07 Jun

Of all of my many train journeys undertaken during this month, this is the one I have been waiting for. Not that I enjoy being couped up in a long metal tube travelling at roughly 130 km/h. It is the scenery that makes this route, the third longest in the Amtrak line-up, so enjoyable. At a length of 45 hours, the train makes its way across several rivers, like the Willamette, Columbia and Mississippi, as well as  through the Cascade Mountains and then Rockies followed by Glacier National Park, home to the Blackfoot Indian tribes.

The journey takes us through regions which are known for its storms – if that happens, the train will wait out the bad weather as Amtrak will not travel through a thunderstorm as the risk of electrocution is very great! 

The Empire Builder named in honor of James J. Hill, the founder of the Great Northern Railway, the predecessor to the Northern Amtrak network. Its first journey was undertaken in 1929 until 1971 when Amtrak took over from the Great Northern Railway. 

Like on my journey towards Los Angeles, this train is made of of two parts coming from two different cities, both joining up in the city of Spokane, Washington. The part I was travelling in, the half leaving from Seattle King Street Station had a sleeper car and two coach cars and an observation car which has the buffet or tuck shop on its lower level. The part leaving from Portland, Oregan had the other sleeper car and coaches and the dining car. This meant that there was only prepacked food microwaved to perfection the evening we set off for Chicago. By the time, night gave way to the morning dawn, the two halves would be joined, meaning we would be able to enjoy a freshly cooked omlette or full English breakfast.

The first night passed without anything major to report. In fact I slept so soundly that I did not even register the two halves of the train coming together. Breakfast was plentiful and the company very entertaining a British couple returning to Chicago after having spent the last week or so on an Alaskan cruise. 

Then it was time to check out the sights from the observation car, a much more comfortable prospect than sitting in my tiny roomette. That time of morning, the observation car was almost deserted and so I had the choice of seats, fixed or sviwel, to get a good view of the glorious countryside. It was not long before we passed the state boundary into Montana, a state which I knew we would see almost exclusively for the remainder of the day. The stops on the route could not help but leave you feeling nostalgic with towns like Malta, Glasgow and Havre among the many stops.

I ventured to and from the observation car several times thorughout the day - unfortunately, due to the limited spaces - you can only stay there for a maximum of an hour before you have to vacate your space so that another passenger can enjoy the view. And enjoy it we did, the long windng tracks, the snowy landscape of Glacier National Park interspersed with near frozen lakes and wooded glens, it felt at times like you were travelling through the Scottish Highlands.

By the start of day 2, it was time to face the gauntlet of taking a shower on a moving train in a cublice designed for someone just over half my size. The only way I could navigate in and out of this circular wetroom was by walking sideways like a crab - I did not have to hold my arms up the same way a crustacean would however - still a process that would normally take 20 minutes took almost twice as long as I had to constantly readjust my body to carry out the cleaning process. I was glad that this was the one and only time, I would have to do this on my travels and I vowed never to do this again, at least not until I was more svelt - still,  I dropped one clothes size during the entire month, so this goal is not so far off now!

During that second day, we passed first into Nebraska, then Minnesota and Michigan, before we arrived only 1 Hour 30 minutes later than scheduled in Chicago, Illinois - it had been an interesting journey. Now only one last Amtrak train remained before it was time to head back to the UK. However, first I had one day to explore the Windy City and that was all I needed.

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