I love trains. I love riding trains. I also needed some time to myself, time to process and dream and relax and pray and sleep, so the idea of riding the train from Chicago to Seattle post-Midwinter was the perfect connection between those two.
And in many ways, it was everything I'd hoped for. I read a lot, I sat and watched endless North Dakota prairies roll by, I was amazed at the grandeur of Marias Pass and the Snow-covered Rocky Mountains. I watched a deer, startled by the train, swimming across the Kootenai River (I also saw a deer that wasn't so lucky, laying headless in a ditch beside the tracks). I saw bald eagles perched high in aspens, I watched the snow falling in Minot. I woke to a fog-shrouded Minneapolis and a ghost town in the Montana flatlands. I waved at ice-fisherman in Idaho. I read some more. I planned out my sermon schedule for the rest of the year. I did some journaling and praying. I slept on and off. I enjoyed a dinner conversation with two sisters heading to Wisconsin to see their mother, suffering from alzheimers. I sat and talked with a roofer who fell off a roof last summer, breaking both his feet. I watched young men racing snowmobiles beside the train. I turned my mind off and watched Minnesota slide by. I got out and walked around in Fargo and Whitefish. I arranged some music parts for our worship team. It was nice.
On the other hand. . .
- the train was five hours late leaving Chicago. Five hours spent in a stuffy, low, uncomfortable room, sitting on the floor waiting for the train to come. At least they gave us some crackers and bottled water.
- outside of Milwaukee, somebody discovered some boxes lining the tracks; boxes suspicious enough that they called the police, who called the FBI, who called Homeland Security, who called a bomb squad from Chicago. And so there we sat for 4 more hours. Apparently it was all a hoax.
- The train alcoholic sat in front of me. And his friend sat across from me. They were drunk before they got on the train. They sat and talked about the $200 they'd spent at the strip club before getting on the train. In great detail.
- The young man next to me hooked up with a young lady on the train, in the restroom. The porter caught them and almost kicked him off the train. Which led to a shouting match at midnight. The next morning I sat and listened to this fine young man talking to his girlfriend on the phone, telling her just how much he loved her and couldn't wait to see her. Except when he got off the phone he kept asking the guy in front of me where the girl from the previous night went, because he wanted to go see her again.
- A traveler from Switzerland connected with the alcoholic in front of me. They shared beer after beer. They were so drunk the porter told them they couldn't be together any more. So they sat in front of me and cussed about the porter. Did I mention they reeked of booze?
- Somebody next to me was sound asleep. And their alarm went off. They slept. For 20 minutes it went off.
- When we got to Minneapolis, we were 9 hours behind. By the time I woke up in Shelby, we were 12 hours behind. By the time we reached Whitefish, we were 16 hours behind. Needless to say, I missed the Super Bowl.
- Because the train was so late, they made us get off in Spokane, where we boarded buses for the rest of the trip. Thus, I missed my favorite part of the journey, the part I was most anticipating - the Cascade crossing. But they did give us Subway sandwiches.
- We made it to Seattle after 10:00 p.m.
Still, on the 2nd night I'd had enough, so upgraded to a sleeper car and left the alcoholics behind. And because we were so late, we crossed the Rockies in daylight, whereas usually it's done at night, in the dark. So the scenery was a blessing, and the sleeper car made all the difference - especially when they ran short on food, and only gave lunch to the sleeping car passengers.
It was a marvelous trip; it had no shortage of challenges. I may even do it again next year. I just may need to get a sleeper from the start. Truthfully, the Amtrak staff on board were marvelous, considering they were in the same predicament we were. They handled it well, and even most of the passengers took it in stride. Seriously, consider airplane passengers delayed 12 hours - they'd be freaking out. But everybody on the train took it as part of the adventure, laughing it off.
I'll post some pictures later.