The Bikin' Fools

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Day One


Our friend Dave Babcock agreed to drive us to the train station. Amtrak is notoriously late. This day would be no exception. Although the train originates in Oakland, it was still an hour late getting the thirty miles to Martinez. We had checked the bikes. They were properly boxed and the station agent processed them into the luggage area. We were set. We had only to wait for the train to show. Now, our ‘normal’ life could take a break. For the next six weeks we were on a voyage of discovery and adventure. The rules dramatically changed. We had one simple mission: To ride our bikes as far as we could each day.

Eventually the train pulled into the station. We were directed to our car and to our sleeper berth. It was amazingly small. We had expected something slightly larger. The efficient seating arrangement had Austin and I facing each other with our legs nearly touching. Silently and nearly imperceptibly the train began to roll. We had only to wait for about eighteen hours to arrive at our bicycle starting point. That is if all went well.

The attendant for our car appeared. It was Matt. He would guide us though our journey on the train. Immediately I asked if it might be possible to upgrade to a bigger space. He said he would check. It would cost slightly more. Yet this would not stop me. The rationale used was; this was a big deal of a lifetime, go for the max… Matt returned with good news. Within a short time we were hooked up with the deluxe accommodation. The room was comfortably larger. We really began to feel blessed. Things were going our way. The Universe was smiling upon us.

The train rambled through Davis, stopped in Sacramento and began the long arduous climb into the Sierra Nevada. The rails parallel I-80 and much of the scenery was familiar to us. For an hour the trail strained up the hill. At many places I-80 was visible. We watched with fascination as the mountains unfolded in a spectacular array of springtime beauty. Near the top of the climb the train passes through Sugar Bowl Ski Area. This is Austin’s place of winter time employment. He had only come down from the mountains two weeks earlier.

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Matt, an Amtrak gem who took care of us

As the train finally topped the rugged terrain and began the descent we began to settle down. The adrenaline had tapered off and the sense of being on the trip began to sink in. We decided it was time to put our feet up and take a moment to celebrate our great good fortune. A pre-rolled herbal cigarette was produced and fired up. At the time we were thinking that the ventilation on the train was pretty good. Little did we know that each room of the car shared common air. Within moments there was a knock on the door.

"You there, are you guys smoking?" It was our next door neighbor. "My wife is pregnant and she is sensitive to smoke."

The first spike on our adventure appeared. We quickly put out the smoke. Our next though was; "Oh’ no, we’re going to get kicked off the train and we aren’t even out of California". We spent a very paranoid half hour waiting for the conductor to stop the train and throw us out into the desert hills west of Reno. It didn’t happen.

We waited nervously for the train to start again after it stopped in Reno. When it did, we breathed a big sigh of relief. If we were careful, we just might make it to Glenwood Springs, Colorado. Matt came by to get make our dinner reservation. This was the first time we had ever experienced any travel in First Class. It was remarkable. There would be no Taco Bell. It would be a temporary but notable social escalation for the duo from a small hick town in California. We were liking it.

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Austin relaxes with a Mendocino Brewing IPA

The dining experience was an outstanding event. Each table is filled. People are put together to share the limited space so that the entire train can be fed. Not all passengers eat in the dining car. There is a snack bar. For First Class passengers, the meals are included in the fare. It was a rare experience to be able to read the menu without regard for the right-hand column. Our waiter was Elliot. He would take care of us and we took care of him and his crew. Elliot was totally cool. Obviously he had been doing this job for a long time. He had the rap down and never broke stride despite an ongoing disaster in the kitchen. Rarely did the meals come as ordered. It was as if the kitchen crew below were trying to sabotage Elliot’s fine work in pleasing the patrons. It mattered little to us if there were minor discrepancies with the orders. The food was superb.

After dinner we tipped Eliot handsomely. We figured the meals were ‘free’ and a big tip was a small price for the deluxe dining experience. As we made our way towards our room, Matt motioned me aside. "Ah, I have no idea who was smoking this afternoon," he said.

My adrenaline rushed again. "Uh oh," I thought.

"It is totally against Amtrak rules." He said with some authority. Then he looked around to see if anyone was within earshot.

"The way to do it," He whispered, "Is to take one inhalation at a time and blow the smoke into a wet towel."

I didn’t want to say anything. If I admitted guilt we stood the chance to get booted off the train. But Matt seemed softer and cool.

"You can also go to the windows that open where you board the train, and blow the smoke out there." His voice seemed less threatening now.

"Thanks, Matt." I said, "I appreciate your advise. I really want to get to Glenwood on the train."

The day grew long as we crept across the Nevada desert. The June sky stretched well into the evening hours before it grew into pastels and faded to the nightscapes that we would see until the excitement of the day finally wore to night and a chance to sleep on this first day of our adventure.

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The Sheriff racing along with the train across Nevada...  hummm