Friday, April 4, 2008

My Trans-Canada Rail Journey – Part 11

Central Casting provides a proud grandmother as a lunch companion today. A Vancouver native, she is returning from an annual visit with her daughter and son-in-law who operate a horse boarding facility east of Toronto. She has photos of her two grandchildren. Lots and lots and lots of photos. Sharing our table is a British couple, recent converts to long-distance train travel despite being veterans of five trans-Atlantic crossings on the Concorde.

The terrain is becoming more uneven and we’re now passing rocky ridges topped with evergreens. Someone at an adjacent table is the first to spot the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains off in the distance. This is the scenery everyone has been waiting for, of course, and although the mountains are still many miles ahead, there’s an obvious exodus from the dining car as people scurry to get a seat in one of the domes.

By 3:00 we’ve reached the mountains and the Canadian begins threading its way through the peaks – some with sheer faces of gray rock, others dark green with spruce trees somehow managing to cling to their flanks. Snow is spattered across most of the peaks and descends in white streaks toward the valley floor below, then dissolves into icy water tumbling down the last few hundred feet into lakes that offer mirror images of the peaks above.

As we continue our climb toward the town of Jasper, the mountains are higher and covered with more and deeper snow. Another lake and more mountains come into view – even bigger, higher and whiter. Every seat is taken in the dome of the Park car and everyone is snapping pictures through the glass. “I can’t get it all in,” says a woman. “It’s all too big.” Indeed it is.

Sweeping around a long, graceful curve, yet another spectacular vista is revealed. But as people on the left side of the dome crowd into the aisle for a better look, a CN freight lumbers past obstructing the view and prompting some grumbles.

A third of a mile up ahead, the first of our three locomotives disappears into tunnel. There are only a few feet clearance as our dome car approached the tunnel and, as we head into the blackness, everyone up here in the dome instinctively ducks.

A half hour later, the Canadian eases to a stop at Jasper where a number of passengers leave the train to spend a few days exploring the magnificent mountains that surround this little town of 5,000 people. Among those is the Scottish couple I’ve come to know over the past three days. As they head off down the platform, the husband says, “T’was lovely meeting you” and reminds me that I promised to call them if and when I visit Edinburough.

We’re scheduled for a 90-minute stop in Jasper. More fuel, more supplies, and just time for a crew of three, working feverishly, to wash all the windows again.

There is some hand-wringing among passengers as we resume our journey. The Canadian is still running more than two hours late which will mean fewer daylight hours as the train wends its way through what is arguably to most spectacular scenery on my 4,000 mile trans-continental journey. Fortunately, the days are getting longer and we still have several more hours of daylight and, as someone points out, we’ll have scenery tomorrow morning that we would normally be passing in darkness. All in all, a delightful prospect.

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