Monday, July 20, 2009

Down to Richmond

On Saturday, I had tickets to take Amtrak down to Richmond, Virginia (a two-hour trip) to visit a couple friends of mine whom I hadn't seen in a long time. I woke up early and rode my Tikit bike to the Alexandria train station, about 7 miles from my house. The train arrived on time, and I boarded with my folding bike. I set my pannier down in one seat, and then slowly wheeled my bike down the aisle. The aisles are a little narrow, so I had to take care while wheeling it so I didn't bump against any seats. There were a lot of people sleeping along the way, some laying down and others sitting, with blankets over them. I made my way back to my seat, next to a lady reading a magazine. Riding the train is relaxing and comfortable. The seats are roomy - you've got good leg room compared to airline seats.

On the ride to Richmond, we made a few stops along the way in small towns. Glancing out the window, I thought it'd be fun sometime to get off at one of these towns to bike around for the day. :)

When we arrived in Richmond, I got off the train and unfolded my bike and attached the pannier. The lady train attendant who had unfolded the train stairs for passengers made a comment to me that bikes weren't allowed on Amtrak. I told her that folding bikes specifically were allowed on Amtrak - for her to check the policy that had changed a couple of years ago. So she said she would. She said a guy the previous week had tried to board with a regular size bike and couldn't. You CAN take a full-size bike on the train - ONLY if it's boxed up in an Amtrak bike box ahead of time, and if the stations you are departing from and arriving at have luggage service (where a station attendant unloads bags from the train from the baggage car).

When I greeted my friends, one of the first questions they asked me was whether I missed having a car! :) I told them that I really didn't miss having a car - that I can get around lots of places with my bike, the subway, buses, Zipcar, and Amtrak. I think some people just can't imagine NOT having a car and think that it would be so limiting. I can understand that in an area that doesn't have good public transportation. Richmond doesn't have a subway, but I'm sure they have a decent bus system. But, of course, the bus doesn't go everywhere you want to. And suburban sprawl makes it difficult to get to different locations, when things are so spread out. A lot of people, also, aren't into exercising and can't imagine biking miles to get to places they need to get to. Roads, also, aren't helpful when they are either high-speed highways or narrow winding roads, where some people would not feel safe or comfortable biking. So, it does depend on your local area and what it has available...being car-free doesn't work in every situation, I admit. But in a number of situations, it CAN work if you put some effort into it.

I've learned from the number of times I've taken Amtrak, that the return trip home is usually delayed. And this trip was no different - the train was delayed by a half hour - which isn't too much, fortunately. When it arrived, I got a good seat by the baggage area, so I didn't have to wheel my bike down the aisle. On the next stop, a lady got on and sat next to me and immediately started to chat, which was kind of nice. She offered me some chocolate she had on hand and we talked about the books we were reading that were in our laps. It turns out she lives in McLean, not too far from where I used to live, and her daughter graduated from the same high school as I had. :)

When I arrived back at the Alexandria train station, I unfolded my bike and set it against a bench while I got out my night-time riding gear of lights, reflective vest, etc. One of the train attendants working on the platform came over to me, and saw my bike. It was kind of funny - he just took the bike and went for a spin on the platform! He was calling out to different attendants that were working, for them to see his new bike. :) He got a kick out of riding it. :)

So it was a fun-filled day trip to Richmond! :)