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West portal of GN Ry's Cascade Tunnel.

The Fine Art of Motorcycle Touring


A Motorcycle Story

by C. C. Crow
photos by author

Subject: A Train Trip
Date: 8/08/00 01:22:07 PM Pacific Daylight Time
From: Killerkrow
To: rooti@square.nut

Hi again,

Did you know Marias Pass was named for a Maria? They dropped the apostrophe. Who Maria was I don't really know, maybe the surveyor's, John Steven's, mother, wife or girlfriend? Now they pronounce it "ma- ri'-ez".

So I hitched back to East Glacier. Hitching is pretty easy out there in the middle of no where especially when you're carrying a flat motorcycle. It only took a few passes. The locals take pity on you quickly. The rule was ten cars or ten minutes, which ever comes first. Two guys in a stretch cab pickup took me back to East Glacier. Having heard my sad story they even offered to take me all the way to Kalispell but I explained the shop couldn't do the tire until tomorrow anyway, and my desire to take the train. Wishing me luck they dropped me off in front of the broken down motorcycle display at the abandoned gas station.

My poor bike sits in front of the abandoned gas station in East Glacier.

My poor bike sits in front of the abandoned gas station in East Glacier

My poor bike sits in front of the abandoned gas station in East Glacier.

Colorful highway underpass at Easat Glacier

My poor bike sits in front of the abandoned gas station in East Glacier.

Patty, the East Glacier Amtrak agent and her friend

I left the tire there and walked over to the railroad station to inquire about the train ride. Patty, the station agent was very helpful. She noticed the Northern Pacific emblem on my sweatshirt and asked if I had enjoyed the convention. We were friends from there on, talked about the Edmonds depot and various people we both knew. The westbound Empire Builder was more than five hours late leaving Seattle. It had been delayed as the eastbound the day before due to a crossing mishap in Louisiana with some of the equipment that continued on with the Builder. The domino effect. Passengers lined the depot platform, idling away their extra time. I spoke to an elderly couple on their way back to home in Minnesota. They had spent several days in the Park. Sounded like a fun trip to me.

I told Patty about my little plan. For a mere $17 I booked passage over Marias Pass on the evening train. It was due at 6:48 however it was about an hour behind but Patty was certain that it would make up 45 minutes by the time it arrived. So it should be here around 7 p.m.

East Glacier Park depot.

East Glacier Park depot

The Mexican restaurant opens at five, so let's see, I had the whole day to kill. I took full advantage of this. Usually, there are lots of things to do on vacation. Too many things. If you aren't riding somewhere, you're hiking, sightseeing, eating, buying groceries or gas, pitching the tent or tearing it down, or something, something is always keeping you busy. So to have a whole afternoon to do absolutely nothing was very different and most enjoyable.

East Glacier Park depot.

A meet at East Glacier depot

East Glacier Park depot.

A spreader passes by in a work train

Inside the depot are some very nice displays of railroad artifacts. Old photos, maps, histories and many signal and communication items. I walked over to the East Glacier Park Lodge to check it out. A grand old place. The main room towers over you, held up by giant tree trunks. Douglas fir I suspect. Still covered with their deeply textured bark. Balconies tier the parameter. I took a walking tour of the large landscape paintings I noticed up there. And there were more historic displays about the construction of the ledge and park. I flirted with one of the clerks in the gift shop. She was a little young though, but knew her business was to entertain old lodge guests such as myself. I gave her a rough time because there was no slide film. Time for a shower, even a shave. I told the campground host of my plans and we struck a bargain for the extra half day. Since I wasn't going to be there that night she refused to charge me. She wondered where my bike was and showed a bit of concern about my choice of the abandoned gas station but she knew the owner and said she would inform him. I'd be glad to move it. I'm sure I was becoming the talk of the town. Who hadn't heard?

By now my budget was decimated. The Helena convention was not inexpensive. I blew two bills on the hotel room. Not to mention two hundred and something for registration and the train ride. Gas was two dollars per gallon. Even though the motorcycle gets good mileage these things were adding up. There was still the ride home through Canada. Ah shit, I was on vacation. I wasn't going to worry about it.

I'd be in Whitefish a 10 p.m. Probably stay there over night, hitch hike to Kalispeil in the morning. Certainly I could find some where to camp out. Or should I get a hotel room?

I had to decide how much to take along and how much to leave behind. Okay, I'll bring the sleeping bag and my new air matrices. The other question was should I leave my valuables behind? My motorcycle helmet, tank bag, saddle bags, camping gear, or the extra camera gear? How about my leather coat? Geeze, I can't carry it all. I suppose I could haul it all over to the lodge and checked it. Or leave it at the depot. No, I decided I had used all my bad luck up. I must have. Besides, we aren't in the bad part of town, in NYC or LA. Just the outskirts of an Indian reservation. No, it would be okay. Who's going to look. So I just took what I needed to camp out over night, my jean jacket and my camera. I zipped the rest up inside the tent.

By now I had killed most of the day. It was time to wonder down to Seireno's, the Mexican restaurant, housed in an old log cabin. The service and food was very good. I enjoyed my youthful waitress who wore a nicely revealing tie-dye tee shirt. I think this was on purpose. It certainly worked for me. The food could have been terrible but so mesmerized I would have left her a huge tip regardless. More water please!

Pulling myself away it was time to go meet my train. I picked up my back pack, said good-bye to my tent, stopped by the broken down motorcycle display and picked up the tire, then hauled it all up the bank to the depot.

Meeting the train is a big event. There were probably sixty or seventy people. Patty was in the middle of admonishing a certain young man for not following her instructions when I arrived. I'm not sure what he did wrong but I wasn't going to cross her. She had her hands full sorting out the passengers. I figured out for myself just by listening to what others asked that the coach passengers to Kalispell needed to be about in the middle of the train and the coach just before the dome lounge was to be avoided as it was the smoker. So here would be just about right.

A car full of young Blackfoots pulled up to the platform next to me. I couldn't help smell the odor of marijuana. Kids. If I was a little closer to their age I might have asked for a puff but the whole situation of all of this adventure seemed to need no such enhancements. I was going for a train ride over Marias Pass. I didn't need any help being "high".

East Glacier Park depot.

Waiting for the train to arrive

One of the boys came over and checked out my flat tire. He seemed entertained. Upon returning to his friends they all held back their hee- hees which escaped in short snorts anyway. I pictured these young bucks setting these hidden nail traps for tourists in their spare time. Doing the tire shop a pubic service, to help the local economy and all. I'd learned the occasion was that one of them was going off to Sweden. A strange destination but a noble journey. And a fitting send off.

East Glacier Park depot.

The train arrives at East Glacier Park depot

After a freight train passed by finally our train arrived. It was much longer that I had expected. I was used to the shorter version that passes through Edmonds. 0f course the nearest door was the smoker. I looked down to the next but it was too far with a crowd of people so I boarded here, placing my tire and pack in the storage rack. My seat was next to the young man traveling to Sweden. Despite my attempts to coax him to talk about his trip he remained tight lipped. Paranoid. I entertained myself with the passing scenery. Then wisely decided to seek refreshments.

The lounge car was quite nice. A full dome with outward facing seats. Downstairs I found an open bar. A somewhat drunk woman noticed my camera and begged me to take a photo of her and her "friends". She was displeased when I refused stating that the light was too poor for the film I had.

East Glacier Park depot.

The landscape slowly passes by

After getting a beer I quickly retreated back upstairs, grabbed a seat and watched the mountains go by. Rather easily, yet slowly, we quickly climbed the east slope. The conductor announced our arrival at the summit pointing out some facts as we passed the oboist. The down hill portion seemed much more interesting as we turned and twisted in and out of the tree lined side canyons ducking in and out of snow sheds. The views are not as spectacular as one might expect in the crossing of the Rockies on the outskirts of Glacier Park. But that's just it, you're on the outskirts, and on the south side of the mountains abutting the grander pecks beyond your view. To properly see them you've got to get out and explore. I'm convinced that this would be a great thing to do, travel to the park by train and spend several days exploring on foot. You could bring a flat tire to aid in quick pick-ups.

A young girl chewing gum sat down next to me, shortly followed by college age boy. I couldn't help but overhear the conversation about their youthful journeys. She was going to visit her uncle in Tacoma, escaping some unspecified trouble at home. He was sorting out his recklessness, vowing certain revival with his pending admittance to bible college or something like that. It was somewhat amusing, under shadowed by some desperate gloom. Poor kids. I hoped the train ride would deliver them to their better destinations.

I waved to two fellow NPRKA conventioneers who were staying at Essex as we passed by the inn. After I had made my arrangements we had met at East Glacier. Had I not had a plan they would have saved me. But as I explained it wouldn't have been as interesting an adventure as I had concocted.

The train continued on. Stopping briefly in Benton, at West Glacier, then finally pulling in to my destination of Whitefish, Montana. It's 9:30 at night. The train stays at the station for fifteen minutes while the crews change. The garbage is dropped and supplies are set on. Besides the passengers departing and new ones boarding there is a mad rush for flesh air, concessions and quick phone calls. Among them are both the Swedish bound boy and the young girl. Is he tipping off his companions about the free bounty in my camp? Is she calling ahead to inquire about bible school? It's a busy place.

So what the heck am I doing? I don't know. People are greeting their travelers. A line forms to collect their baggage. I notice rental cars are being handed out. When things settle down I ask the woman how much one costs for a day. $55. That's not too bad. I can think about that. I learn a cab ride to Kalispell is $25. I weigh that against it being free to stick out your thumb. Though it's a gamble, the flat tire trick sure seems to work. But I don't need to be in Kalispell tonight. Tomorrow morning will do. So what do I do in the mean time? A whole night to kill. I suppose I could go find a hotel room, or maybe a campground. I'm sure the drunk woman would be happy to take me home if I had agreed to take her picture. Not having spent any time in Kalispell or Whitefish other than just passing through years ago I'm sort of at a disadvantage. I find a tourist map in the rack.

There's hotels of course. All fancy ones in the brochure. Again, I'm on a budget. There's an RV campground so many miles out of town. No, I'm on foot. And there's a nice park just over here by the river, but I'm not sure how far that is and it doesn't indicate any camping. The map isn't exactly to scale so it's hard to tell. Hum, what to do? The station is slowly clearing out. Closes at 10:30 PM. Okay, so what are the options. Outside is very nice. A park like setting to the east invites me. There are trees and picnic tables, though it is rather open. Down at the end there are some old baggage carts that might do, but again, they are sort of open. I don't want to be noticed by anyone, get into trouble. Up close to the depot there's a row of shrubs shielding you from the street. There are some nice trees and three benches. The first one is wooden. The second, carved stone. And the third, again, wooden, but it is broken, fallen over backwards. It is very appealing. Laying down as it is, the seat offers protection from the platform lights and view from that direction. The bushes shield it from the street. It's perfect. Well, not really perfect but it might do. It's laying flat enough, just large enough to roll my bag out. It's official, I'm a street person, at least for this night.

My camp at Whitefish depot.

Looks like a good spot to me

Next edition... Night crawlers, not again, and what size is that tire?

  Next Part - Four  




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