Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Up to Philly for the Day via Amtrak

This past Saturday, I got up early (5 a.m.) and rode my Bike Friday Tikit to Union Station to catch a 7:30 a.m Amtrak train to Philadelphia. (Here's a picture of the 30th Street train station in Philadelphia). I picked up some snacks at the station and got to the gate right after they had opened it up for boarding. How's that for timing? :) This was my first time taking the Tikit on Amtrak, so I was a little anxious about finding a place on the train for my bike, and whether I would be able to find a seat right nearby, to keep an eye on my bike. I removed my front pannier, and folded the Tikit - while hearing a young kid pass and say, "Hey, look! A folding bike!" :) I rolled it up to the gate and showed my ticket and made my way to the train. I got on where directed (after the Business Section cars) and lifted my Tikit onto the train. The car I entered had the open area where you can set luggage. So I propped my Tikit there and then took a seat in the front row next to that area. There was a lady sitting at the window seat, and she had a lot of Crate and Barrel shopping bags and a big basket with bottled beverages in it. These were in the luggage area in front of her, next to my Tikit. She was headed to a Bridal Shower in Philadelphia, and amazingly handled all these packages and the basket by HERSELF when she got off in Philadelphia! I thought I had quite enough to handle with my bike and pannier! :)

The lady sitting across the aisle from me was from Connecticut, and it was her FIRST train ride (she looked to be in her 50's or so). She said she wasn't a traveler and that this was quite the adventure. So I congratulated her on being brave and adventurous, and commented that taking the train is a nice way to go. She agreed.

The train left on time, which is always nice. :) When we got up to Philadelphia, I met up with a couple of new biking friends (Teresa and Barbara) to ride the Schuykill River Trail. I haven't ridden the trail in many years, and was surprised to see the development along the trail - new apartments, condos and office buildings. Also, there were additional trails branching off from this trail. It was a beautiful sunny day - you couldn't ask for a better day to ride! :) We stopped at Barbara's house for lunch, and then later stopped in Manayunk for dinner. Teresa and I did over 50 miles of trail riding, and getting to know one another along the way, sharing experiences, etc.

The return train home, unfortunately, was delayed. It was supposed to leave at 7:30 p.m., but instead we left at 9 p.m., so I didn't get to Union Station til 11 p.m. It was a LONG day, but definitely a FUN one!! :)

The next day, I had arranged to rent a snazzy red Mini Cooper Zip Car. :) I drove it up to Baltimore to meet with my sister and brother, to celebrate my sister's birthday. :) I thought it'd be fun to rent a fun car in honor of her birthday, and she enjoyed it. The dash on the car inside was like a space ship - with very modern instruments, etc. :) It also had quite the fast and powerful engine in it. It could easily cruise along at 70-75 mph!! Of course, everyone else around me was doing that speed and MORE! I wasn't the only one!

So, it was a fun intermodal transportation weekend! :)

Monday, August 4, 2008

A "Training" Experience

Last week, I finished a bicycle trip from Buffalo, New York to Albany, New York. Instead of flying back at a cost of $500, I decided to get a ticket ahead of time on Amtrak. That only cost $100! Though it took all day to get home, it would be a pleasant way to travel. I hadn't taken Amtrak in a long time, and thought maybe it was like the airlines in that they would check your baggage and load it and transfer it at various points to your final destination. Not so. Evidently, I would have to do that. Unfortunately, the bike suitcase weighed 50 lbs., and I also had a duffel bag that contained my tenting stuff and clothes. I felt it would be too much of a hassle to try to schlep all of this around on my own, so I asked if it could be sent on a later train and I could pick it up a day later. They said no problem, and it didn't cost anything.

Since I had finished my bike trip a day earlier than expected, I changed my outbound train, and that only cost $20! I was used to expensive change fees on airlines, so this was a nice surprise. It was because I had an existing reservation and ticket. :)

It was nice to travel with just a little carry-on bag on the train that contained a book to read, an MP3 player for music and my bicycle helmet. I enjoyed reading, listening to music, taking pictures out the window and also checking out sights in the distance with my binoculars. It was very pleasant and relaxing. You also have lots of leg room, the seats are comfortable than airline seats and you can get up and wander around the train if you want to stretch your legs.

Our train was delayed in getting to New York City, by an hour and a half, so I had to trek across Penn Station to the Amtrak counter to get my ticket re-issued for a later train. I was glad I didn't have to carry all my bags that way, let alone getting into the ladies room afterwards. If I had had someone traveling with me, it wouldn't have been difficult, but on your own, it's much harder.

The train to D.C. was delayed a half hour, so I finally got into DC at 5 p.m. (a few hours later than I expected). But, I wasn't in a hurry - I had all day to spare, which was nice. It was a long travel day, but really, not too much different from my flight to Albany. Between transferring planes in New York City, and then an hour delay sitting on the runway while 40 (!) planes waited to take off, it took me (door to door) about 9-10 hrs. Same as the train!

My next Amtrak trip will be later this month, when I take it up to Philadelphia for the day, to bike with a friend on bike trails there. I will take my smaller folding bike, which will easy to get on and off the train. Stay tuned!