We awoke to gray skies and wide open spaces in North Dakota. Sleeping on a train lies somewhere between the levels of “nearly impossible” on a plane and “entirely too easy” in a car. The roomy seats recline at a comfortable angle and the foot rest kicks out to be parallel with the seat. The difficulty lies in navigating the behavior of fellow passengers. Some will let their kids run through the cars until the wee hours of the morning. Others will wake you up at 7am with a booming cowboy voice checking in with the folks back home.
After a semi-decent night’s rest, I stumbled to the bar car in search of industrial strength coffee. I’m going to make a bold statement by saying the ladies working behind the counter were the funniest, loveliest people we encountered on the train. They entertained us throughout the day with humorous overhead announcements and pacified us with beer and coffee. Tip them well and they’ll return the favor by setting aside one of their hotly pursued chicken dinners for you.
It was fun watching the world whiz by from the large window next to our seats. We spent our day napping, reading in the observation car, socializing with strangers, people watching, and eating in the bar and dining cars. Occasionally the train would stop for a few minutes and we got to jump out to get some fresh air, use a non-rocking bathroom, and do a couple of wind sprints.
We rolled past large farms and ranches, car graveyards, small western-style towns, and endless dirt roads. We passed through Minot and its sprawl of trailer encampments, oil fields, and the new development that accompanies a boom town. I overheard a local woman complaining about the cultural shift that’s taken place, and sat near some young men coming home from the oil fields.
I watched Amish kids mingle with the mainstream, perhaps for the first time on their own. We dined with a British couple exploring America’s national parks for the first time. While we didn’t get their names, we did watch the sun set behind the Rocky Mountains together. The moment was far better than the food.
Our original arrival time was 8:30pm, but the train was slightly delayed due to freight traffic. We rolled across Glacier National Park in the dark and pulled into Whitefish, MT around 10:00. A shuttle from our hotel was waiting to pick us up. Ironically, we shared a ride with a bunch of old Germans from Milwaukee. It was a joyous occasion when we told them we shared the same hometown. They asked if we’re attending college in Minneapolis (Luke and I are 10 years out of school), which we found amusing and flattering. After getting a brief tour of downtown Whitefish, which appeared to be a vibrant little mountain town, we arrived at our hotel: The Grouse Mountain Lodge.