I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to the train trip from Winnipeg to Toronto. Back in early August, the trip from Toronto to Winnipeg had been a nightmare and almost made me quit the cross-country journey altogether. In hindsight, I’m glad I kept going, but the subsequent three jaunts back and forth from Winnipeg to Vancouver on The Canadian were anything but comfortable.
I wasn’t looking forward to more of the same.
So I sat in the cold dim echo-y marble-domed entrance hall in the Winnipeg VIA station and considered my options. According to online alerts from VIA Rail, the train from Vancouver was already two hours late due to having to make way for freight traffic, and its ETA in Winnipeg was still uncertain. It was nearly 11 p.m., I was tired and cranky, and I just wanted to lay down and go to sleep. If I got on the train when it eventually showed up, I wouldn’t be able to do that (unless I just said to heck with propriety [and hygiene] and stretched out on the filthy floor somewhere).
I’d spent the previous night sitting up at Tim’s at the Winnipeg airport after my luggage failed to arrive when I did. It was actually sent after me on the next flight, which I was actually supposed to be on after I’d vigorously, enthusiastically and desperately volunteered to be bumped from my flight from Phoenix. I was hoping to be delayed in the Valley of the Sun until, say, Christmas, but alas that was not to be. Someone who was supposed to be on my flight was a no-show, so the “extra” person who, God bless her, would have bumped me, took instead the no-show’s seat, and my allotted place was left open for me. So off to Winnipeg I reluctantly flew, kicking and screaming inside, while my lucky luggage got to enjoy a few more hours of R&R in the Phoenix sunshine.
By the time my luggage found its way to Winnipeg, tanned and relaxed, it was the middle of the night. I decided I might as well just stay at the airport and do some editing work. This wasn’t the wisest decision, as I could have used a good night of shut-eye, stretched out in a real bed in a hotel, prior to spending the next two nights sleeping sitting up. The fall-out from this bad decision was a weary day of dragging my rollies around Winnipeg and a cranky seemingly endless evening waiting for a train I was dreading boarding.
I checked the flights to Toronto (and even to Halifax), but the price points were much higher than what I wanted to pay. I was slowly steeling myself to the realization that if I wanted to get back east, I had to get on that train when it arrived.
Around midnight, we were alerted that The Canadian was pulling into the station. It would be serviced for about 45 minutes, and then we could board. I shivered just thinking about it. It didn’t help that the temperature in Winnipeg was plunging down to single digits. I pulled my blankets tighter around me and forced myself to think warm thoughts. This was my last chance to escape what I imagined was going to be a long tortuous freezing train ride.
As always, the boarding process for coach class was a laborious affair. Our cars were near the front of the train, which was about 17 long cars that-a-way. Sure, the distance was nothing in airport terms, but for some reason it seemed unfairly long in train station terms. Grumbling and stumbling, I dragged my rollies up the platform as quickly as I could, hoping to get onboard before everyone else and nab a window seat, if any were left.
When I finally reached the right car, I hauled my stuff up the steps, dropped it near the entrance, and ran to grab a seat. SUCCESS! I found a double-seater all to myself (visions of at least half stretching out for a sleep) and a full window. But then when I plunked myself down to set up my laptop on the fold-down tray table – DISASTER! The table was broken. There was no way I could work on a broken table top for two days. I looked around the car and saw that all the seats were taken. Now what to do?
The next car up was for people going shorter distances. I peeked in and noted that it was only half full, so I sneaked up the aisle to see if I could find a double-seater with a big window. What I found was even better than a double-seater – it was a quadruple-seater (two doubles facing each other), which was normally reserved for groups or families.
I didn’t care at that point that I was neither a group nor a family, nor that I was a long-hauler in the short-haul car. It was nearly 1 a.m., I was exhausted and beyond cranky, and I just needed to sit my butt down somewhere and stretch out. The four-seater would do just fine, regardless of the regulations about who could use it.
So, I fetched my rollies from the other car and made myself comfortable in my newly acquired expansive seating area. A woman sitting behind me warned me that I’d likely be kicked out (as she’d been), but I said I didn’t care. When the attendant arrived to check our tickets, she asked me “Are you with a group?” I said “No” and she said “These seats are for groups”. At that point she must have seen the maniacal glint in my eyes and the steam coming out of my ears because she hastily added “It’s OK if you sit here until a group arrives”, and quickly backed away. I sighed a sweet sigh of fatigue and victory, covered myself with my three blankets, stretched out across the four seats, and blissfully fell asleep.
When I woke up, day was breaking. It wasn’t cold at all in the train; in fact, I felt a gentle warm breeze blowing from somewhere. I’d actually slept well, and I was hungry. Everyone around me was still sleeping, so I carefully took down my feed bag from the overhead compartment and made my way to the condiment car to rustle up some breakfast.
The rest of the train ride was a joy. I’d expected an ice train when in fact it was pleasantly heated. There were ZERO (count ‘em – ZERO) kids onboard, so other than for occasional quiet murmur of adult conversation, there were only train sounds. I’d let my clients know that I’d be out of communication range for a few days, so I wasn’t worried about missing any emergency editing orders because of the lack of Internet. I just laid back in my four-seater and drank in the gorgeous fall colors and pristine lakes of Northern Ontario.
End-station Toronto came all too fast, even though we arrived a few hours behind schedule. I could happily have stayed onboard longer. I’d already been there for a day and a half, but it felt like only a few hours. What a contrast to my westbound journey, when I couldn’t wait to get off!
I reluctantly gathered my belongings and said good-bye to the crew. I thanked them for making the journey so pleasant. Toronto beckoned outside the windows, but I didn’t want to go there just yet. I wanted to stay a while longer in VIAland, rocking back and forth and listening to the wail of the train horn.
Then I had a crazy thought – I knew the train was heading westbound later that evening. Should I book a seat back to Winnipeg (or even on to Vancouver)? My VIA Rail unlimited rail pass would allow me to do that. I could go into the station right now and book a seat for tonight’s train and then go buy some supplies. Should I do it? Should I just drop everything and go?
My heart was pounding. I was in love again! The big brute of the long-haul engine had worked its magic on me. The four-seater had spoiled me. The serene scenery had lulled me.
I wanted to stay on this train forever.