Riding to Smithton, PA

Here we are getting reading to ride at in the garage at Ram’s place of work.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a view of PIttsburgh as we cross the Hot Metal Bridge and the Monongahela river.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was a photo opportunity in Homestead, just outside of Pittsburgh.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were riding near the railroad tracks  for some time.  I believe the place was called Duquesne.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe crossed the Monongahela river into McKeesport.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was a break for a second breakfast for some of us.  Shankar had not had his morning coffee as yet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis near the confluence of the Youghiogheny and Monongahela rivers.  From now on we will leave the Monongahela, and ride along the Yough.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail climbed into the woods.  The people who built the GAP left this stretch of railroad tracks standing beside the trail. The GAP is a railtrail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made a stop at Boston and met a very interesting trail volunteer. We spent a long time chatting with him.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI thought this house by the trail looked interesting.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made many stops to take in the views and chill out.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis waterfall was depositing some white mineral on the rocks.  It could have been either natural or from some old abandoned mine.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe took a break at the Beuna Vista ramp.  We had stopped here to eat teplas when we rode the trail last time in 2016.  We were too full from the late breakfast this time.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis section of the trail was built on the right of way of the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie railroad.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis waterfall carries iron from the remains of an old mine.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe bike must have been dropped in the water.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe saw fallen trees in a few places, but this was the only location where the trail was completely blocked.  We could easily get under the fallen tree.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the West Newton train station that has been converted into a museum and gift shop.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACrossing the Yough to go into town at West Newton.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe spent some time in West Newton.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe then got back on the trail after crossing back over the river. Here we are approaching the end of the ride for the day. At this point, we got off the trail and crossed the river once again into Smithton.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe easily found the Bed & Breakfast place where we were staying for the evening. One of the natives knew exactly what we were looking for when he saw four tired people on their bikes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe building is a three story affair that is really old – from the early 20th century.  It belonged to the family of the current owner who now happens to also be the volunteer Mayor of Smithton.  It was used as a boarding house in times past.  There is a lot of history in the place that I have no time to expand on at this point.

The place used to have a working bar.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere used to be a brewery in town.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe spent a delightful and very relaxed evening on the porch chatting. There was not much choice in town for dinner.  We ordered pizza from the only place that was open, and consumed it while enjoying our liquid refreshment in the cool evening breeze as the sun set.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAP7080005-1.jpgOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also took a walk through the town.  It did not take too long to get through it.  It is a really small place. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASmithton is close to the railroad tracks.  You can hear the music of the rails and the whistle of the engines as as the freight trains roar by.  But I did not hear any trains during the night.  I must have slept well.

We rode about 40 miles yesterday.

Travels With My Brother – A Delivery in Toronto

Our third morning on the train found us stopped at some location I could not identify. IMG_20170805_073451787The time was about 8:30am.  Shortly after, I noticed passengers walking outside.  IMG_20170805_083734660My guess was that this was a train station.

A few freight trains went by while we waited at this location.  An hour and a half later the train moved slowly to another location not too far away where I saw this sign.IMG_20170805_100631291The train then started moving forward as if it were going to depart the place and then stopped.  If only they could make up their minds!  It then returned to this station at around 11:00am. IMG_20170805_105902917Apparently somebody on the train had had an accident and broken a hip. The person had to be taken off the train.  When the train finally departed Sudbury Junction, it had lost what little time it had made up the previous night. By then it was about ten hours late.

I did join others for breakfast for the first time during this ride.  Met up with a young couple who were from different parts of of Europe, countries in the east and the west.  They were used to traveling all over the world.  The train ride they had enjoyed the most was the one in South Africa.  It turned out that their main complaint with the Canadian was the fact that the timing was predictable.  That was what I heard consistently from other people that we dined with.  Their main issue, and ours, was the inability to create reliable plans for their destinations.  Some had connections to make to other places.

We showered that day on the train (finally!) in preparation for our arrival in Toronto later in the evening.  It was also time to change the dressing on the wounds on my left arm for the first time since we started the trip.  Tom had to do it.  He remembered the procedure but the process itself did not do him any good.  Concentrating on the effort of completing the dressing was too much for him.  He had been feeling good in the morning, but the effort set him back.

Meanwhile, the rescue party from the US were on their way to Buffalo.  They had started the previous day and had run into their own share of adventures.  They had booked a car with a rental agency, only to be told when they arrived there that there was no car really available.  They decided to try their luck at another place, and fortunately a car was just being returned at that time.  They jumped at the offer to rent that car.  The escape plan could have become even more complicated without this car.  Christina and Jesse were also arranging a place for us to stay that night in Buffalo.  Because of the proximity to Niagara Falls, prices for hotel rooms were quite exorbitant, but they managed to find a place that would do.  The only matter now left was to coordinate times of arrival in Toronto, a challenge under the circumstances.

Tom had given up on flying out of Toronto.  There was no way the train was going to get there on time. In addition to the idea of flying out of Buffalo, he was also considering coming down to Gaithersburg with us and flying out of one of the DC airports.  He had been doing a lot of research in this regard on the train.  The Gaithersburg option was less expensive, but he would have to be in good shape to travel in the car.  Both options would get him home in time.  In the end he decided to travel with us all the way to Gaithersburg.

Since the train had originally been scheduled to arrive in Toronto in the morning, lunch that was served in the dining room ended up being an improvised effort.  The chef managed to produce three fresh entrees to choose from. The staff did a great job under the circumstances.  I learned that the train was supposed to head back from Toronto to Vancouver the same evening, and that the staff who had accompanied us on this trip were supposed to work the train going back.  This meant that, because of the delay,  they were not getting a long break in Toronto.  That must be tough.

I took more pictures of the landscape along the way as we approached Toronto.  It was quite cloudy.IMG_20170805_153052648_HDRIMG_20170805_153718131IMG_20170805_153949579_HDRWe rolled into Toronto a little after 6pm.  Our rescuers had been trying to get updates on the estimated time of arrival of the train from us and from Via Rail through the day.  Jesse seemed to have left Buffalo at a good time to pick us up and was on his way. We took the nearest exit we could find out of the train station and walked out onto Front Street and got in touch with Christina.  We were instructed to cross the road and wait in front of the Royal York Hotel. IMG_20170805_181614815_HDRIMG_20170805_181629428_HDRJesse arrived in the red corolla that we had been advised to look out for a few minutes later.

We quickly packed ourselves into the car.  A message was was broadcast that the package had been picked up successfully!

We made a quick getaway from the city and headed towards Niagara Falls to cross the border into the USA.  We grabbed some food from a Subway along the way.  Tom was already feeling good enough to eat and we both had good appetites.

The immigration officer at the border asked about the purpose of the trip when Jesse handed our passports to him.  “A rescue mission,” Jesse said.  The dressing on my arm was enough to convince him.  The officer asked if I was bringing anything back from Canada.  He then laughed and said that I probably left some skin behind in Canada.  Not only skin, but some flesh also!  I told him that I was only bringing back some gravel from Canada.  He smiled.   For some reason this seemed funny at that time.

Christina was waiting for us at the motel.  We were tired.  We crashed out!

As a postscript to this part of the adventure, I should make it very clear that I would not have made it this far without Tom.   Traveling in my condition was not a easy exercise.  Tom was always there making sure I was OK.  He was the one who did all the planning.  He was the one who had to do the heavy lifting.   He was the one who even had to cut my steak one night at dinner when I foolishly ordered something that had been recommended by others but was difficult to handle.  Thanks for everything man!

Last stage of our travels here.

Travels With My Brother – A Second Full Day On The Train in Canada

The train was pulling into a station when I awoke the next morning. Through the window I saw a somewhat dramatic building in the distance with the sun rising behind it.  I had the momentary thought that I should raise myself out of bed and take a picture or two.  Perhaps we were in Winnipeg.  But the spirit proved to be weak.  I flopped back into bed.  When I next opened my eyes, the sun had risen completely, and the train was beginning to move once again.

It was only much later that I realized that I had made a mistake not making the extra effort to wake up at the station to do some exploring.  We had indeed stopped at Winnipeg, the half way point of the entire train ride.  This was where the train was supposed to stop for almost two hours, and the entire crew for the train changed over for the rest of the journey.  The building I had seen earlier was the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.  And the train had actually stopped well within the city limits as opposed to the outskirts of the city, as it had done in Edmonton and Saskatoon. And Union Station was actually a National Historic Site. Oh well.

It is worth noting that the train was now over 9 hours late.  We should have actually passed through Winnipeg late last night.

We missed breakfast once again.   When I went looking for food, I found muffins in the activity/lounge car instead of the the crackers and biscuits of the previous morning.IMG_20170804_094454299.jpgThe muffins were too sweet for me.  Somehow, I did not think Tom would enjoy them.  Based on the success of the previous day’s “breakfast” delivery, I asked the attendant for the car (who had just boarded in Winnipeg) if she had any of yesterday’s items.   When I told her that this was for my brother who was experiencing motion sickness, in addition to finding what I was looking for, she added ginger ale to my supplies.  She also said that she would also notify our carriage attendant.  Sure enough, the attendant appeared at our door some time later to give us another bag full of stuff for Tom to consume, including a second can of ginger ale!  The staff on this train were on top of their game!

We crossed over from Manitoba into Ontario shortly after we left Winnipeg.  The landscape was beginning to change.  There were lakes all around us.IMG_20170804_094555942Some time after crossing into Ontario, the train drew to a stop at what looked like a little village on a lake.   The sign on the building said Malachi.  There were actually people waiting to board the train at Malachi.  We learned that in some parts of Canada the train was the only lifeline available, and that you could call ahead of time to have it stop to pick you up.  (Looking at a schedule, I saw 14 such possible stops between Winnipeg and the next big station, Sioux Lookout.)IMG_20170804_100550090Tom was actually feeling better that morning, well enough to sit up and take videos.IMG_20170804_110636502Here is some more of the scenery.IMG_20170804_131347516But I was once again on my own for lunch since Tom was still not feeling completely up to it.  I mentioned Tom’s travel troubles to the maître d’ (who I had met for the first time earlier that morning) in the dining room.   She offered her sympathy and from then onward always inquired about Tom whenever I showed up at the dining room on my own.  I also happened to mention Tom’s motion sickness to my lunch companions that afternoon, an older retired couple from Vancouver, originally from Scotland.  The missus looked very concerned, and immediately began suggesting a bunch of remedies, including some medicine for motion sickness (it was not Dramamine), and things like ginger to chew on, and even ginger ale. She immediately stopped the waitress to ask if they had any of what she was suggesting.  Unfortunately, they only had ginger ale.

In addition to the usual talk at the dining table about my physical condition, I had a delightful conversation with the folks from Vancouver about their hometown. I also mentioned that we had visited Scotland, and that moved the conversation in a different direction.  When the conversation at some point veered towards politics, the gentleman noted that he was not a great fan of their current Prime Minister (he is not a politician, it seems).  But both of them still declined my generous offer to exchange our leader for theirs.

I found myself walking in front of the lady who had been my lunch companion on my way back to our carriage.  Seeing the manner in which I was opening the doors between the carriages (using only my good hand!), she, a much older person than myself, stepped in front of me and opened the rest of the doors (she was quite strong!) until we got to her carriage.  That was very nice of her.

The hope had been to complete the rest of the rescue plan to get me home that day.  If the gentle reader remembers this topic from an earlier blog,  there was the last minute realization that Christina could not cross the border and return back to the US because her passport had expired.  Somebody else had to be roped into the mission.  To add additional uncertainty to the situation, this was the day when our network connectivity began to fall apart.   We could not communicate effectively with folks involved in the planning to get messages across because the mobile network became unreliable.  But we worked at it, waiting to get to stations where there was a better likelihood of there being a communications tower to establish temporary connectivity.  We made progress.

Enter Jesse, Christina’s fiance.  He volunteered to postpone a trip he was making to the West Coast to visit his family by a few days so that he could make the drive to Toronto to rescue me.  That seemed to be the only realistic option at that point.

In the end Jesse actually came all the way home to Gaithersburg after picking us up from Toronto. He flew to the West Coast a couple of days later than originally planned out of an airport in the Washington DC area.  That was very considerate of him. Thanks, Jesse!

We also began to realize that in spite of the massive difference in time between our scheduled arrival time in Toronto in the morning and Tom’s scheduled flight to Dallas from Toronto in the late evening, there was a good chance that he was not going to make the flight. He was already beginning to think about alternatives to get home.  He was thinking about riding with us in the car from Toronto, and being dropped off on the way in Buffalo, NY, from where he could catch a flight home.  This particular issue would not get resolved until the next day, the last day on the train.  The biggest problem was that we did not know when we would get to Toronto.

Dinner that night was with the same couple that we had our first meal on the train with.  It was nice evening.  Being from Toronto, they even tried to help us by figuring out the fastest way to get from the Toronto train station to the airport if that option was still realistic.  The only way that was going to happen was if the train made up some of the time it had lost that night.

We went to bed with things still up in the air.

Here are some random pictures taken from the train that day.  The scene below was repeated many times as we stopped to let the freight trains by.IMG_20170804_182347086Before dinner we decided to take a walk to the dome car at the back of the train. The sun was beginning to set.IMG_20170804_200312131The people who had bought the most expensive tickets on the train had first dibs at these seats.IMG_20170804_200734381_HDRFeel the motion of the train!IMG_20170804_200829654More sunset shots.IMG_20170804_200836144_HDRIMG_20170804_200852200IMG_20170804_201638183_HDR

The next day’s adventures here.

Travels With My Brother – The First Full Day On The Train

I have been a great fan of trains all my life.  As a child growing up in India, I was so obsessed with trains that I would even spend hours looking at railway timetable books trying to understand how train schedules fit with each other.  I knew all about the major trains in South India at that time.

With that background, it should not be a surprise to the reader that I would consider the experience of traveling across Canada on the Canadian something special, a unique lifetime opportunity to be taken advantage of even if the circumstances of the ride were not ideal.  It was not surprising that I had easily fallen asleep to the rocking beat of the train that first night on the train. It was a comforting feeling to me.  Besides, I had been exhausted!

The Canadian is considered Canada’s signature transcontinental train ride. You cross the country in a historical train consisting of stainless steel stream-liner cars built in the 1950s (last refurbished earlier this century) over a span of four days.  The train includes dome cars for viewing the scenery, and luxury cars for high-end travel.  Motive power is provided by powerful diesel electric locomotives that have been refurbished in recent times to further increase their power and efficiency.  The train is capable of high speeds when allowed.  I was told that this can happen in the night when they are trying to make up time.  The dining experience on the train is excellent. They also have on-board activities to keep you entertained when you are not simply relaxing, looking out of the window, or reading a book.  A trip on the Canadian is ideal for folks who are not in a hurry.

It was late in the morning when I finally woke up to the rhythm of the rails. It was too late to go to the dining car for breakfast.  Tom was still asleep.  Looking out of the window, I noticed that it was a sunny morning and that we were speeding past fields in the prairies.IMG_20170803_075513221We had probably already crossed from Alberta into Saskatchewan province during the night. I was told that the yellow in the fields was from the flowers of the canola plant (called rapeseed in other places).

I managed to drag my cracked body out of bed without too much pain.  I took stock of the space that we were in.  It was certainly tight with the beds open. We actually had to leave some of our bags on the beds while sleeping.  We had a little sink in front of us with a piece of wood hanging in front of it that would fold over the sink to create more space when it was not in use.  There was a little toilet behind a closed door.  Its vacuum flush was quite effective.   The shower was a shared facility at the end of the carriage.  (They provided you with a package of towel, soap, and shampoo if you wanted to use the facility.  It was actually quite good, and I took advantage of it on our last day on the train shortly before we disembarked.)  There were a couple of plug points in the room to charge your electronic items, but there was no wifi signal anywhere on-board.  You were dependent on proximity of the train to mobile communications towers for network connectivity.

I brushed my teeth (still using my knees to adjust my height), put on my shorts and sandals, and began walking towards the skyline car in search of some food.  The corridors were narrow with just enough space for one person to walk through comfortably.  You had to steady yourself with your hands to maintain your balance while walking.  The vestibules between the carriages were all closed in and the connections between the carriages felt quite stable even at high speeds.  It took quite a bit of effort and strength to open some of the doors to enter the carriages.

It had been a long time since I last walked through a train.  It took me longer than expected, and more effort than I had anticipated. I finally got to the skyline car. In addition to the elevated dome area for viewing the scenery around you, this car had a lounge on a lower level for relaxing, and a cafe area, also on the lower level, to grab some snacks and drinks and sit down and relax, and even read a newspaper if you so desired.  That was where I was headed.  I found some breakfast crackers and coffee, and sat down to relax. The coffee felt good.  I began to get further into the spirit of the train ride as the caffeine coursed through my system.

I walked towards the next car, which happened to be the dining car, and ran into its maître d’.   Since she was seeing me for the first time, she inquired about which dining car we had been assigned to eat in.  Upon realizing that we were new additions to her own dining room, she assigned us a seating time for our meals for that day.  (Since they do not have enough place to seat everybody at the same time, they have different people come in at different times for different sittings.)  We ended up in the last call for all meals that day.

On my way back to our cabin, I ran into an older couple from Boston in the lounging area of the skyliner. I would see them in that same location day after day, throughout the train ride, almost every time I went by.  These were the first of  the many wonderful fellow travelers we made our acquaintance with during the ride.  The dressing covering the road rash on my left hand would be the subject of an opening conversation, and  then it would shoot off in some random direction or the other.   People were sympathetic to my situation (and eventually Tom’s), and people were nice, and even helpful.

Back in our cabin Tom was stirring.  But he was not in the best of shape because of motion sickness that he was beginning to experience.  He attempted to walk towards the skyliner car to get some food, but turned back  immediately because of claustrophobia when walking through the corridor.  He flopped back into bed with his head sunk into his pillow, and he continued to stay in that position indefinitely.  I eventually took a walk back to the cafe area and brought back some food for him to consume when he felt like it.

The train pulled into Saskatoon around 2pm.  It was still a little more than 5 hours late. Since the train was going to be stopped for a while, people stepped out to stretch their legs.  It was great for Tom to feel solid ground once again.  He was beginning to feel better.  The station itself proved to be dreary place, far away from the center of town, just like in Edmonton.IMG_20170803_134244003The stream-liner cars stretched in both directions of the platform.IMG_20170803_134139987IMG_20170803_134803490I started walking along the platform.  I noticed this young man taking advantage of the break to do push ups beside the train.  I also noticed that the sanitation truck was busy removing the sewage from the tanks in the carriages, one carriage at a time, and decided that this gave me enough time to walk to the front of the train.IMG_20170803_135935872_HDRIMG_20170803_140006801_HDRThe F40 engines looked magnificent in the midday sun.

Once the train got moving, Tom and I went to the dining car to join the third sitting for lunch that day.  As with every meal we experienced on this train, we were seated across the table from other random folks from the ride.  We met a young couple from Toronto who were returning from their honeymoon.   The condition of my left arm was an easy way to open up the conversation.  The young lady, who was of Filipino descent, had traveled all over the world.  It was only when we were departing the diner car that I realized that she moved around on only one leg. You would never guess from talking to her.  The young man, who appeared to be of Caucasian descent, was smart and accomplished.  He had his commercial pilot’s license, but he worked for a security software firm.  He knew stuff, including everything about the train and transportation in general.  He had his camera with him and would occasionally point out different things outside the carriage and take pictures.  You could see that the two cared for each other.

And the food was fresh and outstanding! I even had some wine. We enjoyed the meal thoroughly, and the circumstances in which it had been consumed.IMG_20170803_153026329_HDRBack in the cabin planning was underway for the trip beyond Toronto.  We had good network connectivity at this point.  We were in touch with Christina. The plan was for her to rent a car in Massachusetts and drive to Toronto to pick me up from the airport.  Tom would fly back to Dallas from Toronto.  Things started going haywire when Christina realized at the last moment that her passport had expired.  We ended the day without finding a solution to that particular problem.

Some time during the day the carriage attendant came to our cabin to fold away our beds.  We were expecting to see a bench that looked like the one on Indian trains after the process was complete.  Instead, we had two individual chairs that still took up space. The full beds had actually been moved completely out of the way above the cabin and to its side.  We found that the arrangement was actually not very convenient.  It did not really open up that much more space in the cabin, and it was not possible to lie down if one wanted to.  This was the only day we asked for this particular service.  We preferred to leave things in the “bed” configuration all the time.

That night we had dinner with another young couple.  The young lady was a flight attendant who was starting to look for other things to do.  She talked about her experiences over the years working for the airline.  The young man was firefighter you had dedicated his life to the profession.  He had a remarkable story.  At the age of 19, he had been hit by a vehicle when crossing the road.  He had been injured quite badly, and he even hesitated to talk about his injuries while we were eating because they were quite horrific.  Among his injuries, he had also broken his ribs and punctured his lungs badly.  But he had recovered, and at age 26 (or was it 27?), he showed no signs of his injury.  Not only that, he was quite athletic.  He was the one I had seen doing push ups on the platform at Saskatoon.  He said he had done 350 of them!  He had apparently also run 3k on the platform before the train left.  This was a good story to inspire me onward with my recovery.

I cannot remember much else from this day.  I do remember that I needed a few of the pills for the pain to be able to get through the day.  I do not remember how well I slept.  I suspect that it was disturbed, but I did get enough rest that night.

You can read about the next day on the train here.

Travels With My Brother – The Train, The Train!

Midnight came and went that day at the Edmonton train station without any sign of the Canadian.  I think there was an announcement of a possible 12:30am arrival, but nothing happened.  People did not seem surprised.  The next announcement was that the train would be there at 2:45am.  Then it was 3:15am because the train was being held up by freight traffic just outside town.  The train finally pulled into the station well after 4:00am.

It took a while for the boarding process to start.  The service manager for the train came into the waiting room, started checking boarding passes electronically, and told people with different ticket classes which end of the train they should walk towards.  We joined a few others who were traveling in “Sleeper Plus”, and began our trek along the dark and empty platform towards the back of the train.  People peeled away to their carriages along the way until we seemed to be the only ones walking onward.  Had we gone too far? There were no staff from the train on the platform to help.  It was not comforting to note that not all train doors were open either. We finally found a carriage number that seemed to correspond to the information on the boarding passes, entered the carriage, and found cabin E.  The door was open. I was so tired that I plunked myself on the lower berth immediately.  The fact that the sheets were disheveled barely registered.  Very soon, the attendant for our car appeared and said that he was not not aware that somebody was traveling in that cabin. He checked his communication device again, and realized that we had been added to the manifest for his carriage.  He apologized and requested that we wait in a seating area while he made the beds. About fifteen minutes later our cabin was finally ready.

We quickly changed and crawled into bed.  I took the lower berth because I did not think I was capable of climbing. It was about 5:20am by the time the train eased out of the station, over 5 hours late!  Tom had not slept for about 24 hours at this point.  I was in slightly better shape in some ways, but not in others.  Neither of us had eaten anything substantial in a while.  It was not a good start.

We discovered later that the on-time performance of this particular train was probably less than 40 percent, but this knowledge would probably not have changed any of our plans.  We would not even have been able to get better time estimates for the train we were currently on anyway, because Via Rail itself did not seem to have a clue!

It turns out that the passenger trains in Canada run on rails owned by the freight train companies.  The freight trains always have priority.  It does not matter how late the passenger train is running.  This particular train had been only a couple of hours late at its previous stop, Jasper, but had to wait for a bunch of  freight trains climbing the other  way from Edmonton into the Rocky Mountains.

Next chapter here.

 

Thanks be to Gravity (9/14/2008)

This is a highly edited version of something I wrote many years ago.  These days, I am also more comfortable with adding pictures and links directly to the narrative.  Ain’t technology da bomb!

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If you take the exit to Keep Tryst Road from US Route 340, (it comes up close to Harpers Ferry, just before you cross the bridge over the Potomac from Maryland into Virginia), and then follow the road all the way to the the bottom of a hill, it ends up next to tracks for the CSX railroad.  At this point the road makes a U-turn and heads back up the hill to rejoin Route 340.  This place next to the railroad tracks is where people park their cars to head out on hikes.  The place is called Weverton.  From this location you can follow the Appalachian trail (or the AT as it is fondly known) up to Weverton Cliffs, or you can cross the tracks and head down to the towpath towards either Brunswick or Harpers Ferry.

Weverton used to be real town many years ago.  Very few people live in the area today. Back then an intrepid developer decided that he could harness the power of the waters of the Potomac for energy in order to develop commerce in this area.  The concept did not work and one of the reasons for failure was the regular flooding of the river.  I have read that you can see the remains of the old town of Weverton if you leave the towpath and head towards the river.  I have not been successful in finding these ruins so far.  Weverton is also a switching yard for the railroad, and the location from which a spur line used to branch off towards Hagerstown.  You can still see the remains of the railroad bridge for this spur line under the bridge for Route 340.

I arrived at Weverton early in the morning before the fog had lifted to do a hike to towards Harpers Ferry and Maryland Heights. My timing for the start of the hike was perfect.  As I walked towards the railroad tracks to cross over to the towpath, I sighted the headlights of the freight train through the fog.  It was heading in my direction. IMG_6132At the point where the path crosses the railroad the tracks curve away from you and as  a result you get a head-on view of the approaching train.  I got a lot of pictures of the train in the fog as it switched tracks and approached rapidly. IMG_6134And before I knew it the engineer was blowing the horn to make sure that I did not step on to the tracks,IMG_6136and the train was rushing by shaking the ground under me.IMG_6137It was moving quite fast and even picking up speed as the freight cars thundered by, with the hundreds of metal wheels screeching like a thousand banshees as the rail cars pushed against the rails and struggled to stay on the tracks as they rounded the curve and accelerated at the same time.IMG_6138I stood by just next to the carriages, which seemed to be much bigger and higher than what I imagined them to be when I had seen them from a distance, and felt a rush.  I was screaming but nobody could hear me.

The objective for this trip was to climb Maryland Heights on the Maryland side of the Potomac river next to Harpers Ferry.  From the lookout point on Maryland Heights one gets a nice view of the town of Harpers Ferry.  This hike turned out  to be an unexpected mental challenge for me.  I began to feel tired even as I started up the steep slope from beside the main road.  Perhaps I was really not in good shape.  The early part of the climb was quite strenuous and the last time I had done this was when family had visited from India, when we had walked halfway up the hill.  I walked up slowly, stopping frequently, and stopping by the meadows along the way to enjoy the sight of the many white butterflies fluttering around.IMG_6174It was a humid morning and pretty soon I was sweating quite profusely.  I did not really feel any pain but I was feeling nervous because this was the first time in a while I had pushed myself in this manner since the big event.  I almost turned back at one point.

But in the end I persevered.  I was going to reach my destination one way or the other, whichever destination it happened to be – the Pearly Gates (being the eternal optimist that I am) or the Scenic Overlook over the river!  I made it to the latter destination feeling a sense of achievement.  I spent some time taking pictures of the river and the valley below.IMG_6175IMG_6176IMG_6192 There was a butterfly sitting in the sun on a rock that did not move even as I approached and took close-up pictures of its eyes!  (There are some wonderful experiences waiting out there for you if you are willing to relax and  pay attention to what is going on around you.)IMG_6199IMG_6206I ran all the way down the hill on my way back to the towpath.  I wanted to sing a song – He’ll be running down the mountain when he comes!  It was a nice outing and I got some pictures of some flowers and creatures that I had not seen before. IMG_6155IMG_6157A woodpecker also obliged me by landing on a tree trunk next to the trail and staying put while I took its picture.IMG_6214I also got some nice pictures of the fog.IMG_6145IMG_6162IMG_6163IMG_6165IMG_6169IMG_6171All in all, another excellent outing to the river!

Railfanning

This word describes the actions of railfans, the people who are interested in trains and follow them as a hobby.

I was on my way back home from the park on the C&O Canal at Point of Rocks when I decided to take a diversion through the parking lot of the Point of Rocks railroad station just for the heck of it. The interesting thing about this commuter station is that a railroad line from the east, from Baltimore (ex-B&O Old Main Line from Baltimore, one of the oldest lines in the country), meets up with another line from the southeast, from Washington, DC (ex-B&O Metropolitan Branch from Washington DC), just beyond the platform for the station.  After the lines converge, a single line (double-tracked) continues onward to the west towards and beyond Burnswick, MD.  There is plenty of freight traffic to be seen at the station.  Trains going in opposite directions sometimes have to wait before entering the station because of tracks crossing each other.

I saw two people on the platform.  One of them had a camera in hand and the other had a backpack and a radio unit that would squawk every once in a while.  I suspected that they were railfans waiting for trains to come by.  After sitting for a while in the car in a parking spot waiting for a train or two to come by, I worked up the courage to go down to the platform with my camera and try to pick up a conversation with them.

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The two guys did not know each other but had already struck up a friendly conversation.  The one with the radio was monitoring the railroad communications to find out when a train would come by.  He seemed to understand the language of the railroad radio, including the identification of trains, recognition of locomotive sets used with the trains, and the language of track usage.

The guy with the radio told me that they were single tracking between Brunswick and Point of Rocks at that point.  This meant that trains going in opposite directions would have to share the single track between Point of Rocks and Brunswick.  Basically a train had to clear the entire stretch before another could be sent in the other direction. He told me that there were two CSX trains that were waiting to come out of Brunswick, one heading towards DC, and other towards Baltimore.

The first train we saw was one on the DC line, headed west, waiting outside the station for its signal to change.  The lights indicated that that it was waiting for a train coming in its direction from Point of Rocks.

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The first train that came by the station at about 11:30 am was an auto-train headed to DC.

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About fifteen minutes later this was followed by a coal train headed towards Baltimore.

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At this point the guy with the radio informed me that they had now also opened up the second track towards Brunswick.  Trains would now be able to go in both directions at the same time in the stretch between Point of Rocks and Brunswick.  Our westbound train from the Washington DC line began moving and approaching the station about 10 minutes later.

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By this time I felt that I needed to get going and back on my way home. I decided to head back to my car while the other guys continued to wait for the trains.  All of a sudden I heard one of them say something about the Capitol Limited and I rushed back to the platform to see the Amtrak train approaching.

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By this time, there was a westbound freight train from Baltimore approaching, waiting just outside of the station, before the intersection with Route 28, for the track to clear, and there was another westbound train heading towards Point of Rocks from the DC side.  At this point I left the station.

I saw the train from Baltimore at the railroad intersection as I was headed home on Route 28.  I parked the car and waited for a while for the train to get its signal to proceed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI could hear the train from the DC line going past the Point of Rocks station behind me as I was waiting.  I waited for a little  while longer for the Baltimore train to move but nothing seemed to be happening.  I finally gave up and headed home.   I guess I am not a real railfan!