I’m at 38,000 feet, hurtling through the sky between Minneapolis and Seattle. It’s September 10, the first day of our vacation. Sandy and I have gotten into a routine of taking a trip this time of year, and we find it’s a great choice for those without kids in school. Our two children are well into their 20’s and living on their own, so we are free to go. Ian lives close by and generously agreed to bring in the mail and keep an eye on our place.
This trip is a loop. We land in Seattle today, staying overnight at a B&B called the Gaslight Inn, which I understand is a Victorian mansion in the Capitol Hill area of the city. Tomorrow morning we board the Amtrak train to Vancouver, British Columbia. We’ll be in that beautiful city for a few days, then ferry over to Vancouver Island and head down to Victoria. From there, we’ll either take a ship back to Seattle or use the ferry system to get to Anacortes, WA, near where my cousin Dennis Koger lives with his wife Barbara. At any rate, we’ll see some of Washington state before we fly back home to complete our eight day journey.
I love to travel, and Sandy does too except she doesn’t enjoy flying. We’ve taken a few trips by train, which is a great way to go if you have time and like to see the countryside. My first big train trip was in 1970, from our farm near Fennimore, WI to Seattle and back, visiting relatives. This was one of a couple of family trips from my childhood that really stands out. It was the end of the era of train travel before Amtrak was formed. I believe our carrier was the Great Northern Railroad, and we boarded the train at a small and old fashioned station in Prairie du Chien, WI. The traveling party was my parents and the four of us kids, ranging in age at the time from 13 down to 8 years old. I was 12. It is remarkable to me that my parents could undertake such an adventure. The two week trip meant my father had to find trusted help to milk the cows and generally take care of the farm. We were going right at the end of the school year, so it was late May into early June. That means the trip had to fit between some critical farm tasks: spring planting and harvesting the first hay crop. The cost of the trip had to be considerable, and I remember my Mom brought a big picnic basket full of snacks because we only took one meal a day in the dining car. The journey was nearly two full days, starting on a rainy late afternoon. We made our was north along the Mississippi River, pulling into the big train shed in Minneapolis at perhaps 11 pm. That was our longest stop on the trip, but we weren’t allowed to get off the train. From there we rolled through the night across Minnesota and North Dakota. We were impressed that the train kept a pace of 80 miles per hour as the wheat fields of Montana flew by. In the afternoon the Rocky Mountains rose up in the distance and soon we were crossing the continental divide and making a brief stop at the entrance to Glacier National Park. It was my first time seeing mountains, and the scenery was spectacular all the way into Seattle, where we arrived the next morning.
So much was exotic for the farm kid from Wisconsin. My uncle and cousins were commercial fishermen who piloted their not so big boat to Alaska each summer for the salmon season. The lush green of Washington state. The hippies living on the beach just a block or two from my relatives’ home. The Space Needle and Monorail, the busy seaport in Seattle. Also exotic was my cousin Dennis’ record collection. I spent lots of time listening to The Beatles’ White Album- heady stuff for a twelve year old. My brother and I bunked in an Airstream travel trailer, which was cool too. I don’t remember much about the return trip except that we were exhausted and us kids slept about 12 hours straight that first night home in our own beds.
In adult life, Sandy and I have been on several trips by train. To New Orleans via Chicago with our kids in 1994. I remember stepping off the train at a stop in Memphis on a hazy early morning, and later pulling into the NOLA station next to the Superdome. I was struck by how foreign a place it was, and of course that was the site of so much devastation from hurricane Katrina a decade later. In 2008, we took the first of our September trips, to upstate New York to visit Sandy’s sister Debbie and her family. On the way we had a lovely afternoon and evening along the Chicago lakefront. Later, we visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and Niagara Falls, both bucket list items for me. While we were on the trip, the economy nearly collapsed (remember September 2008?) and by the time we returned home, Sandy’s job had almost evaporated. Times were better by 2012, and that September we took the train to Glacier National Park. It was a wonderful trip,passing though the Wild West oil field territory of North Dakota, retracing the approach to the Rockies, and great hikes, tasty meals, and kind people in the Glacier area.