Home At Last—In The PNW!

Amtrak Adventure 31/31 (about October 30th, 2021)

Yesterday was our last day—we made it full circle, back to Seattle! (We’ll be here for a day or two with family before going fully home to Corvallis). It’s easy to forget how gorgeous the Pacific Northwest is, having grown up in it and taken it for granted; the views here were easily as stunning as any in the rest of America.

We spent most of the day hanging out with Mom & Grandpa Ivan in the observation car, as the train gradually made its way up through Oregon and Washington. Getting there early, we were able to claim a whole table for the four of us—and spread to a second one when the crowd thinned out. Lots of reading, lots of talking.

Grandpa Ivan was full of stories about this stretch of the journey; he grew up in Longview (just north of the WA/OR border) and spent his early adulthood working in various capacities on the local railroad. As we went through Portland, he pointed out all the bridges and tunnels we experienced, telling vivid tales about how he walked them as a young adult, sometimes with a friend:

  • “One time we were on this [train-only] bridge and a train was coming—[the friend] got all freaked out! But you’re only really in danger if you panic; if you just think clearly, all you have to do is step to the side and let the train through so you don’t get killed. Wait for it to pass, then you can keep going!”

  • “This is a double-track tunnel, which means it’s safe to walk through; it’s very rare that two trains come at once, so you can always dodge to the other side. I stopped going through because it’s illegal, not because it’s dangerous; it’s no good to have a criminal record.”

  • “There’s plenty of space to the side of the track here, so you can bike alongside—I used to go [50 miles] from Longview to Portland quite a bit.”

  • …and so on. (I’m paraphrasing, might have gotten some details wrong.)

Those weren’t the only stories, though! In Portland, a pair of National Park Service volunteers came onboard to narrate the journey (scenery, towns, geography, history) for two hours up to Tacoma.

The most interesting they highlighted was a gigantic pile of ash from the Mount Saint Helens eruption, which was dredged from local rivers and piled alongside the tracks to form a ~40’ tall, ~0.5mi long artificial hill. It’s now being reclaimed to fill in sketchy house foundations, because the ash is excellent for drainage.

As the stories stopped and we pulled into Tacoma, we got to see a magnificent sunset over the southern Puget Sound just to the side of the train.

And then we packed up, sat down, and the conductor suddenly announced that we were pulling into Seattle (20 minutes early—who ever heard of such a thing?!).

Mattea’s father picked us up, and that was that! What a grand experience we’ve had. The month feels a year long—and still like we set out a week ago. It’ll take a while to fully process the experience… but already, we know it’s been an amazing adventure.

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