Monday, March 25, 2019

Let the Adventure Begin

It all started with a coupon. 1+1=Fun! How could I pass that up? Amtrack Cascades was offering a free companion ticket. I got an email at the office with the offer, and of course, I said yes. 
I’m a frugal person. My mother was not a coupon-clipper nor am I, but I learned young to shop sales and compare prices. When the coupon arrived in my campus mailbox, I read it carefully. Another skill my mother taught was to always read the small print. Dad would have said, “Nothing in life is free. You got to work for it.” And I suppose he was right.

The back of the coupon showed a list of the Amtrak stations included in the offer – all the stops between Vancouver, Canada and Eugene, Oregon. At I read the blurb about each town served and realized we could take our bikes for a small fee. That did it. A cycling trip started formulating in my mind before I even told my husband about the coupon. I imagined a late spring or early summer trip in the sun until I read the small print a second time – the ticket had to be purchased and used by April 23rd.

Tom and I have cycled both Vancouver and Portland. We love both cities, but I was looking for something different. I’ve always been curious about cycling from town to town in the Willamette Valley – the land of hops and vineyards. The Willamette Valley Scenic Bikeway seemed the perfect option.

As soon as we settled on an easy two-day ride between Salem and Albany, I downloaded cue sheets and struggled to calculate distances and find a potential halfway point with hotel accommodations that didn’t add too many extra miles each day. We wanted to ride Amtrak from Seattle to either Salem or Albany, cycle between the two, and Amtrak home. But would that be considered one ticket or two? Could I get the coupon offer without purchasing a simple round-trip ticket?

After hours trying to book online, I gave up. The website simply would not accept the coupon code. That’s when I headed to King Street Station downtown. I felt vindicated when the Amtrak representative couldn’t figure it out either. He gave me a direct line to customer service, a number to bypass Julie, the AI representative I'd already experienced.

The following morning, coffee cup in hand, laptop alert, I made the call. Forty five minutes later I learned that the coupon was only eligible on specific trains at limited times – information not included in the small print.

Once I knew which trains were available and how to book a multi-stop ticket online, I started searching for hotels, my dad’s words echoing in my head: “Nothing in life is free. You got to work for it.” Five or six hours later, I had two hotels and Amtrak reservations booked. I’ll admit I’m lousy at trip planning. I think I need more practice.

Still, this short bike adventure feels more challenging than other trips. We’ll be on bikes for three days with no support vehicle. We won’t be camping, so we don’t have to carry gear, but clothing, water, bike tools and tire replacements, first aid kit, and food, at least lunches and high-energy snacks, are all necessary. And how to plan for early spring weather? Cold mornings and evenings, warm afternoons, possible rain?

Tom is a backpacker. He knows the value of counting ounces and packing light. He’s also never been much of a clothes guy. But for the past few days he’s been busy worrying about packing the right combination of biking clothes, while I’ve been busy worrying about our physical fitness, and calculating and recalculating our daily mileage. As Tom adds to his panniers, I subtract in a feeble attempt to keep our loads light and leave space for picnics and wine bottles.

As our Thursday departure approaches and the butterflies in my gut keep me awake at night, I remind myself that if we misread the cue sheet and get lost, it won’t be the end of the world. We have cell phones and credit cards … let the adventure begin!


Pamela said...

Wonderful. I kept wondering when you were going to return us to your father's saying... Enjoy! Looking forward to the report.

arleen said...

Thanks, Pamela! I hope the report is all positive ... fingers crossed!