~110 mi on Amtrak
Home: Shay and Dana’s House
We were surprised by rain in the morning, so that put a pin in any idea of riding over to the train station, and we just walked the bikes the mile from our hotel. We got there in plenty of time, and while Brunswick isn’t big enough to have a big fancy station hall, there was at least a large covered area along the platform where we could lay out all of our stuff, both to repack some of it into our big Ikea bags, and to just get everything a bit dry and clean.
Amtrak is a lot more generous with baggage allowances than airlines; even without checking bags into the baggage car, each person is allowed two “carry-on” bags and two “personal items”. And those “personal items” can weigh 25 lbs. apiece! And 50 lbs. for each “carry-on” item. And in practice, even those expansive rules are bendable: if you’re capable of carrying more than 150 lbs. of stuff with you onto the train, no one will put any effort into stopping you. So the main purpose of our bag-consolidation was to just decrease the chaos involved in getting on board with all of our possessions.
Because the Downeaster train has a different bicycle-loading setup than we’ve had on an Amtrak train before. Historically, we’ve put our partially-disassembled bikes in big boxes that then go onto the baggage car as “checked baggage”. This train has a relatively new method that is theoretically more-convenient: “roll-on service”, which means we don’t need to disassemble (as much), and don’t need to buy boxes, pack them up, etc. Sounds like a nice upgrade at first, but then we remember that when the bikes are “checked baggage”, you “check” them with somebody else well before boarding, and from that point on they’re that somebody else’s problem. In this new setup, they remain our problem, to be wrangled aboard with all of our luggage. This made Rett particularly nervous, because there is only a single (not-easy-to-use) bike rack per train car, so it would be a challenge for me to assist her.
When I remembered that Brunswick was the start of the line, which would presumably give us a wider window in which to board than a quick mid-line stop would, that helped to relax Rett somewhat, but the train still sat at the platform for an annoyingly long time with the doors sealed shut before they allowed anyone on. In the end, it was totally relaxed, partly because the train started empty (and not too many people were boarding with us), and partly because the train attendants were understanding and helpful; the conductor was already quite aware of the shortcomings of this system for passengers, and even before we expressed and dissatisfaction, suggested we send a complaint to Amtrak to encourage them to improve the system.
The “bike racks” are actually luggage racks that have had a wheel hook added to them. So first, after getting on board with a bike and a few bags, the horizontal racks need to be folded out of the way, then the front wheel needs to be removed from the bike so that the handlebars won’t stick out into the walkway, and then the wheel-less bike needs to be awkwardly lifted ass-end first and hung from the hook. I was able to park my bike in an empty car while I went to help get Rett’s in place, and then go back to do mine. I was a bit concerned that with our front wheels removed, our really-long fenders would get smashed against the back wall, but the bikes were able to hang in the rack without any conflicts (perhaps because our front racks helped stand-off the hub from the wall).
With all the excitement out of the way, the 2.5 hour journey south was a relaxing way to cross rest of Maine and the corner of New Hampshire. Through the tunnel of color-changing trees I glimpsed some sections that felt familiar from when we rode the whole way south in 2016.
Just across the Massachusetts border, at the Haverhill stop, we reversed our loading process, taking the bikes down early to get the wheels re-attached so we could roll them off the train. Though we could have easily reloaded the bikes and pedaled them the six miles to our friends’ house, we were instead happy to take the white-glove treatment from Dana and his pickup truck. Our off-bike break has truly begun!