After a hectic morning following my spur-of-the-moment decision to high-tail it out of T.O., the train ride to Montreal was relaxing and, thankfully, uneventful. The short-haul commuter train was full, so there was no stretching out across multiple seats like on the long-haul Canadian, but the rain drops sliding down the window pane next to my head had a mesmerizing quality that soon had me nodding and snoozing as if I’d counted too many tiny wet sheep. I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep. When I awoke, refreshed and invigorated, we were just a few kilometres outside of Montreal. That’s all I remember of that five-hour trip.
The layover at the Montreal station likewise flew by quickly. Within a few hours of arriving, we were called to board the Ocean to Halifax. I raced as fast as my trusty rollies would follow me up the platform (heavily laden as they were with train treats; I’d made good use of those two hours at the station) and clambered up the steps to the designated car. I wanted to get ahead of the crowd to nab the same “mini-bachelor” I had on my way up to Montreal from Halifax.
I found the seat I was looking for and threw my blanket over it to mark it as mine. But a few hours later, after patiently tolerating four noisy teens who’d settled in behind me, I decided I didn’t need to tolerate them any more and moved two cars up to an empty two-seater nestled among old people. I love old people on trains! They know how to be quiet, but they also know how to be pleasantly sociable and share a friendly word or nod in passing. They’re also very watchful. So there I happily stayed for the rest of my journey home.
Ahhhh, the rest of the journey! It was like a perfect train trip. After a pleasant enough sleep (sitting up), I spent the next day enjoying every second of the final leg of my two-month WOOHOOCHOOCHOO adventure. The sky had cleared and turned a beautiful deep blue with a few passing puffs of white. As we slowly rolled out of the Campbellton station at 7:30 a.m., I spied my good buddy Sammy down by the river front, glinting in the early morning sunshine.
I waved and whispered “Hi, Sammy! Nice to see you again!” I’m sure he heard me because I could swear I saw him waving back.
As the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky, the magnificence of the changing leaves in the rolling hills and valleys took on an otherworldly beauty. The colors were jaw-dropping and everywhere around us.
Just after noon, we stopped briefly in Moncton, New Brunswick. I got off to stretch my legs and take a shot of the Big Boy taking me home. (Ain’t he gorgeous!)
After lunch, I screwed up my courage to ask the Service Manager if I could visit the dome car to take some pictures. He looked me up and down as if surveying a new army recruit and then grudgingly nodded his assent. Barely able to contain my giddiness, I took off down the “forbidden” (to economy class passengers) passageway to where the other half travels in style. The dome car’s “Stairway to Train Heaven” was at the very end of the train, about 17 cars down. It was quite the hike but definitely worth the effort.
There were only seven people in the dome car besides me. They were all sitting quietly, drinking in the vibrant colors and occasionally snapping pictures with their various devices. I sat quietly among them, reveling in the scent of sun-warmed leather seating and the companionable feel of courteous travelers. I could get used to this.
But after about half an hour, I knew it was time for me to leave. I’d come to take some photos, not to spend the day. I had a promise to keep. I made my way slowly back to the economy class cars, turning down a drink offer along the way from a lively older man who seemed delighted to see a new face in the sleeper class lounge. Yes, I could definitely get used to this.
Back in my non-leather but nonetheless comfy two-seater, I reflected on how things had changed since Day 1 of my journey. When I’d first boarded the train nearly 60 days ago, I’d brought with me memories and expectations of a train service that no longer existed. It was a struggle to align my expectations with the new reality of coach class train travel in Canada, but I think I finally succeeded, at least to the extent that I was not as combatant about the changes. I was slowly discovering that I could have the best of both worlds (economy and sleeper classes) if I traveled in off-peak times and kept a low profile.
Closer and closer we drew to Halifax, to the ocean, and to the Ocean’s end of the line. And, just like when we’d drawn closer to Toronto on the Canadian a few days earlier, I didn’t want the trip to end: It had been nigh on perfect. The light, the colors, the sounds, even the smells had become a part of me that I didn’t want to let go. Yet there was the Bedford Basin, which meant we were less than 30 minutes away from our final destination.
I slowly gathered my belongings together one last time and loaded my rollies. The train horn sounded triumphantly again and again, clearing the tracks and announcing my arrival. No-one in Halifax knew I was coming (I’d kept my change of plans a secret even from my mother), but the train horn blasted its announcement nonetheless. It had a job to do.
The Big Boy had taken me home.
As we pulled into Halifax’s VIA Rail station and came to a full stop, I remained in my seat while everyone around me filed eagerly out the door. Seeing me sitting alone in the darkened car, the Service Manager leaned over and quietly asked if I needed help detraining. I told him no, I just didn’t want to get off yet. He smiled and let me sit a while longer.