Tour Report — Part 2

train paint

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.

bikes and tracksWhen 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.

boxing bikeAmtrak 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

roometteThe 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.

sunsetDinner 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.

bunksIf 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.

heyporterThis 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.

see Part I

10 replies
  1. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Beautiful. It makes me revisit my previous thoughts, left dormant, that it would be a snap to take my bike to New Orleans.

    Are y’all secretly agents for Amtrak?

  2. LisaB
    LisaB says:

    It truly was the most civilized and relaxing way to start the journey.

    I love meeting other people, and this long train trip gave me plenty to time to talk with the porter about his retirement, his marriage, kids, travel (call me Dr. Phil!) and to befriend the grandmother and her 9-year-old granddaughter whose room was directly across the aisle from us. Grandmom, who had surgery earlier this year, had difficulty getting around. They passed the hours reading, but hardly spoke a word to each other. The young girl was attentive to the elderly woman’s needs but you could tell the trip was getting “old.” Grandmom didn’t let the young girl leave the sleeping berth unattended. But after hours of chatting with us, the grandmother felt comfortable letting me accompany the young girl to the snack car for soda and candy bars (my treat!). We sat for a bit and talked about school, boys (yuck!) and Hannah Montana (I faked this part; as the mother of two teenage boys, I know nothing about HM). I’d like to think it was the highlight of the girl’s trip 😉

    Re: bike boxes. Be sure to call a week before departure to make sure the station has boxes in stock.

  3. fred_dot_u
    fred_dot_u says:

    Great report. I’m surprised you didn’t suggest a bike tour to the retiring Amtrak employee. We bicycle riders don’t ever go stir crazy if there’s a bike around.

  4. 2whls3spds
    2whls3spds says:

    Amtrak is the way to travel IF you have the time and they go where you are headed. I am fortunate in that there are 4 Amtraks a day through the town closest to me(2 northbound and 2 southbound), and if I am willing to drive an hour I can hit at least 4 more going in other directions. FWIW I live on the route that Keri and Lisa took.


  5. ToddBS
    ToddBS says:

    The Silver Star makes a number of stops within an hour of me (I live about 50 miles from Orlando). Two stops within about 15 minutes of me in fact. I’d probably have to go to Tampa or Orlando to embark with my bike though. Still, I may have to do something like this. It’s been 20 or more years since I’ve ridden Amtrak. I love going by train.

  6. eddie
    eddie says:

    I’ ve taken my bike on amtrak a couple of times. I wish there was a good way to connect with it here in key West.
    I’d love to see a map and more photos of your trip.

  7. Steve A
    Steve A says:

    Keri left one item out of her narrative. In a previous post about sandals and shoes, she noted about her Pearl Izumi shoes: “I am contemplating installing a Specialized insert in them. I have high arches and I think I might want a little more support on our upcoming tour.”

    So, inquiring minds want to know – did you and did they have the intended effect? I’ve noticed my Specialized Sonoma shoes are starting to get more than just a bit threadbare…

    • Keri
      Keri says:

      I did not put the inserts in them… mainly because I waited til the last minute and then couldn’t remember where I put them. But my feet were fine on the tour. Those shoes are great!

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