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.We 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.The stream-liner cars stretched in both directions of the platform.I 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.The 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.Back 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.