Amtrak Adventure 2004 part 4

Have I mentioned how much I love eating with strangers? Yes, I guess I have. I just got back from lunch with my car mates Eddie and Yuka and a woman who got the activist in me talking again. Her name was Katrine and until about six months ago lived in a small town outside Mexico City. Turns out she dreamed of living in Italy, and ended up in Minneapolis. She met the man who would become her husband while he was working as a consultant on a job in Mexico City. She was on her way to meet him in Lake Tahoe where she’s hoping to learn how to snowboard during a nice week long vacation.

We started talking about travel and Eddie and Yuka got to hear my philosophy again about how traveling makes people better citizens of the world. Katrine spent five months in one of my favorite cities in the world, Florence, so we were off to a good conversational start. We talked about NAFTA and now that it’s ten years old, how it’s not really working for anyone unless you happen to be the CEO of a large corporation. A friend of hers was in Miami protesting the World Train Organization meeting there a few months ago. So we talked about immigration and trade between Mexico and the US and workers benefits and how WalMart, by selling sweatshirts for a dollar was really contributing to the problem, and it was just a great talk.

Then we talked more about travling. When I told her the only place in Mexico I’d visited was Cozumel to scuba dive, she told me that scuba diving was her favorite thing to do. So we were able to talk about the beautiful water in Cozumel and the great shelf drop off there. It’s the most amazing thing. You’re swimming along in about 90 feet of water and you come to a cliff. If you keep going out over the edge, you can just feel the temperature drop and the ocean bottom just disappears. The water is so clear there that you can see forever, but the shelf drops off so much, it’s just too far to see down. She hadn’t been night diving, which I was fortunate enough to try, so I was able to tell her about that as well. Well, it was a great lunch and poor Eddie and Yuka were left to listen to us yammering.

Well, we’re about four hours behind schedule now. This time it was because of the conductor’s union. Apparently conductors, by law, can only work 12 hours straight. Must be nice. So because we were so far behind schedule, they hit their twelve hour limit one stop early. What that means that we have fresh conductors waiting for us in Sparks Nevada, and conductors that aren’t allowed to work any more with us at the station in Winnemucca Nevada, 200 miles east of Sparks. Seems like the best thing to do would be to have the conductors take a nice comfy seat, put their feet up and call it a day while we continue on to Sparks, right? Apparently not. No, we sat in Winnemucca while the fresh, legal conductors were DRIVEN by car, 200 miles to us in Winnemucca. Whatever.

Issac continues to take care of me however, finding a working AC outlet for me in an empty room when I need to charge my laptop battery when it gets low, so I can continue to write and work on my photography. My iPod is just about out of battery life though, so I’ll have to plug that in soon and give it a little charge.

Ah, we’re heading up into the real mountains now. We’ve made it to California, home of Governor Arnold and the Sierra Nevada mountains. Time to pull the camera out again. I knew I should have wiped off my window at that last stop! Oh well, that’s what Photoshop is for.

Okay, that was beautiful! Sometimes things have a way of working out. Sure we’re late, now five hours, but that means rather than doing through Donners Pass at noon, we went though as the sun was beginning to set. What light! And the moon was out too! And man, did it snow here. There is a crazy amount of snow on the ground and making the pine trees branches sag under the weight. I’ll see if I have enough battery power to send one more picture through before arriving in San Francisco.

It’s funny, I’ve managed to barely make it through the trip without running out of power on everything. My phone is getting low and probably will only be able to connect to the internet one more time before giving out, my digital camera probably has about ten more images before it will need a recharge. I’ve managed to play my iPod sparingly enough today to leave enough for tunes during the last leg of the trip.

Ordinarily, none of this would be a problem, but they never managed to get my AC outlet fixed after it stopped working on Saturday. But Issac has done a great job of getting my computer charged up every few hours, leapfrogging from room to room in our car whenever one became vacant for a few hours.

I had a chance to speak with him for a little while during one of our waits. He’s been doing this for 25 years and he’s been on quite a few of Amtrak’s lines. He’s been on the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco since June of this year. Before that he was on the Southwest Chief from Chicago to San Antonio Texas, and before that, on the Empire Builder which goes from Chicago up through Glacier National Park and through to Portland and Seattle. He said as many times as he passed by Glacier Park, he never got tired of looking at it. That train has been on my list before. I think I’ll have to make sure I do it soon.

He even cracked open one of the lower door windows for me to take a few photographs sans filthy scuffed up glass. I’m going to be doing a lot of work in Photoshop on the others to get rid of the unwanted window dirt.

Hey, they’re going to feed us again! What a bonus. Dinner in 10 minutes. One more chance to meet some new people.

It was a “whatsever left in the kitchen dinner” and whatsever left was a nice t-bone steak for me. I sat with three people who were big national monument/park visitors. But real serious about it, like taking small tours with Native Americans as guides to places the general public seldom gets to see.

And I’d have to say that for being a guy who until recently was really only interested in traveling abroad, there are some pretty cool places to see right here in the states. My trip last year to Yosemite was a real eye opener in that regard. So amazing in scale that even when you’re there you can’t appreciate how big everything is, because there is simply no reference point in scale. Quite remarkable and I can’t believe it took me so long to discover it.

Well, the trip is almost over… at least the westbound part of it. I’m looking forward to a nice time in San Francisco followed by another great train trip home on the other side of it. I’m not sure if I’ll be writing for the Chicago Tribune on this trip or not, but if it happens again, I’ll let you know, you kind friends who have been doing a lot of reading if you’ve gotten this far. Thanks for going on the journey with me and I’ll post more photographs when I get a few moments, and more importantly, a working AC outlet.

Nearly to Sacramento, 53 hours into the trip.

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