Long Train Running.
Canadian Pacific Railways: The journey from Jasper to Vancouver was a strange but mostly enjoyable experience. The train carries an odd mix of passengers, mostly the cast from Cocoon, railway geeks and folks with a crippling fear of flying - and Japanese tourists. A cruise liner sense of community is fostered whereby everybody mingles except when you can make it back to the sanctuary of your own cabin. Four days of this would be unthinkable, a night is just enough. Meals are random affairs where you sit with incoherent grannies and Scottish lunatics whist enjoying decent food and very civilised table service from the railway attendants. The views and scenery are fantastic although a kind of “tree” madness descends on some as they respond to the millions of forest giants lining the route. I began counting trees when driving up from Calgary but quickly abandoned the count at the first set of traffic lights, others not so lucky have persisted with counting and teeter on the brink of some kind of tree mania.
In the late afternoon we finally got lucky with the wildlife. We were up in the iconic observation dome still mesmerised by blurred trees when the shout went up, “bear on the right!”. As we were at the rear of the 22 carriage train we had time to prepare and sure enough, five minutes later the bear was spotted. A little black fellow munching vegetation with his back to the tracks. A huge cheer broke out amongst the geriatrics and drunks and high fives were exchanged. Now we were a team. Some guy with a camera the size of a portable TV had captured the moment and email addresses were franticly swapped so that the precious pic might be shared. The bear meanwhile faded into the distance as we headed west and back to civilisation. Ali was however given her ceremonial Indian name “She who looks for bear” or “Chingachonk-Bana” as it is in the native Pawnee language.
There is no hurry with this train either, no fixed schedule, people are vague about timings and it stops and starts and crawls subject to the vagaries of the mountain and weather gods - as if they cared. This listless approach lulls passengers into a careless stupor which in our case was amplified by a liberal amount of alcohol, all at $7.00 a shot. Through the shiny panoramic glass I observe nameless and remote places I’ll never visit and am comforted by the thought that at least I’m not driving nor am I really affected. Canada rolls by like a pleasant film backdrop, replayed a hundred times over but still unrecognisable as anywhere in particular.
After the evening meal we returned to find our cabin had been transformed for night time use and bunks replaced the two reclining seats. Sleeping was easy for me, Ali chose to look out of the window all night and became both hypnotized and comatosed. Even the omelette, toast and honey that made up the early breakfast (6.30 Pacific Time) could not easily reinvigorate her.
Showering on the train was fun, I managed to find the compartment and get in as it gently rollicked along only to tip a bottle of what I thought was shower gel on my head. It was mouthwash. The water was warm and as the train was still moving slowly I felt safe enough - at 100 mph it would have been a different proposition. So now onwards to Vancouver and the West Coast.