Bike, Light Rail, Train – Just Like Old Times

The kids, dog, and I took transit for the first time in over a year today! And the train for the second time. Before the pandemic we used to take the bus and/or light rail to Union Station and ride Amtrak up to Seattle once a month so the kids could visit their dad for the weekend, but nothing is regular right now. Our last train trip was in November and to get to the station we biked the entire eight miles from home. I knew that would be too hard this morning given our slow adjustment to daylight saving time, the fact that the kids have barely been biking lately, and the cold temperature. We haven’t been using transit, but not because it’s unsafe–it is safe to ride transit right now–it’s just that we don’t go anywhere. The bus that runs right by our house doesn’t operate early on weekends so we did the next best thing and biked to the light rail. We got up at 6:00 a.m., left home at 6:30 a.m., and biked 2.5 miles to the orange line which took us right to the train station with plenty of time to walk the dog and lock up the bike for our 8:20 a.m. train.

We only took two bikes–I carried my 11-year old on my Big Dummy and my 13-year old rode my mountain bike. Here’s the awesome part about sharing a bike with a kid: I locked the Big Dummy up with every lock we own (that’s my standard train station behavior) and took the mountain bike along to use for myself! The Big Dummy isn’t allowed on Amtrak (well technically it would be allowed boxed into two different boxes since it weighs more than 50 pounds and is too long to go as a roll-on bike), but I needed the cargo bike both to get the 11-year old to the train station and to get the 13-year old’s bike back from the train station at the end of the day. I should point out that cargo bikes aren’t supposed to go on the light rail so this was not a foolproof plan, but the MAX was very empty so I wasn’t in anyone’s way and we didn’t encounter the transit police (who sometimes but not always kick off cargo bike moms from what I’ve heard). And now I know my long bike fits in the Bybee MAX Station elevator without having to tipped it up vertical.

Rather than travel all the way to Seattle, today we only went halfway–to Olympia–which was the closest station to the kids’ spring break destination with their dad. This worked out great for me, because with five hours to kill before my train home I was able to bike seven miles to a friend’s new house for outdoor hangs in a covered carport. The skies were dry for the Portland portion of our trip and at the beginning of my Oly ride, but I was soon greeted with that typical Seattle (and apparently Olympia, too) very light, but very dense mist-that’s-not-quite-drizzle that slowly but surely seeps into everything, soaking you completely.

I didn’t get to see too much of Olympia, but I really liked going through two roundabouts with incoming bike lanes that seamlessly fed up to a widened sidewalk to prevent conflicts with drivers, taking two miles of the Chehalis Western Trail, and cutting through a park and finding some singletrack. It would have been nicer without rain, but it was still a beautiful woodsy day.

The beautiful day lasted a little longer than expected when my train was an hour and a half late to arrive. But at least the morning train was on time for the kids and me. And this was still better than last time when my train home from the Seattle drop off broke at Centralia and after a two-hour sit hoping for a replacement engine we were put on a bus. A bit into this evening’s journey the conductor clued us newcomers in that the train had a mechanical problem after leaving Seattle so they had to turn back to get a new trainset and that’s why they were late. Wow, sounds familiar! But the new train chugged along just fine and my Big Dummy was still at the rack when we eventually arrived (I’m always worried it won’t be! It’s never fun to leave a bike at a train station…or anywhere).

Pixie was a trouper, as always, and was great company for the 10-hour day. Leaving home at 6:30 a.m. to get back at 8:30 p.m. makes for a long day of travel, but journeys like this always make me think back to meeting the Pleasant Revolution and how they challenge the idea of inconvenience in transportation. Of course they speak of touring with big cargo bikes and heavy instruments and equipment, not getting up early to sit on a comfortable train, but I think there’s a bit of a parallel in terms of eschewing just taking a car.

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