Day One: Bill & Anne's Excellent Adventure (On a Train)

Our President & CEO, Bill Connors, is chronicling his vacation from Boise to Sandpoint to Chicago via Amtrak train. Below is his first entry. Stay tuned for more from his adventure!


I am not a blogger. I am not an aspiring writer, as those who might be reading this will soon attest.   I took on this duty to report on our Idaho Amtrak train adventure as part of my Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce gig.  This little travel diary is aimed at folks in Idaho and the surrounding region who might want to do a train adventure, or local Boise Chamber folks who might just want to follow Bill and Anne on a quirky one week vacation.  Let's explain why I'm doing this elongated TripAdvisor-like project.

Every year, our Chamber puts on a huge Gala evening that has become a big go-to event in Boise. It is our organization's primary fund raiser and helps fuel our community-building activities all year.  As such, we solicit donations from businesses across the country to auction off and raise money.  Many of those donations are in the form of interesting travel opportunities.  Anne and I both spent many years in the travel industry back east before coming to Boise. So, every year I call on our old travel industry friends, who will still actually accept my calls, and I grovel for some interesting products that we can promote to the Boise business community.  This last year for example, our Delta friends offered some first class tickets to Bilboa, Spain and Hong Kong, and all sorts of cool packages in between, from all sorts of great donors. While we love to fly, I've always been a fan of train travel. There are many reasons for this, but I'm sure it's mostly because I'm old.  I'm old enough to remember taking the train every Christmas break as a kid with my family from Rochester, NY to Lake Placid, NY where my folks sent us off into the world of winter sports.  Trains where clearly in decline then, but as a kid, it was still the coolest thing ever.  As I grew older and Amtrak came into being to salvage the nation's decaying passenger train service, I had regular trips on the Lake Shore Limited, and the Adirondack to Montreal. I've also had a few memorable long hauls on the Crescent down America's southeast coast, and the famous City of New Orleans, "with the Mississippi darkness rolling down to the sea." More recently as a travel industry trade association executive in Washington, DC, I was a regular on the Amtrak Acela between DC, New York and Boston.  It is Amtrak's most profitable, coolest and fastest route, it's really the only way to travel that corridor.  So, Im a train guy.  This past year I asked my old Amtrak friends for a donation of a trip on the Empire Builder, the ONLY train that makes a stop in Idaho.  They ponied up with a great donation.  In convincing my railroad benefactors why they should promote Amtrak to a Boise crowd, when the only Idaho stop on this route in in Sand Point (a plane trip away), I suggested that we would talk the winning Gala bidder into writing some kind of blog of their trip and we would highlighted it on one of the Chamber's communication vehicles. Alas, in my enthusiastic bidding that evening for this trip, I forgot that it came with a reporting duty. Our winning bid that night was $1200, for a trip that retails at twice that price, so I'm happy to write about a trip I've wanted to do all my life, through the Rockies, across the great northern plains and into the City with Big Shoulders. So here we Sand Point, Idaho ready for Bill and Anne's Excellent Adventure.

Day One Friday: Planes Trains and Automobiles

Planning a trip on Amtrak's Empire Builder when you live in Boise, Idaho involves some logistics, but that is part of what makes this a pretty cool week.  My wife Anne is a Travel Consultant for Tway Travel in Boise and she did lots of the pre/post train part of this excursion.  It's a Friday and we both worked in our offices in the morning and took a half day off to fly out of the best airport in America (BOI) on an efficient one hour Southwest flight to Spokane (Alaska flies there too). Rented a compact car, but wound up with a big bad RAM 1500 beast of a pickup, which evidently is a compact in Northern Idaho. Anyway, after a quick hour plus drive to Sand Point we parked ourselves at the Best Western Edgewater Hotel, Lake Pend Oreille on one side of us, and the train tracks on the other.  If you're a train person, Sand Point is your kind of town.  They come through this really nice little town all day and night.  Although the Empire Builder going east to Chicago, only comes through once, and it is at 2:30 am.  That is why this particular hotel is a key to our grand plan, as the boarding "station" for Sand Point is practically on the hotel grounds.  We will spend our tomorrow exploring Sand Point, and prep for the 2:30 am arrival on what will actually be Sunday morning.

The hotel is all about location. If you're a member of the Four Seasons Hotel loyalty program, this place won't rock your world.  It's a little tired, but very affordable, incredibly friendly staff, tons of free stuff from Wi-Fi to bags of peanuts.

Why is it that the most expensive, most exclusive hotels in the world charge you $15 for a bottle of Icelandic Hand Crafted Bottled Water with your name inscribed on the label, and still hit you for $500 a night?  Here, we have a lake view room, free Wi-Fi, free business center, free parking, nice pool/hot tub/exercise room area (see picture), free bottles of water and a bag of peanuts for about $100 a night.  This Best Western won us over, and we can be pretty snobby hotel people.  So begins the adventure.  I'll sleep well, BNSF freight trains rumbling in the night, the sound of commerce always makes me sleep contently.