Strange Cargo

Lessons from the Jack London Finishing School

Saturday, August 05, 2006

836 - Big Rock Candy Mountain

NOTE! To read this in chronological order please scroll down to the first post and start reading at the beginning. Thanx!

The green line marks my route on Canadian National through Canada.

Well, 5310 miles later and I'm here at my end destination. This fact doesn't really sink in for a day or two, but when it does it makes me a bit sad. After exiting the Rockingham yard I caught a bus to downtown Halifax and went looking for some familiar faces. The girls that I met in Winnipeg were coming this way and I'm hoping to see them again. After some wandering about I spot a few travellin' kids and go over to speak to them. As it turns out, one of them is Dale, who Rodney told me about back in Winnipeg. I decide to go have a look at the city and eventually find the VIA station and stash my pack in a locker there. While at VIA I got a quote on a ticket from Prince Rupert to Halifax. It's was almost $CDN 1600.00. Ha ha! After a while, from directions provided, I find The Arch which is a drop-in center for homeless and travelling youth run by an ex-catholic nun. After brief questioning they take me in and provide a shower which is welcome at this time. A meal is offered and I accept. Before leaving there I check email and such since they have an internet connection.

Going back into the city it seems that these fine Haligonians are of a rather liberal persuasion. The other thing that I discover about the populace here is that they are very involved in their community. I find this refreshing compared to the apathy that rules most american cities. The dominant accent here is decidedly Irish but without the rolling R's and not nearly as broad. The cost of living here is very low compared to what I have seen elsewhere in Canada, except maybe Montreal. Apartments are dirt cheap and the price of food seems to be somewhat lower than it is in Denver. After roaming around the city for most of the day I go retrieve my pack and go in search of Dale and his crew.

They are nowhere to be seen and instead I run into a completely different group of travellin' kids who are hanging out near the Sebastopol graveyard. It's getting late by now and these guys tell me that they're waiting for the graveyard to close in order to jump the fence in the back to sleep in there. I'm told nobody bothers you at all once you're inside, so it sounds like a good deal to me. After dark an attendant rolls up and closes the main gate which is a huge, heavy, wrought iron affair almost twice as tall as me. He speeds off and we all go around to the back side where the fence is lower. The Sebastopol cemetery is referred to as the burying grounds by the locals in Halifax. It was opened in 1749 and was used into the early 1900's. It's estimated that over 12000 people have been buried here, mostly in unmarked graves. The grave markers that are here are clean and simple in design and decorated in a pre-victorian gothic style with winged skulls as a primary motif. We roll out under a big oak after sharing of food and spirits and go to sleep.

The next day is spent just hanging around Halifax and observing this place. I really like it, and could definitely see myself living here at some point. This is the most attractive place I have been to on the North American east coast thus far. The climate is most agreeable and I think that I would love to visit in the winter to really experience it further. Towards evening time I end up down on the water and despite being somewhat of a tourist thoroughfare I decide to have a celebratory meal and drink to mark the end of the journey. On the way to find some grub, I pass a girl with a little dog of some unknown breeding and an accordion. She is kicking a ball across the pier, which the dog runs and brings back to her. While she is doing this she is playing the accordion. Pretty clever way to get some attention as nearly everyone is attracted to the dog. On the way back after getting some fish & chips and a beer I pass them again and now she is playing a pretty fast version of "There's whisky in a jar". I stop to listen because it reminds me of my own accordion and the lessons I took as a kid.

She takes a break after a while and I ask her if she is from around here. "No, Vermont" she says and adds "I travel a lot, my name's Beverly". After introducing myself I ask her how she gets around, because I have a hunch that she might be a freight rider. "Usually I hitchhike, but sometimes I ride trains" she says. I tell her my story and share my food with her and the dog whose name is "Tinker". As it turns out she has pretty much done the same route except for the distance between Jasper and Prince Rupert. This conversation reminds me of a saying that the hobo's home is everywhere and nowhere just the same, and I mention this to her. At the mention of this, a sadness is drawn across her face and she bids me adieu to return to the accordion. As I turn to walk away, the notes of a familiar song come through the air loud and strong. It's "Big Rock Candy Mountain" by Harry McClintock. I have to hear this, for it could not be a better ending to the casual meeting of two strangers who share a similar experience in life.

It is dark now, but I can still see the tears that are grudgingly making their way down her face... It makes me a little uncomfortable but mostly sad, because it seems I inadvertenly triggered the memory of sadness and time lost somewhere.
As I turn away a second time there are a few tears of my own rolling now, but I can't help but marvel at the beauty of it all.
I suppose this means that I will be seeking new adventures in order to learn more about life, for life is an unending saga of learning and understanding. But that will be a story for another time...

816 - End of the line


Awakened by a loud burst of white noise I look around to see that I'm in a yard of some size. Laying still in my sleeping bag I savor the moment of waking until I hear the crunch of boots on gravel, reminding me why I woke up in the first place. There are two voices approaching in the dark, the only visual cue I have of them is their spotlights bouncing around on the sides of the trains next to me. Bulls rolling the train on foot!? This is rather unusual.

There is no choice but to stay where I am, for even the rustling of my sleeping bag will give me away at this moment. As they walk by I can hear the guy to my left whistling a fast staccato tune to some obvious degree of merriment. A radio sparks to life and a voice says "Have you found those two,eh?", "No" is the reply. "Well hurry it up please!" comes through a scratch of static whine. "Jimmy's pissed eh?" says the whistler. "Eh." says number two. The men walk by, and as they do, twin beams illuminate the rear well of my car. I'm in the opposite end so they don't have a clear line of sight to me because of the wheels of the trailer. Moving on, number one resumes whistling, CN has happy workers...

Before long there is a volley of shrill barking echoing off the empties on the next track over and when I peek out from under my pig I can see that the two guys that got on in Joffre yard are getting yanked off the train. It's raining too. Damn.

After a while I figure out that I'm in the Gort Yard in Moncton,NS. The train works here for another 45 minutes before departing. The next time I wake it's to the sun climbing over the horizon while the train is slowly making its way into Truro. Realizing that there is only about an hour left of the journey I break out the stove and make some oatmeal and then a cup of tea before rolling up and preparing to detrain. Sitting on my pack watching the landscape fly by I'm suddenly hit by the unmistakable smell of ocean and the memories associated. A couple of minutes go by and then gradually through the trees, a view of the Bedford Basin in Halifax opens up. Soon the train is gliding along the shore with only a couple of feet of dirt and rock between the train and the water.

Before long the train is slowly rolling through the Rockingham yard in Halifax and I throw my pack and water off then squeeze myself out from under the pig which has been my home for the last 20 some hours. This yard is really small and is just a transit yard where westbound trains are built from strings of containers pushed out of the port facility nearby. There is a worker that saw me bailing off the train and he is joined by another one while I'm walking up towards them, away from the port. They say hello and welcome me to Halifax and wonder how far I have come.
"Prince Rupert" I reply and their laughter is deafening. This is kind of an awkward moment but after rephrasing my answer to indicate that I rode here from Montreal en route from Prince Rupert the laughter is replaced by a zillion questions, many of them about the railroad. After answering some of my questions, mainly how to get back out of the Rockingham Yard on a westbound they are off to tie down the train I rode in on. Before leaving I ask them if the bull is around and they just laugh, explaining that he is probably at Timmy Horton's with his buddies and usually never comes around until the evening departures start. The yard is littered with the empty shells of sea urchins and various other detritus from the sea, making me think of days past in my youth walking the Atlantic shore in Norway, another 4000 some miles further east. Too bad there's no tracks eastbound to take me away...

From maps that I memorized at Rod's house I know roughly where I am in relation to the city center. After leaving the workers I cut out of the yard by scrambling up an embankment and into the rear parking lot of a carpet store. It's about 9am but it's getting hot and I really want to get out of my long pants that I put on last night to ward off the chill after the sun went down. There is a small unlocked shed in one corner of the lot and upon opening it the only thing in there is a good size air compressor. After changing clothes in the compressor shed I'm on my way down the Bedford Highway and I can see a Timmy H. up ahead. This is no doubt the same place that the resident CN bull indulges in a coffee/sugar fix as it is almost directly across from the yard office. On approach I eyeball the TH dumpster but decide to let it be as there are two teenage girls in their worker-bee outfits standing in front of it smoking and talking animatedly. They don't even see me as I go in for a cup of coffee.

7316 - While travelling near or travelling far, keep your hands inside the car...

Quebec & New Brunswick

It's 7AM and I just woke from my slumber by the sound of a freight highballin' through. Supposedly the CHI-HFX intermodal comes through here and crew changes sometime in the morning. That train is my ticket eastward. I came out here last night in case they are early, and spent the night sleeping fairly well concealed on a cut of lumber racks that are parked right at the catch out.

Soon enough, a couple of hours later and after 6-7 junkers have rattled through, a long stacktrain eases on up and stops. A pig in a bucket is only three cars up so I trot on up there and get in. This ride is actually a semi trailer sitting inside an intermodal well car. The floor has a 4x10 flat section at either end, and is otherwise open except for two strips of grating for the wheels of the trailer to sit on. As soon as I'm situated the air goes up with the usual ticking,creaking and banging. Two minutes later the train jerks into motion with a tremendous boom and I wonder if the engineer is some class of greenhorn because that was the roughest start I've experienced in a while. Pretty soon I'm crossing the St. Lawrence river and on the mainline eastbound.

Later in the day at the Joffre yard outside of Quebec City the train stops for awhile and I see two other riders with a dog get in a well about 15 cars down from me. Refugees from the viking festival perhaps. By now it's pretty hot outside and I'm really glad for the shade I have under my pig. The suspicion that the engineer is inexperienced has been confirmed (in my opinion anyway) by the amount of slack-action, I'm only 20 or so cars from the units and it's bad. So I can't imagine what it must be like at the end of the train. I hope he doesn't bust a knuckle and break the train apart...

The heat is making me somewhat sleepy so I try to get a nap on but this proves difficult due to rough track. From where I'm hanging out, the wheels of the train are only about six inches away and when looking at them through a cutout in the wall of the car I can see that the car is not tracking straight at all and the wheel flanges are being slammed into the railheads on both sides as the car jostles back and forth between the rails. It seems somewhat violent and throws up plenty of sparks, but I guess I'm only mildly concerned...

The farmland of upper Quebec is getting repetetive so I settle down to read for the next few hundred miles. I'm reading "Police State America" which is conversely an account of transgressions on civil liberties in the US, and a discourse on the conequences thereof. After that I pick up "Black Hawk Down" (Mark Bowden) but now I'm in New Brunswick and my attention goes to the scenery instead. It is quite beautiful here, almost all deciduous forest over tall rolling hills with lots of water about. Cricket had told me about a series of trestles that thread the CN rails through a small valley in NB and just after hitting the golden hour the terrain opens up to a small town nestled in the bottom of the valley.

Soon the train is upon the main trestle and it is rather impressive. The trestle spans the entire town, going directly above it at a height of about 5-6 stories tall. The view from up here is unreal,the town looks like pictures I have seen of model railroads with painted in sunsets and static plastic people on their way along the streets to meticulously modeled houses. In the waning sunlight of the real world it looks like a Bierstadt painting in color and composition, but is idyllic as Arcadia...

Looking down over the side of the car I realize that the speed of the train is completely blurring the ties on the trestle, thus making it appear as though the rails are floating in thin air. I duck back down under the trailer to look out the bottom of the car and discover that this will probably be the closest I'll ever come to a magic carpet ride. Sitting on the edge of the platform down in my bucket I assume the lotus and pretend to be in charge of this conveyance. It's a wonderful moment of just letting everything go, enjoying the moment, and realizing who I am.

"Natures first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower; But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief.
So dawn goes down today, Nothing gold can stay..."

7306 - Squeaky Cheese and Beautiful Girls


My stay here in Montreal has been quite pleasant. I'm here at the house where Spoke, Oks, and Dave live. On getting up in the morning I go out to get some onions that Spoke mentioned were in the next door grocers dumpster. When I open the lid there is also a fair amount of packaged goods, lots of sour cream and couscous salads. The onions and the couoscous come with me and after getting some Carling Black Label I go to work making some onion soup. This ends up being a bigger project than I had anticipated, but it's OK. There's something about a well stocked kitchen that always puts me at ease. To say that I'm a good cook would be a stretch but I seem to make out OK most of the time. Anyway, I figure that I should do something to make myself useful around here. These folks are all complete strangers but don't seem to mind a traveller staying, or invading their kitchen.

Oks is still sleeping, he's more of a night owl and frankly reminds me in appearance of Tim Roth portraying Vincent Van Gogh in the film "Vincent and Theo". Oks is cool and we get along pretty well, I think we may actually have similar personalities. Oks doesn't say a whole lot but one on one he opens up quite a bit. Spoke and Oks have ridden trains quite a bit and I find this reassuring for some indescribable reason. I suppose it's just another familiar experience that we share as people. Scary & Piano are Spoke's two dogs, they are actually brothers and seem to be attached at the hips. Sometimes they sit next to each other in one of the open windows and watch the street down below.

Later on I go back out for more Black Label and discover that this part of the city is lined with shops, bars and cafe's on the street level and apartments directly above. Most are specialty shops, meaning that there are no variety stores a la Walgreens or 7-11. As I find out later on, there is a strong grassroots movement here to stop the gentrification that has decimated other neighborhoods in the city. As I walk down the street and experience the ambiance of life here it becomes very clear to me that urban renewal would not leave any room for the qualities that make this a way of life for those who live here now. The old men sitting in wooden folding chairs on the sidewalk, drinking coffee laced with the contents of silver flasks unveiled from under a vest or out of a coat pocket already seem to know what I'm thinking as they watch me go by.

Spoke is an attractive woman with a lovely voice and she seems to be quite articulate and informed. She also sings lead vocals in Ballast. Unfortunately I'm a little too shy to engage her in much conversation so I guess I'll never know what she knows. Her hair is a wavy, dark chestnut swath, loosely tied back over her shoulder in a way that makes me think of old dusty photographs from the depression years. She cuts a short but proportionally enticing figure that by the looks of it is bursting with life. The cadence and texture of her voice is what gets me though. Imagine opening a closet and finding a smoky black suede jacket with the crystals of spilled whisky on the cuffs and the dry remnants of white lilacs picked long ago in the pockets...

Oks and I go to a park on the St. Lawrence river right next to the CP line to see if there are any familiar faces there. Trains are being switched back and forth only a few yards in front of us and the noise is actually comforting, almost like a soundtrack playing in the background. There's a few travellers but none that I know. We hang out with them for a while drinking and talking. Everybody is pretty psyched about going to a viking festival tomorrow up in Quebec City. I find this kind of amusing that these Canadians are so excited about a chance to parade around in horns while getting smashed. Most are trying to figure out if they can catch a freight to Quebec City in time to get there for the opening ceremony. I would like to go but kind of want to stay here in Montreal to see more of the city. Pretty soon a girl shows up that has me in some state of confusion. For whatever reason, the impression I get is that she is very similar to me right down to the way she dresses. She is ofcourse much better looking than I am. Oks informs me that her name is Megan and that she lives here in Montreal. I'm too taken aback to try to initiate any contact with her, but the feeling that we are one and the same persists, I've never had this happen before... and I really don't understand what it means.

Another evening, Oks and I go down to a switchyard to streak up some cars and we end up on the top platform of a tanker drinking beer and just hanging out. There is a crew switching as we sit there but the yard is dark and they don't see us until a string gets pushed right by us and there is a worker standing on the rear platform. He jumps off, climbs the ladder to our tanker and then stands there bellowing at us in french. Eventually I tell him I don't understand and he says in a very heavy french accent "These trains, they cut you in half!" while pointing out of the yard. We get off and make like we're leaving but loop back to actually do the streaking. We were just taking a beer break you see...

One of the culinary curiosities of the province is Poutine. This is french fries doused with an onion based brown gravy and then sprinkled with fresh cheese curds. It's quite good, if somewhat dubious in nutritional content. If the cheese is fresh it will squeak when you sink your teeth into it. If sitting on a sidewalk patio while eating your Poutine you may watch the passing people and I must say the ratio of extraordinary female beauty is very high here. I won't venture as to an explanation to this phenomenon. It's quite remakable however.
Later on in the day I go back to the house and end up watching "Emperor of the North Pole" with Lee Marvin playing the part of "A No.1", a resourceful hobo determined to ride No. 19. Ernest Borgnine plays the part of a maniacal and blood thirsty bull determined to keep the hobos and especially A No.1 off his train. Classic Ernest Borgnine, this is a must see for anyone even remotely interested in the railroad.

Up in the top story apartment above us, Oks tells me a bunch of bikers from Amsterdam and Paris have made their home there. The other day while I was hanging out on the balcony, reading and drinking, a couple of them decide to stop by. These guys look exactly like the Hells Angels I know from Norway, long hair and beards, greasy jeans and leather vests, square toe boots and chain belts. It was always sort of funny to me how the European bikers have emulated the look of the Oakland, CA bikers from the 60's to the point that they appear like caricatures to anyone used to seeing what passes for biker culture in the States now. In many ways the Europeans are way more pure to the outlaw tradition as becomes evident when they offer me free drugs of my choice. I politely decline and explain that I'm content as I am. They understand and actually introduce themselves at this point; I'm in the company of Gert Jan and Phillipe. After offering up some onion soup, which they happily accept and slurp up with gusto, they go back up the wrought iron spiral stair case to their lair overlooking the city.

The last night of my stay here is at the International Fireworks Competition hosted by the city of Montreal every year. For six weeks in the summer there is a major fireworks show twice a week, and tonights show is the closer. This is the same park where I saw Megan so we're hanging out with some more travellin' kids again, but the numbers are diminished due to the viking festival. Otherwise the park is packed with people everywhere. The show commences and lasts for close to an hour. It is by far the most amazing fireworks show I have seen. The smoke hanging over the launch pad on the other side of the St. Lawrence looks like a giant piece of moss with it's green tendrils stretching skyward looking for light.

Friday, July 28, 2006

7276 - Parles vouz francais?


J'ai des rêves doux d'une beau brun quand voix du Grillon entre mon rêve avec les mots : "Nous sommes dans Montréal!" Mes yeux volent ouvert et dans le crépuscule de matin je peux voir des cylindres saints sur un côté de moi et navire-citernes et grainers sur l'autre. Il n'y a rien autrement que notre train se déplaçant dans cette partie de yard de Lachine de CN dans Montréal d'est. Nous sommes en bas à peut-être 10 Miles a l'heure et le rythmic a pensé à la court-barre sous les roues est comme un métronome chronométrant le rite descendre d'un train. Nous libérons sous caution d'avant que le train disparaît dans la facilité de intermodal.
OK, in english now...

I'm having sweet dreams of the worlds most beautiful brunette when Cricket's voice enters my dream with the words: "We're in Montreal!" My eyes fly open and in the dusk of morning I can see holy rollers on one side of me and tankers and grainers on the other. There is nothing other than our train moving in this part of CN's Lachine yard in Montreal. We're down to maybe 10 MPH and the rythmic thunk of short-rail under the wheels is like a metronome timing the detraining ritual. We bail off before the train disappears into the intermodal facility. This yard is gigantic and actually has its own unique streetsigns marking the roads within.

After traversing a few cuts of cars we affix our respective monikers on a signal hut and then bushwhack it out of the yard and into a park in the Cotes St. Luc neighborhood. There is a nice secluded spot under some trees and we nap for a few hours while the city comes to life. Later on I make my way down to a service station and manage to get a key to the bathroom despite my dirt tan and rather aromatic presence. The scrubdown commences with me stripping down and shaving, then scrubbing more dirt off before putting on some cleaner clothes. I go back to the park and soon thereafter Josh has supplied us breakfast/lunch in the form of tomatoes, avocados, cheese, baba gannouj and flatbread. This sure hits the spot.

A few phonecalls are made and soon we're back on city transit to go to a friends house near St. Henri. The subway system in Montreal is super efficient and it's really easy to get around. We arrive at the house, which is a stronghold of anarchist ideology and the creative headquarters of the Punk band Ballast. The front door is not locked so we walk in and are greeted by Dave who has no idea who we are but welcomes us just the same. Cricket and I walk off in search of laundry detergent and beer, and procuring both we go back to the house to wash our clothes and hang out.

This is where I will part ways with Josh & Cricket as they are returning to the states via St. Albans,NY where they will be catching a shortline down to Selkirk. We're sleeping here tonight and then they are taking off tomorrow morning. If it is cool with my hosts I will stay here for a few days to see the city as I hear it is very scenic, with lots of culture.

7266 - Third time's a charm

Toronto, ON

Today we have been at the catch out most of the day. There has been absolutely no eastbound traffic yet. Apparently we missed the 104 this morning due to a late night with the local kids.I just went on a dumpster run at the local grocery and came back with two loaves of bread, three jars of jam and various other stuff. Also stopped by the local fire station and got water. The firemen are super friendly over there. Josh & Cricket are at the library and it's now 5PM. The damned Go Train speeds by here taunting me every 30-40 minutes and making a nuiscance of itself.

Josh shows up eventually with an astonishing amount of food that he has collected for us. Almost all of it is organic. We sit down to feast on hummus, cheese, salsa, tempeh and apple juice amongst other things. Afterwards we lounge around for hours to digest before the 104 shows up again, this time at 9:30PM. Finally it's on time and now the patron saint of hobos shines his grace upon us once again, for the train stops in front of us with rides galore.
After being here for this long it feels really good climbing into the back of a 48. The anticipation is palpable as we wait for that monumental forward jerk of motion signifying that we are indeed on our way. Standing here, reminds me of waiting in line at the carnival for that special ride where one might observe people getting sick in the corners after getting off. This same ride would also have a shifty group of guys at the base of it waiting for some grift to fall out of the sky in the form of a wallet, jewelry, or simply loose change. All the while little kids are smearing their faces with cotton candy and chocolate in anticipation of getting on the big one...

Two minutes later we're rolling east out of greater Toronto and on to Montreal, some 380 miles away. This train wastes no time in getting up to speed. Under the cloak of night we roar thru clanging crossing gates and over eight lane freeways that are glistening from a light rain. The traffic is heavy and looking out over the highways I can imagine what the thousands of people before me are doing in their cars. It's certainly a moment I have lived through a hundred times before while on the opposite end of my current reality. With speeds of 65 MPH+ we'll be in Montreal around 5AM tomorrow. After a few hours of enjoying the ride we say goodnight and roll out for a good nights sleep.

7256 - A short ride

Toronto, ON

At 9:30AM our train rolls in. Turns out the 104 is many hours late, but here it is. I'm up and awake, actually catching up on the journal. Josh & Cricket are still in camp across the tracks. I climb over the train to retrieve my pack and to get on this ride. This is expected to be a very short crew change so there is not much time to find a ride. The only rideables within running distance are mini-wells. These are somewhat less than two feet deep and do not offer much protection from prying eyes or the weather. Having tried one on for size one night in the 36th street UP yard in Denver, this will be the first time I actually ride anywhere in one. We board our train and as soon as Via Rail passes us, we lurch forward and gain speed. Soon we go through the wye ,on the northside and we really are Montreal bound this time. I lay down to watch the clouds roll overhead while I roll across Ontario.

20 some miles out of town a "GO Train", which is a form of public transportation here in Toronto pulls abreast of us on adjacent tracks. It starts pacing us which is very unusual. Shortly thereafter the Go Train is blowing his horn furiously and it becomes clear to us all that the crew on the transit train have spotted us from overhead. They speed off and our train starts slowing down.

Eventually we stop at the station where I can hear somebody talking animatedly trying to find us. In the states these searches are pretty cursory and don't amount to much effort but here it is different. Soon enough Cricket and I are pulled off the train by an irate CN worker who is demanding to know where the third person is. Apparently Josh has bailed off and is in hiding. We refuse to rat and they get back on the train looking for Josh. The crew from the GO Train are gleefully participating in this as though it where an easter egg hunt. The CN worker eventually finds Josh hiding in an empty container on the very same car that he was on originally.

By now the local cops are here and we are handed off to them because the resident CN bulls are "out picking up bodies" as we are told. The cops seem more amused by us than anything else and greet us with wide grins and a few chuckles. Marvelling at our grimy appearance they want to know how many days short of a shower we are. Constable Stanway takes our ID's and runs them for warrants, this is getting old by now. Once again we clear the check and Stanway informs us that they are dropping all charges and that we are free to go but that we must vacate the premises before we can leave. This is sort of a dilemma because we want to go back to Toronto to catch out again. The other option is to hitchhike back, but this will certainly prove difficult, it being three of us, and all in a class of befoulment unknown even to seasoned cops.

We hit Stanway up for a ride in his cruiser but he refuses. He does however spend the next 30 minutes trying to find us a ride back to town that we can afford. When he returns he says that the best deal is $7 and that it's on the Go Train. Shit.
This means that we'll be riding the cushions back to Toronto on the very same transit that caused us to be ejected from our eastbound stacks.

Hour and a half later we are back in Toronto at Union Station. After some standing around Cricket manages to get us some free tickets to TTC transit from a bus driver who is taking a smoke break. We have to take two buses to get back to the catch out and after getting off the first one we go hit the trash bin of a fruit and vegetable grocer and come up with tomatoes, plums and apples for a late lunch. Behind this store there is an older chinese man gardening and I go back around to ask him for water which he is more than happy to supply to us. After a stop at the beer store and another lengthy bus ride we're back under the bridge waiting for our train. This time we have beer and the time seems to pass a lot more quickly.

Suddenly, two somewhat inebriated youths show up under the bridge. They are both suburb wanksta types, wearing basketball inspired clothing four sizes too big. They do however come carrying a load of food and booze they have just heisted from somewhere or another. "What have we here?" "Trainhoppers?" says the drunker of the two. "Are you hungry?" says the other one. They sit down and share their expensive booty with us and once again I'm eating rather well on a complete strangers ticket. They wish us luck and leave us the leftovers.

The wait is back on and we settle down to a long discussion about the merits of taking personal responsibility for ones own consumption in the pursuit of greater good for collective society. As it turns out my travelling companions are much of the same school of thought as myself. Josh reveals that he would like to get a co-op living situation going to have somewhere to base operations from and to come up with ideas for direct action. He's also in the process of building a grease truck out of an Isuzu Trooper. This will be a dual fuel vehicle that runs on diesel and vegetable oil, the main source of fuel actually coming from grease dumpsters, effectively cutting the cost of fuel by more than half. If you don't believe this, ask Willie Nelson. He's been touring on the stuff for the last five years.

A few minutes later a large group of kids show up under the bridge with cookies, cheerios and a large satchel of weed. They have a thousand questions for us about riding trains as it seems that most of them have not been too far out of Ontario. When asked what they want to do when done with high school, a common answer is "Go to Northern Ontario." Go figure that one out...."make sure you bring an adequate supply of drinking water" I think to myself.

7246 - Dirtyface in the rain


Last night we boarded this 48 with Josh & Cricket in the back and me riding dirtyface in the front of the same car. This was so that it might be possible to communicate a little easier when it comes time to bail in Toronto. Riding dirtyface is no biggie as long as it doesn't rain. I wake up as we're passing the Via station in Capreol, about 150 miles or so out of Toronto. I'm wide awake at this point and roll up my stuff to make a cup of tea. As soon as I finish the tea it starts raining and it's coming down good this time. The poncho comes out and it keeps me relatively dry except for my legs and feet which are soaked instantly. My pack and sleeping bag are faring little better and pretty soon there is water sloshing around in the bottom of my well. This goes on for the next 75 miles, during which time we seem to be averaging about 35 mph.

While braving the rain on this stretch I actually make eye contact with a person trackside. This is pretty unusual, and has only happened to me once before when riding through downtown Reno, NV. The guy is in the middle of nowhere in a royal blue rain poncho and with what appears to be a pail for picking berries or mushrooms perhaps. The train is rolling around a sharp curve in dense forest and suddenly there he is, very large, standing on an elevated bank bringing him up to eye level with me. With nothing but the roar of the train and the driving rain to separate us, our eyes lock securely for about five seconds and then he is gone. I register surprise and the trace of a smile on his broad face, but I have no idea what he got from me.

This is a fairly populated area and there are some speed restrictions on the track . Eventually the rain stops and so does the train in Parry Sound. This is a scenic town on the northern shores of Lake Huron. There are some pretty big lakefront mansions here that all have boathouses and docks in the backyard. It looks like it would be a nice place to live if not for the heat and humidity. It apparently doesn't discourage some who by now are out on the docks fishing and drinking beer. After a little while we pass a long lake on the other side of the tracks which is set up for water ski tournaments, complete with bleachers, a judging tower and a scoreboard. In Parry Sound I transfer to a well facing the right direction so I can get out of the rain for the remainder of the trip to Toronto. Soon we're back on track and so is the rain.

It rains for another hour or so and then the sun comes out. I rig a clothesline in the back of my 48 and hang everything to dry, while taking a nap. When I wake up we're rolling through Brampton, which is a suburb in greater east Toronto. We slowly make our way through there and over to Doncaster which is a major connection for east and westbound travel on the CN line. Proceeding to roll through Doncaster our train takes a turn south signifying that it will die here and this is the end of this leg of the journey. The train goes into the new intermodal facility in Toronto and we bail off in the yard somewhat annoyed at having to take transit all the way back to the eastbound catch out that we just went through.

After some walking we find a service station and get some water to replace the stuff from Hornepayne. There is a Tim Hortons here and Josh and I attack the dumpster looking for the donuts we know are in there. We hit paydirt and with a wide selection of Timmy's pastries go to catch the bus. Soon enough we are in Toronto proper and have to switch buses to get where we need to. Toronto has about four or five transit agencies and they do not honor each others transfers which makes it expensive to get around. I manage to get us on the bus without paying this time and we're off to the catch out. We get there about 10PM which is after all the action has happened. The window of opportunity here is from 5-10PM and we missed it. Most likely this means almost a 24 hour wait before any eastbounds show up. Josh scouts a secluded spot for us and we roll out for the night. This catch out is in an affluent suburb of Toronto and it's a bit odd to be camped out in the middle of it. After hosing down with various potions of bug juice we're all asleep pretty soon.

7236 - Over the Great Lakes & thru The Iron Range - 100 Kilometers from anywhere

Great Lakes Region

At 3:30AM I'm awakened by rain falling. We're still moving along pretty good and the rain is light so I just roll over and ignore it for a while, remembering the stars and thinking it will pass. Wrong. An hour later and the rain is falling pretty steady by now. Josh and Cricket are in their bivvy sacks and up snug against the forward corners of the gondola to stay out of the rain, and it's sort of working. By now I'm fairly wet and just decide to roll up my sleeping bag and sit in the front of the gondola as well. When the train is moving most of the rain just flies overhead and it's actually quite pleasant. It is getting lighter out but it's still an hour or so before the sun will rise. At this point we have come 250 miles out of Winnipeg and have ridden well past Sioux Lookout and into Ontario. This is no big deal because there will be more opportunities to change trains and this junker is actually making OK time.

Around 9AM or so the rain stops and you can move about in the car without getting soaked in an instant. After cooking up a big cup of tea and starting to dry out somewhat the mood lightens and the ride goes from gloom to a more serene state of mind. The train is now climbing through the Iron Range which is the low mountains north of the Great Lakes. The scenery here can only be described as wilderness despite the occasional clearcut that we roll thru. The amount of water here is astounding, lakes, streams, rivers, ponds and peat bogs are everywhere.

This is where moose is king and the beavers are the industrial entrepreneurs of the landscape. As mentioned, there are some clearcuts from logging here and there but by and large it is mostly dense vegetation locked on to islands and hills by all the water. Suddenly we roll through a fire scarred swath of land and it is shocking to see the difference here. There is very little greenery at all, everything is black or grey and for a hot second I think that it's winter time before my eyes.

Now that it's daytime I can see what a miserable piece of work our ride really is. The metal floorboards are peeling up along one side of the car and when you stand on the loose end it is like standing on the end of a diving board as the motion of the car makes sections of the floor act like a giant spring. The damn thing rocks and rolls back and forth so much on sections of bad track that it's actually more like a ride on the high seas through a stormy gale. The galloping gondola also has numerous broken welds all over, most notably the corners are completely cracked open. This is all of little concern really, just part of the experience.
I get my sleeping bag back out and dry it out in the wind that constantly rushes at us. It dries pretty quick and before we know it we actually have some sunshine from above.

Later in the day we decide to bail off our train in a small town called Hornepayne. We stash our packs in the woods next to the yard and go in search of food and water.
Today is Sunday and apparently this is not the time for commerce in this particular locale. The town is tiny and it takes a while to find anything that looks like a resource. On the way through town I catch people looking at us from behind curtains and with something like suspicion drawn across their faces. Oh well. Having canvassed the town we find a mall of all things though it is tiny and most everything in it is closed.

While walking around it to find the entrance a police cruiser pulls up behind us and an OPP cop asks us if we need any help. We tell her that we are just looking for some food and water. "Everything is closed on Sundays." she says and proceeds to inquire as to how we got to Hornepayne in the first place. This is a dilemma because we don't want to admit to being freight riders in case she wants to do something about it, so we tell her that we are camping. "You don't look like fishermen. Did you come in on that CN freight?" she asks, and adds that the only other way to get here is by bushpilot, as the town is 100 kilometers from the TransCanada highway and the only road in is currently washed out. Hmmmm... So we tell her we just rolled off the freight and she gathers up our ID's and runs our names through the system to look for warrants or other problems. We're all clear, and get some advice on how to get water from a spring nearby rather than try to find tap water since the towns water is chlorinated and tastes terrible. I find this odd considering the location we're in and the remoteness of it all. But we find out later that she is not joking about the tapwater of Hornepayne. She sends us on our way with the advice to lay low in the CN yard on our way back out. If we don't create any problems for the railroad she doesn't care if we catch out of here. On the other hand if she gets a call from CN asking us to be removed then it will be a regrettable experience for us all, including her. We say thanx and move along to find some water.

Eventually we find a little convenience/bait shop that is open and so we get some snacks but no water because the clerk won't fill our jugs but points to the cooler in back with bottled water. We leave this place after snacking and end up filling our jugs from someones garden hose. The cop is right, the water is foul. Not only is it heavily chlorinated, but also a sickly clear chartreuse in color. Wow.

As we're cresting the hill that separates the town from the CN yard we can hear what sounds like a bicycle coming up behind us. Whoever this person is, they are moving very slowly judging by the skitter and crunch of gravel under the tires. None of us really want to turn around and have a look as we've had enough of this crazy little outpost. I'm almost thinking somebody saw us tap their water and came to have a few words with us. Nobody speaks and the sounds of gravel scattering are getting closer yet and seem to be speeding up but now it sounds like footsteps. I turn around just in time to see a brown dog with teeth bared sneaking up very quickly behind Josh. He turns too and just in time to kick the air right in front of the dogs nose. The canine stops and breaks into a snarl, lips and ears pulled back, head swinging back and forth low to the ground. Josh drops everything he's carrying and charges the dog with his arms up in the air. The dog scrambles back and retreats a few yards before turning around and going back. Low growls are still coming our way but at least he's moving away now. This is the only time I've experienced a dog sneaking up like that with no warning.   

Back at the yard we find a spot to wait and I cook up a can of the ol' Chef Boyardee and Cricket and Josh make a pot of rice pilaf with wild mushrooms and seaweed that they were given by a native man in BC. The chef Boyardee is predictable but the rice is spectacular. I had a chance to try some of the seaweed earlier and it is quite good even when dry. The stuff is a dark violet in color and tastes very rich and salty. The pot is barely off the stove when we hear some road power growling its way into the west end of the yard. Lo and behold it's the stacktrain we're looking for. A hasty packing of the bags takes place as the freight pulls up to crew change or whatever it actually does here. There are tons of 48's with overhangs on this train and we make ourselves right at home, Josh & Cricket boarding with a hot pot of rice in hand. Ten minutes later we're off and rolling, goodbye Hornepayne.

7226 - Transcona Yard


I'm finally getting out of Winnipeg. The stay was much longer than I thought it would be, but I have learned much in the mean time. There are two buses to ride and then a two mile walk out to the catch out spot. Rod has decided to see me off from here and is coming with me to the yard. I'm a little surprised he made it with all the various drugs and Percocet he is taking for his lung ailment.

On the way out here I accidentally stepped on a nest of hornets, they're not happy! I end up paying for it with a sting to the ankle and at this time of writing it has swollen up quite a lot due to my allergy. As we get up to the catch out by the yard I'm somewhat surprised to see that there are two riders here already, waiting for a train. They introduce themselves as Josh and Cricket and they are both from the states, so that makes three americans trying to get out of Winnipeg today. They have been here waiting for an eastbound since 8AM when they walked over here from Symington yard, same place that I came in a few days ago. In the time they have been here there has only been two trains to come by and it is now 9:30PM. This is the Canadian National mainline, so it's a bit unusual.

Comparing notes, we have hit many of the same towns and taken the same route from Jasper on east. They came up from Vancouver on BC Rail to Prince George and switched to CN there. They have been on the road since May 1st and will be heading back to the states via Montreal,QC. I ask if it's cool to travel with them for a while and they say sure thing. A long drawn out whistle sounds abruptly and our attention is on the tracks. Something is finally coming our way and it's definitely going in the right direction.

A retreat is made to the bushes and we wait for our acommodations to pull abreast so we can spot a ride. It's a junker, not stacks and this is a point of some discontent. Well, a slow train is better than no train and besides, the mosquitoes are getting more and more blood thirsty by the minute. The decision is made to ride this junker to Sioux Lookout which is the next crew change, and try to get a stacktrain there. We hoist ourselves into the first rideable that comes along and it's a decrepit old gondola of some uncertain vintage. The gondola is one of many all-purpose cars on the railroad and this low wall version is basically just a 10'x60'x4' box on wheels sometimes referred to as a bathtub. This is actually not a bad ride as one has nearly 360 degree views but there is little shelter from precipitation and they tend to be littered with shredded steel and/or broken glass.
Rodney climbs up with us to get a picture and after saying goodbye we are minutes later rolling through a starry night and across the plains at 50 mph. Toronto is only 1500 miles away...

Friday, July 21, 2006

7196 – “You don’t exist”

Osborne Village

Went down to Osborne Village here in Winnipeg to find other freight riders. The Fort Rouge Yard is just southeast of the village and it’s a popular spot to catch a westbound or the BNSF connection train to Grand Forks in the states. It’s not long before I spot some travelling kids sitting outside a BK. Two girls and a dog. I walk up to them and say hi. They’re friendly enough and invite me to sit. Introductions are made, they are Rachel & Sarah, the dog’s name is Ashley. She is a Mastiff/Terrier mutt of some undetermined mixture but looks a bit like a miniature pitbull. She’s an affectionate dog and takes a liking to me right away. Sarah is from Vancouver and Rachel is from Halifax, which is where they are going. They’re going on their third week in Winnipeg and are somewhat anxious to leave here. Their plan is to catch out eastbound from downtown and I tell them that I’m planning to go out to Transcona (a suburb of Winnipeg) to get an eastbound to Toronto because the odds of ending up back in Symington Yard or on a freight headed for the states is too great when catching from downtown. I get up to leave after a while and get an invitation to come back down later and share a drink over by the bell tower in the village. I promise that I’ll be back later to join them.

Five hours later….

Back in the village at around 7PM and there is no one at the bell tower. Loitering around there a little while I notice a really well done stencil on the sidewalk. It’s the grinning head of Donald Rumsfeld wearing a big striped tie and the words “Murder Capital” underneath. Wandering around I see the girls a few blocks up ahead. I swing by the “Cold Beer Store” before going to sit down with them.

All liquor sales in Manitoba are controlled by the government and there are two types of outlets: “The Liquor Mart”, which is a full service store, and the “Cold Beer Store”, which has cold beer only. I find this somewhat weird and controlling, but that’s just the way it is here. I’m picking up some local vernacular as well, The “Loonie” and the “Toonie” are what the $1 and $2 coins are called here. “Six-up” is roughly the same as “Five-O” in the states, meaning that coppers are lurking about.

Sitting down I ask where everyone else is and no one really knows. In between spangin’ (panhandling) the passersby they want to know what the states are like as far as riding. I have similar questions for them about Canada and soon enough we are having conversation like old friends reunited. More people start to show up, there is a guy that works at the beer store who apparently has a crush on Rachel. No one knows his name but he has earned the nickname of ”Emo Waldo” due to his haircut and a knit hat of comical proportions that he likes to wear.

There is “New York”, another American. He’s in his 40’s and bears a striking resemblance to Rob Zombie. Dressed all in black he’s wearing a photographers vest and carrying a multitude of bags and a big pack. Dave is a local punk. Tall & skinny, he is quick to laugh. Some time later Randy & Brian show up. They are the homeguards of the village and refer to themselves respectively as the Mayor & the Pope of Osborne Village. They’re both in their 60’s I’m guessing and quite frankly have the demeanour and the appearance of the two grumpy old guys that sit in the balcony on the muppet show. When Randy laughs it’s like watching a bobble head doll. The two of them confer amongst themselves and announce that my nickname is to be “Colorado”. This endures for a while until somebody starts calling me “Chicago” and soon it’s all over because no one can keep straight which it is. All throughout this there are a good many complete strangers that stop and sit with us. Most are friendly, some are indifferent, but they all share whatever they have whether it is food, drink or otherwise.

There is one guy though that keeps coming back every hour or so and he has it in for us because of our appearance. He stops and stares, spits some verbal rot and then puts money in the hat. There is no rational explanation for his behaviour other than he’s probably getting some kind of satisfaction from the snide remarks and insults he slings at us. The third time he comes around it really gets to Sarah, who demands a reason for his hate. He refuses to speak to her and instead turns to me with the words “You don’t exist because you don’t have a life.” While he’s saying this he’s pressing a toonie into my hand.

I can’t help but challenge him on that one because he is obviously jumping to conclusions about me and I find it rather annoying. In truth the man is dressed like an adult version of Spanky McFarland from “The Little Rascals”, the haircut is even the same soup bowl variety. I give him his money back and question his right to judge me by informing him of my opinion of his dress. He’s rather put out. I guess the comparison to a five year old is a bit much for him to tolerate. I know it’s inane of me to throw the same poison back at this guy but it’s hard to gather your creative thoughts when infuriated. Sometimes I really wonder how people justify their ignorant behaviour.

The group of people that I am with are either travelling or homeless to one degree or another. In the US the alternative names for this demographic could be Flintstone Kids, Travellin’ Kids, Crusties, or just outright bums. I feel comfortable with these people, the dirt and forthright demeanour of these street kids is preferable to the haughtiness of those that supposedly know better. It’s getting late and everyone is going off to sleep, under the Osborne Bridge or elsewhere. Sarah turns to me and asks in a funny comical voice if I will come lay on her plush cardboard mattress with her. I say “Maybe”, and she replies with an offer to share her sleeping bag so I say “OK” and off we go.

We end up in the back breezeway of a closed down church right in the village. There are already three or four people here sleeping, New York amongst others. Sarah finds some cardboard and spreads it out, then gets her bag out and we lay down to go to sleep. We talk a bit but she dozes off pretty soon. The thoughts going through my head are mostly concerned with catching out to Toronto and the complexities of the East. On the other hand I’m thinking about how easily I’ve been accepted into this group and the trust that they have shown me. The fact is that I still feel completely alone even though I am lying down with a girl in my arms who obviously trusts me. The feeling of emptiness does not go away and I fall asleep wondering where it is that I will find some peace of mind on this seemingly endless search.

Waking up the next morning I see that "The Kid" is here. His name is Arthur and he's a native Cree indian. This kid has been following me and the girls around for a few days now trying to talk us into letting him ride with us. Arthur wears a camo boonie hat a size too big and a Detroit Pistons jersey that stops just below his knees. His pack and bedroll looks new and of the Walmart variety. He says he's 17 and just rode in from Edmonton last week. The part about Edmonton I can entertain but if this kid is a day over 12 years old I'll be very surprised.

He smokes and drinks as much or more than some of the others hanging about and I can tell he's trying really hard to fit in and be part of the group. When he talks to me in a one on one situation though, his demeanor changes and he is pleading with me in a thin voice to let him ride east with me. He's scared of staying in Winnipeg and seemingly even more afraid to ride alone. Nobody wants to take him on as a traveling partner and I genuinely feel sorry for him as he's bound to be picked up by the cops before long if he stays here.

This morning he's all smiles and pretty jolly when he sees us. "I'm catching out to Vancouver tomorrow!" he says and shows us a crew change he has procured somewhere. I have a look at it and see that it's actually a current one. I guess I'd be pretty nervous too without the basic knowledge the CC provides. Sarah gets up and gives him a hug and a kiss which turns his face beet red. We both laugh and wish him fast trains and safe rails to Vancouver. That was the last I saw of him.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

7186 – Don’t take candy from strangers

Winnipeg, MB

Woke at 6AM, did laundry, and to my great dismay discovered that I had laudered my sticks! I picked one out of the washer and stuck it in my mouth to test its potency. Still good! Thankfully, because I have no idea where I would find new ones out here. Winnipeg, as I have experienced it so far has a comparative feel to that of the Midwestern states of Minnesota and Wisconsin. It’s proximity to these states certainly has a say in this I would imagine despite the fact that it is a different country with very different politics and aspirations. Come to think of it, this place seems somewhat reserved in the same way that Utah does.

I’m currently in a pub called the “Fox & Hounds”. It took me some time to find a bar around here. I actually got tired of walking and got on the bus eventually to use it as a scout vehicle to find a little dive bar to have a beer and to catch up on my thoughts. Apparently, respite from the drudgery of daily existence is not meant to take place inside drinking establishments in Manitoba. Rod lives in an area of Winnipeg that looks amazingly like the textbook pictures of suburban Moscow one would see in high school geography books.

There are some family homes here and there, but what dominates the landscape are these enormous apartment buildings. Large brick rectangles many stories tall in some cases, made from drab neutral brick and completely without adornments of any kind. Functionality was apparently the only thing that mattered when these were built. They are separated alternatively by empty parking lots and vast stretches of lawn that is in need of watering. Speaking of water, the tap water here has a strong taste of moss. I don’t find it entirely unpleasant but it definitely takes some getting used to.

Yesterday, while walking on the street I was stopped again, this time by three Mormon women inquiring as to the current status of my religious faith. A petite brunette with “Amy” on her nametag takes charge of the operation and leaps in front of me with a comic grace that is reserved for superheroes in that decisive moment when they ascend or descend to some calamity or another. She looks a lot like a young Pricilla Presley, only with her hair cropped short and more chestnut in color rather than the black bouffant from the 50’s. Same piercing blue eyes though.

She and the others seem somewhat disappointed to learn that I’m not interested in putting my faith in any church, but that I would rather invest in myself and the power of the individual. I explain that I really don’t do so well in group settings and it’s immediately explained to me that individual tutoring in the book of mormon is available to anyone interested. With something that might have been considered flirtation had it been served with the proper tone and inflection I ask if she would be my tutor. All three of them burst out laughing. She turns red and I turn red and I end up laughing too at my own awkwardness. We part ways and I can’t help but to think that the Mormons in Colorado would do well to engage the females in their flock to recruit rather than the guys in the button-downs and bicycle helmets.

7176 – Fighting the Poverty Pimps

Winnipeg, MB

Arrived at the Symington Yard at 8AM and bailed off my 48 on the fly before I got too deep into the yard where security measures will be a problem to navigate. My exit from the yard was pretty easy except for a cattail swamp of considerable size which forces me to walk right by the security tower at the main gate. If they saw me they did nothing about it. Shortly thereafter I emerged adjacent to the Union Stockyards and jumped on the first bus I saw.
Once downtown Winnipeg I made my way out to where my friend Rod lives. Upon arrival I called him but no answer. Searching around the neighborhood I found a park to lay down for a snooze. I have since finished “The Jungle” and have now moved on to George Orwell’s “1984”. I guess this is the summer to catch up on the classics. I enjoy this book for its biting commentary on social conventions still being bandied about today as rules to live by in a modern capitalist society. Much later I call Rod again and this time he answers and welcomes me over. Rod lives in a one bedroom apartment right off the main drag through town. He unfortunately has a rare (to medical science) infection of the lungs. The doctor has ordered rest for a good many months to come. He welcomes me inside and takes my picture for posterity.

At this point I am one dirty, smelly and tired dude. There’s nothing like a few layers of train dirt to cut one down to size and garner a few sideways glances from the populace at large. Thus far I have come about 1800 miles from Prince Rupert in about three days. I still have about 3500 miles to go before I’m in Halifax and at the Atlantic Ocean. Getting in the shower the water runs a darkish oily grey for a while before reaching equilibrium and its normal aqueous state.

In the meantime Rod is fixing us something to eat and before long we settle into an interesting conversation. Rod is a community activist of some 25 years and naturally the topics between us cover observations and ideas of how we should treat and care for one another in these awkwardly opposing democracies that we live in. I think that we agree direct action is the best way to go and to leave the bureaucrats to their own devices.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

7166 – Roadmiles

Jasper,AB – Winnipeg,MB

Finally my ride shows up at about 8PM. It’s a long stacktrain and I end up making myself at home in the back of a 48 not even a hundred feet from where I bailed off my graintrain. A 48 is an intermodal well car that takes two shipping containers, one stacked atop the other. With a 40’ container on the bottom there is an area at either end approx. 160 cu.ft. in size to ride in. The floor space is about 4’x10’ in size. In less than two minutes we are off and rolling through the Canadian rockies. The mountains here are very different than the Colorado rockies. Here they appear as jagged shards still layered with winter snow and ice. Pretty soon I’m gliding past large alpine lakes turquoise in color..

The train is moving along at about 65 mph, a vast improvement over the previous ride on the grainer were the top speed was about 35 mph. I spot a group of bears out on a spit of sand and try to determine if they are grizzlies or not, but can’t tell for sure. They’re light brown and quite shaggy, but seem to lack the hump of the grizzly. There are lots of elk about and later when the train takes the hole to let another one by, I find myself right next to a meadow full of them. They seem quite tame and come wandering up on the tracks after a while. The train lurches forward and I’m off again to keep moving for some time. Soon dusk is upon me and I’m quite content with life. Twilight is for certain my favorite time of day and it seems to last forever here. After the sun goes down it does not get dark until 11:30PM or so. In my private car I bask in the speed, the scenery and a feeling of security from all that ails me. I guess it’s true what they say about running away from sorrow on a hobo train….

The temperature starts dropping and and I eventually get in my bag to nap before getting to Edmonton.

Three hours later

I’m somewhat concerned about security in Edmonton as I understand that the main yard is of considerable size. By the time the train rolls up to the fuel dock the temperature has dropped even more and I dig every single article of clothing from my pack and put it on.
We’re stopped for a long time after fuelling and I eventually go back to sleep while wondering why we are not moving. I wake to a faint glow on the horizon and it is now about 4:30AM. Still we’re not going anywhere and its cold as shit. The units are still up front and idling, I imagine I can hear them but I can definitely see them. Time to fire up the stove and make some tea. I have an MSR that runs on pump gas and I fire it up in my 48 and soon enough have a steaming cup of tea. No sooner had I packed the stove up and we took off! About time!

We’re still downtown Edmonton and winding our way through the city yards. Luckily I see no cameras, which means that they do not see me. The train did pass under an inspection bridge but there were no bulls on it. Eventually the train exits the industrial sprawl of Edmonton and for the next three hours or so I spend my time back in the sleeping bag trying to stay warm.

Waking to raindrops on my face I get up and peer out the side to see a landscape somewhat similar to parts of Wyoming and Nebraska. I’m travelling thru Eastern Alberta under lead grey skies. We hit a big trestle and I can see people below fishing in the river. They appear as dots of color, blue and yellow on the riverbank. After a little while sand dunes appear, some of them quite large, but with no tracks other than fox or coyote. I can’t tell which.

Saskatoon appears early in the afternoon. By now the sun is out, there is a stiff breeze blowing and the temperature is at about 55-60. Feels good. I have no idea what to expect from the Saskatoon yard, but when we get there I’m surprised to see how small it is. It is roughly the size of the Laramie,WY yard, and their yard tower is miniscule. It appears they are doing some block swapping here and I make sure they are not cutting my car before taking a little snooze. Rod had advised me to get off and see the city but the weather is so nice that I just lay back in the sun in my 48 and watch the clouds roll overhead across cobalt skies. By my refusal to get off at this point I’m pretty much committed to ride all the way through to Winnipeg, another 450 miles down the tracks.
But what the hell, the weather and the ambiance is just too damn nice. It’s what I came here for anyway….

7156 - Idyllic Idle


It is about 5PM I’m guessing, I have not bothered to tend time today. I’m hoping to catch a stacktrain here that may go as far as Toronto. A girl just walked by with her dog. If she even saw me, she just ignored me.
The place I am in is a beautiful little meadow maybe 30 acres in size. The rail line is to my right, a highway goes in front of me, and the main drag of Jasper is right behind me. The grass is knee high and there are very tall spruce trees dotting the landscape every 20-30 feet. Weather has been good, hi 50’s and a slight breeze with sunshine. Occasionally a squall will roll through, sprinkling me with rain. They are so small as not to be of any consequence though. In the 20+ hours I have been here, eastbound traffic has been sparse. There has been one set of stacks thru thus far but it had nothing rideable within reach. I was half tempted to hop a junker that came screeching in right behind it, but the Canadian grainers are not as well appointed as their U.S. counterparts in terms of comfort so I let this one go. Overall, CN seems to have older equipment, yet they run their trains at least twice as efficiently as say Uncle Pete (Union Pacific) back in the states.
Anyway, patience here will meter out greater dividends in the end.

7146 – Along the mighty Skeena

British Columbia

Yesterday after getting on the grainer I fell asleep pretty soon after. Walking for miles in the rain with a pack on your back will do that I suppose. Hearing the air go up I’m thinking here we go, but I’m too tired to get up and have a look at the yard left behind. Back to sleep for me…. But not for long. The beginning of a ride is always the most exciting because you never know what's in store for you. Once those big wheels start turning there is nothing rational you can do to stop them, nor is there any way to get off the train until it slows back down. Sometimes I think that riding trains is a bit like catching a ride on a giant steel animal and hiding between its metal scales amid the creaks and groans of its rusty hide.

After a while the train turns away from the coast and up the north bank of the Skeena. The river is huge, perhaps a mile across the muddy turquoise water. Looking out across the river I can see power lines that span the river with several of the red and white masts actually sitting in the river itself. I think it's around here somewhere that my relatives settled in Port Essington. It's sort of strange to think that when I got the idea to go to Prince Rupert to ride the Canadian hi-line I had no connection whatsoever to this place. Now, being able to see what it looks like, I can definitely feel an attraction and an affinity to the land. It's funny how some places feel like home right away and other places never feel like home. Even after 14 years.

Waking up hours later, the rain has started back up and the porch of the grainer is a torrent of rain water running down off the roof, and off the back. The backend of a grainer has a 4’x8’ platform you can stand upon and look out at the passing scenery on both sides. Now the train is moving at about 30 MPH and this seems to be the speed that this leg of the journey is to commence at. I’m a bit fearful of getting out of my bag at this point because I have managed to warm up quite nicely and my trousers are starting to dry out. Instead I maneuver around inside the cubby hole so that I can see out the entrance while sitting in my bag. The train is creeping along the banks of the Skeena still, which at this point is almost a quarter mile wide.

For most of the day I stay in the cubby hole and out of the rain. I’m reading “The Jungle” by Upton Sinclar, which is turning out to be a spectacular piece of social realism. Eventually the rain lets up and I move on out on the platform for some sightseeing. I’m getting higher into the coastal range now and the river has gotten a lot smaller, by now it is running crystal clear and the color of it is a vibrant turquoise. As far as I know we have not stopped even once thus far to let other trains by, so it has been pretty steady travelling. Soon enough rain drops are falling and I retreat to my hideout once more. Before I do though I look up to see three bald eagles flying right above, maybe 30’ up. They are quite large and it is an impressive sight. Dusk is coming and it’s nappy time.

Six hours later….

Sunshine is streaming in through the trees and I notice that we are not moving. Pulling the earplugs out I can hear the crackle of some brakie’s radio from behind another string of cars to my right. It sounds like he is parked right next to me as I hear the door of his truck slamming shut. I have to go pee very badly but don’t necessarily want to attract the attention of this guy. To my left there are a couple sets of tracks and then some gigantic piles of old ties. I make my way off the grainer and run behind the tie pile for relief.

Soon we are back on the road and at this point we are really starting the climb up into the mountains. After a while the wye which signifies the cutoff to Vancouver comes into view and fortunately we take the hi-line over Red Pass which will take me to Jasper. The ride over the pass is pretty spectacular, over the summit there are a bunch of wooden snowsheds to protect the line from avalanches. This is the same as up on Donner Pass in California except that on Donner they are made of concrete. After a while we’re coasting down the other side and I’m hanging off the side of the grainer thru the ladder. Oh sweet joy!

While coming around a curve a group of workers appear on the access road ahead, I get off the ladder in a hurry and bail into the cubby hole, sure that they have seen me. This is kind of a bummer some times, but all part of the game nonetheless. If they actually call me in, somebody will be rolling the train at the next stop looking for me but we’re so close to Jasper that I’m not particularly worried about this. When I abandon this graintrain in Jasper it will be relatively easy to disappear into the bush….

An hour later we’re rolling into Jasper and the first thing I do see after jumping off is not a CN truck, but a group of Hutterites curiously looking me up and down. These folks are dressed a lot like the Amish with skirts, bonnets and braids for the women and blue chambray shirts and dark pants with suspenders for the menfolk. I tip my hat on the way by and a dozen hats are tipped in return. No one says a word, but I see a few smiles.
Jasper is a major tourist destination, and walking the streets you can hear about four of five different languages just walking down one block. By now my rations are long gone and I go in search of something to eat.

7136 – On The Emerald Coast

Prince Rupert,BC

When coming in last night there was a storm rolling over the mountains and it appeared as though the clouds were a ceiling held aloft by the peaks of the surrounding mountains. Recently I was made aware that I have family here in Rupert and possibly on Digby Island. Unfortunately I don't know who they are, or how to get a hold of them. They are Norwegians from my dads side of the family that emigrated from the old country and settled in Port Essington, a fishing town up on the Skeena River. This sure looks a hell of a lot like Norway. It's no wonder they ended up here...

After checking in to the Black Rooster, which is a hostel owned and operated by a nice Polish couple, I went in search of provisions and found the town to have an excellent grocer where I could get supplies before catching out the next day. I then went on my way to find something to eat and have a drink. Rupert seems to be caught in a little bit of a time warp of 20 some years. This will no doubt change forever when construction on the new port commences.

Before long I was stopped on the street by a man in a black Chevrolet. He said “I’m with the RCMP and I need to talk to you.”, while pulling his badge out. A moment later, a second Chevy pulls up and a guy in a bullet-proof vest with the word POLICE across the front gets out and asks me “What are you doing selling booze to kids?” I look back at the first cop, who by the way looks more than a bit like Jerry Seinfeld, and he says “Someone phoned us and said that you bought a bottle of vodka for two underage Haida kids.” "Oh, Damn." I think to myself.

I deny any knowledge of such a crime and they launch into 20 questions and a thorough frisking. When running my ID and coming up with nothing, they want to know when I’m leaving their town. This leads me to believe that they don’t trust me and would just as soon see me locked up and broke. I tell them I will be hitchhiking out of town the very next day. There is no response to this as they hand me everything they had emptied out of my pockets. After a while they inform me that there will be no charges pressed if I promise to leave Prince Rupert as soon as possible.
Saying goodbye leaves them pretty sourfaced as I guess they thought they had a real criminal this time. But it's a hell of a welcome to be shaken down by the local cops on some fabricated pretense.

A bit spooked by the RCMP, I decide to leave early in the morning to catch out. It’s 4AM and about nine miles to walk to the catch out. The stores are closed and I only have for provisions what I bought as a taste sample yesterday. Perhaps a pound of various types of trail-mix. I decide that it will do until I get to Jasper, AB which is about 600 miles away. In Jasper I’m hoping to find an eastbound stacktrain for a more expediant rate of travel.

Leaving the Black Rooster I discover a steady downpour. Out comes the poncho and off I go. At this hour it is already getting light out but the streets are quiet. The only place open now is Tim Hortons, and to my surprise there are quite a few people there. These Canadians sure do like their coffee and donuts! But some of them are probably fishermen, so it makes sense for them to be up eating donuts at this hour. I forego the temptation of Timmy H. in order to make good on my travel plans. The rain is coming down pretty hard and soon my legs and feet are soaked.
By the time I find the catch out it has stopped though and I’m feeling a little better about things. Upon finding a huge bramble of raspberry bushes right at the edge of the yard I stop there to eat some and to survey the yard situation. To my delight I find an eastbound graintrain ready to leave, except there is a locomotive or two missing from the point.

In paying attention to the raspberries in front of me I see that I'm competing with four inch long tan & brown slugs for the berries! They just ooze right over the thorns on the bush and are found six to seven feet off the ground. While observing this spectacle I hear some road power moving up behind me, and sure enough it’s two black & red CN units going down to hook up to my train.
Thus far I have observed but one yard worker and he is nowhere in sight. So I make my move and find suitable accommodations about fifty cars deep. There is a big sheet of plastic and a good chunk of cardboard left on the grainer facing me so I grab it and transfer it to my dwelling to be for the next forty some hours. Thirty minutes later we take off while I’m tucking my wet feet into my sleeping bag to dry while I take a nap in the cubby hole of my grainer.