Wednesday, 17 February 2016

On biking in February

On Friday night, the word from Via Rail suggested the Canadian would be on time or even early. Consequently, a shade before 8 PM, I bade goodbye to Mark and my nieces. Alice drove me first to the hospital where she had to check up on some work. As I waited in her electric car, I got a phone call from Via Rail saying that the Train was likely to be 20 to 25 minutes early! Would I mind being at the station a little early? Alice came out and asked me if I would like to drive. I most certainly would and did so.  Driving an electric car is a bit eerie as it is too easy to accelerate and too easy to underestimate your speed. It is also cool.

The Canadian arrived well ahead of schedule and after waving adieu to Alice, I got on board my car. I was in the Butler Manor sleeping car, just ahead of the Bliss Manor car which was the one my compartment was in on my first trip on the Train.

The theme of premature arrival was one that carried over to Vancouver, as we arrived possibly as much as an hour ahead of schedule. I had phoned Margo to alert her to this unusual state of affairs shortly after we crossed the Fraser River. My breakfast companions were some Americans from Portland, Maine who were surprised I had data access on my iPhone. Somehow, they hadn't twigged I was Canadian (eh?) and therefore had a Canadian data plan.

Margo met me at Pacific Central Station. While we awaited the arrival of my checked luggage, we chatted with a woman who said that there had been a Quebecer who had been caught smoking in the bathroom on the Train and was now being formally informed that he was persona non grata as far as Via Rail was concerned. Chris drove us to their house where I promptly collapsed into a snooze as I hadn't slept particularly well on the Train.

The great thing about staying with Margo and Chris is that I find it very easy just to take it easy and relax. There is little impetus to do this or that in any hurry. This is assisted by the fact that I have been here several times in the last fifteen years, and the three of us know each other fairly well.

On Saturday, we had supper with Margaret and Edward who had come over to see Science World. They spent the night here and then left, with Edward taking several Church Mice books with him.

On Sunday, I went over to North Vancouver to spend time with my cousin Kristine, her husband Kevin, and their daughters Julianne and Elisabeth.  Kevin, Elisabeth and I had a walk in a nature reserve down by Burrard Inlet where we came across a quartet of deer.

On Monday, I had lunch with my Aunt Rosemary and Uncle Cecil. I had gone downtown with Margo and Chris by bus and SkyTrain. Margo and Chris were going to a lecture at Simon Fraser University about Chile. I met up with Margo and Chris after lunch and we went to see the steam locomotive that hauled the first transcontinental passenger train. I made curry out of leftover lamb that night.

On Tuesday, I borrowed Margo and Chris' "loaner" bike and took advantage of the first sunny day to ride to the Vancouver Aquarium. Many other denizens of Vancouver were also enjoying the sunshine in diverse ways, including bikes. As I rode for the first time in nearly two months, I tried to assess what type of cyclist I appeared to be as I was riding a beater bike, but with an older MEC pannier and wearing a good helmet and a bright orange fleece jacket. I never came up with a good answer.

At the Aquarium, I was intrigued to see that the marine mammal lineup now includes Chester, the young (two years old) false killer whale who shares a pool with Helen the Pacific white-sided dolphin. Helen used to share the pool with another of her species, but it died within the last year. After I was done with Aquarium, I went around the Seawall then rode to the end of False Creek. I stopped outside Science World to consult a map when I noticed an electronic sign that tallied the number of cyclists that went by via an electromagnetic loop in the bike path. I wonder if it picks up carbon fiber bikes. Approximately 1760 cyclists had ridden over the sensor that day by the time I was there. Not bad for a week day in February!  After a stop at MEC, I went home.

Today, Margo, Chris and I took in the St-Roch and the Maritime Museum. Afterwards, we had Shanghai-style dumplings for lunch before going on a walk beside the beach with a friend and the black Lab he is fostering before she starts her training to be a guide dog.

Tomorrow, I fly to Victoria.

Friday, 12 February 2016

On being too stubborn to come out of the rain

Mark and I took Kerry, Maria and Anna to Raccoons this morning. Kerry continued her campaign to reduce me to a nervous wreck by quietly toddling out into the hall and into the girls' bathroom while no one was looking. ;-)

The weather is very mild and it was almost sunny when we walked home. This lured me into going for a walk after lunch. It was sprinkling lightly as I left but I assumed it would let up. About two hours later, I returned rather wet having been too stupid and/or stubborn to turn back earlier.

Anna commented rather directly on my dampness when I came in like a drowned rat. Mad dogs and Englishmen.

I have noticed that the Canadian is the cause of a certain amount of anxiety for me on this trip as I am dependent on Alice and Mark for transport to and from the minimal station which is problematic given the poor predictability of the train.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

On a grey day in Clearwater

The weather in Clearwater has been grey, warm and wet. Thus most of our activities have been indoors. Today, Mark took the girls and I to Raccoons which is related to BC's StrongStart program. It took place in the local elementary school a little way down the road. It covered a fairly wide range of ages from babies only a few months old to Anna who will be five in a couple of months. One baby called Richard could crawl very quickly even though his technique was seal-like. He seemed quite happy.

Later, Kerry gave me quite a scare. We had gone next door to the gym. I was chatting with a dad when I caught sight of Kerry who had climb up a series of poles attached to the wall until her head was above mine. While there was padding on the floor at the base of the ladder, it didn't look enough to cushion a fall from her height. She seemed happy but I didn't know how long that would last. More importantly, I didn't know if she could get down safely. I rushed over and hovered until she happily climbed down of her own accord. I made a point of keeping a closer watch on her afterwards.

(Alice later told me that Kerry had climbed up there before. Alice had taken her down out of concern. However, my sister was relieved to know that Kerry can get down by herself.)

When I got back to the house, I discovered that Via Rail wanted to know how I found my experience on the Train. I filled out the online questionnaire as best I could as a few of the questions were tricky to answer. One of them was "What was the principal reason for your trip?" The problem was that the available options included both "visiting relatives/friends" and "vacation/leisure" but you could only choose one option. As well, after I finished the  survey, I wasn't sure if I had remembered my trip to Vancouver  tomorrow during the anticipated future travel section.

On some tidbits from the train

On the third night on the Train, I had retired to my roomette, folded down the bed and was lying down on top of the covers watching a movie on the iPhone when a member of the crew commented noticed me through the open door and curtains. He looked in to say: "You look comfortable" which I rather was.

The names of the cars were mostly very well known Canadian figures or places. I was in the Brock Manor. The other sleepers were named for Rogers (as in the man who discovered the pass), Osler (the doctor), Monck (as in Moncton) and Joliet (the explorer). The park car was called Laurentide. The dinning car was named Louise, which must be named for the dinning room in the Château Lake Louise.

The next day, there was relatively little to report aside from the majesty of the Rockies under relatively grey skies. The Athabaska River looked like it had been very high recently with ice sitting on solid ground. Nearing Jasper, I was a trifle unnerved to see about four grain cars derailed and partially submerged in the river and in sediments suggesting that they had been there for some time. My guess is that CN is waiting until summer before removing them.

Leaving Jasper, the Train was running about three hours late. I had supper at six then retired to my roomette for a snooze. As luck would have it, the Train made up time and arrived in Clearwater at around 11, where Alice was waiting having been alerted by phone.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

On skates, Anna, Maria and Kerry!!!

I got to Clearwater around 11 PM where Alice was waiting having been given a fifteen minute warning.

This morning, Alice, the girls and I took a very local bus to the skating rink. We all borrowed skates. Each with her or his level of skill set out on the ice, the girls with the help of three sided plastic stands and the close assistance of Alice in Kerry's case. I had wondered about at Kerry skating but I assumed that this was routine for Alice and therefore said nothing. Kerry seemed happy through her concentrated face. It was only afterwards that I found out it was Kerry's first skate! I felt privileged to have witnessed the event and glad to have caught it on camera.

Monday, 8 February 2016

On an indifferent day

I woke up a little to the East of Sioux Lookout and was up in time to take some pictures. The day was dominated by anticipation of Winnipeg and matters related to it.

At lunch, one of my companions spotted a trio of deer by the side of the track. Which made a nice change. The forests have seemed pretty empty.

Winnipeg was reduced to about a 45 minutes stop meaning we were only about three hours and twenty minutes behind schedule when we left. Among the crowd waiting to get on was a woman with an adorable husky puppy.  Also adorable was a family with three small children. I first made contact with them when I walked into the Skyline car and saw a two or three year-old asleep in a parka on one of the activity tables. I latter saw him up and in company with a ten or eleven month old sitting happily in the middle of traffic looking cherubic.

Late in the afternoon, I was in the Park car when it began to lurch back and forth in an unpleasant motion that sent me forwards to my car where the motion wasn't noticeable. After supper, I went back to find was even more unpleasant due to the lack of outside reference points. My theory is the cause is a combination of poor rail conditions combined with a crosswind and the dome acting like a sail. I can't help but wonder how the Prestige passengers are feeling about their deluxe but bouncy accommodations!

The lateness of the train means I missed the Qu'appelle River Valley. That was a disappointment as the Valley was really nice.

However, the skies have cleared and I have cabin on the North side of the train so I might get Northern Lights!

Current location

The train got to Sioux Lookout around 7:15 AM. It was light enough for a few pictures.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

On a siding in Hornepayne

The Train was making decent time until Hornepayne. I moved to the forward dome car to look ahead where I saw that there was only one coach car before the baggage car but two Château cars beyond that. Train gossip suggests that they are being deadheaded back West after hauling a tour group to Toronto.

After an hour and the sighting of the first wildlife so far (three crows) train shunted itself off the main line onto a siding. It was announced that the track ahead was blocked by a single-car derailment. There were crews dealing with the situation but we would be delayed for at least another two hours. Three container trains have joined us on the sidings. I explained to a fellow passenger that while only one car had derailed, given that freight cars often weigh over 100 tons when loaded, it still took time and equipment to get a car back on the track.

So here we are at least three hours late, and still no definitive word from CN as to when the track will be clear. The doors have just been reopened for the benefit of the smokers!

The only plus is that Hornepayne has cell coverage.

9.22 PM Moving again, with luck, this isn't just shunting to make space.

9.26 PM No such luck.

9.39 PM Moving. Feels definitive.

Brief update

Toronto was almost entirely devoid of snow when we left banging time. However, the morning found the Canadian rolling through a snowy, "winter wonderland" forest with snow falling on the dark green conifers and bare birches interspersed with lakes. From the dome car, you can see the light fluffy snow blow off and around.

Now just leaving Foleyet.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

On board the Canadian again

Union station's platforms are covered, sort of by partial roofs held up by iron girders that likely date from from when the station was built in the 1920s. In theory, the roof would protect waiting passengers, but give the boarding policy, precious little waiting happens at platform level. Are these roofs all that useful then?

For some reason my car, number 113, is located in front of cars, 110, 111 and 112 and indeed in front of the dining car, just behind the comfort (read "economy" or "steerage" class Skyline car. This train only has two dome cars, the other being the Laurentide Park car bringing up the rear. The later and the Château car in front of it are the newly tarted up "Prestige" versions of those car types. I must try to weasel a visit into one of the cabins. I may have an in as I was chatting with a couple from Vermont which includes a self described "foamer" which is an American term for a rabid railway fan. ;-)

On the motion of the LRC train

The last train I was on was the Canadian on my last train to Clearwater back in September 2014. This excludes the Metro. For some reason, possibly anxiety, the motion of the LRC car I am seems rushed, as if the train is sprinting, running for home. There is a lot of shaking and a lack of smoothness. I am finding it hard to relax. Ah well.

On the train again

Well, I'm on train to Toronto catch the Canadian to Clearwater. As a winter vacation I must confess this is both eccentric and self-indulgent, but I got a nice discount from Via Rail and will soon get a nice raise courtesy of legislation introduced by the Province at least a decade ago. There is a light snowfall happening as I zoom through the flat lands.

My supervisor on hearing I would be taking the Canadian from Toronto asked without a trace of sarcasm how I would I be getting to Toronto? Driving? Flying? I gave her a disbelieving stare as I thought she would have twigged to the idea that taking the train from Montreal was the most obvious way for me to go. Then again she lives in suburban Laval.