Bike Nielsen 2019: Prologue continued

It is not practical to make extensive plans on a train/bike/train trip. This is what we tell ourselves when things are looking sketchy. There are delays and rain and days when the pedaling is harder than we expected. In years past, we needed to stop when smoke from wildfires was too thick to continue. So, while Berta knows our route and has aspirations for carefully orchestrated landings at only the best hotel chains, we often end up totally winging it.

We met a couple back on a trip in Oregon and Northern California named Marion and Falco. Fabulous people! They knew many days in advance where they would be staying. Often, this was camping, but they stayed in hotels occasionally, which is how we met them at breakfast in a hotel. They travel farther per day than we do, but they take their time pedaling with all of their camping gear. We saw them a few times on the day we met them. We would get ahead, stop for lunch, then wave at them as they rolled by. Marion was very organized about their route and nightly stops. They sometimes had to pedal late into the evening to get to their destination. We have never been able to pull off this level of planning. Almost every trip has a hiccup early that upsets the whole bag of potatoes. So, we have a general itinerary and figure it out as we go. There is a freedom in travelling with few reservations, barely two outfits, and travel-size toothpaste. You discover that, generally, things work out.

So, having this philosophy is how we found ourselves at the train station in Portland and in need of arrangements for two more trains over the next two days. Tickets for the first train to Seattle were easy to obtain. The second train to Vancouver BC, that was a problem. It was sold out for three days. The worker suggested we call Amtrak early in the morning to find out if any reservations had been cancelled overnight. Trying not to think about how this would impact our “plans”, we walked off to see if any of our lodging options would pan out. The hardest part of that escapade was trying not to disappoint Portland drivers who seem determined to wait for us to cross the street. As foreigners, we had to check our map frequently, delaying all of the perky Portland people striding down the sidewalk with their earbuds and stylish boots. We walked an extra block when we needed a safer crossing, but that was our only detour. The hotel was right where we expected it, and they had a nice room for us. The upscale hotel accepted the credit card that John presented, unaware that Amtrak had rejected it just twenty minutes earlier for a train fare one-third the price of a night.  Dinner was very good, except for the price of our meal and the otherwise very good server’s use of the phrase “No problem”. There was a gym across the street from the restaurant. It was all glass and the people inside were too young to consider the danger in catapulting a big weight overhead. Berta enjoyed her strozzapreti with prosciutto, arugula, and mascarpone whilst glancing over once in a while to see a lunge or a deadlift or some other shocking move. Afterwards, we walked past a burrito place on the way to find some adult beverages, and had buyers’ remorse about the cost of the pasta. Oh well, if you can’t get fleeced on vacation, when can you?

Portland is an active city. Not a minute goes by without a cyclist in view. The bikes are practical, and the riders always have a pack or pannier of some sort. The car drivers seem very aware of cyclists. Bike racks are exactly what they should be—hip-high upside-down U pipes for two bikes to lean against. You don’t have to worry about fenders or packs not fitting, you just roll up, lean to, and lock up. Portland must have city planners who have parked bicycles in real life.

With low expectations, John called in the morning about the train to Vancouver. It went without a hitch. Berta listened to John’s half of the conversation, thinking that he was about to sound rejected, but that never happened. Worrying ceased about the next leg of the trip. Yay, winging it! On top of that, there were mango banana yogurt smoothies at the breakfast bar. It was a good morning.

While waiting for the train later that day, we met a couple from Metairie, Louisiana. He sat with us while she parked the car. It turned out we needed to leave for our train before she returned, so we will never know what she is like. He, we are sure, is a gem! We knew he was from Louisiana before he claimed how little accent he has. He told us about traveling to a family wedding when their baggage was delayed. Amtrak gave them $200 to dress themselves for the wedding. This was a guy who walked with two canes and a great deal of effort. He had a fancy electric wheelchair, but made a point of getting out of it to sit next to John on a bench. While he talked, he reached out often to give John friendly pats on the leg and elbows in the arm. All of a sudden, a turn in his story reminded him of his granddaughter. At that, he proclaimed he was getting emotional. With tears in his eyes and a catch in his throat, he said she has just started medical school with the express goal of helping Papa walk better. He explained, “Everybody calls me Papa.” We listened to him a little bit longer, but as it is when you meet someone while traveling, we interacted with this charming man for only some minutes. There was a call for our train and off we went.  

On the commuter train to Seattle, there was a family in the seats in front of us who have a six-year-old budding Nobel laureate. Actually, he doesn’t know that, but his mother sure seems to think his education starts now. Her teaching style can best be described as repetitive berating. She thinks asking the same math problem multiple times in rapid succession is the way for him to learn the subject. “If ten percent of forty is four, what is 1/10of forty? It is just like we just said, like 1/6 of 54. So what is 1/10 of forty?” We gave each other the OMG face. Later, she explained stalking to him in the context of the group chat he was having. She thought he wasn’t communicating well enough. So, she grabbed the phone, typed a text, and clicked send on the phone. Boy, there is a kid who needs a therapy savings account.