Riding the Rails

“All Aboard!” Yes, they really do say it. This was the first station where we were allowed to get off the train and stretch our legs. We were surprised at how warm it was outside, despite it being early evening. Parents chased little kids around to get the wiggles out. Some used the stop for a nicotine hit. Others like us just took advantage of the chance to get some fresh air. We suspected that the conductor got a kick out of delivering his time honored sing-songy signal, but he meant business. Within minutes we were rolling again.

We were on Amtrak's Empire Builder. The final leg to complete our circle back to the car was a train ride from Seattle to Whitefish, Montana. Amtrak's bicycle-friendly luggage policy made our one-way bike tour feasible, as well as providing an enjoyable journey. It became part of the overall experience.

At only $10 apiece to check our bikes, Amtrak was a bargain. It did, however, require some preparation. Stephanie was kind enough to scour the local bike shops to secure boxes ahead of time for us. Guided by Scott's expertise, Rich disassembled and packed each bike securely for the trip. With that, it was a no-hassle check-in at Amtrak. Next year it will get even better. Amtrak has committed to providing new roll-on baggage cars for bikes on all their long-haul trains.

The east-bound trip leaves in the early afternoon, which allowed plenty of daylight to see our way through the Cascade Mountains. With bright sunshine illuminating the fall colors, it was worth watching the scenery roll by. In contrast to airlines, the seats were well spaced and included footrests, and were very comfortable for sitting. Not so much for sleeping. Still, it was a smooth ride and nice to leave the driving and navigating to someone else for the duration.

Arriving in Whitefish at 5:30am, we felt fortunate to be only an hour late. The west-bound train was already nine hours overdue. The oil boom in North Dakota has wreaked havoc with Amtrak's schedules, taking priority on the tracks.

Our bikes arrived in perfect condition and Rich made quick work of putting them back together. Already the loaded bike felt foreign under me as we set off for the nearest café. Although folks still saw us as touring cyclists, we had to admit the sad truth that we would cycle only four miles before surrendering the bikes to the car. But still it was nice to pretend. Our riding is taking a different form these days.


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