Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The train to Glacier

"Sometimes the light's all shining on me, other times I can barely see."

A long, strange trip it's been, indeed, and it ain't over yet.

This is the last stop between me and my own bed at least. I love my bed. I love my house. I used to think I could never live anywhere more rural than suburbia. With the advent of the Internet and cell phone technology, now I think I could be perfectly happy without ever leaving home. I can buy anything I want and have it delivered to my door. I can chat with people all over the globe. I can get a daily picture of my grandson in a text message. I can get a video too and hear him make his baby noises.

Nonetheless, on July 27, Neil and caught an early flight to Seattle. In the next 8 days we covered 5 states, although admittedly we slept through all of Idaho and much of North Dakota. Most of the trip was spent in Seattle at the annual ISGB bead makers conference, and in Montana, at Glacier National Park.

As an adult, I've been visiting America's National Parks and in a way I feel about America like I do about my home. I never want to leave. There is so much beauty to see here that it takes a lot to tempt me to leave U.S. borders. I loved my trip to England and visiting my French cousins will always feel like the adventure of a lifetime. But traveling long distances to places with unfamiliar languages and currency and transit systems introduces more stress than my ideal vacation needs.

At the age of 20 I hiked in the Canadian Rockies with my best friend from college and another friend. We had an awesome time, traveling from Montreal to Vancouver on the Trans-Canadian Railway, stopping in Banff and Lake Louise, where I earned my first hiking blisters. We were so young and fearless, hitchhiking from station to campground to trailhead and seeing the most magnificent vistas I'd seen in my short life.

I knew I wanted to see more, to return one day to what I was sure was the most beautiful place on earth, but it took another score of years until I hiked again seriously. In the interim there were camping trips with girl scout troops and some lovely visits to Vermont's Green Mountains, but it wasn't until my early 40s that I got refitted with hiking boots and tackled the trails of the Smokies.

One of the joys of my life with Neil has been our yearly visits to National Parks and State Parks, from the Grand Canyon, to the Painted Desert to the Petried Forest. From Larsen to Zion, Sequoia and Kings Canyon to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes, from the Great Sand Dunes to Mesa Verde, from the Redwood Forest to the Gulfstream Waters. I cant speak for you, but this land really was made for me.

We try to combine business trips, coin shows and bead conferences with a visit to whatever park is in a reasonable vicinity. Many are repeats for Neil, and I finally did get back to the Canadian Rockies, although we chose different hikes. In April we visited Yosemite. Yellowstone hovers near the top of the list, along with a return to the Great Smoky Mountains.

I don't remember how or when Glacier got onto the list. It may have been after I read Blood Lure, an Anna Pigeon mystery by Nevada Barr. I discovered the series starring the fictional park ranger in 2010 from a reference in National Parks magazine to Winter Study, the 14th book in the series. From there I went back to the first book and read them in sequence through the 17th, although technically the last is set in time before the first.

Glacier National Park, the U.S. part of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park, also known as the Crown of the Continent, is quite a way off the beaten path, unless your beaten path includes a road trip across Montana. Montana is a freaking big state.

There is a train called the Empire Builder that runs between Seattle and Chicago, six trains actually, with one leaving every day from both cities. Number 8 runs east and number 7 runs west. Taking the train with a stop in Glacier seemed like an awesome way to visit a remote park and allow Neil to tick off the last of the 48 continental states that he has now visited. We have photographic evidence from the train platform in Minot.

Despite its intriguing name, Empire Builder, the Amtrak experience had little in common with the Orient Express, as depicted in film and print. We did travel by sleeper car, in a roomette, and the first leg of the route between Seattle and Glacier, was reasonably enjoyable. Our attendant was attentive, dinner and breakfast in the dining car were perfectly fine, and we both slept better than I expected.

We left Seattle and arrived at East Glacier about 2 hours late. East Glacier the town is barely more than a whistlestop, composed of the grand and historic Glacier Park Lodge where we stayed and a handful of eateries and souvenir shops. The lodge is located outside the park boundaries on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. On the first afternoon we drove up to the park and hiked around Upper Two Meddicine Lake. I wish Neil hadn't spooked me with bear fear, or I'd have enjoyed it more. We climbed enough to see some amazing views and then enjoyed huckleberry soft serve ice cream in perfect temperatures by the beautiful lake.

Neil will be the first to admit he was born without the spontenaity gene. In all fairness he disclosed this in our earliest correspondence. I like not having a plan and wandering where the spirit moves me. Neil likes scedules, lists and agendas. He was sweet enough to arrange the trip, so it would be uncharitable to say I would not have spent our one full day in Glacier on a 9 to 5 Red Bus tour. Even though the very same red buses, refurbished in 2001 (see photo below), have carried visitors through the park since the 1930s. Even though we did learn a lot about park history, as we, along with our 11 bus mates and driver, rode the entire Going to the Sun Road, with periodic stops to stretch our legs and buy refreshment.

Losing a favorite work shirt that I was wearing as a jacket and having to get back on the bus without a proper chance to look for it reinforced the fact that I'm just not tour bus material. I tried to be a good sport though, and the many beauties of the park were not a wasted on me. The day ended with burgers back in town and our last night at the lodge, which also brings me to the end of the most fun part of this leg of the odyssey.

The less fun part of our travels, including the proverbial train wreck, to follow soon.

"Lately it occurs to me, what a long strange trip it's been."
Garcia, Hunter, Lesh, Weir

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Thanks for your comment! I will post it as soon as I receive it. Liz