Kiki Bikes Across America

The transamerican train ride

Tuesday, August 25th

Bedtime night before: 3:45am
Wake up time: 6am

Monday night, Iman conked out on me early in the evening, around 10:30 or so and I stayed up for a good while afterwards working on the computer and reinstalling the image I used previously in the trip so I could install Open Office and some other programs.

But anyway, we got up early on Tuesday morning to get down to the Ferry Building to catch our bus over to Emeryville’s Amtrak station. We had about 30 minutes to wait around for the bus to show up and first met another couple at the benches waiting to catch the train.

We got over to Emeryville via bus without any problems and had about 40-50 minutes to wait for our train to arrive and for departure. I went in search of postcard stamps to shoot off a couple more cards before I left California. Turns out I found a post office just a block and a half from the train station, only to later find out that I had postcard stamps all along. I looked at my stamps the night before quickly and thought they were just the 44 cent stamps, but turns out they were the 28 cent stamps instead. Oh well! I mailed off a couple postcards and then the I noticed my bike box outside didn’t have a transfer ticket on it so I went and asked inside what the deal was – the Amtrak ticket guy said he’d put a ticket on it, so hopefully my bike will make it on the train without any problems along with the two other boxes.

The train arrived and we gathered our things and went to board train number 0632 in a sleeping car, thanks to Iman’s company covering the costs for her to come out and back with me on the train. We got settled into our sleeping car which is 3.5 feet by 6.5 feet or so and turns into two beds. Our train attendant, Nathan, came by a few minutes after we got to our room to explain things about the train and so we were set. We were even served breakfast, and who did I get seated with? None other than the two we were chatting with at the bus stop to ride over to Emeryville – a couple from South Dakota. So I sat down and had breakfast with them while we guessed each other’s names – as it turns out, their names are Thane and Brenda, who we later became train buddies with and apparently (according to another passenger), Brenda was one of Iman and my “peeps” – that was rather funny. Iman didn’t eat breakfast with me as she was fasting, but afterwards we hung out for a little bit in the observation car where there are slightly larger windows and swivel chairs as well as some booth-like seating.

For lunch, I was seated with Donna and Dave, a mother and son duo that were on a trip from Vermont (but they boarded the train in Chicago instead) and they were on a little cross-country trip out to Glacier and down around California as well and now were heading back towards Chicago. They’d be getting off in Grand Junction and then again in Denver to do some sight-seeing. Tomorrow, Tuesday, August 26th they’ll be hopping off in Grand Junction, Colorado and renting a car to drive down to Arches National Park and Colorado Monument in Moab, Utah. Then they’ll get back on the train again and ride to Denver and hop off again and either do Rocky Mountain National Park (I was trying to convince them on that one), or they’ll possibly do Pike’s Peak near Colorado Springs.

So the train ride is already really interesting and fun – we’ve met lots of really fun people and I’ve become known for my bike trip across the country. Everyone’s seemed to have heard about it by now and Nathan, our train attendant, likes to introduce me as “meet my friend Kiki. She biked across the country this summer.” Nathan’s really cool and a fun, friendly guy, but then again so are all the rest of our train attendants and kitchen staff – lots of fun, they joke around with us a lot. One of the kitchen staff, Tom, saw me the first time and said I’d be “trouble” so I’ve gotten that name now as being the “trouble-maker” – of course, just for fun. It’s because I have fun with all the attendants/staff and we all joke around. I took a nap at one point and had taken my hair down and then went back upstairs thru the dining car to get to the observation car and Tom saw me and said, “you won’t fool me – I still recognize you even though you took your hair down” – haha… not that I was trying to fool anyone, just hadn’t put it back up yet.

So dinner time was served at 7pm – we have an option on the train to eat at either 5:30 or 7pm for dinner and they do dinner by reservation only, meaning we have to pick a time to eat. Tom comes around the train after lunch and gathers reservations to mark us all off as to when we’d like to eat and then gives us a slip. So Iman joined me for dinner tonight as it was near enough to sunset and by the time we ate, it was sunset, so that worked out well. We were sat with an older man, Richard, who went to Lebanon Valley College and taught at the University of Connecticut. He was on the train from Pittsburg to San Francisco, via the Southwestern Chief through New Mexico, Arizona, and to California that way. In San Francisco, he met up with his co-author for a text book he was revising for a new edition (topic was Math). Just before he caught the train, he had one family reunion in Pittsburgh and then he hopped the train to the west coast and on his way home to Connecticut, he’s planning to go to the second family reunion. He strategically planned his meeting with his co-author around the two family reunions because he wanted to go to both, but didn’t want to drive down two weeks apart, and he also didn’t want to spend 2 weeks in Pittsburg with the family. So Richard was a prety neat guy who was very into college basketball and asked us to have wine with him at dinner. So he ordered a couple half bottles of Chardonnay and Iman and I had dinner with him. Iman ordered the flat iron steak, I had half a roasted chicken, and Richard had salmon. Everything was really yummy – the chicken was excellent and the dessert was also really tasty. Iman and I had raspberry cheesecake, Richard had chocolate peanut butter torte.

Later in the evening, Iman and I just hung out in our roomette and I started reading some of “The Ridiculous Race” – a book that was just published recently about two friends who raced around the world (one eastward, one westward) without the use of airplanes for transportation. The first to return to the start location in Los Angeles would win 40-year old scotch. So far the book’s pretty interesting but I just got started into it.

We hit the sack about 10pm and Iman slept on the upper sleeper, me on the lower.

Wednesday, August 26th

Bedtime night before: 10pm
Wake up time: 7am

We slept until about 5am when we reached Salt Lake City, Utah. I fell back asleep for another hour and a half or so. I got up about 7am and Iman was still sleeping (or so I thought) and I wasn’t sure if she was going to come to breakfast or not, as she had been fasting for Ramadan. I went up to breakfast by myself and wound up sitting with Dave and Donna again (son and mother that I met earlier). A short bit later, Iman showed up and joined us at the table for breakfast. I got a breakfast burrito which was pretty good and then we went and hung out in the Observation car for awhile snapping photos as we rode through Utah and into Colorado.

The scenery throughout the day was really nice – we rode through several scenic canyons and saw lots of neat rock formations and colorings, similar to what I’d seen already on my bike trip. Iman took lots of pictures, so hopefully we’ll have some good ones to show what our train ride was like. I didn’t take as many as I seemed to have a lot more glare and reflections with my camera, so just put it away and let her do the photography with her fancy Leica camera.

For lunch, we sat with Kathleen and Lauren (her six year old). They were from Lancaster, PA and were heading home from having spent the summer in Reno, Nevada. We both ordered chicken and mushroom over wild rice and had chocolate peanut butter torte! It was really tasty – probably the best dessert that Amtrak serves on its trains! After lunch, we came back to our roomette and took some time for napping. Unfortunately, I got really tired and couldn’t keep my eyes awake for the canyons through Colorado – I was awake for some of it, but also missed a good bit too. We rode through the Moffat Tunnel which was 6.2 miles long and went under the Continental Divide where we reached our highest point of the Zephyr at 9,200 or so odd feet. When the Moffat Tunnel was built, two crews started drilling from opposite sides and when they reached the middle, they were only 3 inches off! The tunnel was built in the late 1800s (I think). So it’s pretty incredible that they were so close with the drilling back then. We napped on/off until about 5pm and then got up and started to work on different things and listen to music, watch Amazing Race, and such.

Before Denver and the dinner calls, Iman decided to try out the fancy Amtrak train showers – it was an experience. She came back and said it was good, except everything was so wet. She had the last towel and I couldn’t find Nathan to get more towels, so I waited a while and no response. Eventually, I just dug out my camp towel and went and used that and had Iman coordinate with me to get my clothes and bring back my clean ones, as there was no place to put them down in the shower without them getting wet. I didn’t want nasty wet clothes from yucky water in the shower. I showered and felt better, so that was nice!

We arrived to Denver on time (we’d made up for 1.5 hours of delays earlier in the trip) and actually got to Denver as scheduled at 7:38pm. Unfortunately, we couldn’t really go hang outside on the platform while we were there, as our dinner reservations were for the 7pm dinner, but they got pushed back a little and we were stuck in the dining car for dinner when others were outside on the platform enjoying some fresh air. We sat with Grace and Lex for dinner. They’re from California and Canada and have houses in both places, since they live in each part-time. I got the flat iron steak tonight and Iman got the salmon. Both were pretty good. We took our raspberry cheesecake dessert with us to go.

On our way back to the roomette, we stopped by Thane and Brenda’s roomette to see if they wanted to meet in the Observation car in a bit and play cards and chat. So we went down and grabbed snacks and beverages and headed back upstairs to the Observation car where we met up with Brenda and Thane. We played a few card games and sat around chatting until about 11pm or so and then split and went back to our roomettes to crash for the night.

Thursday, August 27th

Bedtime night before: 11pm
Wake up time: 7:30am

Had another pretty good night of sleep, despite it being a bit warm in our roomette, but it wasn’t too bad. We slept both nights with the door open and just the curtain pulled shut. We both woke up at Omaha, NE when we arrived there around 6am – we’d wanted to say bye to Brenda and Thane, but I couldn’t get up when the alarm went off, instead I only had enough energy to turn the GPS alarm off and hit snooze! We both fell back asleep – too tired to even go outside for a photo of the Omaha, NE sign on the platform.

We went up for breakfast with Roy, our buddy across the way from our roomette. He’s really a neat guy and totally impresses me with his knowledge and memory. He claims that he’s turning 91 this December and he was born in 1918. He says the dates with such confidence, I know he’s telling the truth, but I still find it incredibly hard to believe that he’s really 90 years old! He looks like he’s maybe 70 years old – his memory of dates and events is amazing and he told us about when he worked for General Motors (for some 40 years or so he worked for them). He was a test engineer and then later moved up into different positions. So we had breakfast with Roy – he’s off to Wisconsin to visit his daughter and other friends and family in the Chicago area, since he lived there for 39 years or so. Also at our table was Tom, another guy we met yesterday on the train. He’s currently living in Charlottesville, VA and is just on a cross-country trip by himself and seems to be enjoying himself quite well. So we had good conversation and another good meal on board. Both Iman and I got french toast for breakfast and I had bacon and sausage.

After breakfast, we came down and hung out in the roomette and I started to write my journal entries for the time we’ve been on the train, so I hopefully am not forgetting anyone we met on the train. I chatted briefly with our other neighbors in the roomettes downstairs in car 0632. They are Ellie and her italian mother Gia and are heading to Chicago as well. They’ve been doing a bit of train travel as well – I believe Ellie said she drove out to the west coast with her daughter and then her mom, Gia, flew out to meet her and take the train back together.

We went up around 11am and sat in the kitchen car talking to John and Tom (kitchen staff) before lunch. They’re pretty fun guys and really like to joke around a bit, so we just hung out there prior to lunch. For lunch, we did a repeat of yesterday’s chicken and mushroom over wild rice followed by raspberry cheesecake. We sat with another couple who were from Iowa and just taking the train to Chicago for a Cub’s game. Our train got delayed again (we had made up most of the time we were delayed from the fatality 60 miles from San Francisco), from the flooded areas in Iowa. We were stuck on the tracks for more than an hour while we waited for a crew of the Burlington Northern rail line to clear the tracks due to a fallen tree. And then a freight train clipped part of a tree as well and they had to clear that up as well and inspect the track prior to giving us the green light to continue.

Throughout the morning and later in the afternoon, we progressively seemed to get later and later and are currently, as of Thursday, August 27th at 3:30pm, we are 3 hours and 40 minutes delayed to reaching Chicago.

We arrived to Chicago around 6:30, just in time to transfer trains and get on Train 30, the Capitol Limited to Washington, DC. I saw Richard briefly as we changed trains and then he was off to Pittsburgh where he’d change trains to go to Lancaster, PA. We boarded the Coach car and found our seats, 13 and 14, and we both conked out for about an hour or so. We woke up and then were up for a good while and walked down to the Dining car to see if we could get cups with ice to drink something and we snacked for a little bit. We chatted with a woman and her 7-month old daughter and then were interrupted by an older man who butted into our conversations.

The man decided to tell us how difficult his job was being a stay at home parent with his two daughters who are 2 and 4 years of age. He kept going on and on about them and his wife and how difficult it is being a stay at home parent. He was drunk and had been drinking who knows how much during the evening, but he decided to splurge everything to us, including details we didn’t need or want to know. Regardless, we listened to him for a good two hours or so as he vented to us and then come to find he was making some comment and implied that we were partners with one another. We were like, “huh, how did you get that idea?” and then he tries to explain to us why he thought we were a couple. He said he thought so because we were really “close” and “that we weren’t afraid to have a guy sitting in between us, as he wasn’t a threat to our relationship with one another” and such crap – it was really amusing especially since he completely embarrassed himself by making the assumption and comment about Iman and I being a couple.

After about 2 hours of discussions and listening to this drunk guy (Ron) on the train, we find the opportunity to leave as he was looking for more to drink, I think. The conductor saw him and was following him and I think realized we were tired of listening to him and his crude language and descriptions of things he told us. We went back to our seats and I watched some more Amazing Race and then conked out around 3am or so.

Friday, August 28th

Bedtime night before: 3am
Wake up time: 8:30am

After a night of pretty uncomfortable sleep in the coach car, I woke up several times in the morning and eventually got up for good around 8:30am and then went and changed clothes just to feel a little cleaner and brushed my teeth. I came back and Iman had claimed my seat to sleep, so I went up to the Observation car to hang out and what not. I wound up talking to another guy from Deluth, Minnesota (same place as where Ron said he was from) and this other man was taking his daughter to Georgetown for her second year of school there. So we chatted for a bit and then eventually I came back to the seats to see if Iman had woken up and sure enough, she had. So now we’re about an hour away from DC – almost home!