Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Portland to Seattle by bike and train

Every two weeks or so, I take a bi-monthly business trip to Seattle on the Amtrak Cascades. On this particular train, Amtrak has installed a bike rack in the baggage car - so I'm able to ride my bike from home to the train Portland station, pay the extra $5 fee for a bike, then ride from the Seattle train station to my office in the Washington State Convention Center. Three years ago, I used to drive this trip - and dread it. Switching from my car to a bike and a train ride has made this trip something I actually look forward to. (And do me a favor, don't mention that to my wife...)

This week, I thought I would chronicle my trip in pictures.

Packing the panniers the night before. After three years, I can do this in my sleep.

This time of year, I leave before the sun comes up. There's my trusty Kogswell P/R, loaded with panniers, and waiting to leave. She loves this trip.

Stopping at Stumptown coffee to grab a cup with the regulars (and fill up my thermos for the train). When I first started taking the train, I had a tradition of getting a cup of coffee and some oatmeal in the dining car, but the Amtrak snack service uses, I kid you not: a styrofoam bowl with a styrofoam lid for the oatmeal, a cardboard carrying tray, a paper cup with a lid for the milk that comes with it, a little plastic ramekin with a lid for the nuts, fruit and sugar that go on the oatmeal, a napkin, a spoon that's wrapped in a plastic sleeve, and then two paper cups and a plastic lid for the coffee. It's almost a pound of landfill for a single bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee. This hurts my soul. Now I bring fruit and pastries from home, and/or stop at Stumptown on the way into town and fill the ol' thermos up before I get on the train. No landfill (happy Vaughn).

At the PDX train station waiting to board. This is usually where people come up and ask me about taking the bike up on the train. In under 2 minutes I have usually converted them from ever taking a taxi again.

Outside the baggage car waiting to load up.

Mike (who keeps things running smoothly at the PDX station, certainly more smoothly that the SEA train station) seen here hanging bikes up in the baggage car. They have room for about 6 bikes. After the train gets moving, you can see your bike (but the door's locked. I've checked.)

My regular seat in the dining car.

Off-loading in Seattle. Just like Portland, the Seattle train station is right down town, which makes zipping up to the office a snap.

Bike parking at the convention center is pretty nice.

Certainly better than bike parking at my hotel down the street. The valets don't know what to do with me when I pull up on a bike. After 3 years, they're finally getting used to me though.

Heading back to PDX - in the Seattle train station getting my seat assignment.

After getting my tickets squared away, I have about an hour till we board - so I ride up the street to the International District to get cream cheese buns at the yummy house bakery.

Then I grab a quick dinner at Shanghai Garden chinese restaurant (one of my favorite chinese restaurants in any city).

Waiting to load up on the SEA platform.

A brief station stop in Tukwila as the sun is setting. The ride down during sunset is usually amazing. The later in the season (towards summer) the better. The train tracks run along the waterside of Puget sound from North of Tacoma, all the way south, almost to Olympia. Watching the sun set over the bay, as the Tacoma Narrows bridges are passing by is a sight to behold. Just a beautiful ride.

Union workers hard at work... ahem. :-) Kidding - these are the regular conductors on the Tuesday night Cascade line. I sit with these guys every trip. After a few years, they're like family. And boy do they have stories to tell.

I can't speak for other train lines in the country, but if you ever find yourself needing to travel between Eugene/Portland Oregon and Seattle Washington, the Cascade line is a beautiful ride. More than that though, they've made the trip extremely friendly to bike travel. Check it out yourself - and bring a bike!


All these pictures in hi-rez here on Flickr.


gus said...

Nice post, I may have to try the trip myself!
Why not bring your bike to your room at the hotel in Seattle?

Also a minor note on language, every two weeks is semi-monthly. Every other month is bi-monthly.

Keep it up!

Esteban said...

Great narrative. I live close to work - your story makes me want to live further away!

poser said...

gus - when the bike is shiny, they let me bring it up to the room - and truthfully, I have done that a couple of times. Right now though, she's not so shiny.

franklyn said...

almost two years ago my fiancee and I took the Amtrak coastal starlight from Oakland to Seattle for the Seattle-to-Portland ride. For this train, we had to box our bikes and checked them in as baggage. We saw the Cascade Express when our train was stopped in PDX. It was actually quite easy, though I would prefer simply rolling the bike up onto a rack.

Here in the Bay Area, Amtrak has a Capitol Corridor train that runs from Sacramento to San Jose as a commuter train. When i used to work near San Jose (and living in Berkeley), I took that train to work quite often. I either get off in Santa Clara, which is 3 miles from work, or when I have more time and the weather is fair, in Fremont and ride 25 miles to work.

Now I work near Stanford University (and still live in berkeley), I take the bus in the morning from Berkeley to San Francisco, then ride a mile to the train station. The caltrain then takes me down peninsula to near Stanford. it's a long commute (which makes my working-from-home days that much sweeter), but I do enjoy riding my bike and the transits. The only bad thing is that when there are more bikes than the bus/train can accommodate, folks get bumped and have to wait for the next one (usually 30 mins away). Recently, a grass-root movement to increase capacity on trains has been somewhat successful to get Caltrain to add more bike spaces--but the incoming summer could spell frustration for lots of bike commuters--i will spend more time at home probably.

Anonymous said...

You've made me want to do this trip. I am going up to Seattle in April and may leave my car at home! Good story.

terrrell said...

Mmmmm, Shanghai Garden.

Nice post!

Kevin Connors said...

Nice entry. It is nice to have photos to enhance what I've imagined this trip to look like all these years.

You should send a link to Amtrac - it'd be good advertising, and maybe they'd improve the food service!

jeff s said...

great photo essay! I think it really helps demystify the bike-on-train thing, which seems clouded in AMTRAK-induced obscurity.

That said, once you know how it's very easy, and as your essay makes abundantly clear, the train ride is fantastic, especially compared to the horror of I-5 (esp. between Olympia & Seattle)

A couple of notes I'd add for neophytes:

- reserving a spot for your bike in advance is a good idea. Your photos show empty bike racks, but my experience has been that they're near full as often as not.

- the Coast Starlight (aka Starlate) run doesn't take bikes, at least unboxed ones. Avoid for this reason, among others.

thanks again!

poser said...

yes - Jeff is absolutely right. You'll always want to reserve the bike-space ahead of time. I wouldn't say that they're frequently full, but it has definitely happened (especially during the summer, the week after STP, and after the Portland Triathlon).

You can reserve your spot when you buying tickets on - when selecting your tickets from the list of times, there's an orange button on the right side of the screen that says, "View Upgrade Options". If you click that button, it's on the next screen.

Wes said...

Great post! I love traveling by train, but unfortunately VIA Rail in Canada kinda blows... especially when it comes to traveling with a bike.

Posting up a link on my tumblog..

Anonymous said...

Be aware that if your train is canceled for some reason and they substitute a bus, there are no bike racks.

The driver didn't know what to say about my bike and made me load it myself into the cargo compartment, ended up u-locking it to a bar so it wouldn't slide around.

This is after I had called Amtrak and asked them if I needed to box my bike and they told me I could bring it on the bus as-is.

Jannah Delfin said...
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