Friday, 19 September 2014

On road kill

Sleeping on the Canadian for me involves waking up and going back to sleep fairly frequently what with all the bumps, stops, starts and noise from passing freight trains. Consequently the quality and quantity of my slumber left something to be desired.  As such, when I woke up, if I was in a state where I felt renewed sleep was merely a eye closure away, I closed my eyes.

On Tuesday morn, I was aware of odd clunking noises from ahead of me, but I wished a few more winks even more than finding out what they were. I therefore missed the panorama car being added to the middle of the train just ahead of my car.
A little before 7, I got up and went outside to witness the sun rise at Edmonton's station. People were milling about, some of them chatting, others smoking, some strolling to stretch their legs. One older man was briskly jogging up the station in shorts and a lime green jacket. I walked the length of the Train several times trying and failing to get a satisfactory count of the number of coaches.
"All aboard" was called while I was at the front of the train, so I got in via the economy class coach and walked back. As I came into dining car "A", the maître d' queried my presence as I was coming from "cattle class". Once assured of my bonafides, he seated me for a continental breakfast. Owning to our arrival time in Jasper, the midday meal was "brunch" and therefore there was no cooked breakfast.

Afterwards, I made my way back down the Train. I stopped in the dome car to ask Cathy, the entertainment coordinator about the scarcity of kids with an eye towards Désirée. She laughed and said that during the summer months it was like kindergarten! She described several of the activities she typically organized. Seems my observations in a previous entry was wrong or at least not always the case.

Contrary to my expectation, the panorama car was not a dome, not rising above level of the other cars' roofs. It did have windows that curved to form most of the roof. They gave a very good view of the passing scenery.

I returned to my roomette for a morning snooze. I then sorted my clobber somewhat, before heading forwards for brunch. I ate in the company of Diane, one of the Brits and two others whose names elude me. I had French toast stuffed with cheesecake. Very indulgent, as was the complimentary mimosa. Borderline decadent.

The Rockies rose from the trees in all their splendour. Words fail me on the whole. Suffice to say the mountains with their  rocks, sedimentary and folded and what have you, impressed me. The line snaked up a valley as all and sundry gazed out trying to take it all in. Many were hoping to see wild animals. They were disappointed until just before we got into Jasper when we passed a herd of bighorn sheep lounging nonchalantly beside the tracks.

As the Train rolled into Jasper, I noticed the Skeena train waiting on a siding. It consisted of a single locomotive and four cars. It looked dumpy in comparison to the twenty-two cars and two locomotives of the Canadian. :-) Incidentally, I was told that of the two locomotives, only one was actually pulling the Train. The other one was generating electricity (or head end power) for all the cars! This makes the locomotives all the more impressive as a staff member passed around a history of the Canadian with pictures of the it from the old days. None of them had as many cars as "my" edition but for ones approaching it, they had as many as four locomotives pulling. Evidently, the power of modern diesels has improved a lot.

It was gorgeously sunny as I strolled the streets of Jasper. I caught sight of a Supermoose T-shirt in a shop window. I didn't resist. I noticed a bike parked next to the end car of the Canadian. My guess was that it was used by the staff to make faster end to end transits. I was later find out more about the peculiar origins of said bike.
There was an old CN steam locomotive on display near the station which bizarrely didn't have a plaque about it. C'mon, Parks Canada, you can do better! There were also three unattached Via rail cars nearby that I took as some of exhibit. As I waited at the station to re-board, I saw a sign saying that three cars had been added to the train to "dead headed" (e.g. hauled empty) to Vancouver. My guess is that they "belonged" to the "summer" version of the Skeena, and were no longer needed in the fall. I nipped outside to have a look and wasn't surprised to see that the three cars that I had seen earlier were no longer where I had seen them.

So all aboard the now twenty-five car train minus the load of Brits but plus a crew of Road Scholars from the States. I chatted with a number of them. A common thread of conversation in general was Via Rail versus Amtrak. (I had to inform one man from Colorado that it was "Via Rail", not "V.I.A. Rail"! It had been driving me nuts.)  The consensus was that Via Rail generally came off better than Amtrak, especially the Canadian. However, I pointed out that Via had the "unfair" advantage over Amtrak as it had an obvious flagship train service into which it could pour its resources, whereas as Amtrak has many potential prestige runs. Now that I think about, I don't know if it has any one train comes as close as the Canadian does for coast-to-coast service. Not to mention the fact that it has to consider North-South service as well as East-West.  If there were to be an Amtrak flagship run, it would likely be a New York to Los Angeles train.

I had walked back to the Park car for a G and T and was having a nice chat when I heard my service for supper being called. I made my way hastily back up the quarter mile to the dining car, where I had some wonderful short ribs in the company of Jill, a self-described wine snob from Napa Valley and Tom, a Road Scholar from Wisconsin. I got the impression the latter was hitting on the former to her bemusement.

I gathered my clobber from my room and set off up the Train where I made the acquaintance of Janet, the train manager. It turned out she was a cycle tourist herself recently returned from a Vancouver-Alaska trip. On that trip, she and her partner had found a bicycle in the ditch still attached to a bumper that was not still attached to an RV. As it was functional, they disassembled it in order to haul it out on their bikes! If I recall correctly, this was somewhere in the Yukon. The bike was the one I'd seen in Jasper, now used for train work.
Janet terms such finds "road kill". When I produced my best road kill, the Leatherman, she was mock jealous, and offered to swap it for the bike. If I had thought things through more carefully, I would have asked her if I might reassemble Leonardo in the baggage car prior to arrival as Mark and Alice were unavailable to pick me up. I am sure I would have been allowed. Janet seemed very accommodating.  As it was, she, another Via personnel and I spent a few of my last minutes on the Train explaining to a young Brit in the economy dome car lounge the whys and wherefores of bike touring.
I got off the Train about twenty minutes behind schedule, and set about reattaching the pedals and the handlebars with due care. After putting the box under eaves of a CN building (it wasn't there the next day), I consulted Alice's instructions, and rode off into the quiet night. It took about ten or fifteen minutes of pedaling at a deliberate and cautious rate before I arrived where Mark and Alice greeted me warmly.

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