For three of the last four summers, my wife has left Ashland for her annual visit with her family in Lincoln, Neb., a week or so before I did. That gave her time to spend some quality time with her mother, now 95 with a mind as sharp as ever, and her two sisters, without me disrupting her schedule.
Three times, I have driven the 900 miles from Ashland to Lincoln, spending the night in a motel along the way to break the monotony of so much driving. These long drives have never been as bad or as exhausting as they sound. I have always made sure I have had good books to listen to along the way and made frequent stops at rest areas to take naps lasting 10 to 20 minutes. I am a strong believer in “power naps” because I know they work. Of course, as my wife will attest, I have the ability to be snoring peacefully after 10 to 15 seconds of tossing and turning.
This year, we reversed our roles on our trek to Lincoln. Because she wanted to stop and do some work on her family tree along the way, she took my car and drove to Lincoln a week before I left. While my wife had always flown to Lincoln when she left early, I did not want to fly when it was time for me to go to Lincoln this summer. I asked her to check on other ways to get from Ashland to Lincoln.
She first tried Greyhound. It did not take me long to reject that option. If I had taken the bus, it would have taken 55 hours to get from Ashland to Lincoln. I don’t mind buses, but I could not imagine spending so much time on them.
She then checked on Amtrak. That is where she should have started. Not only could I take the train from Ashland to Lincoln faster than I could have driven the route, it also would be much cheaper. Because I qualified for the senior discount, my ticket cost less than the amount we spent on gasoline on the way home to Ashland — and my little Honda Accord gets great gas mileage.
I have said this before and I will say it again: if you are not in a hurry to get somewhere, Amtrak is a great way to travel. The cars are clean and reasonably quiet, the seats are large, comfortable and eons better than the cramped seats in economy class on airlines.
The only problem with my train trip was that the Cardinal — the Amtrak train that goes from Washington, D.C., to Chicago, was two hours late. But that was OK. Because I had used Amtrak’s website to check on the Cardinal, I knew it was late and I actually worked another 90 minutes at The Independent during the time I was supposed to be on the train.
So, instead of boarding the train at 10 p.m., I got on just after midnight on July 21. How was the ride? Well, after going to the restroom as soon as I boarded, I settled into my reserved seat and closed my eyes for what I thought was going to be a power nap. The next thing I remembered was it was daylight outside and the Cardinal was pulling into Indianapolis. I had completely slept through Cincinnati, and the man seated beside me said he had gotten up twice during the night to take advantage of a designated smoking stop and I had not budged an inch when he essentially crawled over me to get off and on the train.
We arrived in Chicago about 90 minutes late, but because I had a scheduled four-hour layover in the Windy City, I was never worried about missing my connection to Lincoln. The 10-hour ride on Amtrak’s Zephyr was so routine and boring, that I really don’t have anything to say about it. However, I did learn to take more snacks with me on the train in the future. Food on both the Cardinal and the Zephyr was decent, but really, really expensive. I found myself becoming envious of the young lady across the aisle who was traveling with her brother because she had brought enough food and drinks to feed a small army. The only problem was I was not part of that army.
This is not the first time I have taken the train to Lincoln. About 25 years ago, my wife, my children and I took Amtrak to Lincoln, and on that occasion, the Cardinal was late and we missed our connection in Chicago. However, because we had paid extra so that Amtrak guaranteed our timely arrival, Amtrak paid our expenses for an extra day in Chicago. We spent that day touring the space and science museum, which was great. It also was free. In fact, that was the reason we chose to go to it. Unfortunately, the taxi ride to the museum was $23, which is why we took the bus back to the train station.
I will say this: The condition of the train was much better now than it was back then. And it was more crowded. When I boarded the Cardinal, I took what I think was the last empty seat on the car. I was glad that I had purchased a reserved seat that was guaranteed.
While I slept, the Cardinal apparently kept picking up more and more passengers. When I got off the train in Chicago, it had more cars on it than it did when I had gotten on it in Ashland. I’m not sure where it picked up the additional cars. It may have been in Indianapolis; we backed up a long way while there, but it could have been in Cincinnati since I slept through the Queen City. However, based on my one day’s experience, things are going well with Amtrak.
My wife’s family reunion next summer is in Olympia, Wash. We are already talking about taking Amtrak to the reunion, because I plan to be retired by then and my schedule will give me the time I need for such a long trip. I’m already looking forward to it. Maybe we can even stop in Montana, so we can visit my best friend George.
JOHN CANNON can be reached at email@example.com or at (606) 326-2649.