Friday, February 17, 2017

Riding the Empire Builder

from Bingen, Washington
to Essex, Montana

I'm starting to question my sanity.  Why would I want to leave a cold snow-covered Oregon for even a colder more snow-covered Montana?

Blue Skies--that's why.

Montana is often called Big Sky Country, but for me it will always be Blue Sky Country.  We have had snow and gray skies for months now in the Columbia River Gorge.  I needed some color!  I didn't care if I was heading into 12 feet snow drifts and avalanches, it was that Big Blue Sky I was craving.

The truth is an avalanche almost derailed us.  Only four days before our departure all railroad traffic was stopped between Whitefish and Cut Bank, Montana, due to an avalanche that caused ten feet of snow to drift on to the tracks.  I got a text on my phone from Amtrak to make alternative travel plans.

Man, was I bummed.

But the track was cleared by the time we were to leave and even though the train was late, we were two happy campers.  We boarded the Empire Builder on Friday evening with a bottle of wine and a massive submarine sandwich.  We ate our dinner by the light of a full moon before stretching out in our bunk beds for a good night's sleep.

In the morning when I opened the curtains, I was in Montana.  And there was sun!

We were actually happy the train had been late the night before because that meant we could see more of Montana in the daylight as the train rolled through Libby, Whitefish and West Glacier National Park.

The Empire Builder is the name of the Amtrak train that goes from Seattle to Chicago.  There is a spur line from Portland which we caught in Bingen, Washington that hooks to the Seattle section in Spokane.  When I discovered this line stops at a ski resort just south of Glacier National Park, I was on board.  
  We had coffee in our sleeper car the next morning and my travel buddy finally understood why I love train travel so much.  Slow travel is relaxing travel.  There is something so magical about sitting back and watching the world go by.  We were glued to our seats all morning.
We arrived in Essex just before noon and a shuttle from the Izaak Walton Inn was waiting for us.  For the next four days we would be living in this beautiful old hotel, tucked between mountains and surrounded by 30 miles of Nordic ski trails.

So, yes, we left snow for even more snow and yes, it sounds crazy.  But this trip turned out to be very enjoyable.  There was definitely a method to our madness.  Several days without cell phone reception, news or t.v. for one thing.  Plus, our skiing improved.

  But best of all, I got my travel buddy hooked on trains!

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