Friday, July 06, 2007


There are not enough superlatives to describe the magnitude of Glacier National Park. I’ll spare you the travelogue description but just say that waking up and eating breakfast on the Empire Builder in the Flathead region is something everyone must do at least once.

It is clearer today than last Thursday when we came west through here. I am on the same side of the train so I am seeing the same terrain, yet it looks completely different. Presently, we are between Essex and East Glacier and still climbing. A stark brown ridge is to the west gathering the direct angle of the morning sun and above. The contrail of an eastbound jet is visible in contrast to the deep blue sky.

Early this morning I woke when the train made an extended stop in Libby, MT. It was 5:30 MT – 4:30 Pacific Time - and the bright sky was already starting to fill the sleeper. We appear to be exactly on time. I felt the train pull in and stop in Spokane sometime past 1:00 am. When the power was turned off to hook us up to the Seattle train, the sudden quiet lulled me to sleep. So, I am operating on only about four hours of sleep and they were not my “beauty sleep.”

It always takes me a night or so to get used to a new bed, and despite the fact that I haven’t lost my Amtrak Legs, I did not find sleep easy to come by.

The most exciting thing to happen today – so far – was the ride through what I believe is the Flathead Tunnel. For a few moments I thought we were accidentally transported to the NYC Subway tracks. I climbed to the upper deck to get my morning java and decided to occupy my rear window perch for a few minutes while I sucked down the warm juice. I had just arrived on station when the lights went out. I thought it was a bit odd when I suddenly saw a lighted sign with the number 19 on it and the evidence of a ventilation tunnel and what appeared to be an emergency exit. These numbered signs continued to appear once every 50 seconds. So, by the time we got to sign number 16, I knew this was going to be a long time under the ground. Indeed this was a two-cupper as I was able to return to the coffee pot and suck down a second cup, all the while underground. In all we were probably only in the tunnel for about 15 minutes though it seems a lot longer. I can only imagine the confusion of the passengers who awaken at that time, looking out and seeing the stark blackness.

Despite the early hour, I decide it is a good idea to get to the dining car now. You will recall that the leg from Portland to Spokane is sans dining car, so I took this opportunity to check out the new chow house.

Fortunately, there are not too many early diners and I join two people. The first is a woman who I shall call Mrs. Landingham, because she reminds me of the character on The West Wing who played the President’s secretary. She has a bit of that matter-of-fact style of personality and the same pixie haircut. She boarded in Pasco last night and looks like she will be a handful. When she boarded, she made sure Carl the attendant knew she was to have an extra blanket in her sleeper. I also heard her tell him that she wanted her feet facing the front of the train in case we crashed. After she boarded, the head conductor came down to tell Carl the same thing. Mrs. Landingham has apparently been rather vocal about her needs.

Our other breakfast guest was a Coastie on his way from Seattle to Camp Lejeune, NC. I thought by his appearance that he was a Marine as he was sporting a cap that said Port Townsend covering his tight crew cut. But he corrected me and explained he was on his way to Lejeune for advanced “tactical boat driving.” Sounds like fun.

Coastie is riding in coach and talked about how he will be making this trip again in a few months with the rest of his family. I am shocked to learn he has four kids; he looks about 20 years old; must be all that fresh air.

Mrs. L had to have the last word in most of the conversation; I think I will be avoiding her. She did indicate that she travels frequently by Amtrak and proceeded to detail the various mishaps she’s had traveling by train. Now, I really want to stay away from her.

Just before 10:00 am we are in East Glacier and about to leave the park. The Lodge from this perspective is quite beautiful and I’m thinking this might be a great place for a vacation. Perhaps we should arrange for a SpongeBob and Patrick reunion here?

With my ears now popping we have passed Browning and are again descending to the high plains. Carl has just announced that there will be a wine and cheese tasting event at 3:00 pm and we need to sign up. I suspect the family of Amish/Mennonites that are in the sleeper across the aisle from me will take a pass on the wine. I only hope Mrs. L does too.

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