Madison to St. Paul, via Columbus


Today was a full day! I bicycled 26 miles, from my hotel just north of Madison up to the tiny town of Columbus, Wisconsin, and then I boarded the train to St. Paul.

The riding weather was perfect, and the scenery was bucolic and wonderful.

When I arrived in Columbus, what should I see outside the Amtrak station but a lovely little shaded seating area… with a Little Free Library!

I enjoyed the train ride, although it was not without incident. I had a coach seat, and spent about half my time there, and half in the sightseer lounge, enjoying dinner, snacks, and a cocktail, with beautiful late-evening-light views.

But at first, the passenger seated next to me in the coach was an annoyingly drunk and disruptive fellow. He had been trying to light up a cigarette, a few rows back, and I heard the conductor threatening to throw him off the train. After a brief lecture, she seemed to relent, seating him next to me (doh!) and encouraging him to “sleep it off,” even bringing him a couple of bottles of water. (These are normally not distributed for free in coach.) The water didn’t impress him, and he gave it to me while grumbling to no one in particular about how “my brother runs all these trains” and “I should just drive this fucking train myself” and “I can’t believe they tried to kick me off this train!”

Arghhhhh… was I really going to endure five hours of this?

As it turned out, no. At the next stop, shortly after Columbus, three local police officers boarded the train and did indeed help the conductors to escort him off.

While I’m not generally a fan of getting police involved in situations where they are not necessary—and I’ve seen conductors force unruly passengers off trains without law-enforcement backup in the past—I admit I was very pleased to be rid of that seatmate.

When I returned from my trip to the lounge car an hour or two later, though, I was soon joined by another seatmate who was also returning from the lounge. Apparently, when I boarded I had taken his seat; he had initially retreated to the lounge to avoid the obnoxious guy. He didn’t seem to mind taking the aisle seat now, though, and quickly absorbed himself into a movie on his tablet.

But then the young girl one row up across the aisle started throwing up. Oof… I felt bad for her, but I also did not enjoy the proximity of the event to me. Her mother seemed to keep it all under control pretty well, but the event did recur a couple of times before all of us disembarked in St. Paul.

Never a dull moment, I suppose… (and there was another incident today, too, but I’ll save it for tomorrow’s post.)

I still love train travel. This was my first time at the St. Paul depot. I had visited the Twin Cities once before, about a dozen years ago, but that time I flew. (I remember being awed by the extent of the urban canopy as we descended, on Memorial Day weekend.)

Tonight’s hotel is only ten blocks from the station (by my design) and when I arrived… wow! What a difference from the subpar places I usually scrounge at the bottom of the budget bracket wherever I go. This place was one of the least expensive I could find, but it seems so fancy! I wish I could stay here much longer than just the few waking hours I have tonight and tomorrow morning. I’m savoring the lovely soaps, the aesthetic of the room… and the QUIET. (That first Madison place was so noisy, with unruly guests roaming the hall all night long. One guy was literally shouting “ca-caw! ca-caw!” to his friends at about 3:15 am.)

It’s nice to live in luxury from time to time… especially when the price is comparable to many of these bottom-of-the-barrel places elsewhere. (I will never understand the vagaries of hotel pricing.)

Tomorrow, though, I’m excited to meet up with my new hosts, Nathan and Paula and their young daughter. I first met Nate probably 15 years ago or so, when we both attended a 5-day group bicycle tour on the big island of Hawai’i. When I visited Minneapolis—his hometown—a few years later, he gave me the most comprehensive local-tour-guide experience I have ever had the fortune to receive.

Since then, he met and married Paula, moved to Seattle, moved back to Minneapolis, and had their daughter. They are a vegan family, and all so cool, and I’m excited to see them! I’ll also be visiting with a few other friends, old and new, while I’m in the area. I’m looking forward to it all!

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