!" when it is time for the train to get moving again, it felt a little bit like I was having a dream.
Reservations were required for dinner in the dining car, and we chose a later time. We were well rewarded, as by then the train had hit the mountains, and the sun was beginning to set. It was breathtakingly beautiful, and we watched the beginning of Glacier Park roll by us as we enjoyed our wine and salmon and beer and steak. Our table mate this time was from near Seattle, he lives on Vashon Island and works as a homeless advocate for a nonprofit. He had taken the train south from Seatlle, then east from Los Angeles and ended up in New Orleans for a meeting, then taken the train north to Chicago, and was on the last leg taking the Empire Builder back to Seattle. A very interesting man.
Back to the observation car, to enjoy the scenery until the last light of day had gone behind the peaks. We only had a few hours left to fill before the train hit Whitefish around 9 pm, as we gathered all of our things and waited in great anticipation for our destination.
We quietly rolled into the adorable train station at Whitefish, antique streetlamps lining the way, and what appeared to be the original depot, well maintained. Our friend Rick Adams was there waiting to greet us, so wonderful to see a familiar face after our 22 hour adventure. Our baggage was eventually rolled out on a vintage cart-I imagined the bags it had carried through the years and the people who collected those valises and worn leather suitcases, so different from our modern rolling luggage with it's nylon exteriors and vibrant colors. Many ski bags were pulled off by people dreaming of hitting the snow in the morning.
Rick stowed all of our bags and gave us a little tour of the town, lit by streetlamps, before bringing us to the Lodge at Whitefish Lake. It was the perfect spot for us to spend the next few days, and we quickly unpacked to rest up for everything Monday would bring us.