So it has been 27 hours since I got off the train I think enough time has elapsed that it is now time to tell you about the second half of my trip, the Empire Builder part of the trip. Do you remember where we left off?
Yeah...me in that very sweet hotel in Chicago. But by 11:30 on Wednesday morning that hotel was all in the past and my future involved train tracks. Lots of train tracks. Oh so many train tracks. Tracks with absolutely no relation to that ice cream called Moose tracks :)
We finally left Chicago by 3:30 pm on Wednesday. Yes, starting late...never a good sign :) But for the record I need you to know it really and truly is not Amtrack's fault. You see, after all, they are government subsidized and that just does not work so well. Amtrack rents use of the train tracks from Burlington Northern. Burlington Northern's freight trains use that track too and these freight trains actually make money....Amtrack does not. So the freight trains get the right of way. I think that is so nice of the government but sometimes giving help is not the best thing for things in trouble :) But do not worry or feel bad for them it is all going to be okay because I am going to figure out how to be in charge of Amtrack and help them because I think anyone who still loves Amtrack after spending a week with them should definitely be in charge of them :) Don't you worry I am well qualified to run Amtrack. I raised seven kids. I adore logistics :) And I get an enormous stomach ache when I am late anywhere :)
After we left Chicago we were not in Illinois for much more than an hour and before I knew it we were in Wisconsin. I have never been in Wisconsin before...and I thought it was incredibly beautiful. Maybe because I saw it during my favorite time of day which is dusk? I don't know. But the towns we went through were clean and charming and the landscape was beautiful. The only sad part about my ride through Wisconsin was that I had to give up having my own seat at one of the stops. Oh and the other sad part was I did not get any cheese.
So on Amtrack, as in life, having your own seat is what IT is all about and since there were three of us traveling together I was always the odd girl out and thus had the highest possibility that I would have to sit with a stranger. This possibility is not for the faint of heart. But there is nothing anyone in a group of three sitting in a row of four seats can do about it. And this is how it happened that I met Dylan. Dylan tried to buy me wine. No matter how many times I tried to explain to him that I was 45 years old and not really his type he did not seem to get it. Finally, after a most awkward night, I awoke in the morning and quickly noticed there were now some empty seats around and in the nicest way possible I told him in my joking voice that he and I should probably get a divorce but I told him he could have the dog in the divorce......he laughed and thankfully saw the wisdom in this and within half an hour Dylan had a girlfriend much more suited to him. The rest of the trip we watched them drink wine together. Take cigarette breaks together. Heard them giggle and giggle and giggle. And endured mucho PDA. But in the end I think everyone in our car was happy for Dylan. Although my girls did not understand how you could meet someone one day on the train and be kissing them by the next day. Especially Natalie who saw Dylan hugging a girl goodbye when he got on the train in Wisconsin. It was clear what Dylan's goal for his train ride was and I was so happy that he accomplished it :) I wonder if they will invite me to the wedding? :)
After Wisconsin we crossed the Mississippi River and there was Minnesota. The sun was just barely setting at this point but I did get to see about an hour of Minnesota as we rode along the glorious, wide Mississippi for awhile. But sadly most of our time in Minnesota was in the dark. When we woke up in the morning we were in North Dakota. North Dakota was also pretty. Do you see a trend here? I seem to love everything I see. I was actually starting to worry about how easy it was for me to love everything I saw but thankfully as soon as that thought came into my mind we hit Eastern Washington. Which I am sorry to say....is not overly beautiful...to me. But I will get to that soon. I must finish telling you about North Dakota.
North Dakota is a very happening place. Lots of people getting on and off the train in North Dakota. All of them either leaving their work in the oil fields for a few weeks or coming back to their work in the oil fields for a few weeks. North Dakota is where we ran into most of our freight train waiting. There were so many freight trains pulling oil out of the state. One time we had to pull over and wait for four freight trains to pass us. By the time we finally got across North Dakota the train was filled with a fascinating mix of;
people who believed in fracking
people who were heading to peace, love, and never, ever use plastic or paper Oregon.
I sat behind a man who painstakingly drew pictures and explained the fracking process to a lady that believed in zero population. Good times. That is the thing about the train you are trapped in a coach car for days with all these people who are chatting with each other and talking on their cell phones not realizing that we can all hear everything they are saying. So you know I am going to tell you that North Dakota was beautiful....but honestly it was. Fields of sunflowers.....I have always loved these. Lots of green. Lots of flowing grass. Lots of those wind machines that mesmerize me.
I will not bore you with all I learned about Lois, Pete, and Sandra. And many others I never got names of. I observed them all for three days. I know who needs a cigarette at every smoking break. I know who snores. I know who likes to hang out in the lounge car. I know who would go on a midnight run with me to the snack car. I know who would dash to sit in my fourth seat to save me from that other guy who got on the train in North Dakota and wanted to sit with me. I know who is working to get their pilot licence. I know who keeps a gun locked under the front seat of their truck. I know who worked at a bar on the border of Wisconsin and Canada. Yeah, I know a substantial amount of stuff :)
After North Dakota was Montana and sadly we spent so much time in North Dakota I did not get to see enough of Montana in the day light. What I did see made me know I need to go back...soon. And I refuse to be bitter about the fact that I missed seeing Glacier National Park in the light.
After Montana was the Idaho pan handle. I had no idea that Sandpoint, Idaho was so amazing. I am trying really hard to spare you guys and not say beautiful again. But guys it was so beautiful.
Next was Washington state and this is home for me. I have driven through Eastern Washington many a time and I know all about it. It has never ever been beautiful to me. Tatiana spent a few very determined hours trying to get me to see the beauty in the endless sagebrush, the starkness, and the yellows and browns but soon even she grew weary of trying to find something positive to say about eastern Washington. I was actually relieved that I was not broken and just thought everything was beautiful.
The Columbia River Gorge runs between Oregon and Washington. I know all about this gorge but it still never ceases to instill awe in me when I see it. Even Dylan and his train girlfriend's constant "we are in lust" giggling in the background did not ruin the Columbia River Gorge for me. The dams, the wind surfers, the birds, the boats, the natural beauty. Definitely one of the highlights for me was the Columbia River Gorge. They were fighting fires on both sides of the gorge so lots of times we saw helicopters scooping up water to take to the fires....Coolest. Thing. Ever.
By the time we rolled into Portland...ahem...five hours late I felt a little weird about knowing all I knew about the people in my passenger car and realizing I would never see them again. We did not exchange numbers or emails or anything even though we had done everything together for the past 3 days. We had planned ambushes on the girl who we all knew was smoking in the train bathroom. We all secretly named her unruly two year old daughter Pinkie Pie because her hair was dyed pink like a My Little Pony. We all harassed Raphael the cafe car boss. We had exclaimed about views. We had shared our food. We had shared dvd's.
Some may say that all I did was see the back of America and it is true not much is built to face the train tracks. But I saw some most magnificent views of this diverse country we live in. I was so very excited about everything I saw. Everyone surely is blogging about me the woman who would not stop pointing out stuff out the window :)There is no way to describe the feeling of going across a body of water on a train. You can not see the track and you feel like you are just gliding across the water. When mountains open into beautiful valleys....yeah, good times.
The minute I got off of the train in Portland my parents asked me if I would do it again and without hesitation I said oh yes. I have information now and know how to do things a little better than I did this time. IT was a most fabulous way to see America. I saw some breathtaking scenery that made my heart swell so much I thought it would burst. If you want to take a train ride just be sure to make sure you have time and nowhere you need to be. I felt so bad for the people who were missing weddings and funerals and other things because they chose to travel by train. Also, make sure you take someone to share it with that loves to hang on every word you say and loves to verify that everything you just saw was indeed very cool.
I am not sure how many years it will be before my girls realize what we just did and that this was an epic trip. Right now it is a good idea not to talk to them about it...at all.