Girl on a Train Rides Again (or, Better Late Than Never)

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#WendyTravels

Several years ago, I flew to Baltimore, MD, in order to visit one of my very dear friends in Fredericksburg, VA. Because Fredericksburg is roughly 2 hours away from the airport, and I didn’t want to trouble my friend to come pick me up, I took the Amtrack to Fredericksburg, thus beginning my love of travel by train. Along with not having to worry about a car rental, maps, and the potentiality of getting lost in an unfamiliar locale, the train gave me two hours to relax and get a visual layout of the land without leaving the comfort of a fairly cozy coach seat. Suffice it to say, I was hooked and decided then that I would travel by train whenever the offer presented itself. Unfortunately, that turned into a 4-year wait.


Four years, a canceled train trip between London and Edinburgh, and a pandemic lockdown later, I found myself making plans for Spring Break, 2021. I knew I wanted to get out of Texas, and ironically enough, after experiencing a historic winter freeze in February, the likes of which Texas has not seen since 1989, I was itching to see more snow. And Colorado seemed to be a rather good choice for my next adventure.

Colorado, yes! Ski resort 2 hours east of Denver, yes! And a train trip to get there? Yes, yes and yes! Enter the fourth worst blizzard in Colorado’s recorded history. Yes?

I was excited to see snow. As a native Texan, and more than that, a resident of Houston, we don’t see snow. The rest of the state gets plenty of the white stuff at oddly weird occurrences, but it’s a well-known joke that while places like Dallas, Lubbock and even Midland gets snow a-plenty, Houston is left standing alone like a forgotten stepdaughter at the prince’s ball. Even during the snowmeggedon that we experienced in February, it still wasn’t enough to satisfy my snowy lust. So, with careful consideration for my spring break plans, I chose Colorado, and a nice little resort in Granby.

It’s worth noting, one of the more famous legends of Granby, Colorado is that 17 years ago, a man who was pissed off at the city council, decked out his bulldozer, in what has become known as the “killdozer”, tore hell through the town, damaged 13 buildings, and caused $17 million worth of damage before putting a bullet in his mouth.

But I digress.

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#NotLost

Despite a year of a Covid lockdown and all the different and new guidelines that came with it, I felt perfectly comfortable traveling. Boarding the plane and taking a 2-hour flight did nothing to faze me; outside of the overweight luggage fee I had to pay because despite my best efforts, I always manage to pack too much. Beyond thrilled the day after my school broke for Spring Break, I headed Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston. I expected the flight to be fairly non-eventful until I realized half of the flight was filled with teachers on Spring Break. My row partner was a young, 4th grade teacher from a neighboring district, and she was pretty toasted before we left Houston airspace. Which led me to wonder, what the hell is going on with 4th Grade teachers that left me with one that was so drunk that the other teacher on our row, who didn’t know her, had to tell the flight attendant a half hour before we landed that she was being cut off. All I can assume is that hybrid learning was a real bitch for her this year.

But I digress.

I flew into Denver with the intention of staying the night because the train I needed wouldn’t leave until the next morning. Not so much to my surprise, but much to my curiosity, the blizzard had just started as we touched down at the airport. Every flight I’ve ever taken, and admittedly, that’s quite a bit in my life, I’ve always been able to see the landing strip as we touched ground. However, that’s not the case when a heavy snow is coming down and it’s disorienting when you experience this the first time. At this point, I can say I understood Ms. Fourth Grade’s need for the multiple vodka and tonics beside me.

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Girl At The Train Station

But I digress. Being stuck in Denver while waiting on a blizzard to arrive is about as eventful as one could imagine. The next morning, I took a very slow Lyft ride to the train station in downtown Denver. And as far as train stations go, I have to say it was quite exquisite. Granted, I’ve only been in a few, but Denver Union Station really exceeded expectations thus far. I had a quick breakfast of an egg and ham croissant, grabbed a coffee, and carefully boarded the popular California Zephyr through the increasingly heavy snowfall, loaded with as many passengers as the CDC guidelines would allow. The next adventures of Girl on The Train commenced.

And this is where the story actually begins.

The train is scheduled to leave at 9:05am and arrive in Granby, Co about 11:35am. I’m happy to say that we really did leave on time. I felt the train first move about 9:06, although inching our way down the track is probably the better term. About 30 minutes and what I perceive to be about 3-4 miles of track, we come to a dead stop. I see nothing but white outside my window seat. At this point, I’m not alarmed. Afterall, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, they say. It’s snowing and in my head we’re just being cautious. I’m not bovvered.

Thirty minutes then turns into about 2 and a half hours. Some technical glitch on the track (something regarding the switch) is the culprit and technicians are brought in the fix it up. It’s not until about noon that we start moving again. Again, I’m not bovvered. It’s all part of the adventure. My reservations were secure, and the hotel would be there when I get there.

This was all my initial reaction when I was still under the assumption I would only be a few hours late. Let me take you through a pretty accurate timeline of what commenced from there.

The train probably chugged along at what I perceived to be around 20-30 mph through the snow. By one o’clock, we passed a stranded freight train, stopped to check on the crew, because, you know, we’re good Samaritans like that.

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Happy!

After about an hour, as my fellow passengers have grown a little restless, we slowly roll away, and slowly is the operative word here. Again, didn’t feel like we were going more than 20 mph, through various tunnels as we made our way across the majestic Rocky Mountains. And things just got slower from there. At this time, I have come to learn that our conductor is known as “Conductor Chris”, because he starts making several announcements to brief us on the various issues we’ve come across and the various issues we are likely to encounter still. All of which is not helping his peace of mind because, like a dad who has enough, he threatens to turn the train around if he has to tell the passengers one more time to keep their masks on. (Amtrack, btw, is government owned, which fell under the federal mask mandate. Back to the show.)

As we chugged up the mountain, it became abundantly clear the train didn’t have the stamina, or the power to make it through (what was finally being explained) about 5 feet of snow piled up on the tracks. Apparently, in these situations, which I came to learn, a train can just add additional locomotives to their already piled up train, and it will give them the boost. Without ceremony, or an announcement by Conductor Chris, we start going backwards. It is now nearly 3 o’clock.

This is not so much problematic for me as it is for most of the passengers on the train whose sole purpose on the train, unlike mine, is to spend a day at a ski resort in Fraser called Winter Park. Thankfully, the train has not reached a mutinous moment yet, but tensions are rising.

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Hotel Sack Breakfast

Between the 3:30 to 4:00pm, calls are made to headquarters, and not surprising, request denied on pirating the locomotive from the stranded freight train we passed 3 hours ago. Honestly, this is getting more amusing. Yet, not so amusing since I realize I am actually hungry and the coffee and breakfast sandwich I had eaten at 8 o’clock that morning has worn off. No bovver, I had my sack breakfast from the hotel in Denver to tide me over. Afterall, I am still holding on to the hope we’ll get to Granby by 7pm.

So, at some point there begins debate about whether or not we should try to make it up the mountain. I know this because the porters are very chatty group of Cathys and have become the archetype disgruntled employees. Afterall, some of their shifts should have ended at noon. However, the debate did not end well for us, because close to the 5 o’clock hour, we start moving backwards again. The debate, obviously, did not turn to our favor.

It’s at this point, Conductor Chris became the epitome of the “Dude, I just work here,” logic. They apparently don’t take shit and he came over the intercom to announce that, in no uncertain terms to remind passengers, he’s not God, he’s just a train conductor, and if they didn’t like it, they were free to contact Amtrak.

I’m not lying. This conversation really happened. And in the meantime, I’m thoroughly amused because it’s not often that I get rich writing fodder such as this.

On top of this, he comes on again to remind passengers that when he’s walking through the cars, please don’t stop to ask questions, because, after all, his job is to get this train safely to our destination, whatever that might be. And if all goes well, we’ll be back in Denver by 7pm.

That, I’m afraid to say, did not happen.

Around this time, it really does dawn on me that I’m hungry. And because the dinning car on these type of trains are specifically for the passengers who booked passage in the sleeper cars (those whose journey began the day before in Chicago, Il) no one is allowed in the dinning car. So, I go to the snack car to find some sustenance until we get back to Denver. Conductor Chris promises us at that getting an additional locomotive for our train will only take an hour.

I was also promised I would be in Granby by late afternoon, but I digress.

Much to my disappointment, the woman who runs the snack car is nowhere to be found. Defeated, I return to my seat in time for one of the porters to gift us with a 8oz bottle of water, a bag of nuts, and a small pack of cookies. I feel I should mention that the cost of my ticket was only $25 so it wasn’t as if I was expecting much more, but by this time I have been on this train for 8 hours. I’m guessing I should be happy with what I have. After all, I’m safe, I’m warm and I have a plethora of pictures and video footage on my camera to play with and edit for my Instagram account.

Should it surprise anyone that we didn’t arrive back to Denver until 8pm? I was, because I was still banking my faith on Conductor Chris following through on his promises. But, what can I say, when it comes to men’s promises, I’ve been burned before.

Yes, at this point I had officially been on the train for 12 hours. And I was right back where I had started.

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Back In Denver, part 2.

As soon as the train arrived safely at Denver Union Station, I, along with most of the passengers who were not booked in the sleeper cars, exited the train. I would say about half exited for good. They were, after all, only there for their day trip to Winter Park, and that part of the plan was officially kaput for them. The rest of us who deboarded went into a desperate hunt for food, only to come to the disappointing realization that due to the Colorado Blizzard of ’21, all non-essential shops and restaurants in the 5-block radius of the train station are closed. There is no hope for food whatsoever. Defeated, I took about 20 minutes to walk around the area, in the still coming down heavy snow just to stretch my legs and back. My hips are not happy at this time either due to having spent the last 12 hours in my coach seat.

Prior to deboarding the train, Conductor Chris told us to make sure we’re back by 8:50, because apparently attaching an additional locomotive to a train is a quick fix. I trust him, because afterall, what do I know about trains? Right? Wrong.

Disappointed by the food situation, I go to the snack car again. At this point, anything will do. When I arrive in the snack car, and down the little stairwell to get there, it’s blocked off with carts and a rope. I peek my head around the corner to see a woman sitting at one of the tables, looking as if she’s about as fed up as Conductor Chris being asked the constant barrage of “Are we there, yet?” questions. I’ll call her Gladys, because I can’t remember her name. Gladys spots me, and her snarl intensifies. She says they’re closed for now. I respectively say that I understand, just curious if there’s any food left (because it was announced prior to our arrival back to Denver, the train would not be stocking up on any additional food), and if so, when will she open back up. Gladys wasn’t having it. She reminds me that she’s closed and this is her first break in 12 hours. Alrighty then, message received. I figure I won’t argue, or mention the fact when I came down there 4 hour prior that she wasn’t there either.

But I digress.

By 10 pm, I’m pretty much over it, but my spirits are still pretty high. I have a rather positive attitude and I’m of the mindset of it could be worse. Afterall, one of my Houston friends was aboard the New York train that derailed in December, 2013, killing four and injuring over 60 . I remind myself I’m safe, I’m warm, and I can deal with a minor inconvenience such as this.

Due to covid guidelines, I have my row all to myself, so I recline the seats back, pull up the leg rests and use my coat as a blanket. It’s at this point that a new voice comes across the intercom to announce that he’s taking over the train from Conductor Chris who is off duty and staying in Denver. In fact, most of the staff stayed in Denver. It’s also announced that all announcements at this point will cease because it’s their policy that announcements stop at 10 pm to allow peace and quite for the passengers in the sleeper cars. At this time, all lights dim in the coach cars with the exception of the emergency lights that softly light the paths. I lay my head back down, because my ability to control the situation is beyond me so I might as well sleep.

I think it was around 11:30 that I’m finally aware the train is moving. I fade in and out of sleep for the next few hours. Around 2:30 I’m aware that we have stopped again. I rise and look out the window to see faded lights, and buildings blanketed in snow. I’m cognitive enough to understand the porter speaking to me to tell me we are stopped in Fraser, and our next stop is Granby.

I relax, because it will still be another half hour before we get there. I slowly gather my belongings and await our next stop.

Finally, on the 18th hour of my trip, a little after 3 o’clock in the morning, we arrive in Granby, Colorado. And I, including one other person, are the ONLY people getting off the train. And I have a moment of panic for the first time in this trip as I come to realize I have no way of getting to my hotel. The Granby Train Depot is nothing but a small building with a few benches inside, a ticketing office, and it’s complete closed. It’s also 19 degrees outside. The porter asks me do I have anyone to pick me up and I give a sardonic NO. The man who is scheduled to deboard with me steps up and becomes a gentleman indeed. He offers me a ride to my hotel. I accept, because I have no other options. I also know that if my mother is to ever find this out, I will never hear the end of, but yes, I took a ride from a stranger. And luckily, it worked in my favor. He even lifted my heavy ass luggage into his truck.

But I digress.

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The Inn in Granby, Co

I walk through the doors of my hotel, The Inn at Silvercreek, sometime around 3:30am. I walk through the doors of my suite at 3:45. I am tired. I also recognize this is the longest time I’ve spent traveling, the previous record being the 11 hours I spent on a plane from Houston to Germany en route to Ireland several years before.

Needless to say, I went to bed immediately. I had the whole week there in Granby and I would worry about the particulars of my next adventure after a sleep. But all in all, I was safe, I was warm. I had had an adventure.

But I digress….

Sláinte!!

Wendy

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