Strange Cargo

Lessons from the Jack London Finishing School

Friday, July 28, 2006

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.

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