Amtrak’s Magic Wears Thin

It’s 7:15 pm on the third and hopefully last day of our cross-county Amtrak ride from MA, Montana. I booked this ride for my mom and I last October, after being wowed by the stunning experience in Glacier National Park, the end point of the my thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail.
I had three reasons for booking the trip: one-I visit my son Lincoln and his fiancee Stephanie who live in MT. Next-I wanted my 87 year old mother Isabel to see her grandson and to spend a couple of weeks with her myself, and I also wanted to ride a train across the United States.
I booked an Amtrak “Roomette”.

Isabel settling in to our Roomette
Isabel settling in to our Roomette

It’s a tiny sleeping room for two.  Tiny means 6’8” long and 3’6” wide.  It’s tall enough to stand up, but not when the upper bunk lowers from the ceiling. Two padded seats expand to form a lower bed. It’s just big enough to also fit our small suitcases in there. After two nights of sort-of-sleeping, we are getting used to it.
My mental picture of what this grand train ride would be like is constantly being altered in live time, and is altered by a rapid downgrade.
There are definite positives, like not having to drive or fly and deal with airline hassles.  Our sleeper-car tickets also include automatically prepaying all meals, off the limited but adequate menu. The food is freshly prepared and of good quality. Its cool to order whatever you want and not think of spending any more money.  It’s also highly interesting to view the changing countryside as one moves westward and anticipate encountering the Rockies ahead.

Isabel enjoying the view from the Observation Car
Isabel enjoying the view from the Observation Car

We are meeting and conversing with a wide variety of American passenger, like a retired opera singer and a young black man headed to Chicago for a month’s residency with a dance troupe.
But these freakin’ delays!  Before I left, I received an e-mail from Amtrak warning me that the western half of the trip would have a four to five hour delay, due to a huge amount of freight traffic on this Chicago to Montana portion of the route. The rail out here is shared and owned by the freight companies, who give their trains priority, with Amtrak falling to last-place status.  Translation= numerous times when this Amtrak has to get on a side rail and wait for big long trains to go by-in both directions.
Bottom line-we now 8 hours behind our scheduled departure and it’s only 8 PM.  We were supposed to arrive at East Glacier station at 8:15 PM, where I have a room booked in the Whistling Swan motel.  Only now, we were just told that the earliest we will get to our destination will now be 4:00 AM! By the time we gather our bags and walk to the motel it will be daybreak, and the night will be over.
My crumbling attitude is holding up but I am getting stir crazy after not being able to hike or bike for a couple of days. My mom’s outlook is more realistic and resigned. It’s going to be another long night for us in the roomette on a very narrow mattress that I am harnessed into on one side so that I don’t get pitched off onto the floor. Eric, our concierge, told me that he’d wake us up in time to depart the train in East Glacier, where I’ll pick up my rental car and figure out what roads in Glacier are plowed, and which are still closed.
Most folks think that backpacking , day-in-and day-out, is tiring and stressful.  For me, this is worse.

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