The Wonder of Train Travel : Heading West Pt. II

This morning we awoke feeling our age.  We used to travel between Vancouver and Halifax all the time in our university days, sleeping curled up in our economy class seats for up to four nights in a row, and emerging on the other end of the journey ready for adventure.  As last night progressed, the clear skies turned to rain in Hornepayne, we woke at the stops in the many small towns and Indigenous communities in northern Ontario, and we quickly realized our legs and necks are no longer willing to remain curled up all night without lodging persistent complaints.  We figured one night wasn't worth the price difference, but if we're ever fortunate enough to make the amazing journey across the entire country again by train, a sleeper berth will definitely be worthwhile.   

Sean Morton asleep on Via Rail Canadian.

 Nonetheless, we enjoyed waking up and seeing the Boreal forest slipping quietly past the windows in the early morning light.  Many small lakes and rivers, their surfaces ruffled by a slight breeze and their shores unmarked by human habitation meandered across the landscape.  Rocks covered in a thick carpet of light green lichen lay beneath endless stands of black and white spruce trees, their tall, narrow bodies standing tightly packed together.  Every so often we passed a recently logged area, where piles of broken slash lay partially obscured by one or two years of shrubby growth and a few tall seed trees were left like sentries standing guard over the carnage of a lost battle. In other areas we witnessed the scars left by forest fires, where stands of naked white trunks covered with the charred black remnants of bark were all that was left.  

As the day progressed the sun came out and we continued our passage between the lakes and trees. In several ponds we saw beavers swimming industriously past.  The glossy red head of a white-tailed deer peered from behind a rocky outcropping while a huge black Common Raven perched on a bleached snag in the marsh nearby.   The train's whistle startled a Red-breasted Merganser and her brood of a dozen chicks away from the shore, and around midday, as a small storm cloud raced across the sky and briefly pelted rain, we spotted a Bald Eagle majestically surveying its lake from atop a lone white pine.  A female moose splashing through the waters away from the train, and then a second moose bounding across a lush green marsh were definite wildlife highlights. 

Via Rail Canadian Breakfast.

As the hours passed and we remained in the stunningly beautiful Boreal landscape we were reminded of a question asked by a small English boy who was travelling across Canada with his mother.  When he was told that he had to see more of Canada before he was allowed to play video games he asked 'But mum, how many trees is enough?'  Canada really is big, as we're discovering first hand. 

We spent many happy hours watching the Boreal slip past.  This essential landscape provides much of North America's clean air and water, and it is known as Canada's Bird Nursery, because 3-5 billion birds are born there every year.  Although we don't know what 'normal' looks like, many of the lakes we passed yesterday looked like their water levels were 2-3 ft below where they usually should be.  It is yet another reminder that we need to act now to prevent climate change from destroying this incredibly important and beautiful landscape.  

As we crossed the border into Manitoba the train made a stop in Brereton, which we walked through last year on the Trans Canada Trail.  Around half an hour later the trees began to get smaller and shrubbier, the land grew flatter, and more open stretches began to appear between the stands of trees.  Then just like that, from one concession to the next, the rolling treed landscape changed to flat agricultural land.  We had again moved from the Canadian Shield into the Prairies. 

As we approached Winnipeg we looked out at the vast, open landscape we will walk through for the next 3,000 km.  It has taken us about 35 hours to cover the ground it took us 4.5 months to walk last year.  At this point, that is a sobering thought. 

Sonya Richmond Covid Mask on Via Rail.

It was a beautiful summer evening when we disembarked in Winnipeg.  We are back in the centre of the continent, at the point where we left the trail last year.  After waiting eight months to get underway again, public health regulations in Manitoba require that even those Ontarian who are vaccinated wait another 14 days in quarantine.  It is a small piece to pay for the privilege of walking across this beautiful country.  We can't wait. 

 See you on the trail!

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