It has taken until Canada, but for now I’m travelling in style. Vancouver to Jasper was mostly a wonderful trip because of the landscape and the journey into the mountains. Almost as exciting was the (slightly nerdy) fact I was boarding a train again, the first since Townsville, Queensland almost a month earlier. But this was also the first overnight trip I had made since The Ghan more than a month before that. I suppose at this stage one of the joys is the familiarity of being on a train, as well as noticing the differences from country to country. I can also enjoy a degree of inactivity, feeling satisfied that I am travelling while not even doing anything, even in my sleep. I do not have to pay attention but can enjoy just watching the view. Travelling from Vancouver to Jasper also bought with it the mountains. The Rocky Mountains were such a fabulous contrast to the desert of Australia and the Queensland coastline that it was a breath of fresh air in every way.
Following different seasons, my body clock and seasonal clock is entirely out of sync, having experienced the longest summer ever with just a few days of Winter and the very start of Autumn (in reverse order) it is somehow settling to see the start of Spring and to follow it along my route. Waiting for the train at Jasper, the sun is out in all its glory as I wave goodbye to the mountains. The last of the snow twinkling and the new buds of Spring emerging brightly.
At dinner I’m seated with an already existing group of 7, they have travelled from Vancouver together and seem a merry bunch in good spirits. They took the Rocky Mountaineer this far, the train I have seen and looked at taking myself before the discovery of Via-Rail and its identical route to Jasper. From our over dinner conversation it seems the only discenible difference with the Rocky Mountaineer is that it slows down for bears (so passengers can watch them) and staff bring you your food to your seat. This was the brief snapshot I gleaned from them anyway. It also only travels during the day so you have to get out at the end of each day and get up each morning to get back on the train. I think it is a good deal more luxurious but a significant part of the joy of train travel for me is that you get to sleep on the train. I am looking forward to the stretch of my trip from Saskatoon to Toronto for that very reason, I have two straight days and nights on board the train, two whole days of uninterrupted train journey where I eat and sleep and entertain myself wholly on board the train.
The pace of life alters, it revolves around eating and sleeping (did I say that already?), it is time to write, to read, there are no phone calls, emails or such technological interruptions. There is no pressure to be ‘doing’ anything outside of the simple timetable of meal times and you can feel productive as you are still travelling in the intended direction. It is a wonderfully passive rest for a short while. An intermission if you like.
There are viewing carriages, one at the rear so you can view all you have just passed through, and several throughout the train, with windows for a roof and slightly elevated seating to give you more of a panoramic experience. This is not a train for people travelling with any purpose.
The line is also owned by Canadian Pacific Rail, I am still grappling with the complex relationship of the railways. The CPR runs only freight along the tracks now, there is no passenger train, so Via Rail and the Rocky Mountaineer are interlopers on the tracks, and as such, have to wait for the freight to pass by and take priority. This happens it seems, quite regularly. Despite this, it was only about 20 minutes late leaving Jasper, a good deal longer arriving the week or so before. I have also heard that a CPR personnel person travels on the Via-Rail trains to make sure that freight does take priority…I’m not quite sure how that works, it seems a very expensive way of making sure they do as they’re told, and they seem a nice enough bunch, I’m sure if they were just asked nicely.