Amtrak California Transit Adventures

An Hour Early, Empty California Zephyr down to the Marin Headlands Hostel, after a miserable conditions last day skiing Squaw/Alpine Meadows

This post covers my last days of skiing on my (anti-) Epic Ski Trip from January 16th (my full day at Squaw Valley) to January 17th taking the Zephyr down to the Bay Area where I transfer to a bus To Marin County.

My one full day in Tahoe is probably my worst day of skiing ever. It’s a 30 degree-ish day with high winds and some precipitation that falls mostly as rain. I am diligently on the 8:00am bus waring my ski boots, carrying my skis. The TART bus is again packed with the young International Employees who work at the resorts on their way to work. In Tahoe City many of us transfer to the Route 89 Bus to continue north. I want to start today skiing Alpine Meadows, a sister ski area now owned by Squaw and included in all Squaw lift tickets. We stop at the Apline Meadows Transit Center that’s basically just a depot full of minibuses just off of Highway 89 and as it’s actually briefly snowing I and about 20 other people, all employees, mostly in their red staff jackets (I’m the only person with skis on either trip) transfer to an Alpine Meadows-operated minibus. This bus doesn’t even have a ski rack, I’m carrying the skis on-board.

The morning at Alpine Meadows is awful the groomed runs are okay but every time I leave the Groomers it’s hell. I barely make it down what would be an easy Black if it wasn’t for the awful ice-like, packed snow. There lot’s of references to East Coast Skiing from others (although I’ve never skied there, I only learned when I went to college in Colorado). At about Noon I’ve done everything at Alpine Meadows that feels to me skiable – I’m freezing from the dampness – and decide to take the Shuttle (another minibus, this one is wrapped in ads) with ski racks. I go back to Squaw, have some extremely overpriced soup to try and warm up and have some good final runs to bring this ski trip to a close. They’re definitely some nice gradual groomed runs on the upper bowls at the top of the mountain that are really fun to ski. The day ends with another crowded TART ride, although this time I stop skiing a little early and catch the 3:50 bus an hour early back to the Tahoe Transit Center and onto the Mainline bus back to Kings Beach which I stand for most of the ride, precariously balancing my skis. I walk my skis the ten minutes back to the ski shop. The proprietor comments that the bottoms are in a lot better shape than he thought they would be at  because of the lack of snow (ending up on rocks and the like). I have an uneventful evening making Macaroni and Cheese in the hostel for dinner.

On Saturday I wake up early, needing the 8:00am Route 267 Bus up to Truckee to catch the California Zephyr that I will take down to Emeryville for the AmBus across the bay. This was one of those bookings I spaced on making partially because I knew the three daily Throughway Bus Connections from Truckee (originating in Sparks, Nevada) always cost $50 down to San Francisco. The day before I’m checking fares (the Zephyr has been has high as $74 on previous days) and see it’s cheaper at $47 for the ride. From there I’ve decided to go to a Golden Gate National Recreation Area Hostel in the Marin Headlands (for the night that’s only accessible on weekends by special MUNI Route 76X) just over the Golden Gate Bridge. I start my day off with a pleasant hostel breakfast of granola and muffins, sadly the Tahoe Hostel only serves breakfast on weekends.

I then head down to my bus stop for the past two days.

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The Route 267 Bus to Truckee comes in on time a few minutes after 8:00am. It is a lot less crowded. We pull into the Truckee Station at 8:45 and I wonder if the scheduled to depart first Throughway Bus at 8:40am will still be there or not. It’s sadly gone (no making a last minute ticketing change for $3 more today). It’s something I might have done more for the hell of it, instead of anything else. Instead I wander the streets of Truckee(8 Photos) for a bit until a little after 9:00 when the Visitor’s Center and real waiting room (the tiny vestibule outside the bus stops was open when I arrived) opens and I sit there for 20 minutes getting a few things done on my iPad using their free wifi.

Saturday’s California Zephyr #6 is right on time arriving at 9:36 with a very strange consist. There the two P42s, followed by the Sightseer Lounge – a very strange place for it – this is followed by a regular ADA Coach that opens up at the tiny platform, the baggage coach, the diner, with the two sleepers brining up the rear.
I grab two seats two myself on this empty train and then head up to the lounge. I find a table to myself. The train has the usual commentators going down the Sierras from the California State Railway Museum.
I sort photos and enjoying some of the scenery before getting annoyed at the sarcasm of the narrators commentary (making some really bad jokes about trees) and head back to my seats to relax.
I’m a bit tired from a snorer in my hostel room last night. I then nap.
I wake up at 11:45 to an announcement from the lounge car that clearly has a sound effect machine (think railway toots and other noises), and makes a ridiculous announcement partially in Spanish with a joke that the cafe is a mexican restaurant.
We pull into Colfax(1 Photo) at 11:58 (where I thought of spending a couple hours grabbing lunch before the next throughway bus at 1:45, but couldn’t get a cheap or free stopover. It would have cost $75 instead of the $47 I paid. The bus might have also been early for photos but I felt like the train and not the bus. The timing was also much better for arriving in San Francisco by trian. We leave at noon, slowly, 12 minutes late.
We continue our descent from the Sierras.
12:06 – We split from the other line going on a more northern route (there two separate tracks here, one originally Western Pacific, the other Southern Pacific).
I soon go to lunch and try the Angus Berger. It’s as I remember it, okay not great. It’s similar to the Burger I had on Delta in first class to start this trip. I have a dining companion who got on Truckee with me, we discuss the terrible snow there and a couple from Chicago taking the train (in a bedroom) to San Francisco who will then fly to Hawaii to celebrate a round birthday (60 is my thought). The Dining Car Stewart overhears this and says he used to work in Hawaii on the one us flagged (and wages paid) cruise ship for two years. He gives them quite a bit of advice on what to do.
  • 12:52 – Rocklin skipped
We get to Roseville at 12:59, 4 minutes late. It’s quick, we leave at 1:00pm. We go through the rail yards. I feel jointed rail.
  • 1:13 – See Light Rail tracks and the Macaroni/Arcade Station before the yard full of trains on a weekend. There some more LRVs formerly owned by VTA in their livery.
  • 1:22 – Get the announcement for Sacramento, discharge only from here all the way to Emeryville, don’t wander off!
We arrive in Sacramento(9 Photos), the only fresh air stop today at 1:25, I run up and get some locomotive photos of our strange consist with the sightseer lounge car just behind them. It’s a quick stop. We get the all aboard at 1:30, and leave at 1:32, 52 minutes early! The car a lot more quiet with at least half of it empty now.
We leave Sacramento crossing the river, to start the rest of this ride down the Capitol Corridor.
The straight track is clearly modern welded rail  and were moving faster than the trucks on I-80 as we go over the wetlands, getting the announcement for Davis.
We arrive in Davis on the closer to station track at 1:47, leaving at 1:48, 59 minutes early. It’s a grey day.
  • 2:09 – Skip Susian-Fairfield, at full speed!
  • 2:22 – Rise up onto the Benicia-Martinez Rail Bridge to cross the straight. Then the announcement for Martinez.
We arrive in Martinez on the island platform at 2:26. It’s brief, an extra minute for luggage I’m sure. I see someone with a camera on the platform. We finally leave at 2:31, 1 hour early.
  • 2:34 – I see Marin County across the bay in the fog.
  • 2:37 – A short, Northbound Amtrak California train passes us.
  • 2:39 – Through the refinery, see what could be an old station. Under the twin Carquinez Bridges. We make good time as I get distracted from my book on my iPad to admire the view across the bay.
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  • 2:53 – The nice river views end as we get Richmond’s announcements. I then see the BART Shops and we soon slow down for the station stop.
We stop in Richmond(2 BART Photos) at 2:55, 1 hour and 5 minutes early. I’ve thought about getting off here but really want to take the AmBus across the bay and not BART. We leave at 2:57. Then it’s 8 minutes to Emeryville.
  • 3:01 – Make good speed through a freight yard. The attendant coming through for trash.
  • 3:02 – Zooming through Berkeley Station.
We pull into the Emeryville Terminus(10 Photos) at 3:05, just over an hour early. I see a cart for people and luggage way over down the platform (not at the proper place for the current Coach/Baggage car).
I head through the modern station and outside to the driveway, no sign of any buses. A bus soon pulls up for Stockton. I ask about the bus and am told. “One has been called to be early” I debate going over to the public market for the Emery-Go-Round to BART and am on the bridge heading over to an approaching Emeryville-go-Round bus (tracked on my phone) when I look back and see a white bus pulling up. It’s for San Francisco.
He’s only making a few stops, loading luggage as he scans tickets. One is the ferry building. He tells me to carry my backpack on. It’s a generic white bus, but getting on are wide windows, not quite the 5 minute connections the regular buses often make.
We finally leave at 3:30 for my first trip over the new bay bridge! I think the next time I take the zephyr I’ll just get off in Richmond, the bus connection is less efficient than from the Capitol Corridor trains. There is a bit of traffic, but we zoom onto the Bay Bridge, skipping the ramp meters courtesy of the HOV Bus Lane. I snap a couple photos, enjoying the scenery from the new cable stained bridge with the old truss bridge slowly getting torn down adjacent to us. We reach Treasure Island, go through the tunnel and are soon on the long suspension span.The bus feels like it’s full of tourists.
We’re across the bridge at 3:45  and head over to the Embarcadero for our first stop at the Ferry building. . I’m at the ferry building at 3:50, 40 minutes before the next scheduled 4:30 bus on the 76X up to Marin County. I immediately notice two buses on the F Streetcar Tracks, and then see a streetcar, just supplemental service I guess.
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I go and buy some more snacks since I need to bring all my food for my overnight at the Marin Headlands Hostel. I stop at the Embarcadero BART/MUNI Station(1 Photo) to pick up a 2 ride MUNI tap ticket (a first for my collection).
I find what I think is a stop for the 76X, my big issue with MUNI is the fact that there terrible at labeling stops. I try and track the bus and it keeps going from Coming Soon or Arriving Times. to listing the countdown of the 5:30 bus. 4:30 comes and goes. About 20 minutes late, I see the bus turning to terminate a couple blocks away. I end up calling MUNI and am told the 76X is subject to heavy delays because of bad traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge. I end up walking back there finding two other people and the bus sitting. The 4:30 bus finally boards at 5:10. I tap my chip ticket. I’m finally on the Golden Gate Bridge at 5:41 in the dusk. There 3 of us on board, a man who’s going just to enjoy the scenery and a Parks Service Employee from Alaska on a remote assignment for two months living in the former barracks houses in the former Army Bases that make up Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
We go over the Golden Gate Bridge and hit an awful traffic jam, getting off at the first exit mainly caused by a terrible merge. We finally get through, the driver turns the lights off so he can see better on the dark road through a National Park. The automated MUNI Announcements are amusing, like telling us to hold on and to Pay Our Fare Share, and to make seats available to the disabled there now in English, followed by a Chinese dialect (I later learn that its Cantonese, not Mandarin) and then Spanish. The automated announcements list the stops. I get off at the “Hostel,” which is preceded by the “Stables.”
I walk up a short hill and finally arrive at the Marin Highlands Hostel 6:45pm, my bed in a room with just 3 other people is only $29.00. The food I’ve brought is meaningless, there is a large group of Kayak instructors staying the hostel as soon as I put my pot on my more macaroni and cheese one of them sarcastically yells at me to get out of the kitchen, were cooking way too much food, eat with us. It’s an enjoyable meal of Chicken and Sausage, with interesting company. I go for an excellent short night walk and head to bed.