Sedona, AZ Days Two and Three

                                         Wednesday, September 18, 2019

            This morning was my first day of the anesthesia conference. My night last night was not restful. I woke up several times with the feeling of sour food pushing against my throat. The shrimp scampi I ate for supper must not have set well. Finally, I take a Gaviscon and am able to drift off. But I wake up every hour or so and check the clock. And so the night drags on.

            I walk back to our room from the seminar about noon. Hubby has gone shopping for lunch staples, so we have tortillas and chips before heading out. We start out going north on Hwy 179 through Sedona. We make several stops at scenic views. The Chapel of the Cross on the top of a high red rock is the highlight. We drive as high up as we can and then decide the last option is to walk the rest of the way up.

            “Do you want a ride?” inquires a voice from a golf cart just as we are starting our climb. This is too good to be true.

            “Sure,” I respond as I make a dive for the back seat of his vehicle. I do notice the tip box prominently displayed upfront. Oh well, it was worth not having to walk up the steep hill.

Chapel of the Cross

In Sedona, we go around the umpteenth round-about and head south on 89A. I thought Minnesotans were in love with round-abouts but here, there are almost no traffic lights and a round-about every time one blinks their eyes. Nobody seems to care much about being polite either. They would just as soon run over you as not.

            One of my goals for this day is to find the Verde Valley Railroad while sightseeing which we have a reservation for at 1 p.m. tomorrow. Then I will know how early to leave the seminar. As we drive along viewing the countryside, I develop my plan of attack. I surmise that if we turn right at the upcoming Catholic church, we should be able to wind our way up to the Railroad Terminal in Clarksdale. What I have not accounted for is that the map I am following is a rough estimation and not to scale. I think the Catholic church is located at the light by Mingus Avenue. It is not. But there is a sign just before the church pointing to Old 89A and mentioning the towns that we are searching for. Oh well, we have missed that, so we turn right on Mingus Avenue at the light. This should still lead us to our destination. After a few minutes of tentatively driving onward and intuitively turning where is seems the map would direct us, we spot the road to the train depot. Now, we just have to come back out and turn right on 89A again and I conclude that it should bring us back around by the Catholic church. Imagine my surprise when we see a sign pointing to Jerome ahead. Jerome ahead?

            “We don’t want to go to Jerome,” I exclaim. “I don’t understand what just happened. Don’t we want to go south?”

            “No, we want to go north,” counters my hubby emphatically, “We need to turn around.”

            “Then just follow 89A south,” I instruct him, “and hopefully we will come back around.”

            The town we enter as we drive is totally unfamiliar. “We can’t be going the right way. I don’t remember any of this,” insists Hubby over and over.

            “You don’t remember it because we didn’t come this way,” I respond several times. Now I am becoming frustrated by his insistence that we are going the wrong way simply because he doesn’t recognize anything we are driving by. I am pretty sure this will work out though not absolutely certain. Soon I spot the road I was hoping to find.

            “There it is. Turn right there,” I direct.

            “I have no idea what you are doing. I am totally lost. You are going to have to drive back here yourself tomorrow as none of this makes any sense,” is his final declaration before lapsing into silence.

I eye the Garman GPS sitting on the dashboard that we stowed into our suitcase so tenderly. Maybe we really should plan ahead to use that little thing. But then, we are still old-fashioned enough to think that we can navigate by a map- even a map that is missing most of its landmarks and highways. The rest of our drive back to the hotel is uneventful. We decide to call it a night as Hubby is not feeling up to par physically.

Sedona

      Thursday, September 19, 2019

            Hubby got up at 5:30 a.m. this morning after his phone rang – must be 7:30 a.m. back home. I lay in bed another hour before time to get dressed for the conference.

We have a 1 p.m. reservation for the train ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad so I leave the conference a little early. By 11 a.m. we are on the same road again that we traveled yesterday. Today’s ride goes smoothly, and we know exactly where we are going. It is a sunny, pleasantly warm day as all the days here have been. The train depot is bustling with activity and people milling around.

“You look like you need tickets,” a gentleman greets us. “Head right over there.” He motions to the right.

As we exchange my receipt for actual tickets, I address the ticket agent. “Where do I get our lunch?” I have already paid for a lunch to go with our ride.

“You can either get your lunch at the restaurant or choose to eat outdoors. We are having a German-mashed-potatoes with sauerkraut lunch and brats special today.”

Hmmm! That sounds like a nice change of pace. I haven’t had mashed potatoes and sauerkraut since my mother used to make it for my birthday years ago. We enjoy our lunch in the semi-shade of a tree while we wait to board the train.

Verde Valley Train

We are assigned to the car dubbed “Tucson.” It is air-conditioned, clean, and well cared for. The seats are bench seats like a school bus but can be flopped over when the direction of the train is changed since they can’t turn around. Between each of two cars is a train car that is open and available for outdoor riding. Our car attendant is a man in his late fifties or early sixties who is extremely jovial. He welcomes us to our car and takes the tickets when it is time to board.

            I urge Hubby to join me on the outdoors car for the first hour of the trip. It is hot, probably in the upper 80s but it is breezy and there is a small shade canopy. The land we travel through is, to my eyes, a land of desolation but also of great beauty. We clickity clack along the rail laid along the side of the mountain on the left while a canyon falls away on the right. Deep in the canyon flows a small river or what we Midwesterners would call a creek. The river is lined with lush green trees. The walls of the canyon beyond the river rise magnificently to meet the sky. They are a beautiful red color. Scattered over the steep boulders are blooming cacti and small scrubby trees. We descend a twisting turning path of switchbacks over the next 38 miles to Prescott, now a ghost town. Then, the engines are brought around to the back of the train and reattached. And the climb back through Verde canyon begins.

            We spend part of our time in the air-conditioned coach car and enjoy the scenery out the window. I even fall asleep for a 10-minute nap. Ice cream sandwiches appear, and our host makes an offer, “I have ice cream sandwiches on special. $1 for one, $2 for two.” This is followed by laughter. Just the kind of afternoon to enjoy ice cream. Soon, we venture back outside to enjoy the last hour back to Clarksdale in the great outdoors.

            Since we are so close to Jerome, AZ, the town with the reputation of being the wildest town in the west, we decide to travel there before heading back to the hotel. The road winds with tight curves up the side of the mountain. As we climb higher, a fantastic view appears. The valley below falls away with an awe-inspiring view. The town of Jerome, itself, gives the impression of the houses clinging to the hillside. The streets are narrow and close to the side of the cliff as well. The back doors or maybe the front doors too of the houses overlook the cliff. It is a beautiful scene and provides some photographic opportunities.

Jerome, AZ

            Then it is time to head for the hotel. We decide to make our own supper when we get there. The route we planned to take back to Oak Center is closed because of an accident. “Take alternative route,” says the sign. Great! The only alternative route we know is a little further but probably just as fast. We settle in for an evening at the hotel.

A Camping Adventure 2019 – Boone, Iowa

Butterfly garden At Reiman Gardens

I love camping but putting up a tent and sleeping on the ground is good more for groans than a fun time when one reaches 60 years old. So I get brave and ask a friend if we can borrow their tent camper for this year.

            “I have to tell you the lights don’t work,” she informs me.

            “Not a problem,” I declare, “Do you care if my husband fixes it for you?”

            “That would be fine.”

            We pick up the camper on a Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks before our planned trip in order to have time to make the repairs and test out our pop-up tent raising ability. Our friends and Hubby struggle to get the camper trailer hitched to the truck. The latch doesn’t want to drop over the ball hitch and as stated, the lights don’t work – not even one of them. But the hitch finally cooperates and snaps into place.

            At home, my Hubby who is wearing a neck brace after obtaining a C4 fracture from falling down a customer’s stairs, has the privilege of backing the camper up by the shed. He accomplishes this with ease in spite of not being able to turn his head. That little camera on the tailgate in back of the truck is a nifty addition to the backing up task. But when we go to unhook and crank the stand down, the hitch has no intention of releasing the ball on the truck.

            “How about a little WD40?” I suggest.

            Even after a soaking in the magical fluid, the hitch remains tightly locked. Looks like we are going to be attached to this truck from this day forward.

            “Maybe if I drive the truck ahead a little,” is Hubby’s thought.

            He coasts the truck a few inches. With a snap, the hitch rotates down and the ball releases. Oh Wow! It might have worked better if we had thought of that sooner.

            A couple of days later, we decide to make sure we know how to put up the camper before we set out on our journey. My hubby gets out his electrical handyman – his voltage tester. All the electrical connections test out as working and when we put the connections together, all the lights work except the right rear one. What was wrong with it? Maybe the connections were a little corroded from sitting around and that WD40 did its magic there too. At least there doesn’t seem to be a significant problem.

            We start the process of cranking up the popup top. We make quite the pair. My hubby in his neck brace and stiff me trying to crawl around under the bed ends to insert the stabilizers and under the camper to put the feet down. I peer inside the camper as the roof moves skyward. A small rivulet slides down the inside screen and pools on the kitchen counter. A larger pool gushes off of the expanding canvas into the front bed.

            “Stop,” I holler, “We need to catch the leaks.”

            I sop up all the unwelcome water with 2 blankets close by. Still, the dampness meets my hand as I touch the bed surface. The same dampness is present underneath the mattress. Time to set up the fans and dry out the interior. We are not really sure where the water actually came in. This could be a rude awakening if it drips on us in the middle of the night. We are hoping it just came from the unsecured opening in the top. At least our excursion has resulted in us feeling proudly confident in our ability to set this thing up even as cripples.

            The next order of business is to change the hitch on the truck that we will be using to one that allows the camper to tow more levelly. It soon becomes apparent that the current hitch has been on the truck far too long. It is rusted into place. The WD40 can is emptied and the hammer is swung over and over. The hitch does not budge. I craw under the truck and try to hammer from the backside. Soon I am covered in rust stains and WD40 spatters. Light beige colored pants really are not a good choice for this job.  Hubby soon goes off to town to buy another can of WD40 and we begin our efforts again. Was that a little movement that I see? After over an hour of spraying and hammering, the hitch begins to move with each bang of the hammer. “Hurrah!” I cheer. “You have done it.” Now we are ready to camp.

July 11, 2019

We get up at the usual time of 6:30 am. Hubby makes a trip downtown with instructions for his help and I feed the cat, move the calves around, and get the rest of our stuff together.

We have no problems with hooking the camper and soon are on our way. I think I have done well this time, but I am sure there is something that I have forgotten. Even with his neck brace, Hubby feels he can drive with a little assistance from me. We do have to stop at the shop and pick up his sunglasses.

We make several stops during our travels and realize that the camper trailer lights only work sporadically. Oh well! It pulls well with the pickup with being able to use the truck trailer braking system. The last time we towed a popup camper with our Toyota RAV 4, it made us extremely light in the front end and difficult to handle. That time we had to stop and move our bicycles to the top of the car to distribute the weight more evenly.

Garden Gnome

We decide to stop at the Reiman Gardens in Ames, Iowa run by Iowa State University. We wander through flowers and vegetables and butterflies- paths that twist and turn amongst beautiful waterfalls. It is a warm day but not totally uncomfortable.

Around 3:30, we head for Ledges State Park by Boone, Iowa. We miss the entrance on our first pass through. I am expecting a well-kept, well-staffed entrance booth. The sign that points towards the “Park Office” seems misleading. It looks like a maintenance building, not what I think of as a park office. After realizing we have passed the park, we swing around in the middle of the road and head back again towards what I think looks like a park entrance building. It is the right place but there is no one staffing it. It seems to be a “register yourself” kind of thing. Well, we have reservations, so we decide to just go set up our campsite. And there is the green reservation card waiting for us.

Our trial run of setting up the camper at home pays off as we are efficient and competent. Starting our little Coleman camping stove does not turn out quite so efficient though. It has been probably five years or longer since we have used it and Hubby just can’t get it to light. He pumps and he pumps and he pumps but it just won’t light. Of course, when all else fails and it looks like there will be no supper, one should read the directions. Reading them slowly and carefully is helpful too. It says “turn lighting lever up, with a lighted match over main burner, open valve completely and light. After flame turn blue, turn lever down.” Clear as mud. Which is the light lever, and which is the valve? Hubby does vary his technique and at least we get flame- leaping dancing orange flame but it is flame, just not blue flame. After some more fiddling around, he finally gets the flame under control and supper is in the making.

And I now discover what I have forgotten – the water jug to carry our water. It wouldn’t be camping without a major forgotten item. I search through the camper and come up with a shiny blue covered cooking pot. That will work dandily.

We sit outdoors in the warm evening glow and enjoy the birds singing, the mosquitoes chomping on us, and the myriad sounds of nature. We do realize that the bathroom is quite a distance from us. Around the circle, down the road, turn right, walk another ¼ mile and circle again. Bummer. Don’t think I will be going over there in the middle of the night.

July 12, 2019

Scritch, scratch, scratch, scratch… I am awakened in the dark of night. What is that scurrying in the grass outside of our camper? Hubby is awake too and hands me the flashlight. I press the light against the screen of our sleeping area. Two sets of shadowy eyes glare back at me from the top of the picnic table. Ugh… I had left one empty package from our supper on the picnic table as I forgot to take it away with the garbage. It was weighed down with the water kettle. But those little bandits have found it and are busily chewing away on the smell of chicken and noodles. At least it is not a boogie man.

The night cools off and the air becomes deliciously cool. We snuggle down in our sleeping bags, but I still have a hard time sleeping. Hubby rolls over every hour or so, rocking the camper like a ship on the wavy sea. I briefly wonder if those cheap metal poles designed for holding up this extended sleeping end of the camper really are strong enough. I have visions of us awaking looking at the ground.

We finally slide out of our bed around 7 am and begin the routine for the day. Our breakfast consists of fried sunny-side-up eggs cooked over our gas stove. This morning, the lighting of it goes much more smoothly. Hot chocolate, Italian bread, and donuts complete our meal. After cleanup, we are soon on the road to the Boone and Scenic Valley Railroad in Boone. We have tickets for the 11 am train ride. Or at least, that is what I thought. The gentleman at the desk looks at me and says, “Do you have reservations for the 1 pm train?”

            Huh? I pause. “No, we have reservations for the 11 am train.”

            “Well, there is no train at 11 am on Friday. Your reservation is for Saturday.”

            I stare at the ticket and then I stare at my watch and back at the ticket. “Ah man. I must be mixed up. I thought today was Saturday.” Anyway, its nothing new to me to be confused. OK, I guess we will come back tomorrow.

            Hubby and I wander around the museum for a while and then decide to head out and explore. One of the items of interest that I had come across on the internet and in travel brochures was the Kate Skelly Memorial Train Bridge. I could not find an address for it and one person who had commented said that he had to travel some country roads to find it. Google had marked it on a map for me as being east of Boone at about U Ave off 190th St. We leave town driving east. I do like the coolness of the truck in the 90-degree heat but as we drive along, Hubby questions our direction. “We have to go down to the river. There is nothing but flat farmland here. There would be no reason to build a railroad bridge here.”

            Finally, I pull out a bicycle map Hubby has picked up and study it. Maybe our underlying information is wrong. The Des Moines River runs west of Boone and for the railroad track to cross it, the bridge needs to be on the west side of the city. We turn around and head west. There are no signs anywhere indicating where this bridge might be. First, we follow a major route west from Boone. Once we cross the Des Moines River with no sign of the bridge, we realize we have gone too far. Time to turn around again. I remember a road that we passed earlier that indicated it was a dead end. Maybe that is the one that goes along the tracks and will give us a view of the famous bridge. As we drive along, the road gets curvier and rougher. We bounce down the hill over rocks and washouts until we reach the end of the road.

            “Well, that was a waste of time,” remarks Hubby.

            “Wait, Look,” I point through the trees. “There it is.”

            And sure enough, the tall stately bridge is visible in the distance through the trees. We tiptoe through the flood ravaged backwaters to the edge of the De Moines River. What a magnificent view! We are only wishing that a train would come over the bridge about now and Hubby would have the perfect photographic opportunity. But it is a hot day and the mosquitoes think we are tasty, so we do not linger long. We make our way back up the rock-strewn path and turn down another washed up road that has the potential to take us maybe to the other side of the bridge further downstream. This road does take us over the double railroad tracks on our path downward to the river. “Look for Trains,” says a big sign on a trailer. There are none to be seen.

This gravel road does give us a different vantage point, but the bridge seems further away, and we soon retreat to the coolness of the truck. As we drive back up and make the turn to again cross the tracks, I state the obvious, “Look for the train.” The words are no sooner out of my mouth and whoosh, an engine whizzes by followed by a second one just a few seconds later on the second track. Together the trains hurdle towards the Kate Skelley Bridge. “Ah Man! I wasn’t ready for that one,” blurts Hubby.

It is obvious that this tourist attraction is not advertised and only accessible to those who seek diligently. Hunger and heat soon drive us back to the campgrounds though, where we throw together a lunch of spam sandwiches, chips, and Oreo cookies. Then it is nap time.

We spend the afternoon driving around checking out Madrid and many back-country roads. We locate another high bridge, the High Trestle Trail Bridge, just out of Madrid that is used for a bike trail. The easiest access is a mile walk from the parking lot to the bridge. We shake our head that no, we do not want to walk a mile in 90-degree heat. We will come back later this evening when the sun is going down and it is getting cooler.

High Trestle Trail Bridge

Later in the day, the sky has clouded over, so we decide to leave the campsite around 8:25 pm for the drive to the bridge parking lot. The sun is orange in the sky and sinking toward the horizon. We will be too late for a sunset picture at the bridge, but we are hoping with it now being cloudy that it will not be so hot. The trail slopes gently downward through the trees- not a hard walk. Even so, the sweat bubbles out on my brow and soon is making rivulets down my back. The mosquitoes decide to check us out as well and we soon slather more Deet on our already coated arms and face. Hubby keeps saying, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

            “Aren’t you glad we didn’t try to walk this at 2 pm this afternoon?” is my comeback. It is only a .4-mile hike to the actual bike trail. There we are met by masses of people moving rhythmically toward the bridge – like worshippers drawn to the object of adoration. We melt into the flowing crowd. Bicycles with lights and loud music blast past us while the slower walking people meander along. Now that we have reached the trail, it is only another .5 miles to the bridge. However, with sweat running places you don’t want to know about, it calls for fortitude and the persistence of putting one foot ahead of the other. The air is still and hangs heavy in the slowly darkening sky. The moon sits high in the sky and thrusts lengthening shadows for the silhouettes now moving on the path.

Des Moines River From Bridge

            As we near the bridge, we can see the white light that illuminates the entrance pillars. The bridge itself is another .5 miles in length as it spans the Des Moines River from 130 feet in the air. Part way across, it is lit by blue LED lights. This is the spectacle we have come to see. It provides a photo opportunity for my hubby’s hobby. Below us, the river flows lazily along illuminated by the light of the moon. We spend about a ½ hour on the bridge and then turn to trudge our way slowly back to the parking lot on the now dark path through the maze of ambling people and speeding bicycles. A moonlight walk on a hot July night does hold some romantic essence to it.

July 13, 2019

The fans in the camper keep us cooled down enough to sleep. We get more rest than the first night. I awake to rain splotches on the canvas. But it doesn’t last long. The weather is cloudy providing some measure of relief from the heat. It is actually quite comfortable this morning. Hubby cooks some pancakes for breakfast and then we decide to head out to the Kate Skelly Bridge again to see if we can catch a picture with a train crossing the trestle. Rain drops splatter on our windshield as we drive, and we decide that we do not want to be drenched for our train ride later. Rather than going down by the river, we stop on top of the hill where the trains pass by before entering the trestle. Soon it stops raining. Then I notice the railroad signal has changed to green on one track and to red on the other.

Train coming off Kate Skelly Bridge

“I bet there is a train coming on each track. One going one way and one going the other,” hubby deduces.

            “I bet you wish we had gone down below,” I respond.

            “Yes, but it’s too late now.”

            Within ten minutes, we are graced with a train horn and a speeding train. And then another one. Bummer. We should have gone down to the river and waited. We have missed the opportunity.

            We head back to Boone for our lunch train run at 11 am – the one I thought we were supposed to do yesterday. It is an 11-mile trip to Wolf, IA and back in the comfort of air-conditioned reconditioned train cars. For some reason we are the next to last ones called to board and they need to ask us who we are.

Boone Scenic Railroad Train

            “We have room for you. Don’t worry,” says the conductor.

            As we are seated at our table, he brings us two tickets, “Here are your tickets.”

Hubby and I raise our eyebrows at each other and shrug. We already have tickets. Did we mess them up by picking up our tickets the previous day? We will never know.

            The ride is pleasant. It is hard for Hubby to turn to see out with his neck brace and to top it off, he is the one going backward. They stop the train at the trestle so that we can look out and take pictures. There are no guardrails on the tracks. It is straight down from the railroad tracks to the valley below- a little too freaky for this “afraid of heights” person. But the scenery is magnificent and when we think we have been forgotten with the food; it arrives. We have pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, and scalloped potatoes. Our ride ends around 2 pm and we head back to the campground for a nap.

From the top of the railroad trestle

            During our morning drive to Boone, we had discovered the canyon and sandstone cliffs that are part of the campground. We decide to return in the afternoon. There are several places where the water flows over the road and we need to drive through it. This morning, no one was around but now there are crowds of people picnicking and frolicking in the water. The sweat again pours out of us with little exertion and to walk seems like a huge effort. But I am drawn to the water and I take off my shoes and socks and go wading. I expect a shock from the cold of the water, but it is warm like bathwater – hardly cool enough to cool one off. But it does feel sweet to the feet. Then I remember I probably should not be wading with my cell phone in my thigh pants pocket – just in case I fall in.

Children line the sides of the road where the cars drive through the flowing water and cheer for each car, “Faster, Faster, Faster.” Many drivers comply but Hubby just smiles and waves at them. I wonder how many cars end up with flooded engines from this practice.

We head back to the campsite mainly because we are not tolerating the heat very well to relax some before our supper. We struggle with the camp stove again as we do at every meal. Beef stroganoff is the food on the menu followed by Smore’s. It is too hot for a fire, but one cannot go camping without roasting marshmallows over a fire and making finger licking smore’s. The fire is soon crackling away. We settle into our camp chairs to read until our one bundle of wood burns away and the mosquitos are urging us to “take it indoors.” I decide to leave the garbage on the table until we make a trip to the wash house before bed. Then we will go by the dumpster and dispose of it. We are only in the camper an hour before we decide to make our last trip to the bathroom and turn in. I pick up the garbage bag and realize it has two huge holes in it and the garbage is spewing out on the table. Son of a biscuit! In that hour, the racoons have stealthily made their visit. So much for delaying the delivery of the garbage to the proper place of disposal.

            As we prepare to get ready for bed, we try to figure out how to get undressed and redressed without flashing the community around us. We don’t have privacy curtains. Last evening, there were no neighbors around but tonight, we have neighbors on all sides. The solution we decide upon is to turn out the lights and change in the dark. It really is not that dark as the moon is moving towards full and there is light reflected from the adjacent campsite. I am confidently washing up and feeling quite secure when out of the door of the camper next to us comes a man with his flashlight. It hits me full in the face. Really? This is annoying. And then he sits down or so it seems, and it continues to shine into our camper. Is he watching? Is this entertainment? He probably doesn’t even know that it is pointed our way. But I do. I end up having to crouch down behind the stove to be insured that I am not providing a peep show.

July 14, 2019

We climb out of our bed around 7 am and Hubby cooks our breakfast of biscuits and gravy. Then it is time to tear down and head out. The temperature is already climbing, and rivers of water pour off of us. Our plan is to visit the Iowa Arboretum just south of the campground before heading home. The day is beautiful, and the flowers are magnificent, but Hubby and I move slower and slower. The heat has sucked all the energy out of us.

“I think I am going to throw up,” he says. Time to get ourselves to the cool truck and start our journey homeward.

            We make one last stop in Clear Lake, Iowa looking for the Guardian Wayside Chapel which Hubby has seen advertised. The ad says it is located on South 24th St. There is no house number. I type a random 620 into the GPS. We follow our guide’s instructions to exit the freeway and take the second left. We drive maybe a ¼ mile on 24th street and the GPS announces that we are at 620. No more than it has said that than Hubby declares, “There’s the sign.” I don’t see any sign but good thing his eye caught it as it is weather beaten and peeling. That was way too easy. Maybe it is the guardian angel that has led us to it.

We walk back a grassy path into a secluded area of the woods in the middle of this city and there it is – a beautiful white chapel. It is quiet inside and peaceful and we spend a few minutes meditating as I read the story of the chapel’s history aloud.

Then it is time to find a place to satisfy our hunger and travel the remaining miles home. Our journey into nature has been successful. Our creaking not-quite-as-bendable bodies say, “thank you” to the popup camper and its owners for putting an extra few feet between them and the hard ground.

Traveling By Amtrak

017Friday, July 21, 2017 is the happily anticipated day for the beginning of our trip to Whitefish, Montana. Whitefish is the chosen destination for my annual anesthesia conference this year. The plan is to combine my husband’s love of trains with our need to travel there by boarding the only long-distance passenger train service left in the US, Amtrak. Since Amtrak goes right through Whitefish, this will work splendidly for us.020

Hubby and I arrive at our daughter’s house in Chatfield by 5:45pm. She will deliver us to the depot so that our car does not sit there unattended for nine days. We are on the road and headed towards Winona by 6pm. The heavy rain from the day has stopped and the sun is peaking out. The train is to arrive by 7:47pm. We hear the whistle in the distance and it comes chugging around the corner right on time. Hugs are shared and we turn to search for our assigned train car. Car number 730 is midway along the towering berths awaiting us. We board and trudge up the narrow staircase to the upper floor of a sleeper car. In the small space, two seats face each other. It is a very compact space with little extra room for storage. One suitcase fits nicely under the seat but our big suitcase begs to be stored downstairs in the main luggage area.024

We are told that our supper is at 8:30pm and will be announced when they are ready to seat us. An announcement is made around that time but the speaker does not seem to work in our room and we cannot understand what is being said.  By 8:40, we decide to check out the dining car which conveniently is located right next to our sleeping berth. We have almost missed supper as we are the last ones to be seated. I am not very hungry anyway as I was not expecting to get food this late on the train. Because of this, we ate before we left home. It is just as well as it takes forever to have our order taken and then another forever until the food comes. I look at my order of tortillas and say, “That is not what I ordered.”

“I’m sorry,” the waitress responds, “I will get you the right order.” By now it is 9:30pm and I am not much interested in food any more. I am more concerned about the effect of trying to sleep with a full stomach. Just to be polite, we wait until the food comes, take a few bites, and head back to our small home. While we wait for our car attendant to come and make up our beds, our attention is drawn towards the fireworks exploding above the skyline just outside our window at our St. Paul stop.

Making up our beds involves pulling down the upper bunk which is two feet wide and six feet long. Hubby gets the bottom bunk which is just a little longer and three feet wide. There is little room for anything once this is done except going to sleep. I climb the little steps to the top bunk and shimmy onto the bunk. There is no room for sitting up and I am cold. Thankfully, we have both been provided with two pillows and two blankets. This is not like my bed at home but is quite comfortable compared to the sleeping in the seat option. We have been told to sleep with our heads toward the back of the train in case of an emergency stop so our feet take the brunt and not our all-important heads. It is a little like trying to sleep in a hammock – gentle swaying and rocking. If I was a child, it would rock me to sleep but I am an old woman who needs everything quiet and still to sleep. At one point, I hear rain pounding against the side of the train as we travel through MN and I wonder if we are in the middle of a severe thunderstorm. We both get up to the bathroom around 2 am and then I lose some time in my brain so I must sleep some. This is the ideal way to travel. It is quite relaxing – no paying attention to driving-  eating in a restaurant, sleeping in a bed, and reading while all the while hurtling towards our destination.

052

Grain Elevator in Montana

The sun is shining when I open my eyes again. I peer at my watch and conclude that it is 7:30 am. As we both are getting our shoes on, the 6:30am announcement for breakfast comes over the intercom. Oh dear, I guess I looked at my watch wrong. Well, we are up so we might as well head for breakfast. I pull the call button before we head for the dining room to have the car attendant take down our bunks. My order of hot chocolate turns out to be orange juice but once that is straightened out, the French toast is quite tasty. This waitress needs a different system for keeping track of orders but overall the food is scrumptious.

We return to our room an hour later to find our bunks still not taken care of. “Would you mind doing ours next?” I ask the attendant.

“I turned off the call button because you said you were not ready to have me do it yet,” is her response.

That’s strange. I don’t remember even seeing the attendant this morning. “We never talked to you this morning,” we respond.

“I thought sure it was you. You must think I am terribly confused,” is her comeback.

Confused yes, but not a big deal. After all, this is an adventure.

Our next trek is back through the dining car and three more coaches to the observation car while our room is being prepared for the day. The North Dakota landscape speckled with herds of beef cattle flashes by. When we return, our room is ready for us to spend a relaxing morning reading and watching the landscape streak by, with occasionally interspersed walks through the train and outside at the 30-minute stop at Minot, ND.

Before we know it, lunch is being served. We are paired with a couple from Iowa who is taking 21 young people on a mission trip to an Indian reservation near Glacier National Park. One meets lots of people with interesting lives at meal time. And this time, lunch orders go off without a hitch.

The rest of the afternoon drags as miles and miles of flat Big Sky Montana wheat fields and barren lands fly by. I take a nap which kills a little time. Soon it is time for supper. We choose the 5:30 pm time slot due to fear of not getting done in time to get off the train at 8:47pm when we are due in. This meal, we are paired with another couple from our sleeper car who reside in Florida. They have many travel adventures to share.

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Piled wheat at an elevator

Before long, we start to notice the mountains rising on the horizon to the west. Then there are stops at East Glacier, Essex, and West Glacier. The sun is casting long shadows over the mountains as we crawl along the mountain side. At times, one can look out and straight down into the valley and the river below. We finally approach Whitefish and grind to a halt. “We are waiting for a train that is in the way to pass through before we can pull into the station,” the train engineer informs us. We have collected our baggage and impatiently wait by the door as the opposing train clatters by going the opposite direction. And then we slowly roll into the station. My body moves in rhythmic swaying as I stand on the curb waiting for the hotel van to pick us up. 26 hours of swaying back and forth has left its mark and that sweet soft bed in the hotel room looks so inviting.

Our week in Montana exploring Glacier passes far too quickly and before I know it, it is time to think about heading home. I keep waking up during the night because I am afraid the alarm won’t go off. I finally roll out of bed at 5:50 am. The air is crisply cool as we walk to our rental car. The valet man tells us that the train is only five minutes late. The first order of business is to top off our rental car gas tank and drop off the car at the train station.

We settle in the waiting room but soon notice a long BSNF train is parked on the main track at the Whitefish station. He, obviously, needs to move before we can board a passenger train. Restlessness sets in as the minutes stretch endlessly into time and we move outdoors to the platform. Maybe, we think that standing outside will make the situation unfold faster. It is a beautiful, though cool morning to stand on the platform and wait. The posted arrival time comes and goes and still the freight train does not move. Eventually, a train employee walks back along the train and jumps up between each car to adjust something. Finally, forty minutes late, the freight train releases the brakes and slowly pulls away. I hear my cell phone chime. Who would be texting me? Ah, it is Amtrak letting us know the train is behind schedule and will be arriving at 8:03. I think I already figured out it is late and it had better hurry if it is going to be here in three minutes as it is already 8 am. Pretty soon, we see the headlight come around the curve. Maybe there is still hope.858

Figuring out which car is ours becomes the problem. We finally find a conductor who says,” Car 830 is the last one on the train.” We trudge through the mass of humanity going in the opposite direction. No one is at the door. Do we enter? Do we not? We finally get on. “Go immediately to the dining car if you would like breakfast.” We walk and we walk. Since we truly are in the last car of the train, it is quite a long journey to the dining car. Time to walk off some calories.

After breakfast, it is time to go back to our sleeper car. No one has scanned our ticket. We could be getting a free ride for all they know or so I think. They never do scan our ticket but when we mention this to the car attendant, he says, “You are in the system so I know you are here.” Ah, big brother is always watching.

We continue to be an hour behind throughout the day.  We spend the day enjoying the scenery. There are endless fields of wheat being harvested. I read until I finish my book, then catch up on my writing, and finally, I go searching for my computer cord in the suitcase downstairs so that I can read a kindle book from the computer. Of course, the computer locks up for a couple of hours as it thinks it needs to download and update systems which it cannot do without an internet access. In frustration, I finally am able to break its cycle by turning it off several times in a row.

We do not cross the border into North Dakota until supper time. This creates a quandary as the time zone also changes at the border. Do we go to supper on Mountain Time or Central time? We have a 6:45 pm supper reservation. Finally, we ask the car attendant. “Go to supper on Mountain Time,” he says. That means we are really eating at 7:45 pm central time. That is a little later than I would like but there is not much we can do about it. Both of us decide to have the steak topped off with a desert.

I know that this is a mistake as soon as we get back to our car. I am hoping for a few hours after supper before bedding down for the night but it is already going towards 9 pm and the attendant has a goal of all the beds being made up by ten. I have delusions that I can sit and read in the top bunk but there is no space for such an endeavor. Getting into the bunk almost causes me to have a panic attack as the car is reversed from the trip out. This means I need to try to slide my feet in from the head end and scoot down. That wouldn’t be so bad except that there is no head room.  I finally master this feat of gymnastics and decide now that I am in, I should just stay put. I wonder how the really old people manage on a top bunk. I am slightly nauseated from needing to lay down so soon after eating, but I do drift into a lullaby sleep, being rocked back and forth by the motion of the train. I had decided that I would not even try to get up during the night to go to the bathroom but by 3 am, that resolution needs to go out the window. I have realized that if I take down the strapping that keeps one from rolling out, I can actually get my legs out. The trick is to hit the steps without crashing first as there are no grab bars or any surfaces to grab onto for support. Considering the circumstances, the sleeper at night does offer better sleep than a coach seat would have.

 

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Lake Pepin – along the Mississippi

Sunday morning greets us with bright sun at 6 am. We decide to roll out at 7. The thought of traipsing the length of the train to the dining car to make reservations, then traipsing back to wait for our call (which we can’t hear in our car anyway), then making a third trip to actually get our breakfast is overwhelming this morning. Instead, we opt to go downstairs in the dome car for some yogurt, donut holes, and orange juice. We have some nuts and a granola bar in our sleeper. That will have to do until we get off. The train pulls into St Paul right on time so it looks like we will make our 10:11 scheduled arrival time in Winona in spite of being an hour late all day yesterday. We are more than ready to step onto the little step that leads to the sidewalk to be greeted by our daughter. Ah, there is no place like home.

 

 

 

Destination – Whistle Stop

win_20160925_07_46_51_proWe leave the house on this sunny but cool September morning around 8 a.m. The trees are just starting to display the bright reds and yellows of autumn as we begin our 250-mile drive. We are headed for New York Mills, MN, a small town located in northwestern Minnesota. So what is the attraction about New York Mills and why do we wish to travel there, you might ask? Situated there is the Whistle Stop Bed and Breakfast. win_20160925_07_44_00_proIt is a unique bed and breakfast in that the owners have purchased and refurbished four old rail cars into sleeping quarters for guests. My hubby has always been in love with trains and as a special weekend to celebrate our 25th anniversary month, this seems like a cool adventure.

We decide to deviate from the printed Google directions which direct us towards all four-lane, high-speed freeways. Who wants to see the same old stuff while distracted by the mass of humanity that crowds the expressways? We begin our journey, instead, by winding our way north on Hwy 63 and then somewhat westward on the twisting Hwy 60 to Mazeppa. As we continue our journey westward on MN 19, we soon come to a detour. It seems that we drive ever further south instead of north and west. After going a fair number of miles out of the way, we are headed, at least, back in the right direction but on a different road than was our original plan. We can get where we want to go using this road too, we reason so we might as well go this way. We haven’t gone more than 10 miles or so and we come to another detour sign. You have got to be kidding. We repeat the going out of our way process all over again. By noon and after the appearance of the fourth detour in a little under 100 miles, I am starting to become paranoid every time I see an orange sign. Frustration is mounting and our progress towards our destination has been slow.win_20160925_07_44_27_pro

This whole driving experience reminds me of our 25 years of married life. As a young (relatively at 34 and 36 years old) couple, we set out on our life adventure with an image of our years together. And then there are detours – side trips that take us places we would rather not go. I think our first major detour was 3 years into our marriage when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Our dream of having more than one child was delegated to the file of “wishes only.” The “maybe we can adopt” six-year second detour ended up on the road to nurse anesthesia school instead. There is some beautiful country along this road. Our latest bumpy side trip has taken us on a spiritual detour that is confusing, lonely and seems like it has no road that returns to the one that leads to our destination. We can only cling to each other and faithfully attempt to search for the road signs of God’s leading hand. So our life is mirroring this road trip.

A little after noon, we get back on our original planned route and do make our way to the quaint town of New York Mills by 2:30 p.m. Just 100 feet behind the Imperial Car that welcomes us is a modern-day railroad tracks hidden behind the trees. win_20160925_07_39_36_proThis feature presents us with authentic shrill whistles and the clacking of speeding wheels approximately every ½ hour. This is a thrilling treat for hubby but creates a problem for restful sleep. I lay there in bed several hours into the night and wonder, “Why did I think that coming to a bed and breakfast would be relaxing and restful?” I guess it is all in how one looks at the experience just like married life. After all, an adventure is supposed to be exciting, terrifying, and exhilarating; it is not supposed to be a relaxing, restful journey.win_20160925_07_48_35_pro