On Friday, we awoke to find that Matt had pulled a case overnight and had not been home. He texted us at 7:30am to let us know he should be home by noon. Noon came and went, and he wasn’t answering text messages. We planned to be at the Amtak station, 40 miles away, for check-in by 3:30pm. By 1:45pm, we started checking taxi fares ($95). Fortunately, Matt checked in just then, to let us know he was finally on his way home, not being able to call until he reached his car to recharge his phone. We arrived in plenty of time, and started the last stage of our journey.
Soon, we passed over the Wisconsin Dells, vacation destination for many, and headed ever westward, crossing the Mississippi just after dark, then north to Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Dawn found us in North Dakota, between Grand Forks and Devils Lake, where Judy has cousins.
Eastern North Dakota is one of the flattest regions in North America: the water table has been rising steadily for the last 20 years, turning farmland into marsh and marsh into lakes, swallowing up roads, highways, and railway tracks in the process.
Progress was slow throughout the state due to construction to raise the track bed and add additional rail capacity.
New rail capacity is needed in North Dakota because of the oil boom. The western half of the state has been transformed by the oil drilling, pipeline, trucking, and rail expansion.
Finally, we passed into the Big Sky Country of Montana, where we still feel at home. The “Highline” region along the Burlington Northern/Santa Fe railway line and US 2 is pretty this time of year.
A scheduled stop in Havre, Montana for refueling also turned into an unscheduled layover, as all electrical power on the train failed a few miles short of Havre.
We stood, with the other passengers and crew, on the platform until after sunset before the maintenance crew finally restored power to the sleeper cars and lounge: the coach passengers crowded into the lounge car or slept in the dark coach cars, where there was no ventilation or running water, for the overnight trip to Spokane.
The Empire Builder, Amtrak service between Chicago and Seattle/Portland, splits in two at Spokane, one half going on to Seattle through the Cascades, and the other half to Portland through the Columbia Gorge. Normally, this takes place in the middle of the night. However, since we were now more than six hours behind schedule, we were treated to a daylight tour of eastern Washington.
We passed through the village of Odessa, where Judy’s brother Tom lives.
Then, the winding descent into the Columbia basin and a stop in Wenatchee (usually the point of dawn and dark on west-bound and east-bound trains) before ascending into the Cascades.
Up the Wenatchee River to Cashmere and Leavenworth.
Near Stevens Pass, the train passes through a 7.5-mile tunnel, emerging on the rainy side of the mountains and descending to Puget Sound.
Near Naval Base Everett, the track turns and follows the shore of Puget Sound into Seattle.
A view of the Edmonds-Kingston ferry lets us know we are close to home at last. Of course, our journey was complicated yet again by football: Since we were six hours late arriving, we exited King Street Station and looked up into the stands at Safeco stadium adjacent to the station, where 65,000 Seahawks fans roared in unison. While the game was still in progress, the outcome was certain, and droves of fans were already spilling into the streets to avoid the massive traffic jams, which, of course, they instantly created. Mark finally got close enough to the station for us to load up our luggage and work our way out toward the freeway, which involved a diversion through Beacon Hill and Rainier Beach.
There was one casualty of the trip: one of our bike cases had the slide handle pulled loose at the bottom, which made for some exciting maneuvering getting out of the train station. Finally home, I emptied the case, removed the handle assembly, and made a dimpled washer from scrap aircraft aluminum to repair where the countersunk screw had torn through the plastic suitcase body.
Our trek home, by train:
View Larger Map