Your bike can tag along on a cross-country Amtrak train for as little as $10. Last month, our contributor caught the California Zephyr heading west from Omaha toward singletrack in the Rocky Mountains beyond.
Multi-modal travel is overlooked in the U.S., but it is a great way to see the country and a stress-free method of getting to the mountains. Last month, I drove with my girlfriend from Minneapolis to Omaha, boarded the California Zephyr Amtrak line to Grand Junction, Colo., and was soon gearing up at the singletrack trails of Fruita rested and ready to ride.
We had a simple goal: Ride some sweet Colorado singletrack and avoid the hassle and exorbitant fees of airline travel.
Plane Vs. Train
Aside from the claustrophobic feeling of being herded like cattle in the airport stockyard, flying with a bike has become an expensive endeavor. Most airlines now charge upwards of $100 each way, not to mention the worry of some ham-fisted baggage handler tossing your steed onto a pile of Samsonites.
The fee for bringing your bike on the train? $10, though it must be boxed. At the Omaha station, we purchased two cardboard boxes provided by Amtrak for $15 each.
Longer and wider than a traditional bike box, simply remove pedals, turn bars sideways, and roll in bike. No wheel removal is needed.
When our modern wheelbases proved slightly too long, Roger the baggage handler assured us that a little extra packing tape would take care of it and got our bike boxes aboard. Once at our destination, the station stored our boxes at no charge for our return trip. It couldn’t be easier.
Train To Trail Adventure
The travel time is much longer on a train, but we sought a laid-back vibe. When on holiday, who wants to be in such a hurry anyway?
Departing Omaha at 11 p.m., we settled in for the 17-hour journey and slept through the staid, flat topography of western Nebraska in our “roomette” sleeper. The private berth accommodates two adults, and it converts from bunk beds to regular seating in the daytime.
We awoke to the rugged Rocky Mountains of Colorado outside our big picture window. While the roomette does add to the overall fare – in our case nearly doubling it to $450 from $230 – the privacy, convenience, and included meals made up for the cost. Much like airline travel, booking earlier is generally cheaper.
On the Amtrak dining car you sit with whomever is available in a community dining setting. It’s a beautiful thing that encourages interaction with fellow travelers.
Unlike on a plane, where the constant hustle rarely affords the opportunity to meet your neighbor, on the train you can make acquaintances. Chances are we’re all on different trajectories to distant destinations, so why not sit down for lunch and some mac-n-cheese from the kid’s menu with other intrepid travelers.
I met folks like Ken and Connie, a sweet “young” couple from Florida on their way home from a trip to California. They celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary and saw the “Chandelier Tree,” a 276-foot-high redwood you can drive a car through.
Decades ago, Connie saw a picture of the tree in her 3rd grade geography textbook and vowed to visit it one day. Ken, retired from the Postal Service, told us stories of delivering mail via bicycle in St. Petersburg, Florida. One day a three-legged dog bit him. In the next day’s newspaper was a full-page spread on the very same dog and how good he was with the kids in the community.
We passed a two-hour delay at the Moffat Tunnel with other passengers. Our conductor alerted us that sensors showed something was in the 6.2-mile passage. “Could be elk, bear, or human.” Turned out to be an electrical malfunction, but with an observation car complete with Bloody Marys and a Rocky Mountain backdrop, we weren’t complaining.
Arrival: Bike Boxes Stored, Ready To Rip
In Grand Junction, we stowed bike boxes for the return trip. A friend picked us up at the station and took us to dinner. Fruita is only six miles away, so we easily could ride there if desired.
Two days of world class sun-soaked singletrack awaited. The stoke was real.
Saturday we shuttled to the top of the Sarlacc Trail, a 10+ mile bomber in the Little Book Cliffs to the north of town. Some double-track and singletrack climbing over kitty litter scree with expansive views of the Grand Valley below got our legs tuned for the flowy, fast descending ahead.
I had one high-speed get-off on a loose, fast corner, but otherwise remained unscathed.
We stopped often to regroup as our crew of six bikers rode at varying speeds, before blasting down the Frontside Trail and Western Zippity Trail and meeting our ride back to town. Another dinner followed by a soak in our host’s hot tub had us ready for bed, and ready for more rad riding.
Sunday we went to the opposite side of the valley to ride some of the Kokopelli Trail west of Fruita. Right off the bat we were climbing Troy Built, a rocky, technical trail that demands precision lines and staying focused on the task at hand (but affords astonishing views of the Colorado River, as well).
Basking in the glow of the Colorado sun, we finished with the aptly named Moore Fun Trail back to the trailhead where cold “energy drinks” awaited us, and our Midwestern legs were not disappointed.
48 hours is never enough time to taste all of these delicious trails, and if you go, Over the Edge Sports in Fruita is ground zero. Pick up a Fruita-Grand Junction Fat Tire Guidebook, and consider a ride on the Amtrak. Getting there will be half the fun.
–See more on Amtrak’s bike policy and routes to access trails around the United States.