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A conceptual rendering of the proposed bullet train that is supposed to take passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2.5 hours. Although a Merced-to-Bakersfield link was supposed to be completed in the next couple of years, the construction has barely begun. Photo courtesy hsr.ca.gov
Columns Hit the Road

Wishful thinking? Bullet trains and brown bears

I’m dreaming of a bullet train and Bear Camp.

Imagine … getting from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 2.5 hours without getting on an airplane and all that this entails these days.

It’s a dream envisioned by many (count me in), but the story of California’s bullet train is long, complicated, controversial, costly and still far from finished. In fact, it may never be. 

According to a recent story from the nonpartisan CalMatters online news organization, the estimated cost of the high-speed train has gone from $33 billion to about $100 billion.

The first leg was supposed to be a 171-mile starter line — double-tracked and electrified — between Merced and Bakersfield.

Some criticize this decision. After all, they ask, how many people travel from Merced to Bakersfield and back?

Also, “construction crews have only begun to build roadbed for the San Joaquin Valley segment and no track has been laid,” writes veteran journalist Dan Walters. “Optimistically, it will be almost a decade before passengers can ride on it.”

The grand bullet train plan also calls for feeder lines that would connect with the main line.

Some exist now; some don’t, and there have been many changes along the way.

Additionally, there’s both a fight for funding and lack of agreement on how the money should be spent. Dreamers (count me in) are wondering whether the bullet train will ever happen. Circumstances are confusing and disappointing.

I would love to hop aboard the Metrolink or Amtrak out of Oceanside and connect with the bullet train in Los Angeles.

The entire trip to the Bay Area could be convenient and restful. No TSA hassles, long lines, tight seating or middle seats.

If similar to Amtrak, there would be room to work, room to snooze, a view from every seat and free Wi-Fi. Perhaps even a dining car.

Alaska is home to about 95% of America’s brown bear population. Lucky travelers can get an up-close-and-personal encounter with these bears with a stay at Bear Camp, a luxury camping experience with Natural Habitat Adventures. Courtesy photo

Imagine …

Another dream: A few years ago, my husband and I were planning a trip to Alaska, which we hoped would include a side trip to see brown bears in the wild. (Alaska is home to 95% of America’s brown bear population.)

As we discovered, same-day, round-trip tickets on the small plane that would take us into the wilderness cost $800 each with no refund if the weather didn’t cooperate. Obviously, no guarantee on the appearance of the bears either.

The traveling portion of the trip was several hours longer than the time spent observing the bears, so all in all, it was a no-go.

Now Natural Habitat Adventures, which has been providing “eco-conscious expeditions” and close-encounter animal experiences around the globe since 1985, has a new offering.

Called Alaska Bear Camp, the four-night, five-day tour (offered May 24 – Aug. 23) starts with a short flight from Homer, Alaska, and ends at a luxury 14-guest campsite on private land within Lake Clark National Park.

The camp “is surrounded by rich bear habitat, and bears are often on view directly in front of the camp, as well as on the shoreline and in the surrounding meadows.”

The experience promises “multiple bear-viewing opportunities from the camp’s two elevated viewing platforms and on guided walks with … experienced bear naturalists.”

Cost: $4,895 per person (double occupancy). This includes services of guides and staff, all meals, most gratuities, airport transfers, entrance fees, taxes and permits.

It does not include airfare to Alaska.

Imagine…

For more photos and discussion, visit www.facebook.com/elouise.ondash. Questions or contributions? Email [email protected].

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