After visiting family in Tennessee, we boarded an Amtrak train in Charlotte, North Carolina, to continue our trip home. We had decided not to fly for a number of reasons, prime among them wanting to see another part of the country out the window (instead of from a bike seat!) and to give ourselves time to decompress on the journey home.
We had long lay-overs in Washington, DC, and in Chicago so we had a chance to see some local sights, although our lack of warm clothing kept us in heated, indoor areas. We did have a great visit to the Postal Museum in Washington, DC, which we would recommend as one of the many places to visit in our nation's capitol. The train stations in both of these cities are beautiful showcases, built in an era when trains were a principal means of transportation.
Four hour lay-over in Washington, DC
Union Station in Washington DC
Freedom Bell, cast by the same foundry as Liberty Bell in celebration of US Bicentennial
Capitol building from the train station
Traveling on Amtrak's Empire Builder across the northern part of the U.S. was a treat for us. Since it was winter weather, we saw a lot of snow-covered terrain but sitting in our comfortable seats with a large viewing area was a nice way to observe the countryside. When you have a sleeper on the train, all your meals are included which turned out to be a special treat as you are seated randomly with other guests on the train. We met some remarkable people and had long conversations with them over our dinners. The meals were well prepared and cooked by chefs who knew how to stimulate our taste buds.
Amtrak train accommodations. Our day seats became beds at night.
Minot, North Dakota, temperature 1 degree
The train arrived in Spokane, WA, at 3 am and we peeked outside to see that we were at the train station. When we awoke four hours later, we were in the same spot. Turns out we could go no further due to a landslide on the track between Spokane and Seattle. Only 300 miles from our destination, we were "stopped in our tracks" -- ha! After several hours of indecision by train staff, we were finally taken to the airport and flown to Seattle, then bused to Seattle's King Street Train Station where we collected our bicycles (thankfully shipped ahead a week earlier). Chris, a friend of Shelly's, and his son Oliver met us at the station and drove us and our bikes to the Vashon Island ferry. There we were met by Ann's dad, spent the night with him, and picked up our car. The next day, we drove our car on to Port Townsend to see grandson Soren, along with his parents, Shelly and Jeff. It was great to hear Soren call out our names, "Papaw Bill" and "Nannie," as we arrived at their home. After one overnight, we boarded the brand new PT ferry, Chetzemoka, for the crossing to Whidbey Island and drove to Anacortes, finally arriving home on Dec. 14 -- six days after boarding the train in North Carolina and more than two weeks after completing our bike ride in Florida.
At our homecoming, we had to deal with a lot of emotions. We were certainly glad to be on familiar turf again, surrounded by family and friends, but we also reminisced about the wonderful times we had on the bike trip and the experiences of seeing the country at a different pace. We both agreed that the incredible people we met along the way, and who really made the trip possible, were a highlight of the journey.
Would we do it again? We both feel that long trips take you away from home a bit longer than we like and have resolved to keep them a little shorter, a little closer to home in future. On the other hand, a walking trip in Spain, called "Camino de Santiago de Compostela," has caught our attention. Who knows, you may see us trudging along that trail or bicycling down your street, as we have discovered we enjoy the slow way of traveling. Thanks to all who made our bike journey possible. Bill and Ann
On Christmas Day 2010 with grandson Soren