It's Saturday in Chicago and it's been a hot one. I'm pretty sure the entire country feels that way today. We just got home from our day out around the city. We started with brunch and then headed to a Second City comedy show this afternoon. I must say, Chicago knows how to brunch. I haven't stopped talking about the crab cake benedict I had this morning.
Before I catch us all up on our last train ride, I want to say thanks to our family and friends who have kept up with these blog posts while we've been gone! We truly just wanted a fun way to document the trip and central place for us to be able to go back and reminisce, but we've loved getting texts and comments letting us know how much fun you're having while reading the posts. So, thank you!
Now, let's see where we left off...
Boarding in Denver
When I last posted, we were hanging out in Union Station in Denver and getting ready to board our train at 7:00p.m. It ended up being about 30 minutes late (which isn't terrible), but we headed outside to get in line early. We knew there were going to be a lot of people boarding at the same time, but we really had no idea how many until we saw the line.
Based on the number of people we saw waiting to get on the train, this was going to be the most crowded ride so far. And Amtrak confirmed it. Every seat would be full. We tried to get as far up in the line as possible, so that we'd still have a chance to sit near each other, but it was an every-woman-for-themselves situation.
We also were a bit concerned about a few things while we waited to board:
1). Loud Larry: This gentleman sat next to me in the train station and I could tell immediately we'd have a problem if he sat next to any of us on the train. He was nice, yes, but he was the type to launch into stories without anyone asking a question. I learned about his 4 sons and their jobs and I can tell you how much 2 of them make a year. On top of it, you could hear Larry from across the room. When we got in line for the train, he was in the sleeper car line, so we were a bit relieved to know he wouldn't be sharing our car, but we felt inclined to pass out sleeping pills to those who would be sitting next him.
2) Bandana Boy: This kid (I say kid, but he was probably 19) seemed really, really nice, but again, constant talker. This is probably making us all sound like jerks, but when a good night's sleep is at stake, you watch VERY closely to see who might be sleeping next to you. Bandana Boy was not getting our vote. He ended up on our car, but sitting in the lower level (we were in the upper). Happy trails.
3) The Senior Citizens Group: I have nothing against the senior citizens and fully plan on traveling to fun places like they were doing when I get to be their age! It was about 10 minutes before the train arrived, however, when no less than 30 of them walked out of the station with their matching tote bags. Everyone in line had the same thought we did: "Where are they all going to sit?" Some got in our the coach line (our line), which meant they would be sleeping in their seats like us and others got in the sleeper car line. I can tell you now that despite our concern, they were all lovely and quiet (minus some snoring).
Getting on the train was a hot mess. We've decided we have a lot of suggestions that could help Amtrak take the experience from good to amazing. I'm fairly certain Richards has written out an entire business proposal for them.
They assigned us a car, but didn't assign us a seat, so dozens of people poured onto the 611 car with us and we all attempted to find a seat as quickly as possible. The problem was, however, that many parties were split up and some didn't even have seats. There was a lot of confusion about switching cars, moving seats, etc. We were fortunate enough to find the last set of seats together. Caroline and I sat next to each and Richards sat across the aisle with a woman you'll hear about shortly. Despite the chaos of boarding, everyone eventually found a seat, but it took a train attendant shuffling people around and attempting to make sure families could sit together.
Sleeping on the Train
Richards headed off to the observation car almost immediately after we left and sent CG and I a text saying, "I'll be down here. I think my seat mate is a con artist."
This was never confirmed, but we'll circle back to Seat Mate here soon.
We kept an eye on Seat Mate and both read for a long time while the sun went down. Eventually around 11 or 11:30p.m CG and I got "sleep ready." I put on my fuzzy socks and grabbed my eye mask. Caroline pulled out her blanket. The seats recline a lot farther back than airplane seats PLUS they have cushioned foot rests, so they're fairly comfortable. Richards was still not back in her seat yet, but we texted her to check in. She eventually came back around midnight.
Overall, I slept pretty well. I woke up a few times here and there, but it wasn't terrible. The eye mask was a big help and thankfully the temp on the train was just fine during the night.
We all started stirring around 6:30a.m as the sun came up. We looked over at Richards, who seemed to be awake as well, and asked about breakfast. We decided to hit Waffle House (the dining car pictured above) to beat the crowd. It was at breakfast that we learned about Richards experience with Seat Mate:
(from Katie Richards)
I had a hunch my seat mate was going to be a challenge to sleep next to and unfortunately I was right. I stayed in the observation car reading and journaling until my eyes could not stay open any longer. When I arrived back at my seat, Seat Mate had laid down in my seat and was snoozing. Understandable, I probably would have done the same thing. She promptly moved back over to her space and I settled in for some shuteye.
Over the next 6 hours my Seat Mate proceeded to shift, groan, sigh, arch her back and flail her arms every 15 minutes. She was uncomfortable and she seemed determined I be the same (thank you?). I will give her the benefit of the doubt and assume her arm jerk was involuntary and associated with a medical condition (even though Caroline said she did not see her doing it at all when I was away) but it still woke me every 30 minutes. The low point was around 2:30am and when I turned away from her to try and fall back asleep for the 5th time and she yelled, "I don't have any room!" as her arm sat firmly in my seat space. I did not respond out loud, but had a lot to say to her in my thoughts. She exited the train at 6am and we parted ways in silence. I stayed up until breakfast and finally got some sleep at 8am.
(back to Boatman)
The rest of the day we napped, finished books, sat in the observation car, and waited for 3pm to roll around. The scenery on this trip was not as pretty as the last, but still beautiful at times. This trip went through Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois. Lots of corn.
We pulled into Chicago Friday afternoon and headed to our AirBnB in the Wicker Park area. We had just enough time to chill for a bit and shower and then we headed out to a White Sox game. The weather was PERFECT for a night game.
We head back home tomorrow! It's bittersweet for sure. We're sad the trip is coming to an end, but super excited to get back to our own beds. This has been an UNFORGETTABLE trip and we're so thankful we had a chance to do it.
The blog posts aren't over just yet... I've interviewed the others on some of our favorite and least favorite parts of the experience (food, locations, routes, and characters). Stay tuned for that in the next couple days! Until then, it's back to Nashville!
Cheers to the train and the California Zephyr.
In case you missed it... You can catch the previous posts here: