Saturday, June 10, 2017

Rail to Trail: Rail to Seattle - All Aboard!

Spokane Vintage Prints by Chris Bovey
Friday, mid-July 2016:

The Amtrak Empire Builder train to Seattle will leave Spokane at 2:15am tonight, and I took the day off for last minute prep.  I have Comcast coming out after 12 to fix the internet, and our house painter is finishing up also.  Lots going on.

Last night I upgraded my ticket from a regular seat to a SuperLiner Roomette.  It's a little compartment about 3'6" x 6'6" with two beds (one drop-down) and room for all my stuff.  A wise move, but what had been a $100 up charge a few days ago, was now a lot more.  So I guess I'm not going to go buy the Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy to use instead of my REI Quarter Dome tent.  Not a real problem, it just would've been great to have a less bulky shelter.

Lots of little things with the painter, and the final look-over happens at 9:00pm.  I'm getting antsy because I still have some trip things to take care of.

Finally, I'm packed and ready to go. Overpacked: 2 rear panniers packed with clothes, heavy-duty rain pants/jacket, food, freeze-dried packs, snacks, empty platypus water containers. Salsa Anything packs with jetboil and food. Frame bag with tools and more snacks. Sleeping bag, handlebar bag, tent. More food. Camel-Bak. I hope I have enough food and water carrying capacity for the remote sections in Eastern Washington.

I let Debbie give me a ride downtown to the train station, although it seems like cheating. Downtown Spokane on a Friday night is hopping.  Still surprising to see lots of people out and about, and not a ghost town.

I check in and get a bike box.  (Note from future self: next summer you won't have to box your bike because Amtrak begins roll-on bike service on the Empire Builder after your trip.)  The attendant mentions that I can't put my panniers, backpack, sleeping bag etc inside the box - I reply cheerfully "oh I know - I've got a Superette". Even though the boxes are huge, bigger than what you'd get at a bike shop, I am a little concerned about getting the Fargo and it's flared Woodchipper bars inside.  But I brought a multi-tool and pedal wrench.  Also my own strapping tape and marker - I read online that at some stations, there is little if any assistance.  I try to find an out of the way spot in the lobby.  The pedals come off, and the handlebars.  The first attempt at backing the bike into the box reveals the stem is too high.  I lower the stem and get the bike in with the handlebars dangling, and the top of the stem pressed up against the box.

This actually took awhile and I'm glad I arrived plenty early.  I drag the box over to the check-in, and it turns out they were watching my progress with interest and weren't sure if I was going to get it in.  But they also said they have plenty of experience getting bikes in boxes, and would've figured it out.  Great folks, everybody's friendly and helpful.

The Spokane Intermodal Station is a bit of a mixture of grand old building and half deserted mall look.  There's a good restaurant - Kochi's Teriyaki - open at night when the station is, but I wasn't hungry.

I get settled in my room, and relax as the train rolls out under a bright moon.

I sleep fitfully off and on, wake up at the stops.  Morning comes.  Maybe around 5am and maybe near Cle Elum, the intercom crackles on and a voice announces that breakfast will be served in the dining car.  (Note to future self: next time you do this, get up and get some coffee and eats.  You're not going to sleep much more anyway, and you'll thank me for it.)

Rolling into Seattle:

After we arrive in Seattle I wait in the baggage area for my boxed bike.  Another guy is waiting for his bike, too, and we chat a little.  He's come from Boston and is going to bike down to San Francisco with some friends.  He's shocked by the size of my box when it comes sliding through the chute - he used a box from a shop, and had to disassemble his bike more.

I drag everything outside and set to getting the bike back together and outfitted.  I'm a bit distracted, hungry and need caffeine.  I talk to a woman with a bike and BoB trailer who is doing a practice run to Portland on the train.  Finally, the bike is put together and ready to go.

I have Chris Rhinehart's Ride With GPS Seattle Start for the JWPT saved on my phone, but his route starts a few blocks from the station and I don't get it synced up with my location on the phone.  No matter, I know the way to the Mountain to Sound/I-90 trail, and it's pretty well signed.  I don't want to use too much battery juice on my phone anyway.

I'm a little disappointed to discover that with the bike fully loaded, it is waggling, and has a bit of tail wagging the dog going on.  It was ok on my test ride at home.  I suspect I have way too much weight in rear. I move some stuff up front and it's a little better, but still wobbly at faster speed. Next time - probably mid-July 2017 - I'll carry the tent and sleeping bag on a rack upfront.  And pare down the weight.

Coming up next - I'll get to it eventually - will I find my way out of Seattle? Will I blame any unintentional detours on lack of sleep, coffee, and food, or just my own sad sense of misdirection?


  1. Tours are the cat's meow for sure. It looks like your carrying a lot of stuff. How many weeks is this ride?

  2. only 5-7 days tops! There are some remote, dry sections in eastern Washington that I was over worried about running low on food and water, but I could've packed less. Between Seattle and the Columbia River, i only ate a little of the food I brought as there are more towns in that section. I was carrying too much clothing also, and will carry lighter rain gear next time.