The Therapy Journals of the Fat-Headed Klingon Woman

One woman's journey to becoming Her True Self

Come On, Ride This Train! (My Day On the Alaska Railroad) August 10, 2015

Hello, all!  Well, it is another day off today, and it is raining and cool, conditions which have not stopped me from getting out and having adventures on other days off, but which today I think I will avoid by staying in and writing about my last day off. Or…the one before that.  I’ve sort of lost track at this point.  Anyway, the adventure I will be sharing today is that of riding the Hurricane Turn Train.  This is a train that travels through the valley along the Susitna (I think) river and stops at Hurricane Gulch and then comes back.  It takes about six or seven hours, but it can be a fun day.

*

I had been really antsy about wanting to ride the train since I first got here and most of the employees were gone on a train trip up to Denali Princess Lodge to be guinea pigs for the Denali employees to have a dry run at their service before they opened for guests. Since my mini-vacation plans for going to Denali fell through a while back, I finally gave up and decided that at least I could take a train ride out across the valley and back, even if it wasn’t the fancy, pretty train, and make a day of it and maybe even see some animals.  The train had an upper level observation deck that offered really great views, but I am getting ahead of myself.

*

On this day, I was lucky enough that I was able to catch a ride to Talkeetna on a shuttle bus that almost didn’t go. Shuttles leave the lodge every hour, and sometimes there are no guests wanting to go at that time, and if that is the case, any employees who happened to need to go on that bus are … well, a little out of luck.  They have to wait an hour to see if any guests will want to go on the next bus.  So on this day, the bus I needed to catch turned out to be empty, but it was scheduled to be the next bus coming back from Talkeetna in an hour and a half.  So I rode to Talkeetna on an empty bus, and the driver, Polly, and I had a nice chat.  It was probably the most enjoyable shuttle ride I have taken, unless I had a friend with me.

*

So Polly was able to drop me off at the Alaska Railroad depot in TKA and I went in and bought my ticket.  I was about an hour early, because I had been told by co-workers who had done this trip that it took a while for them to process the ticket.  (It didn’t seem to take all that long to me, but it wasn’t a very busy day.)  I got my ticket and then had time to kill, which was a good thing, because I had to find something for lunch.  On the other trains that go to Fairbanks and Anchorage and Whittier, they have dining service, and rather nice service at that.  For this train, you have to eat beforehand or bring something onboard with you.  They offered snacks for purchase and free water and coffee, but that was all.

*

So I took a short walk to town and came across a little restaurant I had heard about called Latitude 62.  My friends had eaten here and enjoyed it, so I thought I would give it a try.  Also it was closest to the depot and I didnt want to risk missing my train.  It was part of a small lodge, and was very quaint and “country” and reminded me of some place that might be found in my dad’s hometown of Shamrock, TX.  They were playing really great old classic country on the radio, songs I hadn’t heard in years.

I ordered a French dip sandwich that was very good, with cole slaw on the side.  I had been trying to eat healthier for a while, and that sandwich made for an awesome cheat!  I also ordered a dessert to go, because the train ride was going to be an all day thing and I knew i would want something.  (At that time i didn’t yet know about the snacks onboard.)

Soooo good!

Soooo good!

*

Finally it was time to head back and get ready to board.  After a restroom stop, I took my little dessert box and walked back to the depot, about a five-minute walk, and made a quick trip to the souvenir penny press.  I had spotted that in the depot earlier and I wanted to make a couple of pressed pennies for my kiddos.  (As a side note, the newer pennies with the shield on the back will not work in those presses.  Whatever metal they have in them just breaks instead of pressing out.  I didn’t have to learn this the hard way, thankfully.  There was a warning note on the machine not to use them.)

*

After that I went to the boarding area, a little covered pavillion beside the tracks.  A small crowd was already gathering and the conductor was already giving his little talk.  There were only about 20 or 25 passengers total.  Many days, the train is almost full.  Another interesting note about this train- it is the only “flag stop” train left in North America.  You can stand along the tracks, wave a cloth or your arm or whatever, and they will stop and let you on.  For many of the people who live out in the woods, the train is the only way they can get to town and back.  Their homesteads aren’t accessible by road, but only by boating down the river, snow-machining down the frozen river in winter, flying in by small plane, or catching the train.

*

Finally we boarded and the train pulled out.  It was a bit of a drizzly day, but it seemed a perfect day for a quiet ride on a train gazing out at the incredible vast, green country passing by.  My seat was facing backward, and as we began to move, if I could have shut out the voices of my fellow passengers and their crying babies, I could have almost imagined I was in a time machine, speeding backward through time.

*

We saw places I had heard a bit about and was vaguely familiar with, like the old railroad ghost town of Curry.  Curry was once home to the fanciest hotel in the area, but changes in the railroad caused it to die out a little.  It could have survived as a tourist spot until the hotel caught fire and burned to the ground.  Now there is nothing there but some rusted relics and the memories of a few railroad men.

*

As we continued on, we saw many more places and things.  No animals, unfortunately, although the engineer of the train saw several that he tried to let the conductor know about in time to point them out to us.  We were able to see a small family of Trumpeter swans, just barely sticking their heads out of the weeds.  But mostly there were beautiful views.  We stopped a couple of times so people could look out the open sides of the baggage car and down into the ravines where the king salmon were spawning in the river. I had hoped to get to see that, because it was so late in the season, and they were almost all gone.

*

At one point the train was stopped and we could actually get off the train and walk around.  We were very close to a stream (or maybe it was part of the river) there and I was pretty sure I saw a few more salmon spawning.  Although it was an intimidating descent, we were able to get closer to the water by climbing down the river bank.  It was incredibly beautiful.

*

Just before boarding the train again, I took a couple of close-up pictures of the plants.  My favorite, the beautiful fireweed, and some little mossy lichen-ish plants.  Then as the train continued back toward town, we stopped at a tiny place called Sherman, Alaska, which was really no more than a point on the railroad, but which has been the homestead of a family named Lovell for many years.  Mary Lovell, the mother of that family, wrote several books about their experiences as homesteaders, beginning in the early sixties.  She boards the train every so often and rides to town and back, visiting with passengers and selling her books.  I was privileged to meet this amazing woman and also bought one of her books, Journey to a Dream.  I plan to buy the other too, Suddenly It’s Spring, before I leave here.

*

Finally the train returned to Talkeetna, and I had just missed the 7:30 shuttle back to the lodge, so I had to wait for the 9:00, and find something for supper.  I debated and hesitated before finally deciding on the Kahiltna Bistro.  I chose a table off by myself out on the deck, and even though the sun was going down, I wasn’t bothered by mosquitos, as I was worried I would be.  I was tickled that I got the yellow napkin roll out of several different colors the waitress had in her hand.  (I know, it’s the little things.  I am easily amused- what can I say?)  I ordered the Seafood Mac and Cheese, which had scallops and shrimp and some other kind of fish in it, garnished with some little purple herb that I asked what was, but never got an answer.  It was tasty though.  I sat there and dived into my new book and enjoyed myself until time to go catch the shuttle back to the lodge.

*

All in all it was a very peaceful and pleasant day off.  As always when I am away from the lodge, when I saw all the houses and cabins off in the woods, the part of me that wishes I could stay here was awakened again.  I know I can’t right now, but this is just a wonderful, incredibly beautiful place, and I will do my best to live here for good someday.

*

Until next time,

D.

PS- There was a family with some teenagers on the train and they had bought pizza from the Mile High Pizza Pie place before getting on the train.  During one of the stops I noticed one of them had scribbled something on the pizza box sitting on the table, and on closer inspection I realized it was a song lyric that I have always liked, that kind of sums up this whole summer pretty well.  I snapped a picture of it to remember the moment.

It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right- I hope you have the time of your life.

It’s something unpredictable, but in the end it’s right- I hope you have the time of your life.

 

2 Responses to “Come On, Ride This Train! (My Day On the Alaska Railroad)”

  1. debbie rose Says:

    that sounds so nice. I am glad you are enjoying your time there.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s