West Coast e-Postcard #1

from Our West Coast Train Triangle
September 18 to October 18, 2010


Hi All --


Two Trains, Three Trainors and a Krasnewich

After signing the retirement papers, we had a second decision to make – where to go on our next trip. We have always enjoyed train rides and wanted to travel down the Pacific Coast Highway from north to south, so we decided to join the two wishes. The result was an interstate triangle. The first side was Michigan to Washington State, the second from Washington to California, the third from California back to Michigan.

Amtrak's Empire Builder Route

Triangle side one was actually quite involved. We would take the Amtrak “Empire Builder” train from Chicago to Seattle with a three night stop in Glacier National Park. Actually our goal was to see Tim’s sister Sally King and her family in Eatonville, WA near Mt. Rainier National Park, where Sally’s husband Randy is assistant superintendent. Then we thought….the more Trainors, the merrier so we put the word out to Tim’s siblings and their spouses. The result was a foursome including Tim’s sisters Nancy (from Lansing) and Terri (from Troy).

Tim and Di drove into Chicago area (Hinsdale), spending the night with Di’s brother Tom, his wife Katie, and the three kids Charlie, Kathleen, and Mary. It was great fun to see the little ones and what they are learning. Katie and Tom are the ultimate hosts; they even let us leave the car with them while we are traveling (thanks!). The next day we took the commuter train from Hinsdale to Union Station. Sleepette with Nancy (left) and Terri The sisters flew in from Detroit that day and we met up in plenty of time to have lunch and relax in the private lounge for Amtrak sleeper car passengers.

Tim and Di have been on sleeper cars before, but we were not sure what to expect from the sparse room layout shown on the Amtrak website. We should have been suspicious when the room was called a “sleepette”, not a sleeper. As we dragged our luggage to our assigned train car, the car attendant, Bonnie, looked at the large bags, laughed, and told us they wouldn’t fit in our space. Was she right! Each sleepette consisted of two seats, which faced each other. Diane and sleepette with bunk beds On one side was the train window, on the other was about six inches of room (containing the world’s skinniest closet) when you closed the door. There was a drop down tray between the seats and room under them for shoes and a small bag.

The amazing part was the beds. The bottom bed was formed by reclining the two seats until they met and then were topped by a thin “mattress”. The top bed was initially suspended from the ceiling and pulled down. The person on top had to do some fancy footwork to get up there and some fancy gymnastics to get down. Although the beds were not uncomfortable, they were so narrow that if you turned over it felt like you would fall out. But that actually couldn’t happen because the top bed had safety straps to hold you in (really!). If you turned over while in the bottom bed you would be wedged against the door and provide a larger step for the top person to use to get down. We did notice that the smoother, quieter train track was traveled during the day, with the noiser track covered at night. Actually, the sounds and movements of the train at night were kind of relaxing except for the frequent stops and starts at various stations.

During the day, we ate, napped, ate, read, snacked, talked, and ate. Besides a champagne welcome and a wine/cheese tasting, in the first 28 hour leg of the trip from Chicago to Glacier, we had two dinners, breakfast, and lunch. The meals were big (salad, steak/fish/lasagna, veggie, potato/rice, dessert, and drink for dinner), tasty, and included in the cost. Don’t ask us why we felt the need to snack on trail mix between meals….it certainly wasn’t due to hunger! It was interesting to watch the countryside roll by. We could see the Wisconsin Dells, rivers, mountains, very small towns and endless farmland. Who knew Minnesota was so wide?

Are There Any Glaciers in Glacier NP?

We arrived in Glacier NP at about 6:30 p.m. and were met by the lodge shuttle. We were sure there were mountains out there somewhere but in the rain and clouds we couldn’t see them. That was okay, since we had several more days here. The beautiful Lodge was built in 1915 with a central lobby of huge tree trunk posts and wooden beams. The rooms were small, simple and absolutely soundproof. After the sleepettes, it was nice to stretch out.

The Red Bus

The next morning we went for a full day of touring around the park. The touring vehicles are specially fitted Ford cars seating 16 with a removable roof. No need to remove it for us, the day was rainy, cloudy, with small glimpses of the sun. We had all worn our long underwear since we expected it to be cold outside. Actually, the tour car leaked air so badly, it was warmer outside (and when it rained, it dripped water inside). But we listened to the guide talk about the mountains we couldn’t see and the history of the area. As you probably know, glaciers all over the world are rapidly receding. Between that and the weather, we saw just the “head” of Salamander Glacier. The guide said that most of the glaciers will be gone within the next decade or so. Then the “glacier” of Glacier National Park will mean that it was the park formed by glaciers, not containing glaciers!

The next day we rented a car and drove all around the park, stopping frequently to take photos. Weather was somewhat better, as the rain was followed by wonderful rainbows over the mountains. When we weren’t touring, we shopped at the lodge and the village of Glacier (which was about four blocks long). Since the lodge was closing in a few days, sales were to be had.

Theo's chocolate tour

Seattle Chocolate

The train ride from Glacier to Seattle went quickly, on at 6:45 p.m. and off at 10:30 the next morning. We headed off in our rental car to lunch at a seafood restaurant and our reserved tour of Theo’s Chocolate Factory. Theo’s is a “bean to bar” factory, the only one in the U.S. to roast organic cacao beans and process them into their own chocolate. The tour was interesting with plenty of samples. Yum! In the inevitable attached chocolate store, there were more samples of chocolate flavored with chile peppers or figs & fennel or curry or the usual fruit or nuts. There were even chocolates filled with single malt Scotch! We loaded up (since we probably can’t get all these at home) and headed to Eatonville directly (well, not maybe not directly but eventually).

Vacationing with the Kings

Although we see Sally and family every summer at the family reunion, we rarely get to see them in their home. Sally is a kindergarten teacher, excellent cook (especially of wild game), does lots of canning, and is creative in paper & fabric arts. Randy is a hunter, well versed in “ranging” (as he calls it), and a gentle man with a dry sense of humor. Skylar, their youngest, is in high school. He spent last summer pulling invasive species weeds in the park (including while rappelling down a cliff side!). These three greeted us as we arrived and we spent the evening catching up. The next evening, the two other King kids arrived home from Washington State University (Wazoo): Mackenzie, working on her master’s degree in Architecture and Dylan, studying Engineering.

Nancy, Terri, Tim, Salley and Diane at Mt. Rainier NP

The next few days were a whirlwind of activities. Sally gave us the deluxe tour of Mt. Rainier NP, including a couple short walks to a waterfall (see attached photo) and giant trees, explaining how the flood of 2006 changed the park, and showing us the new visitor’s center and her kindergarten classroom. Not satisfied to let resting Trainors lie, the whole family took a walk to the Machele and Nisqually Rivers confluence, which (we think) was more uphill than downhill. Sally cooked up a storm and showed us her many boxes of crafts-waiting-to-be-done (may she live long enough to complete them – probably another 50 years!). It was a far too short but wonderful time of reminiscing by the Trainors, lots of laughter and teasing, and antics by the kids. The three Trainor sisters together are a hoot! We headed out on Sunday morning, in time to drop Terri and Nancy at the Seatac airport for their flight home.

Having never really traveled with the sisters before, we didn’t know what to expect. But they kept us laughing, thinking and thankful to be their brother and sister-in-law.

Thanks for reading! We will report back with the next installment, Washington and Oregon, soon. Take care.

-- Di & Tim

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Tim and Diane's email address is Home@ttdk.com