Days 11 thru 14 - The Dying Train; Come Early... Stay Late

Denver Travel Blog

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Rafters at Confluence Park "rapids." -Denver, CO

Distance: 483 miles (Train)
Temperature: 105*F
Money Spent: $21.26
Money Earned: $1.25

Marty stayed up late - he usually is in bed by 9 or 10 - and brought me to the AmTrak station in Lincoln by 11:45 pm. We took his doorless Jeep, throwing all my stuff in the back. The taped-up black plastic bag my wheels were put in rippled the whole way, making it difficult for Marty and I to talk. He is a man of few words anyway. Once we were there, he was kind enough to stick around until I was sure I could get all of my gear on the train. I paid just $5 extra for the bike. I was glad the clerk didn't make a fuss about the pedals sticking out the side and the sketchy tape-job on the box itself.

The train was scheduled to leave Lincoln at 12:14 am this morning.

A painting Mark's friend did for him, in reference to his homebrew. -Denver, CO
Marty and Pam warned me the train is always late. Indeed, the clerk notified me that the train wasn't expected to leave the station until 1:40. A pink-haired little girl, no more than six or seven, going with who I assume to be her grandmother to Denver, parts tearfully with her mom. Within five minutes, she is crying. Grandmother tells her to come lay on a blanket she has laid out on a table in the station. "No!" the little girl pouts. She cries more when she learns the train is an hour and a half late. "I never wanted to go with you anyway."

Now the clerk is saying 2:30. The little girl cries some more, then intermittently as she lays across the way from grandmother, who has the empty makeshift bed still set out.
Looking north on Broadway St. -Denver, CO
The pink-haired six-year-old finally gives in and lays down in the more comfortable spot while grandmother strokes her back. Grandma asks the clerk whether there is anything for food open nearby. There is not. I walk over and offer her a couple of my Clif Bars. She is very thankful and tries to give me money, but really this is one of the things cheering me up right now, so I refuse. The food seems to calm both her and the little girl. Five minutes later, grandma walks over and forces $1.25 in coins into my hand. At this point, it would be rude to not take it. "You seriously are saving my life right now. Take it."

Now the clerk is saying 2:45. Meanwhile, a television show featuring short stories of high seas rescues, along with my book of Chekov stories, has entertained me for two hours, until my eyes started to burn.
Looking west through a window in the sky. -Denver, CO
I didn't get much sleep last night, either.

A lady I met at the Lincoln station could not sit still. Like me, this is her first time on the train. She is very anxious, carting her bags in and out and in and out. She asks me: "When do you think the train will arrive?" and: "Which way do you think it will come from?" and: "What are the seats like?" along with several other questions, and, looking in the brochure cover-to-cover: "Those seats don't look big... but I guess it might be the perspective of the picture. You know, that could also be a different train." I remain minimally responsive, but assure her the train will be more comfortable than an airplane. I tell her: "I've heard you can't feel the train starting or stopping, that it's quite smooth. But don't take my word for it."

The train doesn't leave Lincoln until 3 am; two hours and forty-five minutes late. It had run into trouble with the flooding in east Iowa. The train would slow over the wet areas of track, to make sure it wasn't dangerous. The train starts moving shortly after we board. I take my seat and try to sleep, but the sleeper car is kept at about 70* and my triceps are numb. It was foolish not to carry on a blanket or my wool shirt, I'm thinking to myself. Then I remember I have a plastic emergency blanket in one of the panniers I chose to carry on. I go downstairs and crack it open. It's made of plastic number 4, and has survival instructions printed all over it. One side is blaze orange and the other is reflective foil. The thing crinkles loudly every time I move it, and I almost start laughing in my tiredness as I unfold this ridiculous thing over myself, snores going on around me. The gentleman next to me moves a few rows back to an empty row, so I have two seats, now.

I lay in this half-waking state - I have trouble falling asleep in moving vehicles - for three hours, contorting my body into angles that eventually, if you added them together, would sum 360 degrees. But I'm alright. Then the train stops.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is currently 6:30. We are in the middle of Nebraska, and seem to have a problem," we hear from the intercom. "Our engineers, our conductors, have reached the maximum amount of time they may work in one shift by law; 12 hours. We had a new crew driving from Colorado to meet us, to take over and continue the train, but en route they hit a deer. Unfortunately, this means we will have to sit here for two to two and a half hours until that crew can arrive. We should be in Denver sometime around one o'clock this afternoon." Whoever is speaking - it sounds like the clerk from Lincoln - says some things to try and console the groaning passengers. A woman behind me "absolutely cannot believe this," saying, "This is unreal." A 77-year-old woman says to the woman in disbelief: "It's my birthday today and my niece's also. I was going to surprise her at a party early this morning; this was my sibling's gift to her, to bring me out to Denver. Now, I won't even make it to the party at all. Hopefully, there are still some people there by the time I arrive." She sighs, then, "It will be o.k. I will see them." Her name is Mary-Anne. She borrows a cellphone from the woman in disbelief and makes a call to her sister with the news. She doesn't own a cellphone herself. "I don't own any of these gadgets or things." Mary-Anne shares cookie-crackers with the other woman. I drift off, not really all that phased or upset at the predicament for some reason.

Forty-five minutes later, we hear from the intercom that an alternate, local crew has arrived. They can take us a few hours until the relief crew can meet us. I fall asleep.

I wake up and it's light out. We've traveled an hour into the past as we crossed into Mountain Time. We're somewhere near the Nebraska-Colorado border. It's all flat pasture, fences and brown bovine. A last call is made for the breakfast car, so I head through a few cars and put my name last on the list. The breakfast crew was in a fluster because by the time they open the kitchen, on regular days, the train is already in Mountain Time. Today, they had to open an hour earlier than expected because we were still in Central Time by 7 am.

77-year-old Mary-Anne and I make small talk. She's a big reader, so she brightens when I tell her I'm a writer. "I worked hard when I was younger," she says. "Reading used to put me to sleep. But now, after retiring, it doesn't make me tired anymore." Mary-Anne brightens even more when I tell her what I'm doing and where I'm going. I tell her stories and she shares with me a story of the end of a motorcycle trip she took with her husband, now deceased, up to Estes Park. Mary-Anne was a collector of "a particular sort of stone" she saw was on sale at a shop; there was a crystal duck she had her eye on at an Estes Park shop, and planned to return the day they left to buy it. When the last day rolled around, though, she and her husband decided, on account of what the weather looked like, to leave town early. This was 31 July 1976 - this very day 34 years ago - that half of Estes Park was destroyed in a flood. As Mary-Anne and her husband were riding out, ambulances and emergency vehicles were on their way back up. A tide literally followed them down the mountain...

"My philosophy, you see..." I've noticed Mary-Anne looks out the window and smiles for a moment whenever she is about to say something good, something ironic. Her smile fades and she looks back at me, "is that if I really, really want something, but I miss my chance to have it, then I was never meant to have it." I tell her she seems like an optimistic person.

We discuss Colorado. "Boulder used to be just like any other town, a nice place, really," says Mary-Anne. "Then, it became a hippy town. That happens, sometimes. Other people move in and things change." We observe silence and fields passing by. "You will have a good life," she says. "You already know what you want in life."


Rest Day
Distance: 5.9 miles
Money Spent: $24.31

It was in the earliest morning hour I woke up from my nap on red-haired E.'s bed. She, J.G. and I went out to a bar. E. is my host for the night. Her house is near Broadway in Denver. E. wears a tyedie long skirt, India-chain jewelry on her right hand, has a sociable black cat, and a bookshelf stocked with the likes of Neil Gaiman, The Lord of the Rings, Chuck Palahniuk, and PostSecret.

Yesterday, J.G. picked me up at Union Station in downtown Denver. It was 12:30 and all the passengers were waiting for the checked luggage to arrive from the train. We waited a half-hour before someone noticed through a door-window that all our bags have already arrived in a locked back room. None of the staff looked as though they were about to give us the bags, though. I told the man who had once sat next to me on the train, "They just aren't on top of their game. At all." J.G. was waiting, and he needed to move furniture out of his house that day before 1:30, when the carpet cleaners arrive. His lease was to end at midnight. I decide to leave my checked bags at Union until the staff were good and ready to let us have our things back. We go to his house and help a roommate hurriedly move couches and shelves into the back alley. The house is quite large and dirty with a years' worth of living and sweepings under the furniture. We found three socks.

J.G. had run into odds with one of his roommates, K., who was embezzling the water-utility money and wouldn't do his share of the cleaning. One drunken night the disagreement turned physical, with K. and J.G. yelling nose-to-nose. K. tried to throttle J.G. a bit and pushes were exchanged, but it didn't get bad. Then, later, J.G.'s friend C. had set fire to a mattress and headboard behind the house. "Mattresses are the #1 cause of fires in American homes," was his reasoning. Fire protection soon arrived, and most everyone was passed out at this point - except K., who was sober. He later choked C. - allegedly within an inch of his life - and gnawing at his finger. C. pleaded for his life before K. fled, and that was that.

At the bar, J.G., E. and I each start with a beer and a shot of tequila. We talk some about music, etc... I tell J.G. why I stopped writing Cumulous, my music reviews; I reached a point where I was trying to imitate, in writing, what it's like to hear the music. But with the Internet today, anyone can download just about anything for free and listen to it themselves in shorter than the time it would take to read the review. J.G. tells me he never found my reviews accomplished. We order another couple of shots and two beers. This being the first time I've drank in 12 days, the feeling of alcohol is new. We head back to E.'s for Natural Ice (though we weren't drunk) and are asleep by 3:30.

For some bizarre reason, I wake up at 9 and can't go back to sleep. I lounge about, drinking water and begin to reassemble my bike. J.G. has a 13-week-old puppy, Arey, that keeps me company by nibbling on my fingers with her sharp baby teeth.

I arrive Amy and Mark's a little past 6, skirting a thunderstorm. They got back from camping in the mountains today an hour earlier. I'm invited in to the wonderful smell of enchiladas Amy is making from scratch. I help her grate cheese, taking breaks here and there to sip from a bloody mary. When Mark arrives, we sit down to eat, discussing the inadequacies of American rail. Mark makes a point that the United States is, probably, just too massive for a rail system to work that well. At least with the current types of trains and technology we use for passenger trains, anyway.


Rest Day
Distance: 25.3 miles
Money Spent: $0.00

Today I rested. At 4 pm I went for a pannier-less ride (I felt like a rocketship) into downtown Denver and back. I visited Cheesman Park and the Botanical Gardens. When I saw that it cost over $10 to get in the garden, I turned around. I rode through one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city. Then I went further north on the Cherry Creek Trail to Confluence Park, where kids were jumping into the rapids with tubes and a freight train was just arriving. Denver has a nice bike trail system; Cherry Creek is paved all the way through. Downtown, the bike paths converge and spread this way and that; I felt like I was in a beehive of bikers, rollerbladers, and pedestrians.

At dinner, I have some of Mark's homebrew. It's a Scotch Ale; sweet and bold. The freezer has bags of hops waiting in it. I notice a painting that says Mark's Home Brew. He tells me a friend painted it. It says Alaskan made on it, though Mark has never brewed in Alaska (see picture above.) He is leaving for Poland next week to do business.


Rest Day
Distance: 9 miles
Money Spent: $13.33

I hung around Amy & Mark's for the morning, plotting my routes to Boulder and then Estes Park. I pack up and ride back to E.'s. My bicycle's rear cassette - or my rear derailleur, I can't tell which - is making a clicking sound every time the wheel makes a revolution. I conclude it must have sustained minor damage during in the train's storage bay. I take it down to Pearl Street's bike shop, but the gentleman there doesn't appear ready to help me unless I'm a customer. You see, some bike shops will help you with minor stuff; many mechanics are ready to give you verbal advice, if nothing else, because it's cool to be knowledgable about anything, I'm pretty sure. Anyway, I've noticed this about most people, including myself; it is pleasurable to share knowledge with other people.

The man, who seems to be the owner, steps outside and takes a look at my bike. I've told him only about the clicking sound and its frequency. "How old is the bike, how many miles are on it?" the man asks me. My Raleigh Sojourn sits at around 1750 by now. "Chains need to be replaced every thousand miles."

"I lubricate it every two-hundred miles. You need to replace it even if its lubricated often?" I respond.

"Well, in some cases, lubricating the chain that much worsens the problem; it picks up and holds more grime from the road."

"I use a dry lubricant."

"Well, that helps... anyway, you can buy a new chain for $20, and it will be another twenty installed."

I thank the man and leave. The understanding was that he was in businessman-mode. Not mechanicman-mode. There's nothing at all wrong with my chain. It's either the rear cassette or the rear derailleur. I later check, which says about chain replacement:

"You may get anywhere from 2000 miles to 20,000 miles on a bike chain before it needs replacement.  It all depends on how much grit and dirt accumulate on the chain and your style of pedaling."

You can also check whether the chain needs replacing by seeing whether it has stretched. If you place a ruler zero-mark at the center of any pin on the chain and look down the ruler to the one-foot mark. If it lands in the center of another pin, your chain is like new. If it is 1/16th inch off, it's fine. If it's between 1/16th and 1/8th, you should consider replacing the chain within another four- to five-hundred miles. Beyond 1/8th inch off, it's past the time to replace it.

I find myself needing more Clif Bars and some pita bread for traveling days, so I locate a nearby Whole Foods and stock up. While I'm there, I find these 10-for-$10 energy bars that are raw and organic. They have 280 calories, so they seem to be better than Clif Bars. As I'm loading an empty box, counting out ten of them, a guy walks up and asks me whether they are any good.

"I'm about to find out," I say. The guy notices my helmet and clip-in shoes. He looks haughty. Unenthused.

"You using them for biking?" he asks, looking at the ingredients and nutrition facts, like I am. I say yes. "Better watch it, then. These things have a lot of fat." He places one in his basket. "Fat is bad for when you're biking. It slows down your metabolism; your body won't be able to use the carbohydrates, even if the bar has plenty." I say nothing. "Well, good luck with your experiment," he says, walking away.

I just met myself.

As the guy turns the aisle corner, I put my box back on the shelf.

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Rafters at Confluence Park rapids…
Rafters at Confluence Park "rapid…
A painting Marks friend did for h…
A painting Mark's friend did for …
Looking north on Broadway St.
Looking north on Broadway St. -D…
Looking west through a window in t…
Looking west through a window in …
photo by: crystalware