Transit Adventures

Flying SBN to MSP to PDX to get the Pacific Northwest up to date, and go on my annual ski trip with my Dad

This trip report is part of the series 2018 Pacific Northwest Up-to-Date.


This past March, my Dad and I planned 4 days of skiing at Whistler in British Columbia four our annual ski trip. Louise it turned out had a paper accepted at a conference in Hawaii, just near our ski trip dates and the way flights are priced to Hawaii buying four one way tickets Chicago to San Francisco (she spent the night with a friend) to Honolulu to Vancouver to Chicago, was cheaper than buying a normal round-trip ticket from Chicago to Honolulu, so she would join us for part of our ski trip (and work in our AirBNB) and we would fly home from Vancouver together.

I still needed to get out to Vancouver alone and was planning to simply fly Chicago to Vancouver non-stop or with a connection from South Bend (my home airport SBN is my preference if all prices are the same, much easier than the South Shore Line to the ‘L’ slog), unfortunately I snoozed too long on booking my ticket out there and all of sudden there was no real South Bend/Chicago to Vancouver option that was less than $400 one-way. I evaluated flying to Seattle Thursday morning and taking the bus or train up that evening (I really wish there was a midday SEA to Vancouver train) but in the end, I found a reasonably priced ($200 one-way ticket) out of South Bend Wednesday Evening to Portland with a 3 hour layover in Minneapolis, giving me time to see an old friend who lives there (not )

This gave me the opportunity, by booking a multi-city Amtrak Cascades ticket (stopovers of less than 24 hours are still free even if you no longer earn 100 bonus AGR points for stopping)  to get Portland and Seattle ‘up to date’ (except for their streetcar expansions that I still need to figure out the best way to incorporate) with the recent MAX Milwaukie Line and Link Light Rail University of Washington and Angle Lake Extensions. Another reason to start with an evening in Portland for this strategy was to avoid lugging my heaving ski beat boot bag with me while getting stations, which would have happened with a same day plane to bus (or late evening train) connection in Seattle, assuming that Amtrak’s generous baggage policy would let me check my bag in Portland early with me just reclaiming it alongside the evening  Vancouver Amtrak Cascades train before clearing customs.

Flying SBN to MSP to PDX to bring the Pacific Northwest Up to Date

The day began and with a 3:40pm flight from SBN to MSP. I took a half hour extra of vacation time (my office has a flexible schedule so I can work 7:00am to 3:00pm sometimes), hailed a Lyft from my desk around 2:30, and for $6.00 (had a 50% promo) had an uneventful ride to the Airport. Bus Route 4 to the Airport makes a deviation that’s quite slow to the Amtrak station, so if vacation time is involved I take an uber. Security at the South Bend Airport was it’s nice easy self and I found myself at the gate with about 20 minutes to spare.

The 50 seat Regional Jet boarded on time. I asked the gate agent if I could check my ski bag all the way through to Portland instead of valet checking to MSP but was given a direct No, so there would be dealing with luggage on my layover.

I settled into an uneventful hour and a half gate to gate flight – with enough time for a ginger ail and snack mix – and me me getting some photos from my window seat of the Frozen Landscape.


We taxi into a gate C13 in Minneapolis, where we arrive at 4:08pm CT, is right near the Skywalk security entrance/exit, which provides faster access to the light rail station and public bus loop than going around to the main terminal exit (if you need to visit baggage claim you have to.

I text my friend who’s driving to come meet me and am told to come to the main arrivals area because the Skyway entrance is for public transit users only and she doesn’t know how to drive up there kerbside. I could walk or use moving walkways to head up to this area of the airport, but a ride on the Concourse Tram is a lot more fun (and probably faster)! This tram I find particularly neat because the two cars run on largely a single track but have a passing siding where the trams passes, with trams going to the Baggage Claim and central area stopping a short ways north (on the passing siding) of the stop for trains going the other way to the A and B Concourses, which stop beyond this passing siding. I first pass the A and B gates stop before walking to the Baggage claim stop where my tram arrives, while I get photos of the other tram entering the passing siding using a switch.


It’s then uneventful short ride to the main terminal.

I leave security and find my friend. We end up going to the Mall of America because it’s the closest place to take a little walk and sit and chat (neither of us buys anything).

Our time is short and sweet catching up, before she drops me off at the airport around 6:00pm, I have preCheck now and getting back through security is a breeze so I have some extra time. Luckily the Escape Lounge provides a fabulous place to have a nearly proper free dinner courtesy of my AMEX Platinum Charge Card. I leave the lounge a little before 7:00pm to head to my nearby gate C1.

I get on early enough that my odd-shaped boot bag isn’t gate checked. The flight leaves with quite a few empty seats including a moment when I think I might have an entire row to myself but the final woman to board plops down in the aisle seat (not her assigned seat,  but the flight attendant just tells her to sit down), clearly happy she’s made the flight. I hear murmurs from other passengers about other people possibly missing this flight. This final flight of the evening with me still on Eastern Time catches up to me so I spend part of the flight sleeping and iMessaging Louise since Delta now allows free in flight messaging (we even get pictures to send and be received, although your not supposed to be able to).

We land in Portland at 9:01pm CT and I look at the MAX schedule and decide to take my time. I need a restroom and passing the SkyClub decide to stop in there, I take a moment before the final journey to my hotel for some popcorn and a cookie. I then head to the center of the concourse, where I exit through some automatic gates (definitely not here when I last was airside at this airport in 2006) and find myself at the end of the ticketing hall (the Portland Airport’s new terminal and MAX light rail opened on September 10, 2001 and has had to re-adapt ever since to post-9/11 security needs). I then follow the MAX signs down to baggage claim.

Walking the length of the baggage claim, since I arrive at the D and E gates, I laugh at this add for an airport shuttle to Downtown, the MAX from Portland is just so easy!

I head out towards the Portland MAX Station(13 Photos). I pass the familiar TVMs inside the baggage claim. I take a small detour up the escalators up to the departures level. This is right next to the other exit from the sterile area. The next time I’m in Portland and arriving at a South Gate without luggage to claim I think I’ll use the moving walkways on the Concourse connector, staying within security to have a shorter walk through the crowded ticketing or baggage claim levels.


I arrive to the platform to board my train to Downtown as another train is entering on the single-tracked section of the Red Line.


I get on the train and immediately notice, the new system map with the Orange Line extension and how the map shows the Orange and Yellow Lines interline downtown.

The ride is largely uneventful, although before Gateway Transit Center our train ‘transforms’ into a Blue Line train to SW 185th. It’s the slow ride over the Steel Bridge and into downtown where I get off at Old Town-Chinatown(5 Photos). 

From there it’s an easy walk to the Society Hostel, the ultimate hipster hostel. There I’ve booked a bunk bed for $40 but decide I’m too tired and will have a very long day tomorrow so I upgrade to a private room (there’s a shared very clean bathroom across from my room, and there even bathrobes) and spend $100 on accommodations for the night, it’s small, really just fitting a queen bed and a washbasin, but perfectly located to the light rail and Union Station, and a place I would not hesitate to stay in again.