Bikes and trains
Train travel is wonderfully civilized. We rode our bikes from my condo to the Amtrak station in Winter Park. We left several hours early because we were concerned about the daily deluge and didn’t want to deal with getting soaked on the way.
When we arrived, there were no passengers, only the two station attendants. Unlike the typical airline experience, bicycles are expected and welcome on the Amtrak. The attendants pulled out the boxes and helped us pack up the bikes.
Amtrak boxes are a breeze! They are long and tall, but not wide. Pedals must be taken off and handlebars turned sideways, but after that, you simply roll the bike into the box (racks and trunk fit easily). Amtrak charges $15 for the box (which you can keep, but we just gave them back in Richmond) and a $5 fee for checking the bike. (By comparison, Delta charges $150 each way!)
The downside to the Amtrak arrangement is that you can only depart and arrive from stations with baggage service. With all of Amtrak’s budget cuts, many minor cities do not have baggage service anymore.
Once the bikes were packed and checked, the Amtrak guys offered to keep our panniers behind the counter while we killed an hour or so on Park Avenue. What a relaxing way to travel — no security, no sterile transit environment, just a quaint little train station run by friendly people in a cozy downtown. We enjoyed a beer across the street.
It never did rain.
The Silver Star
The train was on time to the minute, despite the horror stories I’d been told. We were greeted on the platform and led to our roomette by our pullman porter. He walked us through all the features of the roomette and told us he’d made our dinner reservation for 8 PM. We settled in for 20 minutes to watch the world roll past our window.
Dinner was pretty good. Not gourmet, but certainly better than airline food. We dined next to a big picture window and watched the sunset as we crossed the St Johns River. It was interesting to see familiar areas from the perspective of the train.
Not long after dinner, we had our porter come in and make up the beds. This involves converting the seats into a bottom bunk and lowering the top bunk from the ceiling to about eye-level.
If you’ve ever been in a roomette, you know it’s not something one shares with a stranger. The sink and toilet are all right there in that little space. For privacy from the outside world, you close the door and curtains to the hallway.
Time for reflection
In a speed-centric world, the slowness of train travel is refreshing. I typically am exhausted from preparing for a vacation — making sure last minute jobs are complete (“you’re leaving Thursday?! But I need…”), the household is in order and all necessities are packed. This trip required more planning than most. The usual routine is to rush around, get all stressed out, go to the airport, get more stressed out, get squished into a flying germ incubator for several hours (just long enough to catch a virus) and arrive exhausted. That’s fine if you’re spending a week on a beach resort (except for the virus), not so much if you’re spending a week moving yourself 350 miles on a bicycle.
The 12 hours of powered-down slow travel were deluxe! It was perfect to rest and recharge.
We both slept well and woke up early. Breakfast didn’t require a reservation, we made our way to the dining car in search of coffee. Seeing the world go by in daylight was fascinating. I was intrigued by Americana juxtaposed: the tapestry of vast expanses of farmland, riverbanks and forest; the charming fronts of small towns built by culture that relied on train travel; the ugly backsides of suburbia built by a culture that has turned its back on it; and the industrial yards and freight trains which dominate the rail system.
This interlude would soon be over. The train slowed to city speeds. Our porter popped in to tell us our stop was next. He carried our bags to the door. While we waited for the train to stop, he told us he was weeks from retiring — thirty-five years with the railroad — and feared he might go stir-crazy.
We stepped out onto the platform and piled our bags on a golf cart. Just then the sky let loose a mighty clap of thunder. Recess is over.
More to come.