Strange Cargo

Lessons from the Jack London Finishing School

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….

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