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Imagine being old and set in your ways and having to live out of a backpack. To me, backpacks are for books, but on our recent rail trip cross the US and Canada, we had no access to our suitcases while in transit on the trains. Imagine, then, living out of a backpack from the time we left home at noon on a Saturday until the following Tuesday at 1:30 a.m.

Our group at Chicago's Union Station ready to roll.

Group, ready to roll, at Chicago’s Union Station

Packing smart is mandatory, so I took along minimal stuff: two books, one magazine, one change of slacks, two changes of tops, a nightgown, some undies, one cosmetic bag with cosmetics and one with medication.

Consistent with being old, I’d had eye surgery a few weeks before traveling and an emergency molar extraction five days before, so my medication bag also contained eye ointments, drops, and pads and an irrigating syringe for the root canal sockets. The oral surgeon had warned me that “dry” sockets are not a good thing, and I, for sure, did not want my sockets to dry up.

IMG_0223Our roomette was 6 feet 6 inches long and 3 feet 6 inches wide. Two seats faced each other, flanking a picture window. At night, the two seats became a berth (6 feet 6 inches) and an upper berth (6 feet 2 inches) folded out from the wall.  There was just enough room to stack my backpack and my husband’s duffel bag on the floor between the lower berth and door. Of course, that left no standing room, but who needs to stand at bedtime?

When we were both seated, we alternated knees to avoid knocking them together. Otherwise, the space was comfortable, and we could slide a door shut and pull curtains that would give us privacy from passersby.

Restrooms and a shower were at the end of hallways. I was happy I did not encounter some Don Juan on my nightly trips dressed only in my black floral nightgown and black windbreaker with my bare feet in sandals. There was no room in my  backpack for a robe and slippers. I thought I looked stylish with my color-coordinated nightgown and jacket, but wouldn’t have wanted to take a chance meeting some exciting new man in my life while my husband hung on for dear life back in the top berth (a fish net thing hooked into both the berth and the ceiling caught potential falls).

IMG_0222We stopped over 30 times, most of the times while we were sleeping (due to delays, we missed daytime stops in Glacier), but the few times during the day when we were allowed out, we jammed the exits to escape, and I race walked the platform, trying to log as many steps as I could on my pedometer. Difficult to do, though, as stops were only five minutes, and maybe twenty minutes during refueling. My husband would use the time to stretch his limbs against the train car. Crew cheerfully cautioned us not to leave the platform, not to enter the station, and to listen up for the “all aboard’ announcements.

Once, in either Idaho or Washington, we were stopped for almost two hours. The Amtrak crew told us that some of their members had worked their twelve hours, so wherever we were at that IMG_0219point, we had to stop at exactly the twelve-hour mark and wait for replacements. They had notified their superiors about the time running out, but something must have gotten mixed up with availability of Amtrak crew, because we finally got crew from Burlington Northern (owner of the tracks). We were stopped at the edge of a town, so there was no getting out (at least legally) and exploring, so I made the most of the views. This charming blue home with a red roof was home to several cats. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you’ll see them lounging around on the front porch. I wondered what they thought of us: staring people on a stopped train, trying to find a distraction. Did they worry about us going nowhere when they had the freedom to scamper about? Or was this a common sight for them? Our presence didn’t seem to bother them, so maybe they were used to being the object of trapped people.

Moving down a few cars, I came upon this wonderful view of a lake. So peaceful. If I could have gotten out, I’d have loved to have taken along a hammock, strung it between some trees, and read a good book.

IMG_0220The day continued to slow down from there, time wise. The Empire Builder schedule says we were due in Seattle at 10:25 am on Monday. And, since we have children there and have been there many times, we had arranged to skip the three-hour tour of the city and meet up with our kids and a grandchild. As the delays heaped up, I texted. And texted. And texted. Until I finally told them to go ahead and eat lunch, then afternoon tea, then dinner, and we’ll see them in few months. We arrived in Seattle around 9:00 p.m and boarded a bus immediately for Vancouver, Canada.

Because the Amtrak crew had not planned on us after breakfast that Monday, we were offered hot dogs, hamburgs, or canned stew around 1:00 p.m.  The next time we ate was when our bus stopped at a McDonald’s at 11:00 p.m. Those of us that wanted food hustled out in the rain. I was very hungry for something other than carb snacks, so bought a chicken salad. We had to keep moving along, so we ate on the darkened bus. Try successfully stabbing salad pieces in something like a closet with the door closed. Without spilling. Since some were trying to sleep, I didn’t want to turn the light on and was thankful that a man kiddy-corner from me was reading from his lighted iPad, allowing me to aim my fork for the plastic container and not my thighs.

Imagine then, after a stop at customs where we all had to get out, how overjoyed we were to reach our lovely hotel in Vancouver, the Blue Horizon, at 12:45 a.m. With our suitcases finally arriving atIMG_0224 1:30 a.m. and instructions to have them out for pickup by 8:30 a.m., we fell into bed for one of the most luxurious half-nights I’ve spent in my life.

I think it was about that time that our fearless group started using the word “adventure” to describe this trip. Those really wanting to see Seattle had to be satisfied with only a fleeting view of the Space Needle as we bussed up I-5 in the dark rain of night.

To be continued!