Four fun and relaxing days with our Colorado family were coming to an end, and it was time to move on to our Illinois family in the next leg of our 2023 Family & Friends Tour, which ends in Seattle when we fly from there to New Zealand to stay for up to 9 months. I hoped our ride into the Amtrak station in central Denver would be a bit more-comfortable than the ride to get to this far-flung suburb had been, due to the availability of more bike-friendly roads, especially now that Rett had found a place near the station where we could take showers before boarding the overnight train. But then my Uncle Steve removed any stress from the day when he generously offered to drive us and our loads into the station! The fact that we arrived in light rain made the ride even more valuable.
We’d had a couple of bought-off-Ebay Ikea “Frakta” bags mailed to my cousins’ to do our usual pannier-consolidation. Those both get checked, along with a rear pannier for each of us, leaving us each with a front and rear pannier as carry-ons. Our bicycles also get checked, but in the still-relatively-new (and improved!) Amtrak system for their long-distance trains, we hang onto them until we deliver them directly to the baggage car when we board (we used to be required to buy boxes and lightly-disassemble to pack inside).
Denver’s Union Station is a bit unusual in that it’s been partly-privatized and turned into a fancy hotel, so we needed an apologetic security employee to tell us that we were required to move ourselves and our bikes out of the not-at-all-delineated “hotel lobby” section and into the “Amtrak waiting” section. Luckily before that I’d had time to make three runs out and back into the dark night’s increasingly-heavy rain, first to Whole Foods for on-board food, and then twice to Potbelly for dinner while we waited (they screwed up our order the first time, but at least I got a cookie and the other guy’s sandwich as compensation!)
At boarding time, I screwed up on where we needed to go; the train boarded from a middle platform, so I thought we needed to take the elevator down to cross under the tracks to get to it, but it turned out we just needed to go left until we reached the end of the tracks, where we could walk around them. I apparently had assumed that since Amtrak’s California Zephyr runs from California to Chicago, there would be no “end” of the tracks for a thousand miles, but in fact Denver is a “terminal station”, where the train curves in and then reverses back out. Not only did my dumb assumption add to our stress and fear of missing our train, I also felt bad because there was another bike tourer there that I had led astray with us.
The panic was unnecessary because we ended up getting back up to the platform in plenty of time, when the big line of passengers waiting at the queue point hadn’t even been released yet (for unknown reasons Amtrak really likes to have people stand in lines like they’re boarding an airplane, even though the beauty of trains is that they allow independent parallel loading). We still have our bikes with us that we need to get to the baggage car, and as the slowest-boarding passengers, waiting at the end of the line seems like it would delay our (already 45-minutes late) departure quite a bit (we’d still need to walk all the way to the baggage car at the front of the train to deliver our bikes, then walk back to board), so while Rett waited with our bikes, I ran ahead on the platform. Luckily the first employee I saw turned out to be (one of) the conductors, and not only did he direct us to go ahead immediately with our bikes, he also assigned us seats before we even did that, so after we handed our bikes up to the waiting baggage-car worker to be hung from their vertical racks, in the end we were some of the first people on the train!
Once on board, things proceeded smoothly. We both got a bit of sleep (especially me), and the train actually made up time and arrived in Chicago at 2:15pm, 35 minutes early! During the daylight portion of travel, we didn’t see anything that made us regret not riding across the Midwest, though the route through the hills of southwest Iowa was surprisingly pretty. We claimed our baggage and with my mom’s help rolled out the now-familiar stair-free path onto the sunny streets of downtown Chicago, and then a couple blocks to my dad and the pickup truck that carried us the rest of the way to their home (and ours for the next week+)
Our first order of “business” was a concert! Riot Fest was hosting two of our long-time favorites (The Dresden Dolls for me, The Cure for Rett), both playing on the same day, so the timing was too good to pass up (I have a theory that the Denver->Chicago train the day before ours was significantly more-full than others due to Denverites going to the fest, but since we were only going to the last day we didn’t need to depart as early as them). We took (mostly) public transportation to the pain-in-the-ass to get to Douglass Park: CTA Blue Line train to a bus there, then a lucky break bypassing a giant post-fest line to sneak on the Pink Line train back to the Blue LIne, getting us old people home and in bed at a reasonable hour.
Then it was mostly visits with family and friends, including one bike ride to Evanston via a reminiscence-filled loop up the North Branch trail through the Botanic Gardens and back down the North Shore suburbs on Sheridan Road. Over the years we’ve been through a lot of wealthy neighborhoods with incredible houses, but the stretch from Glencoe to Kenilworth surprisingly holds its royal own against the Hamptons, Beverly Hills, Mercer Island, etc.
The social highlight was Swati and Dennis’s “Diwali” party, recently held well in advance of the actual holiday, but this time partly scheduled with our presence in town in mind! In was fun to surprise some people who had no idea we’d be there (partly due to the blog being so behind!)
At home we gorged on the usual amount of homemade baked goods and Chicago hot dog lunches and beloved dinners.