Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

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Worldcon Trip Day 3: Through the Sierras and Across Nevada

8:00 After having breakfast and a short walk this morning, we checked out of the hotel and drove back to the Emeryville Amtrak station, returning the rental car at the adjacent Avis station. That rental car was so big that I could barely fit it into the spaces in the Avis lot. I was concerned that we were running late, but our 9:10 train hadn't shown up by 8:50. This surprised me, because I would have figured they would have brought the train in earlier, given that it originates from Emeryville. They pulled in shortly after 9 and the mob of people heading east headed for their respective cars, including us in sleeping car 32058 (logical car number 0632), an unnamed, apparently rebuilt Superliner I sleeper, where we moved into Bedroom B. travelswithkuma has more to say and show about our bedroom.

09:10: Leave Emeryville. To our surprise, they serve breakfast immediately upon boarding, with preferential seating for sleeping-car passengers. If I had known that, I would have saved $20 on breakfast and been able to sleep an extra hour. As we headed for the dining car, I put on a Mummerset accent and said, "Lisa, it looks like they know about Second Breakfast."

Our table companions were people with whom I hope we do not have to share again. The man seemed welded to his cell phone most of the time, except when he spouted off nonsense like, "The trains are slow because the Department of Transportation owns the tracks and if private industry owned it and owned Amtrak, then it would make a profit and run better." He also seemed to think that BART was owned by the Federal government, not a local area agency, and that it was the finest, state-of-the-art transportation system in the country. How do people get these strange ideas?

After Second Breakfast, we walked the length of the train for a little exercise and then returned for our room for a while. Lisa went off exploring and our car attendant came to give me the briefing on how the room worked. He urged me not to try making up the beds in our compartment ourselves. I said, "My wife has been making up Amtrak beds for years, and much prefers to do it herself." He said he'd really rather she not do this, and I continued, "Lisa is a very strong-willed woman. You're welcome to try telling her yourself, but I'm not going to say no to her." He said he understood, but he didn't look happy about it.

I actually talked with our attendant for quite a while because I happened to volunteer about my diabetes (why I'd gone walkabout) and it turned out that he had been diagnosed himself only a few weeks ago. I gave him a pep talk and explained how I've been treating it successfully with diet and exercise, and that I'm back in the non-diabetic A1C readings even without medication for the diabetes, although I do take high blood pressure medication.

Later, Lisa and I went to the lounge car and spent much of the ride to Sacramento chatting with other people in the car and enjoying the scenery. Shortly after 11:00, as we neared Davis and Sacramento, our train was brought up short by signal malfunctions. Three Amtrak trains (two Capitol trains and us) were tangled up in the mess as the dispatcher in Omaha talked them through the affected area one at a time. (Being able to listen to the railroad radio on my 2m ham set here helped to understand the problem.) Including another delay for signals just outside the station, we found ourselves in Sacramento roughly 30 minutes late.

Heading up into the hills, we staked out good places to sight-see in the lounge car. It's a lovely scenic trip into the Sierras, aided by a volunteer from the California State Railroad Museum who boards at Sacramento, narrates the trip up with snippets of railroad history from this line, the first US transcontinental railroad. We know most of the stories, of course, and Lisa opined that she could give some parts of the narration better than the CSRM volunteer. I later asked the volunteer how the system worked, and he explained that he rides up to Reno on the eastbound, spends the night in a hotel (paid by the CSRM Foundation) and then rides back down the following morning, giving the tour both ways. Sounds like it might be a fun way to spend a couple of days now and then.

We enjoyed the views along the way. I've been this way before, but Lisa has not, and I tried to point out things to her before we got to them so that she could be ready for them. There's not really a lot more I can say about this, as I'm not really a good enough wordsmith to describe the breathtaking views of the American River, Donner Lake, and the climb up from sea level to over 7000 feet and then back down to the Great Basin.

13:30 We were in the last group having lunch, and shared the booth with two California college students heading to Schenectady. They will transfer directly at Chicago (assuming the train is less than six hours late) unlike Lisa and me, who will break our journey to be more certain of connections.

Lisa was very taken with these two young men, one of whom was a materials-sciences major, and the other a political science major who had been interning at the California Assembly during the Budget crisis, poor guy. Lisa enthusiastically discussed the merits of particular materials with the somewhat bemused fellow, and complemented both of them on their apparent intelligence.

Returning to lounge car, we found all of the good seats (facing out over Donner Lake) filled, so we went back to our room. We traversed the 10,000-foot summit tunnel and the horseshoe curve at Stanford Flat heading down into the Truckee River canyon.

16:30: Reno. There is schedule padding ("recovery time") eastbound here, and we would have probably caught back up with our schedule, except that just outside of the city, we came to a halt for a maintenance-of-way crew that had put up a red flag for their work. We had to wait for them to clear out of the way, and consequently we left Reno still 30 minutes late.

16:40: Sparks. We passed through the now-closed Sparks station. This station, located in the Sparks railroad yard, was walking distance from the Sparks Nugget and Holiday Inn, and I caught the train there a couple of times in the past. However, in the most recent schedule change, Amtrak eliminated the Sparks stop and lengthened the Reno stop to provide a smoking break. I'm sure this did not hurt Union Pacific's feelings at all, and as we went through the station, I looked for signs of the station's previous life as a passenger facility, and it appears that every bit of Amtrak signage was gone with severe-looking UP No Trespassing signs installed in their place.

16:45: As we cleared the Reno-Sparks area, the dining car steward came by to get our dinner reservation. Lisa has been fighting to stay awake, and I nearly dozed off myself, so an early turning in won't do any harm to either of us – we got seats in the second dinner seating.

17:00: Lisa had been commenting today that she'd been dealing with a growing headache all day. This can be related to tinnitus-induced fatigue, and possibly the change in altitude, but I pointed out that she hadn't had any tea today, having skipped it at breakfast, and that if she's been drinking tea regularly and stopped doing so, she might be getting some caffeine withdrawal. I asked our car attendant if we could have a couple of cups of tea, and he helpfully went back to the dining car and brought us two cups of hot water (that were actually hot, not tepid) and tea bags. That was helpful.

18:00: Dinner. We shared a table with a nice Australian man who is taking a trip around the USA by rail. I mentioned that I was using nearly all of my three weeks of vacation allowance, and he scoffed at how little vacation Americans get. "D'you work round-the-clock, too?" he asked, and I told him about my last few weeks prior to this trip. The three of us chatted companionably about our various trips here and there.

Lisa tried the steak again, and this time it turned out okay. I had the fish special, which was salmon. I offered a bite to Kuma Bear, but Lisa said he was being fussy and wanted trout instead, so I had the salmon over wild rice all to myself. For dessert, the waiter warned Lisa that the ice cream had gotten a bit soft, but she asked for it anyway, and, seeing how other people were having it, also asked for the apple crisp, so she could have it a la mode. When it came, she said she didn't know what the complaint about soft ice cream was; it was just fine as far as she was concerned.

19:20: Just as we were finishing dinner, the train neared its station stop at Winnemucca, which was another "smoko," but only one coach opened. The platform at Winnemucca isn't very big, but we, like a bunch of other people, got out and stretched our legs. It's a long step down here, even with the "step box," and while the Amtrak coach attendant was busy helping other passengers, I helped several people climb down out of the train.

I energetically paced up and down the short platform, avoiding frantically puffing nicotine addicts, keeping a close eye on the conductor, and taking care not to get too far away from any open doors. Just before 19:30, the conductor called All Aboard and we started making our way back into the train. We had been unable to raise the railroad radio after Sparks, probably because UP seems to have changed their band usage since the last timetable we have, so Lisa asked the conductor, who helpfully gave us the AAR channel numbers they're using in these parts.

19:35: We pulled out headed east toward Elko, having made up some of the lost time – only 22 minutes late. Back in our compartment, Lisa programmed the new frequencies we had learned into my handheld radio so we could stay caught up with the happenings on-line (and I don't mean on the internet).

20:20: Not too far outside of Winnemucca, the train slowed to a crawl. We didn't have the railroad radio going, so we don't know exactly what the problem was. What should be full speed (79 mph) running is instead a long, slow creep at about 10 mph. No wonder they have to put so much padding into the schedule.

20:30: The conductor, responding to the many queries, got on the PA and explained that it had been so hot in this part of Nevada that UP had imposed yet another heat-related slow order on this stretch of track. Just as he was doing so, we heard on the railroad radio the engineer announce that we had a "green board" and resumed normal track speed. That's not completely consistent with the conductor's explanation. Further chat between the engineer and conductor clarified things. It looks like there was a time-based heat-related slow order (Do not exceed 50 mph until 21:00) plus specific track-related slow orders reducing the train to as slow as 10 mph. I hope there aren't too many more of these.

22:00 We set our clocks ahead one hour anticipating that tomorrow morning we will be in the Mountain time zone. Lisa sent me away for 20 minutes or so while she got ready for bed, and when I came back, she made out the lower bed – she'd already set up the upper bunk. She said, "I prefer making the beds up myself. I don't want to call anyone 'George.'" She also said that the car attendant's concerns about the difficulty of making the beds were overstated. We started to turn in just before Elko, and watched the train make its Elko station stop from our beds before trying to get some sleep.
Tags: hugo award, kuma bear, lisa, train, travel, work, worldcon

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