Getting to Glacier National Park is no small task. There are three options: fly, drive or take the Amtrak train. We chose the train based on its cost, convenience and nostalgia value. Having never traveled by train in the US before, we prepared like we would for airline travel, carefully following the baggage height and weight restrictions. With a final cinch of my hiking pack to ensure it was as compact as possible, we were ready to hit the road.
Our train was scheduled to depart at 10:30 pm. Amtrak warned us to expect delays up to six hours due to increased freight traffic sharing their tracks. Around 8:00, I received a text alerting me that our train’s arrival was delayed by 20 minutes. Half an hour later, another one came through…then another. With a new departure time of 11:30 pm, we arrived at the historic Union Depot in St. Paul after the baggage check counter had closed for the evening.
Our plan was to carry-on our hiking packs and check a large suitcase (Big Blue) that held most of our camping gear. Hauling all of this onboard would have exceeded the limit allotted to each passenger. Not having the option to check Big Blue threw us into a bit of a tailspin and we assumed we were screwed. If Big Blue couldn’t get on the train, neither could we, unfortunately.
We made our way down to the platform. A gentleman asked where we were heading, then assigned us to a specific number along the platform. The train arrived amidst blinding light and deafening sound. I was waiting for the conductor to call “ALL ABOARD!” but the doors simply opened. A crowd of people stumbled out, looking tired and confused. We stepped through the lower doors and to our relief, we spotted large luggage racks that were mostly empty. We stashed Big Blue next to the restrooms so we could keep an eye on him, then headed up to the second level to find seats.
It was late and many of the passengers were already asleep. As train newbies, we assumed any unoccupied seat was up for grabs. We selected two at the back of the car. There was a pack and a small gift bag directly above the seats, which should have tipped us off. Instead, we proceeded to stash away our bags and began settling into our seats for the night. Just as I kicked out my footrest to fully recline, a man walked up to my seat. He paused for second, gave me an odd look, then began fumbling with the bags directly above me.
This didn’t phase me since I’m used to strangers violating my belongings in the shared bin space. When the gentleman asked me to hand him the water bottle tucked into the seat pocket directly in front of me, it finally sunk in: we had stolen his seats like a couple of claim-jumpers. I apologized profusely, citing ignorance as an excuse for my audacity and offered to move several times. He curtly refused, sat down in his new seat ahead of us, and promptly fell asleep. I felt like a jackass, but the hot burn of shame wore off once I vowed to make things right by buying him a beer if he was still on the train tomorrow.
A conductor came through the car shortly after departure to scan our tickets. He asked where we were going, scribbled three letters onto a white tag, and hung it above our row. (Ah, that’s how the system works.) Despite a few newbie mistakes, it was wonderful not having to endure the body violations, striping down, potential for lost luggage, or the surly seatmates synonymous with air travel.
Train travel was proving to be refreshingly humane.