This one starts out as more of a travelogue than an erotic story, but if you are patient the 'good' parts will come. It's just that, as I hope you will come to realize, most readers will need some scene setting for the action that follows.
Vacation, when the kids were little, always meant camping in the mountains. Camping for us meant driving far enough away from civilization that we had at least one hundred yards in every direction with no one else around. It meant sleeping bags, with a tent for Mom and Dad, but the two kids out under the stars. It meant collecting downed wood for an evening campfire, and hot cocoa in the morning to help us warm up. It meant hikes, relaxing by a stream, and listening to all the quiet sounds you never hear in the city; sounds of water, and wind, and animals and birds.
When the kids got older they became very involved with their friends, their part-time jobs, and their high school related activities. For a few years, there, we really didn't take any vacations. Then, four years ago, our daughter got married. Our son tied the knot two years ago, and we suddenly had an empty nest. Marsha and I looked at each other and had that devastating realization that comes some time in your late forties, the realization that our life was probably at least half over.
Last year we knew it was time to take a vacation again, just the two of us, and we decided to do something totally different -- we went on a cruise. Well, it was different, all right, and sort of interesting as a one-time thing, but we knew it wasn't really us. We both grew up in Colorado, and had raised our kids in Colorado Springs, right up against the Rockies. We were mountain people, not ocean people.
This year, clear back in January, we started thinking about our vacation for the year. We were determined that it would have something to do with the mountains, and yet, we agreed, it would not be camping this time. The ground seemed to have gotten much less comfortable to sleep on than it used to be; the thought of isolation with no kids around seemed spooky, somehow; a tent would be cramped and smelly and not very private; cooking over a tiny gasoline stove on a chilly morning no longer sounded like fun. Yes, we were getting old.
It was Marsha who came up with the winning suggestion. "Ron, have you ever been to Yosemite?"
"No, but I've wanted to go there. Have you ever seen it?"
"No, I haven't either. Why don't we go there this year?"
If you draw a straight line from our house to Yosemite it's about 800 miles. There are many very high mountains along that line, and the few roads in the area aren't the sort you'd want to drive on for 900 miles, so flying appeared to be the obvious way to get there. On the other hand, neither of us have ever liked flying, and the conditions seem to get worse every year, with long lines for security checkpoints, cramped seats, few meals, and no movies. Once we realized there were no major airports anywhere close to Yosemite, we ruled out flying.
That left driving, and I started planning the trip. The best I could come up with on decent roads was a 2600 mile round trip, which Google told me would mean 45 hours on the road. I knew we wouldn't want to drive all day, so I spread the trip out over four days each way. Marsha groaned when I showed her my plans, and we almost abandoned the idea right then.
The news got worse as winter started to give way to spring. This was the year that oil first went over $100 per barrel, and gas prices were shooting up at an unbelievable rate. We were hearing predictions that it was likely to cost $4 per gallon by summer, probably even more in California. With our car that would mean five or six hundred dollars for gas alone, not to mention wear and tear, and the eight days on the road eating in restaurants and sleeping in motels. On top of that we'd have some hefty expenses in Yosemite once we got there.
That would stretch our budget to, or perhaps beyond, the breaking point, and we reluctantly decided we would have to give up on our Yosemite dream.
We were moaning to one of our friends about this, when he said, "Have you thought about taking the train?"
The train? What does he think this is, 1900? Do they even have passenger trains any more?
Our friend assured us that they did, that they were very comfortable, and surprisingly cheap. He told us he had ridden one, and really enjoyed it.
A little time on the internet convinced me that he was right on the price, but there did seem to be some problems. They didn't run very frequently, so we wouldn't have any choice about what time of day we went. They didn't run very fast, so we would have to be on the train overnight. And they didn't always run on schedule, so we would have to live with possible delays.
We would be able to get to Yosemite, but only by transferring to a second train in Sacramento, and later to a bus. Transferring didn't appeal to me, given what I'd read about the trains sometimes being hours behind schedule. Perhaps worst of all, there wouldn't be any rental cars available once we got into the park.
"It looks like we'd be better off flying than taking the train," I grumbled to Marsha.
She had been looking over my shoulder for part of my research, and disagreed with me. "But, Ron, didn't you notice the picture of the seats on the Amtrak web site? You'd have to fly first class to get a seat like that on a plane. And how about the meals? They have a dining car with real tablecloths and plates, not TV dinners on a tiny shelf at your seat. And you're free to walk around anywhere, any time. No seat belts! They even have an observation car."
"Sounds to me like you're sold."
She nodded. "You know what else? We wouldn't have to take the train all the way. We could rent a car in Sacramento and drive from there. That way we wouldn't have any transfers."
"But what about having to sleep in the seat?"
"We've slept on the plane before; it wouldn't be too bad. Besides, didn't they say they also had sleeping rooms?"
"Yes," I snorted, "but those have got to be just for rich people."
Marsha chuckled. "I don't think many rich people ride on trains. Why don't you at least see how much it would cost."
OK, back to the web site to get a quote. I couldn't believe the answer. Round trip Denver to Sacramento with what they called a 'roomette' would only cost $1200 for the two of us, and the kicker was that all meals were included. The drive from Sacramento to Yosemite didn't look all that far, and that would give us the car we thought we needed. We'd have the cost of that car even if we flew, and we'd probably have to drive all the way from San Francisco.
Compare that to gas, food, and motels for eight days if we drove, or the discomforts and costs of flying, and it looked like a real bargain. Sign me up!
So it was that on a bright June afternoon we made the short trip up to Denver, the back of the car filled with suitcases containing everything that we would need for the next ten days. Marsha's brother lived in Denver, and we stayed overnight with him, then he drove us to the train station early in the morning.
I had some real misgivings when we pulled up at the station. It was a relic from the 19th century -- I felt as if there should be horses and buggies out front, not cars. The place was huge, both inside and out. We walked into a cavernous hall with an impossibly high ceiling and a giant mural on the wall. On the floor were rows of old-fashioned straight-backed wood benches, rather like church pews, but in pairs facing each other. In place of airport ticket counters we saw ancient teller windows with ancient men issuing tickets.
I'll have to admit, though, that there was another way of looking at that picture. There were no rope-constrained baffles with long lines of people snaking through them; no metal detectors to pass through; no uniformed agents screening carry-on luggage; no signs saying 'passengers only beyond this point, ' 'no entry, ' or 'remove your shoes.' We were free to wander wherever we pleased, even out onto the tracks. Out there we were met by a sharply dressed black porter who courteously answered our questions and showed us where to stand for best access to the sleeper cars. We had truly fallen through a time warp into a different world.
The train itself, once it arrived, was sleek and shiny. The appointments were as plush as the web pictures had made them appear, apart from narrow aisles and a claustrophobic twisting staircase leading to the upper level. Our roomette on the upper level was mostly filled by two super wide reclining seats facing each other with a fold-down table and adequate foot room between. It had a very solid sliding door with a large glass window and a curtain for privacy. Two more large windows gave us a panoramic view of the scenery outside -- no little portholes here.
It wasn't nirvana, though. There were the toilets, which were down the hall and just as cramped as the ones you find on airplanes, and the 'closet' which was wide enough for two garments if you slipped them in very carefully. More significantly, no one told us about the swaying train, exaggerated on the upper level, and the 'drunken sailor walk' the swaying caused as we tried to make our way from place to place.
.... There is more of this story ...