It’s All About the Bike

First off. In this case, taking the bike with me to meet Angie was the main rationale for risking a train trip again, plus anytime I can avoid flying I will.

So after researching cost and maybe some other factors, we decided that I’d rather take my bike on the train than risk leaving it in the minivan in a parking lot in Iowa for a week, and flying to Quad Cities to meet Angie when she completed RAGBRAI on Saturday.

We booked the ticket for me to travel from La Junta–the closest stop for the Southwest Chief–to Galesburg, IL., leaving on Friday and arriving on Saturday lunchtime. I’d have to hang about a bit to wait for Angie but it seemed to be the best idea.

Once again, the best-laid plans…..

I left work a tiny bit early to head to La Junta, since the weather looked a tad threatening. I’d been so busy all day, I hadn’t thought to check the Amtrak site to see if the train was on time. After a fairly pleasant drive and only a little rain, I reached the station. The station clerk hailed me as I was heading to the bathroom and stopped me to let me know the train was delayed due to a collapsed bridge near Lamy! The duration of the delay was not yet fully clear but she was trying to obtain information and it would be several hours. As I learned later, the folks on the train were bussed to Lamy to meet the westbound train, which turned around there to become the eastbound train, while the train trapped on the west side of the bridge turned and went back to LA. All this made for a lengthy delay.

It was clear, however, that the train would arrive too late for dinner. I therefore decided to get something to eat in La Junta while I was waiting. The clerk told me I’d be better off leaving my bike with her in the station than on the back of the car.

After consulting with her and a local friend (who was sadly unable to meet me for dinner), I headed across Highway 50 to The Railyard (no website). My friend knows the owner and is quite fond of him, but he wasn’t there. It wasn’t super crowded, but it is a small town. The meal and cocktail were serviceable but not mind blowing, but since I’d be missing dinner on the train, it was manageable!

I got back to the station fairly quickly (the restaurant was out of desserts!). As I got there I met up with what turned out to be the only other passengers waiting for the train. They were a family of four on their way home to Kansas City after spending a week in Platoro, a town I’d never heard of that is northwest of Antonito. They had bikes with them and the wife, Piper, turned out to be a kindred spirit. We talked for a bit before they went off to eat, and after they returned she and I talked for at least a couple of hours, on a wide range of topics, for at least a couple of hours.

Frogs from the nearby Arkansas River on the platform

It was good to be able to while away at least part of the evening (well, night) since the train did not arrive until 1:50am! With help from Piper (she held onto some of my bags), I got my bike loaded and got to my berth as quickly as I could. Having brushed my teeth at the station, I was under the covers before the train pulled out.

Scenes from the train

Unfortunately, I only slept about three and a half hours before being awoken by activity on the train. I’m still catching up from that.

The train didn’t gain any time, but at least didn’t lose much. As with our previous trip from Seattle to Chicago in June, but perhaps even more so as I was traveling alone, the trip fostered a sense of community. The dining car is always set up so that you’re seated with whoever arrived at the same time as you, and people never fail to engage in conversation. Since I had three meals on this trip, that was pretty nice as I met different folks each time. In addition, there were conversations with people from my sleeping car every time we stopped and alit for a fresh air break on the platform. There was one gentlemen who was on his way home to DC to see his family after his latest stint in the merchant navy, and an older lady headed home to Vermont who talked of her experiences teaching in Tanzania. I made sure to step off the train in Kansas City so that I could say goodbye to Piper and her family, even though I’ll probably never see them again. Although I’d just have soon been in Galesburg closer to my arrival time, it’s the sense of community that makes the experience at least a little bearable, and some of the people and sights will be with me for the rest of my life.

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