February 24, 2002

Travel and Plans

Dear Family,

As some of you know, about a month ago I was working on plans to go to
Palau as a student missionary. I was going to go to a clinic there to
help with some computer software they were setting up for 6 months. I got
to the point of just needing travel dates so that I could buy my tickets,
but instead of getting dates I heard that they didn't need someone there
after all. The clinic was going through some financial trouble and staff
changes and decided that it would be best if I didn't come. In the mean
time I had given notice on my apartment, but had the option to stay on
longer if needed. Since Palau fell through I have been looking for
another overseas position to take instead. About two weeks ago I decided
that as long as I was just in a waiting mode I might as well travel
through the US and Canada on a 30 day train pass. So, with a hectic last
week or so I sold most of my big furniture and moved out of my apartment.
Ben (my room mate) was able to find a great place to move to in Loma Linda
at the last minute. We took the last load of stuff out of our old
apartment on the way to the Palm Springs Amtrak station Wednesday night
and I boarded my first train at about 1:30am Thursday morning.

My first train ride was quite interesting and fun. In Tucson an older
lady got on and was planning to ride the train, but we had to wait while
the conductor called the police who escorted her off the train. She sat
down next to me in the observation car and refused to leave when the
conductor asked her to step off the train. She seemed to be a little out
of it and they weren't comfortable with her travelling alone. She told me
that she lives in Chicago and had gotten married in Las Vegas a few days
ago before taking a Limo down to Tucson and she was on her way home to
Chicago. She also told me all about her three children and her two
grandchildren while we waited for the police to show up. She had a badly
bruised eye and said she had fallen off the bed and spent two days in the
hospital in Las Vegas. She also said that her new husband had gone back
to Chicago without her because of his work. Her appearance was like
someone who had been living on the street and she was travelling with just
a plastic grocery bag as her luggage. While she was happily talking to me
the rest of the people in the observation car kept staring and listening
to her talk. When she finally agreed to go along with the Police to talk
to them outside the train, she shook my hand, said thank you and went out
to the platform. She waved happily to the whole train as it pulled out of
the station leaving her behind.

I spent two nights on the train before getting off in Houston, TX at about
2:30 Friday afternoon. Other people I met on the train included a German
Physics doctoral student spending 15 days touring the US for the first
time, a Fabricator who makes props for movie sets in LA, an Animator
moving from San Francisco back to Ohio, a man who works as a chef on coal
ships in the great lakes and has been doing it for 30 years, a guy who
worked as a DJ at a club in DC, an Irishman travelling on a 15 day train
pass who told me where all the good pubs are, a Vietnam Veteran from
Alaska, a man who has worked in the snack car of the train for over 25
years and was an employee of Southern Pacific before Amtrak took over and
a retired man travelling form Tucson to Florida to visit his daughter.
From the train I watched the scenery slowly change from desert with
cactus, to desert with only shrubs, to forest with cactus and eventually
to forest with some swamps and wetlands before we arrived in Houston.
Near El Paso we had a good view of Mexico on the other side of the border
fence. We could see the shanty town with dirt streets from the train.

Monte Benton met me here in Houston and I have really enjoyed visiting
with him, his wife Jackie and Miranda who is almost 2 years old.
Yesterday we went to church and then had a picnic at a Bayou where we also
hiked. Miranda enjoyed seeing turtles, birds, a frog and an alligator.
From the park we drove to the bay where we saw lots of sailboats since it
was a windy day. After that we took some pictures at the Enron sign at
the base of the Enron building which is one of the major skyscrapers here
in Houston. For supper we went to a Thai restaurant before watching some
of the Olypics on TV. This morning we watched an IMAX movie about the
human body and we're just about ready to eat some lunch before I get back
on the train. My next stop is Niles where I will visit some of my friends
at Andrews University before heading down to Maryland. From Maryland I
plan to visit some friends at Atlanic Union College, then head up to
Canada and travel across Canada and down to Portland Oregon with stops in
Edmonton and Jasper.

A little over a week ago on Thursday I contacted ADRA International to see
if they had any volunteer positions where I could use my computer skills
and by the next day (Friday) I had a reply from the office in Cambodia.
They voted a call for me at the local level the following Monday and I've
been working out the details for going to Cambodia when my train trip is
done. Unless something happens to change things, I will be going for a
year to set up computer networks, setup a web page and train the staff to
use MS Office.

Anyway, now you know what's going on in my life right now. I need to get
some food and get to the train station so I'll stop and send this.

Talk to you later!

Andrew

March 22, 2002

Train Travels part 2

Greetings,

This is my first attempt at doing a somewhat organized general email. If you would rather not be on my list, then just let me know and I'll take you off. Also, if you didn't hear about the first part of my train trip and want to, let me know.

The last time I wrote I was about to leave Houston after spending a nice weekend with my cousin Monte Benton. From Houston I traveled north through Arkansas (the 49th state I have been in) to Chicago where I was supposed to have about 3 hours to change trains. The train was late and I in fact had 9 minutes to make the connection, but luckily the connecting train was only one platform away so I was able to get on without a problem. After about an hour on the train I arrived in Niles, MI where it was snowing quite heavily. I spent just under 24 hours visiting some friends at Andrews University before taking the train on down to Washington, DC. It snowed the entire time I was in Michigan, but I enjoyed the change from Southern California. On the way to DC I traveled through the mountains of West Virginia, including the New River Valley, which was very scenic. There are a few stretches of parklands that only the train visits and there are no other signs of civilization.

In Maryland I enjoyed several days of visiting friends and family. I was also able to visit the ADRA and General Conference offices to work out some details of my upcoming trip to Cambodia. Friday night I got to roller blade in downtown DC with friends just like we always used to at CUC. On Sabbath I enjoyed a nice lunch with family followed by a visit with some friends from our time in Russia before heading back to Union Station to catch my next train.

From Maryland I traveled north to Atlantic Union College. On the way I passed through Rhode Island (the 50th state I have been in) and had a brief stop in Boston to change trains. I enjoyed seeing the AUC campus and visiting with the Booths who were in Russia with my family. I also spent an afternoon touring the historic sites around Lexington and Concord. These include the spot where Paul Revere was captured by the British and the bridge where the "shot heard 'round the world" was fired.

The next leg of my trip took me to Canada. I headed north along the border of New Hampshire and Vermont, crossing back and forth several times. The train stopped in St. Albans, VT where I changed to a bus for the border crossing and short drive to Montreal. In Montreal I first checked in my ski and duffel bags so that I wouldn't have to lug them around the city for my 24-hour visit. I quickly sorted out what I would need for the 1 night in Montreal, and the 3 nights on the train before I would see my bags again in Edmonton. After checking my bags I took the metro to a youth hostel where I got a good nights sleep. In the morning I got up and explored Montreal. I walked along the waterfront, through the old quarter with narrow European style streets and then out to the Olympic stadium. Next to the stadium is an outdoor botanical garden with several garden styles from around the world. My favorite in winter was the Chinese garden since the ponds were frozen. Also near the stadium is the Biodome, which is like an indoor zoo with various climate zones represented. I spent some time watching the penguins, alligators and other creatures before taking the metro to the Mont Royale stop. From there I walked to Mont Royale after which the town is named. It is basically a large hill in the middle of Montreal. From there I began walking back to the train station, but ended up stopping to use the Internet at a college student lounge. It was nice to sit down indoors for a while after walking around all day and I was able to catch up on email and even got to talk to a couple of people online using instant messaging.

Although I met quite a few interesting people on the first leg of my train trip, the remaining trains in the US were quite empty and I spent more time listening to books on tape. On my trip from Montreal to Edmonton I met more people again including my seat mate for part of the trip who was an 88 year old man traveling alone. His wife died last summer and she didn't like to travel, so now that she is gone he is doing some traveling. He was starting out by visiting some friends and family in Canada, but talked of future trips to New Zealand and Scotland. I didn't realize it before hand, but I managed to get on a train that was pretty full because of spring break. There was a large group of high school kids who kind of monopolized the observation car much of the time. Overall it was a nice trip though and I enjoyed watching the landscape change from forests with frozen lakes to snow covered prairies.

In Edmonton I met up with a friend from CUC (Lakin) who took the bus up from Calgary. We spent the weekend hanging out and catching up, which was very nice. We spent one afternoon at the West Edmonton Mall, which is the largest mall in the world. We watched a Dolphin show in the mall and walked past the full size indoor water park, amusement park, ice rink, submarine ride, multiple movie theaters and many, many stores. We stopped in one of the arcades and tried out a multiplayer car racing game where you sit in the car and it moves around as you drive. We stayed in a youth hostel and had meals at both a Greek and Chinese restaurant. We also spent some time browsing in around 6 different book stores (many used) that were within walking distance of the hostel.

From Edmonton I had a relatively short train ride to Jasper. The scenery changed rather dramatically from prairies to the Rocky Mountains along the way. In Jasper I was originally thinking of staying at the youth hostel, but it was too far out of town and the ski shuttle didn't stop at it. I ended up finding a nice homestay for a grand total of $1 more than the hostel would have been. I had my own room with a queen size bed and a private bathroom, plus it was just a couple of blocks from a ski bus stop. It snowed the day I arrived in Jasper, so I had about 15cm of fresh powder for my first ski day. There were not very many people skiing so fresh tracks were had by all. The clouds even cleared enough to give me a nice view of the valley and surrounding mountains. On my second day in Jasper I also skied, and still managed to find plenty of powder in the woods. On the third day I had a train to catch in the afternoon, but spent the morning visiting an ice canyon. The canyon was very narrow, almost narrow enough that you could jump across the top in places. In summer time the canyon is filled with water but in winter you can walk on the canyon floor, which is made up of ice. There were also several ice waterfalls along the way that were very beautiful. The canyon walk was definitely a highlight of my trip. After the canyon walk I took another winter hike through the woods and then had pizza for lunch before boarding my train.

I spent the night on the train and woke up just as were entering Vancouver, BC where I had a short layover before boarding a bus to Seattle. From Seattle I rode the train on down to Portland, OR where I was met by my aunt. We then drove on out to the coast where we met up with another aunt and my grandparents. It was snowing through the pass on the way, but the roads were fine. I spent the weekend relaxing with an excellent view of the beach right out the window of the house we stayed in. It was quite interesting to walk on the beach and see snow in the small hills nearby. Sunday afternoon I rode back with my grandparents to their house near Portland and had a nice sleep in a good bed. Monday morning we got up and drove up to Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood where I spent the day skiing. They are having a record year up there and have lots of snow everywhere. The lower halves of the third story windows were even buried in snowdrifts at the lodge. It snowed most of the day, and in the afternoon it was blowing and coming down hard enough that on pretty much every run I had first tracks. The drive back down the mountain was quite snowy, but we had good snow tires on the Cadillac and managed just fine.

Today is pretty much just a day of recovery and catching up on things like email. I plan to leave for California tomorrow afternoon. I will get in to the Loma Linda area Thursday evening and then fly to Cambodia on Monday the 25th of March. I'm mostly ready to go, but still have some sorting to do in the Loma Linda area before I fly. I will be spending a year in Cambodia working with computers at the ADRA office there.

Anyway, that's the news from me. The next letter I write like this will probably be from Cambodia. Feel free to email me and I'll respond individually. I'm planning to keep the same email address as I move around.

Talk to you later!

Andrew