Story from the Across Canada by Rail
‘In a modern world – as someone said – where traveling between destinations is viewed as a waste of time and resources, it’s hard to actually comprehend the beauty of some of the most spectacular train rides on the planet. Far less comfortable, yet far more beautiful and interesting, where the time spent between two destinations is equally captivating and offers many sights and sounds. While we are very much in a century where we have no time to stand and stare, there are still some awesome train rides across the globe where the trip itself turns into a destination’.
I couldn’t agree more with these words, and I feel privileged and lucky that I’d had this amazing opportunity to take some of the greatest long-distance rail rides while doing my around the world trip in 2011. The overnight train from Paris to Venice, the thirty-one-hours long one from Mumbai to Kolkata across Indian subcontinent, another one from Hong Kong to Shanghai, and then the California Zephyr from Emeryville on the suburbs of San Francisco to Chicago, and finally the Lake Shore Limited from Chicago to New York.
A few years later, in January of 2018, a conversation between me and my wife Sylwia was underway that was like many other conversations taking place in coffee shops all over the world. 6-months had passed since we finished our journey alongside the Baltic Sea coastline and now were setting off new travel fantasies. British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, had fermented at the back of our imagination for long time. We looked at the map and felt overwhelmed by the sheer size of Canada. But, by the time we finished our flat whites, we knew what the next year or two were going to be about for our family. That’s when my affection for passenger trains was reawaken.
Nearly 6500 km between Vancouver and Halifax, from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Almost 120 hours spent on trains. The lordly and glorious sceneries. A sense of losing the bonds of time as the train slowly accelerates away from the platform, and its pleasant and almost hypnotic rocking. The grand railroad terminals and small rural stations – a living symbols of an old-fashion adventure. And our two little daughters – Klara and Laura.
There was something appealing about travelling by train from coast-to-coast with thousands of kilometres in between. It all captured our imagination and became something we knew we’d regret if we didn’t make it through. Canada was calling our names.
Pages were flying off the calendar. We gently nurtured the idea, day after day talked about how we would make the trip and devoted weekends to reading about the places we wanted to visit. After months of anticipation, the level of excitement reached its peak on May 28 2019, when we arrived at the Pacific Central Station in Vancouver to board ‘The Canadian’ and begin our 19-hours haul to Jasper. From there we headed to Edmonton, and then to Winnipeg where the first leg of our journey had come to an end.
‘The Canadian’ – a national treasure and a flagship of the VIA Rail passenger rail system, is called Canada’s best window, and I’m not even able to articulate beyond these words. As we moved along, we witnessed the rugged lake country, picturesque towns, huge blue skies, snowy peaks of the majestic Rockies and gentle prairie fields. And, to experience that demanded an open mind and the ability to absorb a little discomfort. Travelling with young children on long-distance trains in the economy class might be physically challenging at times and may not make sense to others. But the journey produced its own magic.
Of course, there were ups and downs and disagreements, as spending 24-hours a day together, particularly in a small space of train seats, is always challenging. But underneath all of that was a close bond formed from our shared experiences. We also knew that at some point we would need to have to deal with adversity – broken night’s sleep or delays. Our train to Edmonton was delayed by nine hours. The one to Winnipeg, by another six. Sometimes we had to pull over and stop for an extended time in the middle of nowhere to let the freight trains pass. At one point, we stood still for over two hours. So, what!
We’d been spoiled by the expectations were the schedules are meant to be followed. But the delays were really what made the adventure – they were part of our ‘railroad romance’. As a family, we were happy and content, never complained and learned to laugh at our misfortunes.
As Mark Twain said, ‘twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do, than by the ones you did do.’ So, we made the decision to put our dream first, and then make it happen by following through with steel determination. In fact, we all need a vision that excites us enough to rise early in the morning, nag us during the day, keep us working late at night, and gets us dreaming and thinking wherever we have a spare moment.
When I was a kid, I’d never dreamed I would live on horse farms in the United States, do safari in Kenya, travel around the world, circumnavigate the Baltic Sea, cross Canada by train and see a few other places. All these seemed remote and romantic. Over thirty years later, with my own daughters in tow, the reality exceeded the dream.
Thousands of small decisions little by little created a full-blown and life-changing experiences that transformed my life. Quite often, these were instinctive choices made in a heartbeat without any real thought because I just knew.
I close my eyes and I see that primary school kid with sparkling eyes enjoying a simply act of eating a cookie. It reminds me where I started. I look at where I’m now and can allow myself to feel fulfilled. All these experiences are anchored deep in my subconsciousness and over time became my new cookies to savour.
My wish is that our story has inspired you. Every story though can be extended, sometimes with an unexpected result. And now, we can’t wait to the second part of our adventure that lays ahead – from Winnipeg to Halifax.