Korea Arrival

I arrived on Thursday, June 17th, to Osan. Osan hosts a major air base and is about an hour south of Seoul. It was a fairly straight forward process of working through Korean customs, despite the long line. I grabbed my bags and was directed to a bus. We were transported up to Yongsan, the hub of US military presence in South Korea and located in Seoul. After some initial inprocessing I headed over to the Dragon Hill Lodge. The Dragon Hill is a really nice resort/hotel run by the US military, similar to ones located in Hawaii and Germany.

I was able to do a load of laundry, buy a towel (I’d forgot to pack one!), check email, and do a webcam Skype call back home. I tried staying up until 9pm, with the time change really working it’s evil. I woke up around 3am, ready to go… but with nowhere to go. The gym opened at 4:30am, which allowed me to get in a workout. Friday’s inprocessing was to be conducted in civilian attire – unusual but I wasn’t complaining. Like most inprocessing, it dragged quite a bit. Those of us leaving Yongsan and heading up to 2nd Infantry Division-land were herded onto a bus and transported up to Camp Stanley, less than an hour north of Seoul. Driving through Seoul is a reminder of the duality of Korea. Seoul is a super modern city with everything you could think of. But it doesn’t take too far of a trip until you reach areas that could easily be considered third world.

Camp Stanley is a small installation, maybe half mile by half mile square. It serves as the inprocessing location for all 2ID soldiers. Here our records our updated, equipment is issued, and everything is done to prepare a recently arrived soldier to be integrated into his unit, ready to get to work. However, it is a Monday through Friday schedule. Upon our arrival we received a general briefing covering the Do’s and Don’ts, issued rooms and bed linen (no towel – but I had bought mine earlier), and we settled in for the weekend. Restricted to the camp while we inprocess, there are all the basics amenities located within short walking distance: Post Exchange (PX – like a small department store), Commissary (the military’s grocery store which stocks just about everything you could get stateside), a food court, community activities center (like a rec center; pool tables, TV, video games, and free wifi), gym, and library (also with free wifi).

I’ve considered pulling my FT-817 out to see what I can hear, but think I will wait until I arrive at my final destination, which should be sometime next week.

The California Zephyr

I woke up early with the dual intent of getting to the shower before there was a line and catching the sunrise. Both were accomplished. The shower on the lower level was compact, but reasonably easy to use. Towels were provided. I was in and out fairly quickly and there didn’t appear to be anyone waiting on me to finish up. Unfortunately the sleeper car attendants had not yet begun to brew the coffee, so I made my way to the observation car without the aid of my morning caffeine.

The was starting to make its way up in the east as the sky began to color. There were already a few people in the observation car, a few I think from coach they may have spent the night there in an attempt to get some more room to stretch out. An older couple sat down next to me. They were on there way to San Diego, California to see their grandson graduate from Marine Corps boot camp. One thing I learned quickly is that train travel provided ample opportunity to meet and talk with others. Breakfast was served starting at 6:30am. The food was great and the company even better. I was seated with a couple from Roanoke, VA and an elderly lady from Front Royal, VA. Having formerly lived in Virginia for a few years, there was plenty to talk about. The ladies husband had served in the Air Force and she had lived various places around the country but now lived back near where she grew up. We had a long stop in Denver (the station is next to Coors Field) which allowed everyone to stretch their legs. Reading some of the tips on traveling on the California Zephyr, I knew after the break in Denver, I needed to get a prime seat in the observation car for our trip up into the Rockies.

I sat next to two gentlemen farmers from Nebraska who were traveling to Grand Junction, CO to do some sightseeing around Utah and the northern side of the Grand Canyon. One of the gentlemen had a son who was serving with the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley and preparing to soon go overseas. The farmer himself had served in the Army during Vietnam and we got to talk lots of Army stuff having both attended basic training at Fort Leonardwood, although about 20 years apart.

The scenery as we made our way into the Rockies was truly remarkable. The train slowly climbed and weaved its way up the mountain, passing through many tunnels, the longest being the Moffat Tunnel. You could not have ask for better weather; the blue skies with a few high clouds stretched across as far as the eye could see.

I had lunch with a grandmother from Salt Lake City who had been visiting family out east. She traveled the route frequently and pointed out the Glen Canyon river rafters who were enjoying the an exciting trip through the rapids. We had a long stop at Grand Junction, CO where we were able to detrain and walk around a bit. It was hot! That made me realize how comfortable we had it on the train, which always seemed to be kept at a comfortable temperature.

The old train depot there was for sale an Amtrak was using a building next door as its station.

Dinner was steak with potatoes and green beans. I also had some merlot to go with it. A really great meal. I sat next to a woman who was in the process of moving from Portland to Cheyenne to pursue her artistic desires. She had dabbled in photography, making video documentaries, music videos, and other creative medium and decided to dedicate all her time to it to see if she can make a go of it. The couple heading to their grandson’s boot camp graduation were also there and I got to hear about the gentleman’s Army experience (he also went to basic at Fort Leonardwood, MO), winters outside of Chicago, and other interesting dinner conversation.

Sleeping the second night came easier. I think this was due to the lack of the train passing through populated areas and sounding its horn, which seemed to happen often the night before. Again I was able to make my way to the shower early and watch the sun come up as we passed through eastern Nevada, getting closer to Reno.

When we arrived at Reno after breakfast, a tour group of about 20 got off and were going to continue to see Reno, Tahoe, and then explore California eventually heading down to Los Angeles. Shortly after the Reno stop, the train began to make its climb up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I enjoyed the picturesque views even more than the Rockies.

The train followed near US I-80, passing Donner Lake and making a stop in Truckee. On the way down on the western side of the mountains I had lunch with a couple and their boy who had gotten on in Reno and were taking a weekend trip to Sacramento. The boy, Gabe, age 7, was a train fanatic and had his own layout at home. The couple had originally lived in Colorado, briefly in Chicago, and had settled in Reno. I enjoyed hearing about Gabe’s home layout where he had a number of different gauges. The family planned to enjoy the rail museum in Old Sacramento, which has always been one of my favorites.

After Sacramento, the train made its way down towards the San Francisco Bay Area. Crossing a bridge in the East Bay and making our way around the water, we could finally see the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco in the distance. The final stop of the California Zephyr is Emeryville, north of Oakland, and that is where I got off to change trains in order to make my way further south to San Jose.

Unsure how the transition to the next train would work, I took my ticket to the Amtrak agent and told her I was headed to San Jose. She asked me, “San Jose? You want to go to San Jose?” and I said “Yes, I really do hope to get there.” She said the train would be there shortly and to hop on. The train arrived on time and I hopped on and found a seat. Soon we made our way south and pulled into San Jose.

I had a great time. Amtrak had been on time (mostly), the sleeping arrangements were fine, the food was excellent and the company and conversation even better. My Amtrak experiment had been a success.

The South West Chief

The Southwest Chief from KC to Chicago (aka the Glory Train). No baggage service as the KC Union Station baggage elevator was broken. Bad news for me as I had to haul my two duffles I had planned to check. Lots of walking. From the waiting room out to the elevated platform, down to the train platform and then down to the train. I was worried wasn’t going to find room for the duffles on the train, but it worked out. I had a seat on the top level and soon discovered I was on the Glory Train. A large church group from Chicago had taken the Southwest Chief out to Los Angeles and was now heading back. It was a lively, friendly group and made the trip interesting. I explored the train after a bit, finding the lounge car that had big windows to view the farmland that rolled past us. The offerings from the snack bar were not the best, but I avoided starving. The seat I was assigned had huge leg space, real comfortable. We had quite a few stops between KC and Chicago. One or two were “smoking stops”, which provided time to actually exit the train for a few minutes. We rolled into Chicago early! I needed to find an ATM to get cab fare and then I needed to find a cab. Although signs were posted, it was very intuitive and I quickly was lost and frustrated hauling around my two heavy duffles. I found the ATM and then found the exit only finding myself on the wrong side of the street. There was no way to cross, so I had to travel back down into Chicago’s Union Station and make my way back up on the other side. Did I mention the heavy bags?

On Tuesday I got to the station at 11am with my departure time being at 2pm. This time things were going my way. Check in at the Amtrak counter was easy and the clerk explained where I needed to go to wait and where I could temporarily check my carry-on bags. He also checked one of my heavy duffles. Sleeping car passengers get to hang out in the Metro lounge, which is almost as fancy as one of those airport executive lounges. There I was able to temporarily check my carry on duffle. I then proceeded to explore Union Station. The place is nice, clean, and modern. A food court upstairs rivaled any major airport’s amenities and I snagged a Jamba Juice for lunch while leeching of the free WiFi from a nearby cafe. Back in the Metro lounge I waited until 1:25pm when they called our train for boarding.

The crowd in the Metro lounge included a wide variety of folks but slightly weighted towards the elderly. The lounge was big, but it was filled up pretty nicely.

An attendant lead us out the back door and to the train platforms. I was directed to my car and found my “room”. It Is small, but clean and in good condition. The attendant for the our car came by and covered some of the basics: where the shower is, where to get juice or coffee, and that someone would be coming around to arrange for times for the meals in the dinning car.

As we headed out of Chicago, the urban areas turned to suburbs and then turned to rural farmland. So far no luck in getting my HT’s GPS to lock, but I will probably have better luck in the lounge car.