Friday, August 31, 2012

Amtrak with Kids, Montana, and Manzanita

It occurs to me now that being out of town for two weeks and coming home with one day before my return to work was probably not the smartest thing I have ever done in my life.

Also, disclaimer: there are way too many pictures in this post and less witty commentary than usual, so consider yourself forewarned. I am tired people, TI-ERD.

More than a few of you wisely expressed some concern about my plan to ride Amtrak overnight with my kids. But I was filled with naive optimism and an unwavering sense of adventure as I set forth on my 16 hour journey from Eugene to Whitefish.

The train was actually really fun and I employed an old trick of my mom's which was to wrap up some junk ahead of time so that we could have travel presents. All I could find was Christmas paper and we got more than a few glances as the kids opened up their goodies in the observation car, but the Play Doh and Legos were a hit and I got many compliments on my well-behaved children as the evening wore on.

We were traveling coach and it was a full train, so we did have a seatmate for awhile, but Sawyer batted his eyes and charmed her out of her iPhone for a few games and then she got off before bedtime. The kids crashed out and slept like babies and I read Fifty Shades of Grey (don't bother) and tried to get some sleep but found it impossible to wedge my pregnant self into anything resembling a comfortable sleeping position. Meanwhile EVERYONE else on the train was snoring blissfully (I know this because I made at least five trips to the bathroom during this time).

Speaking of the bathroom, have you ever used an Amtrak bathroom before? Now imagine my 7 months pregnant self PLUS two kids trying to use an Amtrak bathroom. TOGETHER. I eventually gave up my supervision rights and started sending them in on their own and hoping for the best and remembering that kids are 100% washable.

So the kids woke up well-rested and excited about the Montana scenery, and I woke up groggy and incoherent, but soon enough we pulled into the station in Whitefish.

So see? Amtrak with kids. Just fine. My dad picked us up at the station, fed us, and we headed toward the cabin, making one quick stop for roadside cherries. Do you think they meant Rainiers? Anyway, twenty pounds of cherries later, I can assure you that we are BIG FANS of Montana cherries.

There's not a lot I can tell you about our week at the cabin. We swam, we ate, we read books, the kids watched movies, I did not cook a single meal or really even lift a finger the entire time we were there (thanks Mary!). We saw no bears. There was kayaking and canoeing and lots and lots of jumping off the dock. It was awesome.

(Week 28, I think)

Yes, that IS my father's swimsuit. He is very international when it comes to swimwear. Don't be hatin'. Let's see you rock the Speedo when you are 65.

Mary gave the kids an art lesson. Jack's fish is pretty good, eh?

My dad does not travel without his espresso machine. He made me a latte every morning. A person could get used to that, I think.

Too soon it was time to pack up and head back to the train station for the homeward journey. I was excited (and again naively optimistic) because this time we had a sleeper car and I imagined us all snuggled into our bunks and snoozing away the travel time.

Then Brent texted that the train was running late and I started to get just the tiniest bit worried. You see, the train was scheduled to depart Whitefish at 9:15pm which was already pushing it as far as bedtime was concerned, and the website was predicting midnight as our new departure time. The cabin is over an hour from Whitefish and waiting until 11 to head over seemed like a bad idea on those dark and windy Montana roads, so Doug and Mary offered to get us a hotel room near the train station so that they could drop us off at a reasonable hour and we'd have somewhere to wait it out.

But once we got to Whitefish, figuring out the logistics of me getting two sleeping kids from the hotel to the train station became too complicated and I made the executive decision that the kids and I would just tough it out.

I am an experienced traveler. I have spent many, many hours of my life in train stations, I was going to make this work or die trying. We said goodbye to Doug and Mary at 9. At that point they were expecting the train around 1am. The kids and I meandered around Whitefish in the dark for awhile. It seemed safe enough, though it was Sunday night and everything was closing. We found a grocery store and I bought some dumb novelty snacks and bubble gum and we somehow managed to keep ourselves occupied until 11. I had this vision that we would go to the train station, put on jammies and brush teeth, read some books, and then the kids would fall asleep until the train came.


When we got back to the station it was filled with sleeping travelers. You could hear a pin drop in that place until Sawyer walked in the door. I was trying really really hard to keep my cool while reminding Sawyer to use his inside voice (INSIDE VOICE!!) when some nice lady pitied us and offered to let the kids watch a movie on her laptop. So we jammied up and got as cozy as you can get yourselves on wooden train station benches and you know those damn kids stayed awake through the entire movie. And then when it was over they sort of went crazy with sleep deprivation and over stimulation and I swear Sawyer's eyes were rolling into the back of his head. By this time the station was starting to fill up and the noise level had risen and I completely abandoned the whole inside voice idea and let my kids run wild with all of the other crazy sleep deprived kids. I was so tired that I started having some hallucinations and by the time the train arrived at 2:30am we were all pretty much zombies.

The sleeper car was a closet with bunk beds, but none of us cared and we stumbled into our beds and I slept about as well as a pregnant lady can sleep on an Amtrak bunk bed. So that was good.

One of the privileges of the sleeper car is that you get your own attendant, and Corey quickly became Sawyer's new best friend. The next morning we had breakfast and sticker books and Corey to keep us entertained as the train zipped along to Portland. But the day started to drag and I bought the kids a bag of Skittles and a Sierra Mist to get us through that final hour. These were desperate times.

We were supposed to get in at 10am, but we didn't arrive until almost 3. I was dead tired, but the adventure continued as Brent met us at the station and then we drove over to the coast to meet up with his family at a beach house in Manzanita.

The pictures tell the story best.

Somehow we managed to get perfect beach weather and somehow I managed another week of pretty much not lifting a finger and so yes, it was all worth it.

And I am too tired to come up with a clever ending to this post, so there you go.

The end.