We got on the train late on the night of the 20th. I think our departure time was supposed to be 11:15 pm, but we didn't pull out of the station until 11:45 or so. We rented the family sleeper suite. Suite is an exaggeration. The room measured 5'2" by 9'5" and that was with the beds up. With the beds (two lower and two upper berths) down there was enough room for one person to be standing. It was small and old, but we had chosen this method of traveling for the experience. As soon as we got on the train, we tried to get settled and to sleep. The boys were excited so going to sleep wasn't the easiest thing to do. The first few hours were spent shivering as our car was super cold (and blowing right on my head) and we couldn't get the heat to work or anyone attend to it (shout out to having an old train car). Finally they seemed to figure it out and we got some sleep.
Day 2 - Friday, Oct. 21, 2011
We got up fairly early which was expected with children and the fact that they started announcing stops again sometime around 6:30 a.m. Since we purchased a sleeping car fare (which was essentially the same cost as flying or the cost of driving - with meals, gas, hotels, wear and tear on the vehicle, etc.), all of our meals were included, so we headed up to the dining car early. We were able to order whatever we wanted off the menu and breakfast was a good meal to eat on the train.
We woke up while it was still dark and we were in the mountains. At breakfast we were in a long tunnel and when we finally got out, we were in the Cascade Mountain range. It was overcast and rainy so we couldn't see much. We were scheduled to be in Seattle at 1o:15. Soon after getting out of the moutains, the train track was right along Puget Sound. This was everyone's first view of the Pacific Ocean (except Paul who is more well-traveled than the rest of us) and there were some cool sights. With our impending arrival, we were getting VERY anxious to be off the train.
Seattle's train station is interesting. There is NO parking other than a few spaces for loading and unloading. With four large bags, three car seats, plus backpacks and such, we were full loaded. We hoped the car rental place would pick us up with a van so we could all go get our rental car, but that was not the case. So Paul went as much luggage as he could, while the boys and I and the rest of our stuff hung out at the train station. Once Paul got back with the rental car, we were off. It was lunch (Jack in the Box - nothing to get excited about) in the car so Caleb could nap. We headed towards Kelso where our first night's hotel was. The plan was to spend the rest of day getting to the hotel with maybe some sightseeing. The following day we would visit Mount St. Helens.
After that it was not much farther to our hotel. It was a Guesthouse Inn and Suites, a place we have never stayed at before and it was nice. When we book hotel rooms, we always try for a king size bed since Caleb sleeps with us and a sofa sleeper for Ethan and Elijah. This room actually had a king size bed and a separate bedroom with bunk beds for the boys. I personally enjoyed sleeping on the train (I had the biggest bed on the train too, since I shared with Caleb), but it was nice to be able to sleep in a real bed again. (Side note: we ALWAYS check for bed bugs at hotels before we bring our luggage in. While we've never found any, we have relatives who have experienced them and know that we do not want to go through what they've been through.)
There are two cave walking options to choose from: easy or hard. Easy is still fairly difficult, but at least we didn't have to scale any 8ft tall lava boulders. (Paul would've tried it!) It was hard enough walking through the easy part, but it was still quite the experience. We didn't even go all the way to the end. At some parts the ceiling was only 8-10 feet high and in other parts it had to have been 30-40 ft.
Afterwards, we ate sandwiches in the car before heading to lava canyon. There's a state park that you can drive through and see various areas that were impacted by the recent eruption 20 years ago. Hiking through Lava Canyon was one of our favorite parts of the trip. It was beautiful, even as cloudy as it was. And walking the suspension bridge was so cool!
It was a great day, with an unfortunate ending. After leaving Lava Canyon Park, we were going to head up to an observation area about 20 miles away, hoping to still get closer to the volcano and to see the eruption side. The roads there were twisting and winding and up and down and Caleb was trying to fall asleep for a late nap, when he woke up, started fussing, and then projectile vomited all over.