I’ve talked a lot about my bicycle and my experiences as a fat person pedaling around my neighborhood. So far I’ve had a pretty genuinely positive reaction, all the way around. I’ve also talked about my experience with car sharing, which I love. I’ve touched on public transit, but I’ll devote more time to that later. Today I want to talk about other ways of getting from city to city.
My Mom spends a lot of time caring for my Grandma, who needs someone with her 24 hours a day at this point. As a result, Mom doesn’t get to go out on her own and do a lot of stuff. So the other day when she called me and asked if I’d be willing to come and spend 3 days with Grandma so that she could spend a weekend with some friends, I immediately agreed. Now getting to my hometown for this would normally involve getting a car from the service and driving down. But having the car for 3 days would be prohibitively expensive for me, not to mention something of a waste since I would be driving there, parking, staying put for 3 days, then driving home. Not worth $215 (3 days, $71/day). So I’ve got to find another way to get there.
Now Mom could drive all the way up here, pick me up, drive me home, then make the trip again to meet her friends in my city. But that’s a LOT of driving. 5 hours per round trip. So what else?
Instead, I’ll be getting a train ticket to take Amtrak from my city to a large town closer to my home town, reducing the round trip to pick me up to 1.5 hours. I’ve taken Amtrak a number of times over the years, and once I figured a few things out it’s been just about the most pleasant way to travel. The first thing I learned is not to book a ticket on the line that runs from LA to Seattle, even though my stops are within that route. That particular train is almost never on time. There’s a shorter line that runs between Eugene, OR and Bellingham, WA that is much more reliable. Plus it runs a couple of times a day as opposed to once a day.
The next thing I learned is to pay the extra for a business class seat. It’s much less crowded, the seats are a bit wider (more comfortable for my wide hips), and you get a coupon to use in the snack bar. For my trip, it’s about $10 extra for the upgrade and I get $3 off snacks. Well worth it. I usually travel down during dinner time, so I just plan to have a leisurely dinner on my trip south. Then on the return trip north it’s a late breakfast or early lunch. As an additional seating tip, provided there aren’t any passengers in wheelchairs, I like to take the “companion” seat next to the wheelchair space. This seat has a lifting arm-rest on one side, making it even more size-friendly. I’m ALWAYS prepared to move if this seat is needed, but it’s my favorite spot on the train.
The more local “Cascades” train I take doesn’t have checked baggage, so anything I’m taking has to fit into the carry on baggage you’re allowed. I’ve never, ever seen Amtrak make a fuss about the size of carry on baggage, at least not in my area. Do keep your ticket and ID in an easily accessible space in your bags. I like to carry a large tote bag in addition to my “overnight” size rolling suitcase. I can then slip my purse into the tote near the top and still have access to everything I need. You CAN take your bicycle with you, there’s usually a small additional fee. I haven’t done this yet as my family lives far outside of town and I typically have use of a car while I’m there.
As far as accessibility goes, my Grandma has taken the train on several long trips, from Oregon as far as Chicago. She far prefers the train over any other way of traveling long distances. My Mom always goes with her and has told me that the staff is always kind, understanding, extremely helpful, and overall fantastic. They’ve never had a poor experience. Grandma uses a manual wheel chair when traveling and can’t manage stairs on her own. Amtrak’s website has a fantastic tool for booking travel if you need assistance, including letting you specify what sort of assistance you might need. And they offer a little bit of a discount to a companion or assistant traveling with you if you need some help when traveling.
My other travel option would be to take either the Greyhound bus (shudder) or a combination of inter-city transit buses (double shudder). For this distance, buses just aren’t a good option for me. I find Greyhound (or the Amtrak thru-way buses, for that matter) to be too cramped for me. The various inter-city bus options available could, in theory, allow me to cobble together a way to get from the Portland area to Albany, OR in a single day. And there are ways to get from Albany to my home town on buses as well, but you couldn’t make the entire trip in one day. I might as well bike the entire distance. And that’s not happening.
So there are other ways of getting where I’m going, but I definitely recognize that as far as inter-city transit goes, our country has a long way to go to make it both car-free friendly and fat-friendly.