The Buffalo Intensive that I’m attending in April is in Twisp, WA, the heart of the Meathow Valley. Katie Russell, aka Wilderbabe, who is hosting the Buffalo Intensive, told me Twisp is one of the hardest places to get to in the lower 48. She wasn’t kidding!
Since I’ll be primitive camping for almost a month, my first thought was to drive it. We have a 1988 Coleman pop-up camper (lovingly dubbed “the hipster hideaway”), and that would make for a decent bed and even a table to write at every evening by the Coleman lantern. But then I mapped it. 2,341 miles, or roughly 34 hours. Three or four days of driving alone might be nice, but I also might be so tired by the time I get there that it takes a couple of days to recover. And I’ve got hides to work! So, I ruled out driving pretty much immediately.
The next obvious thing is to fly, and just expect to pay the extra baggage fee to get my gear there. I couldn’t find a flight directly to the Twisp airport, but I found I could fly to Seattle and charter a flight to Twisp. Besides the cost, which was a little out of my range, the pilot told me that it was a plane that carries only up to 600 lbs. Tiny planes are right up there with swinging bridges in the top things that terrify Frankie. I got so sick from fear and the turbulence on the 19-seat plane that I took from Ft. Lauderdale to Key West that I swore I’d never fly on something that small again. And this one would be smaller. So, chartering a plane was out.
For just a couple hundred more than the round-trip from Cincinnati to Seattle, I could fly to Wenatchee, which is a 2-hour drive or so from Twisp. Katie offered for someone to come and pick me up from the airport, so that was a definitely possibility. It’s easy, but turned out to be a more expensive option than flying to Seattle and renting a car for a month. Really.
Greyhound couldn’t get me anywhere close, though I was hardly excited about spending 3 days on a bus again. I did that 20 years ago with a one-way ticket to Los Angeles. But that’s a story for another time.
While I was thinking things through, it suddenly occurred to me that I hadn’t considered something that I’d always wanted to do–ride across Montana on Amtrak’s Empire Builder line. Besides the ability to kick back and watch the beauty of Montana rolling by the window, I’ve always wanted to do this ride because of an old family story about by great-grandfather Silas Stegall, nicknamed Boone because he was a “wild man.” I wrote about this in an essay published in Nantahala Review (which I’ll post later, since the journal’s web site is no longer functional). Long story short, he threw a guy off the train in Montana because he disturbed Boone’s nap.
So I started looking into the train route. Getting from Cincinnati out to Twisp seemed pretty straightforward. I could take the train to Spokane and bus it to Okanogan or Omak, which are both less than an hour from Twisp. Or I could take the train to Wenatchee and bus/get a ride. Easy enough, right?
But I couldn’t get back home. No matter how I did the route planning on Amtrak’s site, there seemed to be nothing at all that would get me back east. There’s no way trains and buses can go only west, but that’s the way it seemed. It turned out to be something simple, but would create a wrinkle in the travel plans: I’d have to lay over for a full day in Chicago on the way back, and their site doesn’t let you schedule on round-trips if there’s a major layover. They explained this to me when I called.
So, it looks like I can take a train from Cincinnati, stop in Chicago, and take the Empire Builder all the way to Wenatchee. On the way back, though, I can get to Chicago, then fly one way direct to Louisville–which is surprisingly only a $72 flight. Getting to the airport from Union Station is an hour train ride on the local metro, maybe a little less (but more expensive) if I cab it. Because of the train arrival time, this option puts me in the airport almost overnight. Ok, no problem, done that before.
The cheapest option, strangely enough, is to book a round-trip flight from Louisville to Chicago on either end of the trip, then take the train from Chicago to Wenatchee and back. There are very long layovers involved in every step, but again, this is very doable. It’s probably my favorite option because there are three days to write on either end of the trip. But the downside is that I will have just one day to rest and re-acclimate to being home before I go back to the reality of work after being away for almost a month.
Just a few dollars more and I can take the train from Cincinnati to Wenatchee and then fly back to Louisville from Wenatchee. The benefit of this option is that I’ll have three days at home before I return to the world of work. I’m not sure whether that is a trade-off I should take for the extra writing time on the train.
No matter what I choose to do as I book it this week, the journey is going to take planes, trains, and automobiles. 🙂