Life On The Train
The difference in the long haul train experience for the folks who splash out for the deluxe accommodation in a sleeping car is quite different from that of the seat sleeper. If you are traveling with a companion and can afford it, the sleeping car is the way to go. If one is traveling alone, the sleeping car is very expensive because it accommodates two persons, and you are paying for that even if you are alone. As I have always done these trips alone, I just cannot justify added whopping fare increase for the sleeping car.
There is a dining car that serves a sit-down dinner, but I have never felt it necessary to go that way, and I am not sure why. The so-called “ snack” area is located on the lower level of the observation car fills the bill for me. They carry microwave burgers and hot dogs and sandwiches, as well as beer, wine, soft drinks, and coffee.
The long haul trains seldom stop long enough to get supplies, so make sure you pack EVERYTHING you might need, especially hygiene items including hand sanitizer. A gallon or two of water is a money saver because a small bottle of water on the train is $2.25 at the time of this writing. I think the biggest bang for the buck food-wise is the cheeseburger.
If you are not going with the sleeping car, I advise a sleeping bag; a lightweight down bag if you have one. They really provide comfort for sleeping in the seat and hardcore riders are known to stake out real estate in the observation car floor, between the seats and the windows. This is way better than trying to sleep in a single seat with a snoring stranger beside you.
The sky really is bigger in “Big Sky” country because the horizon is so distant, and this means long stretches wide-open land. It is not boring; it is hypnotic. I have held some of these shots of the Northern Great Plains for a long while because that is the reality of Montana. It is not a quick-cut world, but rather but a long distance world. As the hours glide by, the shape and color of the terrain subtly morphs. As we ease into North Dakota, the landscape seems to lean more toward green and the plots of land are more defined. As with any location, the hour before sunset brings out more nuanced shades and a gold tint to every thing as it flies by.
A trip like this is not easy and not always comfortable, but happily, time burnishes the upside. If you ride the Empire Builder, you are sure to stockpile some life enriching memories.