I boarded the train a few minutes ago and struggled to find my roomette. I know there must be labels somewhere, but I cannot locate them. I get some assistance, and I am told that I’ve put my heavy backpack into room 5, not Room 3, which has been assigned to me. Jenny and I struggle to fit into the tiny space between the roomettes, but we get settled into our roomette right as the train departs Seattle. I’m thrilled to be shown the dining car – which is right at the back of our sleeper car – and there’s a small washroom in our car as well. Jenny lays comfortably between the two seats in the roomette that will later become a bed, and I relax and enjoy the journey.
My neighbor across the pathway from me asks if I know braille. When I tell her I do, she shows me the braille and large print number identifying the roomettes; it’s at my forehead height. Now that I know where it is, I’ll be able to find my space easily. The car steward is in the roomette right next to mine, and I joke that I’ll bang on the wall to get his attention. He laughs, and makes sure Jenny and I are comfortable, and advises me at which stop we can get out and stretch.
I’m hungry, so I make the earliest possible dinner reservation – 6:00 p.m. I’m seated with Tom and Catherine, from a small town in Washington off the Olympic Peninsula. The conversation is fluid and easy. We laugh, and eat, and talk about trails and running and coffee and lots of other things. The food is good, and Chris, our server, is chatty and personable, and we can tell he loves his job. As we ride through the mountains, the sun filters through the trees. The strobe-light effect hurts my eyes, and I lower my running visor to block much of the sun. When it’s time to clear away dessert, I stand up and sway with the train back to my roomette.
We’re going through tunnels, and I’m just enjoying the quiet hum of the train – a surprise to me given how loud a train is from the outside – and the din of conversations around me. Tom, my dinner companion, comes to find me and says that Ben and I and Jenny are welcome to visit him and Catherine if we make it out to Washington. I hand him a business card and he’s surprised I make jewelry. We talk a bit, and it sounds like everyone in his home town has some sort of artistic hobby or intense interest – one neighbor roasts his own coffee beans, another makes wire-wrapped jewelry. I smile as he nearly skips back to his roomette and exclaims to Catherine, “She makes jewelry, too”
At our stretching stop – which I can’t even pronounce, let alone spell, but it’s in Washington State – Jenny and I descend the narrow stairs to the main floor. The doors open, and Jenny lets out two loud barks. I’m startled by this unusual behavior, and I learn that there’s another dog that just appeared out of nowhere and startled her. I’m not thrilled with the behavior, and will monitor it, but she redirects quickly and doesn’t bark again. We make our way to a gravel pad where Jenny takes care of her needs quickly. I’ve stashed a tug rope in my back pants pocket, and we play tug for a couple minutes to get rid of some excess energy. A calm, contented dog climbs back up the stairs with me and waits patiently as the two chairs in the roomette are converted into a bed.
I haven’t even closed the door yet before Jenny jumps up onto the bed and uses my backpack as a pillow. As this is against AmTrak policy, I try and coax her down. There is no room for her. It takes nearly twenty minutes before I have put her blanket on the floor and convinced her that there’s enough room to fit snugly on the floor. She’s not thrilled, but she sleeps on the floor, with her head on my hand at times the train jostles a little too much.
My sleep is… complicated. It’s fractured and restful at the same time. I am awake when the train reaches Sand Point, Idaho, and I smile at my only other memories of Idaho – from last year, sleeping under the stars. I drift off to sleep again, and I wake up to the smell of coffee as we pass through Libby, Montana. I open my roomette and ask if the coffee is for passengers; I’m told that, yes, it is! I drink it gratefully, as Jenny sticks her nose out into the pathway. I stuff my pajamas and blanket into my backpack, and get ready for breakfast.
I choose the bumpiest moment to enter the dining car, where I sit with two other travelers from two different tours. We spend most of breakfast riding through a tunnel, and we go our separate ways after eating.
The train pulls in to Whitefish about fifteen minutes late. I get disoriented from the station, and my GPS gives me complicated, contradictory directions. I walk back and forth, my backpack weighing me down, and I come to an intersection that has absolutely no through-traffic. Every time a vehicle travels in a direction that normally means it’s safe for me to cross, another three zoom through the intersection where I would be walking. I decide to backtrack, and ultimately make it to my hostel, where I’m greeted and allowed to store my backpack.
One thing that is surprising me is how unsteady I feel on my feet – like I’ve spent a large amount of time on a boat. I’ve got WiFi and can charge my phone, so I relax for a bit, drink some water,, and go exploring. I end up at the Great Northern Brewing Company, where I enjoy a massive salad before heading back to my hostel and changing in to running clothes.
Garrett, my guide runner, has brought a friend and his daughter with him. Turns out that the two owners of the hostel know each of the guys who are running with me. We adults (and dog) run, and the little girl rides her bicycle. It’s a hot afternoon, and my interrupted sleep is definitely catching up to me. I’m given great directions and excellent visual information – since my guide dog was SUPER unhelpful in not telling me there were turkeys and deer along our path. By the end of out 6 km run, we’re all hot, and some are more tired than others. Jenny drains an entire bowl of water, and gets an opportunity to greet people after her great run today.
My bunk is ready, so my backpack gets hauled up the stairs, and I grab some clean clothes and hit the showers. Once I’m cleaned up, I head back upstairs and settle in on a lower bunk for a brief nap. No one else has checked in yet, so I pretty much have the place to myself. The quiet is relaxing after the chaos of travel and navigation and hauling a super heavy backpack all over the place.
I wake up 45 minutes later, well-rested. Everyone I have talked to today has told me about the farmers market in town, and I am super excited to go! Jenny and I follow our earlier path past the Great Northern Brewing Company, and we find the park (after first encountering a couple of dogs). There’s a wide pathway between rows of booths, and I sample tons of local food. I eat so much – bread, cheese, fruits and veggies – that I can safely call that “dinner.” I buy a small watermelon, a cucumber, some beans, and a small pastry to take back to the hostel. Nearly an hour after arriving, I’m feeling exhausted, and even though Jenny’s been pretty amazing around all the other dogs I can tell she’s also had enough. We make our way back to the hostel, accompanied by one of the owners’ husbands. It’s that kind of town, where the degrees of separation are very very few.
There’s another guest in the bunk across from mine. We introduce ourselves and talk about food, culture, work, life, and travel. After nearly an hour, I feel like I’ve made a new friend; we’ve agreed to go out for beers tomorrow night when she gets back from Glacier National Park; we both hope her train doesn’t run too late. Tomorrow will come early – her train to Glacier and my run in the morning – mean we both need a good night’s sleep. I store my valuables in a locker I claimed earlier this morning, take Jenny out for one final outside break, and introduce myself to a couple from Boston who have a really early flight in the morning. The conversation is easy, and we all laugh a lot, but we are all well aware of the clock that tells us all that it must end much sooner than any of us would like. I wish them good night, climb the stairs, and fall into a contented sleep.
I don’t need an alarm to wake up. I am wide awake by 6:30. I check my roommate’s train schedule, and I realize it’s running late. When we are both downstairs for breakfast, I let her know of this so she doesn’t have to rush to the station. After a strong cup of coffee and a couple cubes of banana bread, I’m ready to get running. Garrett, my guide runner from yesterday, is here again, and we start flying! We’re parallel to a highway, which I find both kind of scary and kind of cool – it’s no different from any other busy road. I’m given only basic route information; this is new for me, as often guides will talk about all kinds of things about the terrain. Instead, Jenny does all the “terrain” work, and Garrett tells me when we make turns, and if there’s anything (cyclists, dogs, people) in our path. I think about this – when the higher altitude isn’t affecting me so much – that it’s a lot like the difference between using a cane and traveling with a guide dog. They both have excellent benefits, but the “guide dog” style of guide running is probably my preference, and one I hope to incorporate on race day in just eleven days. We talk about running first races, what to expect, what’s normal “soreness” and what’s an injury to stop for. Less than an hour after we began, another run is in the books, and I wave goodbye to yet another runner who has given so selflessly of their time and their experience.
I get back in to the hostel and chat with another guest. She’s also got plans in Glacier today, but now I’m the one whose time schedule has me cut the conversation short. I shower, change, and head down to the Stumptown Art Studio, who I contacted three weeks ago to sign up for a pottery lesson. Their response to my desire for a lesson, and their open acceptance of Jenny, made me all the more excited to try my hand at it.
Everything is ready as I walk down the stairs and into the pottery shop. I’m offered a brand new apron, and am told I can keep it as a souvenir. Ray, the instructor, is an excellent teacher who asks great questions about how to teach me. We throw, turn, shape, break, and repair (Ray repairs; I control the wheel), two little pots. We aren’t sure how they will turn out, but I had so much fun and laughed a lot. We had some more time, but not much, so we did a few tricks of hand-forming clay. I got to roll it out and squish it with a big roller, then shape it using a plastic bowl. This one turned out to be more like a big slightly-lopsided shallow dish, and we stamped some cool fish into it (the flowers didn’t stamp at all). After some of the most fun two hours I’ve spent in a long time, we walk up the stairs and into the afternoon.
Since neither Ray nor I have had lunch yet, he asks if I want company for lunch. I am up for it. We head for Amazing Crepes – the only restaurant I have ever been to before in Whitefish. I order a root vegetable crepe and add bacon, as well as a coffee. The orders are sent from the front counter to the kitchen on some kind of pulley system, and you can hear the “fweeeeew” as it flies away. I am mystified by the coffee pot that appears to be out of coffee. Instead of a dispenser, you have to pump the top up and down to get any coffee out of it. This amuses me far too much, and my amusement amuses Ray. We eat our crepes, talk, swap business cards, then head back to Stumptown to try and get selfies – my phone doesn’t cooperate on the selfie, though.
I leave the studio and take a wrong turn somewhere. I end up in a residential area, but I turn around and get back on track quickly. Jenny decides she doesn’t want to go back to the hostel, but would really rather enjoy meeting a neighbor who’s painting his house and playing music in the front yard. We both laugh at Jenny’s personality shining through, and I head inside the hostel so that both Jenny and I can get some rest.
More guests arrive,,, and I am re-introduced (by name this time) to my conversation partner from this morning. We wish each other well in case we don’t see each other tomorrow morning, when I need to catch the early train. The realization I am leaving in just a few hours hits me hard. I love this town, or maybe I love the hostel life… but I’ve received something incredible here these past coulle days, and I will never forget it.
The evening train is late, so I do laundry, pack, and hang out with the hostel owners and their crowd as they pick their fantasy football team. My original companion for beer isn’t here yet. The pub closes at eleven, and another guest agrees to go with me. He recommends his favourite Montana beer, and I agree to try it, along with a cheesy pretzel. We talk about running and hiking, and how he gets similar things from hiking that I do from running. We meet some amazing people along the way. He’s brave enough to hitch-hike through the park, and was super thrilled hikers gave him a ride into town this morning. When we get up to leave, he insists on taking care of the bill, since he’s been shown so much kindness today, and asks me to pass it on. I promise I will.
We walk back to the hostel and promise to keep in touch. When heading for the washrooms, I come across my bunk-mate. She had a ton of fun in the park, but is tired and wouldn’t have been up for a beer in any case. We hug goodbye and also promise to keep in touch. I marvel at all the people I’ve connected with, and all the stories I’ve heard today, and I want to hear more, to listen more, to share more.
I drift off into a contented sleep, and wake up long before my alarm. The train is only a couple minutes late, according to the tracker online, but I get everything ready to go early.
I’m the first one up, so I am the one making the coffee this morning. I overfill the caraf and spill it everywhere, and I feel absolutely horrible about this. I enjoy a relaxing cup of coffee, grab my things, and head for the train. Jenny is mildly distracted by a deer on the side of the road. This bodes well for our future excursion in Yellowstone Nationnal Park, which we will take next week; I at least know she can handle herself.
The train leaves only 30 minutes later than planned, and I hope more than anything that it doesn’t run much later. This is the only part of my journey that has truly caused me to worry. But I can’t worry now… I have another destination to make, and more people to meet. Hopefully the connection works. If not…?? That’s why there’s emergency funds!
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