Saturday, May 15, 2010

Ascension Day

Yesterday was Ascension Day, commemorating when Jesus went upstairs, departing (in physical form) this vale of tears for the last time. In the spirit of the occasion, I gained considerable altitude Thursday myself.
On board the California Zephyr, in the space of 90 minutes we rose from 5,280 feet in Denver to the Moffat Tunnel—at 9,239 feet it’s the highest elevation reached by any train in the Amtrak system—where we bored through the Continental Divide via the six-mile tunnel.
I left Denver in the cool, gray remnants of the rainstorm we had barreled through the night before. To my surprise, 30 minutes out of Denver we hit patches of snow. Within an hour of continual climbing, the occasional streak of white had turned into 4+ inches of wet, glompy frosting on all the trees. Though the snow was melted on all the roads, the solar panels deployed to power the switches in remote high altitude locations were completely blanketed. We had ascended back into winter!
We rose through the low ceiling and then through it into patches of sunshine. In the foggy part, it was hard to discern the engine on curves, just eight cars ahead. At one point, I saw three deer scratching in search of the tender green shoots that had been ubiquitous just the day before.
Appropriately enough, our first stop after Denver was Winter Park, where we were treated to the artistic curling of wet snow as gravity had its creative way with it, easing off the steep pitched metal roof of the open-air waiting shelter at the Amtrak station.
Laird's Loop
As the train paused to take on diesel in Denver, I paused as well, to take on caffeine at the Tattered Cover Bookstore, an easy stroll down Wynkoop from Denver’s Union Station. Sipping my latte it occurred to me that I was beginning a circular trek of epic proportions. Leaving Denver May 13, I expected to return the evening of June 15—33 days and 9,090 miles later, 92% of which I’d traverse by choo choo, never crossing my route once. In the course of this journey, I’ll board eight different trains, logging time on most of Amtrak’s better-known routes. In sequence, my Tour de Amtrak will take me through 29 states on the following routes (with train miles in parentheses):
California Zephyr (1,400)
Coast Starlight (721)

Empire Builder (2,256)

Capitol Limited (481)

Pennsylvanian (188)

Crescent (1,152)

Sunset Limited (1,493)

Southwest Chief (706)

It was amusing to realize that the last leg of this train odyssey would deposit me right in front of Denver’s Union Station—within sight of where I sat yesterday checking email. Think of it: I'll have gone 8,393 train miles and wound up in exactly the same spot. If Amtrak ultimately goes out of business, it won’t be my fault.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love train travel but schedules are difficult and routes not great when you only have a few vacation days a year