Sunday, August 21, 2005
I guess my body still hasn't adjusted to the four hour time difference since here I am laying here awake at 5:14 am. I spend a few minutes just laying there in bed enjoy the beauty of my digs. The cab arrives at 6:20 am and we are off to the depot. This time Clive is blasting classical music. We arrive at the depot at 6:38 am and spend time viewing the Tanana Valley Model Railroad Club's new HO scale layout. Around 7:45 am we head to our Wilderness Express car. Since we have complimentary tickets, we have to wait until everyone else is board the railcar. I occupy my time watching crew members operate the wheelchair lift.
Once onboard, Randy and I notice the seats feel much larger. On the Alaska Railroad's bi-level car Randy and I sat shoulder against shoulder. On the Wilderness Express car, we have room to spare. Since both company's railcars are the same width, they must use their space quite differently. Randy suggests we go below and have breakfast so we can compare it with our GoldStar experience.
The dining car is beautiful with dark wood and sophisticated decor. I order a reindeer sausage omelet, potatoes, biscuit and orange juice. It is at our table in 13 minutes flat which is very impressive for dining car service. I kid you not, four minutes later Brenda our waitress checks to see if everything is to our liking. Two minutes later the head steward checks on us. Juice and water refills occur almost as fast as our empty glasses hit the table. In my opinion, the service couldn't have been much better.
Next stop was the viewing platform. It is extremely small and would have a tough time accommodating six people. Furthermore, it is also a refuge for smokers. Obviously, the Alaska Railroad's bi-level beats this hands down.
Returning to my seat, I spend time writing postcards, catching up on the trip journal and watching the smoky landscape. The biggest appeal of train travel, of course, is the beautiful scenery that passes by your window. Unfortunately, our weather grows worse as we headed into Healy Canyon. Now not only is there smoke, but also very low clouds and rain. Returning to the vestibule, I begin taking photos even though I know they look terrible. One photo that I really like is our passenger train traveling on the new roadbed that circumvents the old Garner Tunnel. The access to this tunnel was eliminated earlier this year. When Moody Tunnel is eliminated next year, trains between Anchorage and Fairbanks will no longer travel through tunnels.
When the train stops in Denali, we become swamped with tired, wet passengers. Fortunately, we also pick up a new crew. Jacob Hickman, a Utah native, was providing commentary for the trip while his wife works as a waitress in the downstairs dining room. What amazes me most about him is his breath of knowledge. Not only does he provide the standard descriptions, but also has more in-depth information that you normally don't hear. Passengers ask him a slew of questions and he answers them easily and knowledgably. He talks not only of geology, history, flower and fauna, but also of land sale lotteries, different borough taxation rates, railroad track gauges, Bureau of Land Management policies and various archeological and social studies taking place in Alaska. Amazing!
We skip lunch and instead dig into the snacks we brought. We stop in Talkeetna and swap passengers again. With the sun finally peeking out, I spend the rest of the trip haunting the viewing platform taking pictures. Eventually the sun goes back into hiding and it again begins to rain. Just before the dining room closes, Randy and I make an appearance. We skip the dinner menu and go straight for the desserts.
The train arrives at the Anchorage depot at 8:00 pm. It is pouring down the rain, but Don is close by to pick us up. We return to his condo and share our tales of our adventure. We also place our last round of calls to confirm the next week's plans. By 10:00 pm we are in bed, thus ending another 16 hour day.
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