Thursday, June 13, 2019

Trains, boats, and one great rental car

I've been doing a lot of training lately.  No, not running/riding (and my lack of fitness shows that), but actually taking the train!  It's a little known fact, but in addition to our beloved cars and the expensive/frustrating air travel Amtrak still exists in the US, and I've realized that it works.......mostly.....

Three times over the last few weeks I have had the need/opportunity to meet friends in Green River for trips: paddling the Black Box section of the San Rafael with the intrepid Alaskan adventurer Brad Meiklejohn, paddling the mighty Muddy Creek and canyoneering with intrepid Washington adventurer and photographer Benj Wadsworth, and returning to the Black Boxes again with endurance cycling legend-turned-intrepid-packrafter Mike Curiak, and each time there was a fair bit of incentive not to drive.   Ashley and I share a car and since she rides to work every day and leaves me the car on a day to day basis all the time, but taking it out of SLC for days wouldn't be an appropriate use of that privilege.  Yes, I could easily rent a car for a coupla days, but actually the train is pretty sweet!

The California Zephyr is a romantic name for the choo choo that chugs once a day from Sacramento to Chicago and back, and after whiling its way across Nevada arrives in Salt Lake City at the unlikely hour of 3am.

Now before you roll your eyes and think "there's no way in hell I am getting up to catch a train in the middle of the night" hear me out.  It actually works out pretty well.  I wake up at 2:30, get a Lyft to the train station, wait a few mins for the train to arrive, clamber on, and am asleep again by the time the train leaves the SLC city limits, lulled by the quiet and gently rocking motion of the train.  Compared to a plane - and for that matter, a car - train seats are mega:  they are wide, lean way back without crimping the folks behind, have thigh supports, and foot supports.  And there are so few people who appreciate the train that you'll almost certainly have a 2 seat combo to yourself.  So moderately-comfortable sleeping while "sitting" in the seats is a real thing.

All three times I have woken up a ways after dawn to watch us progress our way along the Price river, and I have just about enough time to get a cup of tea in the cafe, read the paper on my phone, and the conductor calls out "Green River!"
a little blurry, but I think he's checking his fob watch! 
The "station" in Green River is little more than an abandoned building and a landing:

But indeed, once you're off the train....

It's indeed the Green River  Epicenter, it's now 8am, you are a few blocks from a great taco truck:

that has killer breakfast burrito, and presto!  You are in Southern Utah with plenty of time to stage for adventuring!  To be sure, Green River is not quite Moab, Fruita, Escalante, or Springdale in terms of being a gateway (though they just did a ribbon cutting on a new mtb trail:
It's only 5.5 miles, but it's a start....
And of course you are poised to get to great places.     Two of these trips were for paddling the Black Box section of the San Rafael; once with Brad Meikeljohn and another with Mike Curiak.  Flat water leads to great class 3-4:

And once in the Box there's a challenging portage:

thanks for Mike for again shooting great pics.
 Before some nice camping after you leave the first Box:
I love overhangs!
and then running a coupla must-run class 4's in the 2nd box before a long paddle out. 

Another train-trip was to meet our friend Benj Wadsworth for some canyoneering and more Utah desert creeking:

The train back to Salt Lake leaves Green River at 6pm, arriving at 11pm.  For my first two trips down I didn’t need to take the train home, but for the last one – with Mike, last week, who was coming from paddling the Zion Narrows and then heading back to Grand Junction – I did need the return trip.   After we took off the river in mid-afternoon (thanks again to Jeny for running our shuttle for us) we were back in Green River and all was good:  we had enough time to have a burger at Ray’s Tavern, the train station was just down the street, it was going to come chugging through soon, and I had a good book to get me home on the train.  Until I got the text message:  “Amtrak train #5 is delayed….until 2:30 am”  Gaack.  Really?  I like Ray’s and all, but spending the next 8 hours there sounded suboptimal.  I did have my camping gear and could just sleep on the train landing.  Then a few minutes later another text:  “Amtrak train #5 is delayed….until 3:30 am.”  How could a train get an hour later in only 10 more minutes?  But it was an indication that clearly something was awry, and the trend wasn’t good. 

Mike and Jeny wanted to help but there wasn’t much for them to do beyond getting me to the even-more-bleak western end of town where there are two gas stations near the I-70 on ramp.  I bid them adieu and hung out outside one of them and asked a couple of nice looking folks if they were going to Salt Lake.  I felt a bit like one of those guys who comes up to you in the parking lot with the sad – and perhaps – true story of his sick mom in Duluth and if he could just get a few bucks to fill up his gas can he can get a few more miles closer to her, but hoped that my somewhat normal demeanor might help (though the stupid porn mustache I was sporting – that has since gone - probably didn’t help my cause.  Soon enough a station employee came around and told me I couldn’t be doin’ that, and I got it, but he suggested a piece of cardboard, a sharpie, and a thumb might work. 

I didn’t have much to lose, so I went ahead and made my little sign saying “SLC” and walked out to the road, setting my Patagonia Black Hole bag on the ground and my paddle prominently displayed so any river types would see it and take pity on me.

A bit forlornly I watched a few minutes’ worth of people accelerate past and avoid eye contact, when suddenly a car with California plates pulled over.  A guy jumped out, ran around, and said “I’m headed to Salt Lake.  Wow, that’s a classic old Black Hole!” I was pretty excited to get a ride quickly, but even so wondered “wow, that’s a bit of a weird thing to say.”  I hopped in and we were off, and it turns out that my benefactor turned out to be a great guy named Justin Wood, who in addition to being a longtime sponsored climber guy from Salt Lake is also a Patagonia employee who roams the country helping stores with their merchandising, and was returning from a work trip to Telluride that he’d used a rental car for (hence the California plates).  Between our respective Patagonia experiences and Salt Lake connections we had zillions of mutual friends and yapped for hours, and in no time I was delivered right to my door.  

About the time I was thinking about Bed and how happy I was to be crawling into it with Ash instead of onto the concrete landing in Green River, I got yet another text:  “Amtrak #5 is delayed….until 6:30 am.”  Yikes.  That would have put me into SLC at noon and blown a good half a day. 

I of course was quite keen for the train based on my experiences before the big delay, which I think was caused by the flooding in the Midwest.  Like everyone, I’ve had my share of plane delays as well for weather and other, more frustrating reasons and it’s actually easier to comprehend the implications of one late train going across the country relative to the zillions of flight options that exist in the sky.  And our ponderous train system seems to pale in comparison to the 200+ mph trains that form extensive networks in Europe, Japan, and other countries.  It’s almost more endearing than it is practical, but the price ($35 each way), the spontaneity (decide you want a ticket, go to the station 30 mins before the train arrives, buy ticket, and get on), and relative comfort  actually makes it a viable option….if you’re patient.  Or if you are lucky enough to find The One Car that’ll take you right to your house! 

Thanks again to Benj, Mike, Jeny, Brad, and Justin for indulging me and being great pards on fun Green River area adventures! 

1 comment:

  1. Freaking love your writing Tom. If I can get in 10% of your adventures life is great.