(Continued from this post.)
I awoke with a start. Everything was silent and still. I was in a cocoon. My head, foggy. What time was it?
Oh right, I was on a train with the Russlaender 100 tour. We had boarded at 2:45am. I’ve only ever taken day-trains before (mostly overseas but Andrew reminds me that we took the train from Montreal to Quebec City last summer and for whatever reason I can’t remember much of it) so this whole VIA Rail Canadian thing was very very new to me.
In my groggy state the night before I had somehow managed to find my train ticket and climb aboard the correct car (both minor miracles at this point tbh), hoisting my carryon with me. I then stood in a tiny hallway with thick curtains on either side. All humans had abruptly disappeared, because sleep.
“I don’t know where to look for my berth number,” I bleated helplessly to no one.
“You’re in the right place,” said a disembodied voice. “Just look up.”
Somewhat reassured, I looked up. Sure enough, a number that may have matched the one on my ticket. I wasn’t 100% sure of what I was doing but trusting this mysterious voice was really the only option I had at this point in the quiet chaos. I wrestled my carryon onto the upper berth, then awkwardly scrambled up the ladder, feeling terrified of falling and every bit of my 45 arthritic years.
In an effort to turn off the light in the unfamiliar space I accidentally pressed the call button, yelped “WHOOPS!” into the silence, then fell fast asleep to the clickety clack of the train on the tracks.
It was when that rocking ceased, that I awoke.
I lay there in the stillness, thinking, “wow this train is smoooooth.”
No, it wasn’t. It was just at a stop. Suddenly, WHOOSH — another train passed at lightning speed. And I remembered that VIA Rail lets CN Rail pass because VIA uses CN tracks and CN gets priority. Ah yes. Slowly the clickety-clack returned and I fell back to sleep.
Clickety-clack. I was awake now. I found my glasses and peered out my curtain to spy blearily on random passengers who were making their way through the hallway below my perch.
I discovered that the source of the disembodied voice from the night before was Lorna, who had been on the tour since day one and was a pro by now. I was grateful for the help she offered (probably in a bid to make me STFU so she could sleep but whatever, help is help, right?).
I felt a bit of anxiety about the fact I could not charge my phone overnight (no outlets in these 1960s berths) but was excited for the next part of our adventure — the stop in Jasper! I learned that we would NOT have the original 3 hours planned — only one hour, in an effort to get this train back on schedule.
One hour to see all of Jasper. Yikes!
You know, things often don’t go according to plan. This was one of those times. Initially when I’d heard we’d have 3 hours in Jasper, commencing at approximately 6:30am, I’d envisioned donning a thick sweater, getting a nice coffee from a random artisanal coffee place, and leisurely strolling about Jasper before boarding the train for breakfast at 9:30am. I told everyone that I was really looking forward to this.
The moment the doors opened at 10:30am (see? very much behind schedule, haha) I flew off the train and took off speedwalking in whatever random direction, snapping frantic pictures of whatever I thought could be construed as “iconic Jasper”.
After realizing I was behaving much like a deer in headlights, I told myself to calm down, walk normally, use crosswalks appropriately, etc. I watched the time and reoriented myself back to the station to make sure I wouldn’t miss boarding the train. I ran into other folks from the tour (Jeremy, Kenji, and Rebekah – feature photo btw) and we talked about what photos we had managed to capture during our very short visit to Jasper.
Getting back on the train was like getting into a concert: crowded. Also, very hot. I had not counted on this heat and my stupid sweater was useless to me. (It’s as if I’d never been to Canada in July before. *Insert eyeroll emoji here.)
Our next order of business was breakfast. My camera roll tells me I was having brunch with Rebekah on the train at precisely 11:52am… and the train was still standing right there in Jasper. Good grief! haha
What follows next are many pictures of the picturesque Rocky Mountains… and a mimosa, offered by VIA Rail in celebration of now being in the Rockies. (I ended up having like three… they’re very small! *She shouted defensively.)
At 1:23pm, I took a picture in the games car (is that its name? it’s where we could always get a coffee and pastry, with many tables and chairs and games and Meg took good care of us there) where we were all looking out the windows with great interest. I think that’s because Meg was telling us what we could be seeing if we looked out the windows.
“Is THAT Mount Robson?” I asked, pointing.
By 1:41pm I had managed to find a seat in the very popular dome car, at last.
By 3:43pm, we were all singing, with conductor Henry Engbrecht conducting in the dome car, and Ruth Godreau (oh dear, I’m spelling that wrong…) conducting in the room below where I now sat.
After singing, a woman sitting across from me, whom I had not noticed up until now, pointed directly at me, locked steely eyes, leaned forward, and let me know I’d gotten some things wrong online, about the three Mennonite villages and the draining of Sumas Lake.
The British Columbia portion of my adventure had officially begun.