Crossing the Continent

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Once through the contortions of getting into pajamas in the three feet between bed and ceiling, I was quite comfortable. But I soon perceived that this particular compartment was over an undercarriage in desperate need of lubrication. Ear-piercing shrieks emanated from the wheels at every turn. Day Two: Sometime after 5 o'clock in the morning I gave up trying to sleep. There seemed no point in staying in bed if I could be enjoying the scenery in the observation car.

'Crossing the Continent 1527-1540'

By now we must be passing through the Canadian Rockies, and upper berths on the train have no windows. A brilliant sun had risen while I was shaving and dressing in the washroom.

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Then unexpectedly night fell again. We were in the Connaught Tunnel, the longest in Canada, spanning 26, feet, more than five miles.

Giant fans at the higher, western end of the tunnel are switched on automatically before the engine enters to suck out diesel exhaust. Fat little blind mice are rumored to reside in the tunnel, gleaning grains from passing freight cars. Shortly after leaving the tunnel, we reached Beavermouth, the northernmost point on the transcontinental route. The town seemed appropriately enough named, numerous poplars freshly felled by beaver lying among the spruce crowding the banks of the Columbia River.

Although I didn't see any gnawing rodents, a surprising amount of other wildlife was visible from the train, including caribou galore between Lake Louise and Banff.

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Meanwhile, those half-chewed poplars had set my stomach to growling. Breakfast proved tastier than dinner, and I enjoyed several leisurely cups of coffee with my table companions - one the bearer of Canadian ''pilot's license No. Nearing Field, British Columbia, the track rises 1, feet, crossing 11 bridges and going through 5 tunnels in 30 miles. A light snow greeted our approach. However, we could still see across the valley when we reached the famous spiral tunnels - the first of them, in which the train burrows 2, feet through Mount Ogden, all the while turning a steady degrees, passes under itself to emerge 45 feet lower.

At Stephen, marking the Continental Divide, I looked for some sign of the geographic landmark I remembered from school days. I'm not sure what I expected to see - a dotted line across the landscape, a two-headed river with one side flowing east and the other west - but there was nothing. By the time we left Lake Louise, Alberta, visibility was a mere train's length. Beyond Banff, sitting in the dome of the club car was like sitting inside a cotton-candy machine.

But as our journey continued, those of us gathered in the fluffy cocoon of the dome car found we had melded into a cohesive group.

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We chatted about memorable meals, other journeys, lost sons and daughters, spouses gone - cathartic confessions made to people who were strangers only two days before. That second evening I decided to go to the forward club car. Unlike the tail car, whose regulars were travelers more middle aged, the forward dome car seemed to be for younger people.

After a drink, I headed for what I hoped would be a blissful night's sleep. A roomette had become available. Roomettes have a wide seat, a hassock beneath which resides a toilet , a sink and a bed that folds down from the wall. I dosed off to the rhythmic rocking of the train. Sadly, the old clicketyclack of the rails no longer lulls one to sleep, the track now boasting modern continuous welded rails.

Day Three: The dining car was all but deserted at breakfast. The number of diners at any given sitting had been declining steadily, people opting for either snacks and sandwiches in their seats or passing up food altogether, their appetites stifled by lack of exercise. As on an ocean crossing, passengers had fallen into routines.

Small groups drifted together to the club cars, the lounge or the observation dome. Others went to their compartments, never to be seen again. The plains of Saskatchewan and Manitoba seemingly went on forever. Flat fields converged on the horizon, their tedium broken only by infrequent rows of power pylons marching across the vast expanse where fewer than a hundred years ago buffalo roamed and occasionally by self-sufficient homesteads complete with barns and wind-bent trees.

Crossing the Continent, : Robert Goodwin :

The tallest thing in the world was now the brightly colored story grain elevator that rose beside the track every half hour or so. The station has undergone a facelift, and here our train too was scrubbed and tidied inside and out.

Parkour at Camp Woodward

With an hour to while away during these ablutions, most of us gathered in one corner of the massive hall where the Gateway Western Railway, operating division of the Winnipeg Model Railroad Club, was running its HO scale line through tunnel-riddled mountainous terrain. We had been under way again for some time when the smooth prairie became pimpled with gray stone mounds rising ever higher. The Canadian Shield had popped through the marshy fringe of flatland. Then we left the prairie altogether. Birch had joined the aspen and the stunted scrub-forest spruce and pine by the time we reached Rennie, Ontario.

We passed acres and acres of charred land, and then we were at Thunder Bay, where massive grain silos squat like satellite cities at the edge of Lake Superior. Day Four: By now, everyone at breakfast was asking if we'd been diverted to Siberia. Thick snow and ice covered the ground flashing by outside our windows. Although April was nearing its end, all of Ontario seemed frozen.

Someone hummed ''Lara's Theme. At Sudbury, Ontario, the train split in two.

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One lone sleeper was hooked onto a new Montreal-bound train with a combination diner called the Skyline. The rest of the train would continue to Toronto. As we stood on the platform watching the switchover, stamping our feet to keep warm, steam bled from the hoses between the cars in classic 's movie fashion.

When we boarded again, we felt as if we were starting our journey over, with new cars, new acquaintances. Your email address will not be published. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed. News and events.

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Time difference GMT -5 hours. How do I get to La Paz and Bolivian altiplano? Browse our inspiration area of the site. Picturesque Jaen Street is a typical colonial alley which has been restored to its former glory. Rudd and Worsley followed the route of Amundsen, who had beaten Scott by thirty-three days. Subscriber Only. English-speaking guides will lead your exploration of the trails around the lodge.

News stories. Crossing the continent for community. Raymond Fauid travels across the continent to study at Curtin. Related tags CAS. Comments Share your thoughts on this story comments are moderated in advance. Add your comment.