Monday, September 7, 2009
On leaving Toronto, I'm put into a car where the destination of Winnipeg is no feat. All the luggage tags over head read Edmonton, Jasper, Vancouver. In short, I'm in the long haul cabin. The staff actually recognize many of the passengers returning home, however, I'm sure anyone would get friendly after five days together. The train is everything it should be and by that I mean it's old-fashioned and quaint. It sways back and forth, the platforms between cars creak and shudder, the train tilts to the side on tight circles, there are red cross lights at intersections...I'm half-hoping for highwaymen to invade the train, tie us up with paisley handkerchiefs and make off into the night with my canrail pass.
I see an entirely different exit of Toronto than ever before. There's abandoned junkyards, staff taking bags of popcorn to dumpsters behind theatres, brand new highway overpasses (is that the 401 or what?) and the behinds of many, many strip malls. After about, oh, ten minutes, I start to feel pretty ridiculous on the whole laptop front. Even vacationing grandmas are toting macbooks here, which they hardly bother to conceal before trotting off to the cantine for a few hours. I would have looked a wee bit hysterical with a steel cage wrapped around my pack. Maybe I've taken too many dodgy trains and buses, but this ride is a dream in comparison. By about 11 pm, the train is dead silent (not like it was rowdy beforehand anyway) and there's this lazy-boy style contraption that kicks up from under the seat, making a big enough space for me to sleep lying down, albeit in fetal position. In fact it's so cosy, I'm starting to dread the hostel. I only wake up once, when we drive through Sudbury to pick up one passenger, a lady whose luggage consists of four giant pink pillows. She knows what this train is about. Sleep!
The next morning I wake up to discover we're deep into Northern Ontario. Our first stop, Gogama, has a factory that produces talcum. Supposedly, the Gogama factory is the biggest supplier of talcum to Johnson & Johnson baby powder. There are many, many more tidbits like this that I learn along the way. Gogama is 583 kms from Toronto, meaning that I'm a quarter of the way to Winnipeg and all I've done is sleep! Outside the sun is coming up over the lakes and I realize I've forgotten just how beautiful Northern Ontario is. I mean, I knew I forgot, but I didn't really know how much I forgot. Marshes, ponds, thick forest, rusty outcropping, everything speeds by at the at the break-neck speed of...100 kms per hour. It certainly gives you a chance to enjoy it. I spend the majority of my day, passing in and out of catnaps in front of the sunny window. The economy section (my part) has two passengers cars, one dome car with a mini cantine and a dining room. The dome car is this little skylight room above the train and this is where all the socializing and beer-swilling go down. Two Dutch men take up residency here for the majority of the trip. I'm told I'm not allowed to explore past the dining room, because rich people are down thatta way, but I manage to take a peek anyway when I climb on at the opposite end of the train at a rest stop. Pfft. I'm not missing much, except weird claustrophobic rooms and super skinny sleeping berths you probably can't even roll over in. Oh and did I mention there's fake flowers in the caboose dining room - we don't have that shit in economy. Whatever. I like economy, in fact I take comfort in seeing total strangers, sprawled out like babies in the seat next to me, a string of dried saliva stretched across their cheek. Later on, I meet one Dave Savage from Cobourg, Ontario, who's written and self-published two books on Canadian trains and has plenty more in the works. As we roll over the Ontario-Manitoba border and the land levels out into fields of sunflowers and prairie grass, he begins to name off the type of train station we pass: "Now that's a typical CP Train Station type 3..." or something like that. But really, I like this guy a lot. He says this is his tenth time taking the Toronto-Vancouver train and really, I can see why.