BICYCLING THE ERIE CANAL
Albany and Return via Amtrak
A couple of blocks before the bridge to Rensselaer, we found the bottom of the pedestrian walkway across the street to the right, and used it to get across the river to the Amtrak station.
We had no trouble navigating the next 5 miles through residential and industrial park areas of Green Island and Watervliet because of the the good map shown here
. This was about the only really useful map I was able to find on the internet. The lack of trees and grass through this area did not help the heat and humidity we experienced.
We did goof trying to find the trail that would take us the last 5 miles into Albany. The map clearly showed the trail on the opposite (river) side of I787. Not only that, Google Maps' street view captured the bike path on the river side of the interstate. Nevertheless, we turned onto a bike path that dead ended at the Schuyler Flats Cultural Park; and we had to turn around. Once we found the right path, we continued through the cooler woods between the river and the interstate.
We arrived at the Albany - Rensselaer station around 3:00 in plenty of time for the scheduled 7:05 departure of the Lake Shore Limited #49. The first thing we did was head for the quicktrak machine to print our tickets.
Amtrak veterans recommend printing tickets as late as possible. Not
only does this prevent you from losing them; but it comes in handy if
you have to take advantage of Amtrak's generous change/cancellation
policy. This requires you to make separate reservation for the return
trip; which is not a problem because there is no price reduction for
round trip reservations.
(e-Ticketing has since made this advice obsolete, except that it is still a good idea to
make separate reservations.)
An Amtrak employee
came up to us almost immediately; and my first thought was he was security checking us out. However, he only wanted to encourage us to take care of packing and checking our bikes as soon as possible. So after handling the paperwork and payment, he took us downstairs on an elevator where he brought out the boxes. Packing took longer than expected because of the handlebar problem mentioned earlier. Lynn's unadjustable, threadless stem was the most difficult.
After leaving the packed boxes, everybody else went back up to the waiting room while I went out on my folder to look for a place to eat. Gary, Lynn, and Paula were only going as far Buffalo, so they were in coach which does not rate free meals in the dining car. The Italian restaurant just across the tracks and a bar and grill a block in the other direction (I had remembered it from 30 years ago) were both closed on Sunday. No one was interested in walking further in the 90+ humidity, so we opted for the rather nice coffee shop in the station. As luck would have it, by the time everyone was ready to eat, the line had grown considerably from almost nothing because the Boston section had arrived; and many of its through passengers got off to take advantage of the coffee shop . The Boston train arrives 45 minutes before the New York section; and once the latter arrives it still takes another 45 minutes before the combined train departs - apparently switching cars has become a combination of brain surgery and rocket science for Amtrak. I settled for a beer since Jeanine and I would be getting diner in the dining car (er .. diner-lite).
The employee who took care of us earlier invited Jeanine with our meager luggage to accompany him when he escorted the handicapped and elderly down to the train before the general boarding. It was nice because I could concentrate on finding a place to stash my folder. The boarding process was a zoo, many passengers getting on and many reboarding. One attendant was telling people to get on a full car, while another was telling them to go down to the next one where there was space. I took advantage of the confusion to sneak onto the nearest coach and put the bike in the luggage rack at the end of the car
After the train departed pretty much on time, Jeanine and I headed to the diner-lite for supper. I ordered the salmon, which was not bad; whereas Jeanine made the mistake of confusing the braised flat iron stew meat for flat iron steak, which had been an Amtrak staple for a number of years. One word describes it - embarrassing. On the other hand, the service was excellent. My standard for service is what you would get at any small town Midwest "spit-n-whittle" cafe. Mary, our waitress, had that NY way about her but still met this exalted standard
After supper I went up to the coach to sit with my sister. Not long after we left Albany, the heat wave gave way to thunderstorms; and while sitting in the coach, I was rained upon from a leak in the roof of the Amfleet II
Gary and Lynn. Who says you can't sleep in coach?
Downtown Albany viewed from the bridge to Rensselaer.
I retired to our roomette shortly before Syracuse and woke up while the train was stopped in Buffalo, but all I could see out the window was woods since we were a long way from the station in the last car, except for the NY baggage car. After starting up again, just as we were about to pass the station I saw Gary, Lynn, and Paula right outside my window. I waved and rapped on the window but they didn't see me. Then we stopped again and I realized the train had double spotted just so they could get their bikes from the baggage car. I then saw them depositing the empty boxes up against the station wall and we took off
I woke up around 7:00 AM at Bryan, in western OH and we were on time. So I was surprised to see that we had been almost an hour late getting to Buffalo. At breakfast we both avoided the scramble eggs and once again, Mary's service was excellent. Noteworthy was the leak in the roof, this time from a Horizon car, that landed on the table right in front of me. Later, we had to go 15 MPH for 50 miles between Waterloo, IN and Elkhart, IN, because of flash flood warnings. Then we got back up to speed and were only about 50 minutes late, just in time to check our stuff at the lounge and meet my cousin, Lou, and his wife Barb coming in on a suburban train.
Apparently the bike tour people also used Amtrak to return to Buffalo.
Lou Mitchels, a traditional Chicago lunch spot near the station. After meeting Helen, another cousin whom I had not seen in 50 years, we relaxed in the Metropolitan Lounge for sleeping car passengers at the station and then walked to Lou Mitchels for lunch.
BEWARE: Lou Mitchels does NOT take credit cards. I had made much of owing Lou and Barb a lunch because they had treated us during several Chicago layovers before. So, not having that much cash this late in the trip, I was in a predicament. I excused myself and went out looking for an ATM machine, but against all odds, could not find a bank. Jeanine came to the rescue when she spotted one in the lobby of the restaurant.
When it came time to board the Illinois Zephyr #383 for the last leg of our trip, we presented the usual spectacle of pushing our bikes to the head of the line when the gate attendant called for senior citizens to come forward. I was pleased to see the experienced conductor/assistant conductor duo back; and they had us put the bikes in the usual space at the end of the car.First Previous Next Last
The train was full and could have used a quiet car, especially with us seated in a car full of returning college students. Not that they were in any way doing anything wrong; they just wanted to get reacquainted with one another; and we were tired and just wanted quiet. We moved twice to quieter locations as passengers got off, messing up the system. The newbie duo we encountered on our Quincy to Chicago trip probably would have chewed out, but our conductor put up with us with a smile. Our journey ended when we arrive in Quincy about 15 minutes early.