Captain America started planning this trip to celebrate our tenth anniversary well over a year in advance, which started with an idea of a motorcycle trip out West that's been perking for many years. Given that neither of us owns a motorcycle, and that though the thought of driving or riding on one is thrilling to me I'm not interested in dying young, I killed that after a year or two of incessant motorcycle talk. Then CA started looking at canned Amtrak tours - which, his travel agent sister-in-law informed him were a lot like Denny's - the food looks really tasty in the photos on the menu but tastes pretty bland at best on the table.
He then embarked on the perfect project for his soon-to-be unemployed self - he planned it all on his own, researching and calling and booking National Park lodges at precisely the right moment 364 days ahead. He also talked about it non-stop and ordered lots and lots of hiking gear since we don't hike - or didn't, but that's getting ahead of myself.
I admit - I spent most of the past year with my fingers in my ears going "la la la I can't hear you," both because he wouldn't shut up and because I was just going along with his dream trip - I didn't have that mountains dream in me. Had I planned it, we'd have gone to Costa Rica to go fishing and get deeply tanned. I would NEVER have planned a trip to the Rockies - wasn't on my list. Silly me.
Packing was fun - we had to consider a wide range of temperatures and conditions, and by the time I had all my stuff out for review, I realized it was everything CA has been buying me over the 12 years we've been together - Gramicci climbing pants, great tie-dyes from REI - I was being prepared and neither of us knew it consciously. I passed his packing inspection handily. Of course yarn was the first priority, and as I imagined I'd have ample knitting time over the two weeks, I planned my small Christmas present project and packed a lot of yarn, thinking I would make neat little tags with the cities the presents were finished in. Hah.
I never ever go away for a full two weeks - ever. Getting ready for that, at home and during the most hellish 60 days in recent memory at work, was challenging and stressful. I'm a serious slave to my routine, and that works for me - two weeks of complete unknown was just a tad anxiety-producing. I managed.
My single contribution to the planning was a reservation at Frontera Grill in Chicago on our first night of the trip. We stayed at the Fairmont Millenium, right next door to the Art Institute and walked to Frontera. It was perfecto - CA had a tamale appetizer that he said was just like his neighbor Mrs. Rodriguez used to make in Dallas - go figure. He's a picky eater and I'm not - and I think he enjoyed his meal more than I did. Score!
Saturday we boarded the Empire Builder train after a quick stop at the Art Institute, which I don't think I've ever been to and which blew me (us) away. I visit museums differently since I've worked at one for the last nine years, and it was amazing. No time to hit Loopy - drag, but I had many more LYSs on my list.
The modern sleeper cars on Amtrak bear little resemblance to the ones in North by Northwest, but did provide reasonable accomodations for about 30 hours as we left Chicago and went through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota and into Montana - in fact, right up to East Glacier Lodge, our first night's pit stop. All but Illinois are states I've never been to before - many tacks for my map. We had a submarine shower and bunk beds - Amtrak could work a little on the thin cloth they call a mattress - a thin NASA foam one would go a long way.
We got in four meals on the ride, which meant we ate with four different couples. We're not the most social couple but we held our own and had fun meeting all of them (even the woman who was so drunk she excused herself halfway through the meal).
From the train we saw:
Astonishingly happy and rich fields of sunflowers blooming
Amber waves of grain - lots and lots and lots of it
Many cows with their frolicking, kicking, happy calves
A gigantic wind farm - I find these beautiful
And, just like Captain America said, those mountains I had never seen, appearing first like clouds far, far away, and then growing and growing and looming and holy cow we're in the MOUNTAINS.
We stepped off the train and threw our bags on top of this:
While we walked across this path to the lodge:
Part II coming soon.