How I Survived Riding the Cross Canada Passenger Train

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My mother always told me to explore one’s own country, before stepping out into the world. Coming from Canada, it’s tough to traverse all of its untamed surfaces. Luckily for me, the Canadian train company Via rail offered to citizens from the age of 18-25, the chance to ride across the country for the month of July. This coveted Willy Wonka-like  ticket cost 150 Canadian dollars and its purpose was to commemorate Canada’s 150th anniversary. Immediately, my travel companions and I hopped on board. After several hours of phone calls, relentless emails and soothing elevator on-hold music, we secured four tickets to scavenge the great Canadian railroad.

The volume of interest generated was insurmountable for the company and the train carts were rapidly filled to the overhead compartments with young freight hoppers. For a group of twenty-year-olds, this was like the hatch-lings first flight from the nest. Excitement and wanderlust coursed through our veins as we approached the underwhelming hut facing the train tracks in the heart of the rural northern Canadian town’s industrial park. As dawn approaches, our enthusiasm is at its peak. Eyes baggy from lack of slumber, we jumped on board the passenger vessel like it was the train to Hogwarts, and we headed west in search of gold. Our first destination was the scenic town of Banff, in the heart of the northern rocky mountains. Hiking the hazardous rocky top of Pharaoh’s peak was our goal. Three days later was our expected time of arrival.

We were still 3 moons away from reaching our target. After an hour, desperation loomed over us. The thought of three full days on this mechanical bastille covering three Canadian provinces and close to three thousand kilometers ( 1864.114 miles) crushed our spirits. What happened next, caught us off guard. As we gazed towards Lake Superior’s glistening whitecaps and rolled through the repetitive lush Boreal forest of North-Western Ontario, there was a mutual unspoken agreement within the confines of the train. If we were to be stuck in here, we would enjoy our time. These three days turned into an adult summer camp on rails. The comradery between young passengers and the Via rail crew was like something only seen in movies. Stops were made in small secluded railroad communities like Hornepayne.

The large group of strangers turned into traveling companions rushed towards the local watering holes to reward their relentless patience with a cold brewed beverage. We would return to the vehicle bearing alcoholic souvenirs from our short one hour visits to these boondocks. At night, we would sneak over to the complimentary glass bubble train cart. This wagon was equipped with heavily cushioned seats and a glass casing roof that pierced through the night sky. The wagon was raised slightly above the rest, giving a scenic view of the night sky, untouched by the detrimental light pollution. Also visible was the tail of the train, confidently winding through the evening. The intoxicating sounds of the train whistle, the laughter of the young new friends and a poor rendition of the Canadian national anthem serenades us through the night. We head back to our seats to find out they were all taken.  The train employee presented us the option of sleeping sitting at the dining cart dinner tables, or stay up for the night, waiting for seats to clear up.  We settled with crashing in the bubble dome.

The warm sun rays beating down on our hungover faces wakes us up for another day on the rails. To my surprise, a sea of golden grain fields dominates the landscape. We were in the Canadian prairies. There’s an old saying that says, if you lose your dog in the prairies, you can watch him run away for a day. Let’s just say the rumors are true. Our clan sets up for another evening in the dome, when the train is forced to stop for the night. Our disappointment was brief. The night sky was painted by a fantastic thunderstorm. Lightning was striking at an incredible rate, using the flatlands as its canvas. It was a spectacular and memorable light show that left everyone in the glass bubble in complete disbelief. Before my train adventure, if I could skip the travel and arrive at the destination, I would of. No longer, I’ve learned that the journey can be more enjoyable than the destination. This ride was off the rails.

If I have one piece of advice for anyone jumping on a similar adventure, pack a ridiculous amount of food, and do not forget the spirit revitalizer (alcohol). Since the train is not equipped with refrigeration, nor with a kitchen open for passengers, I’ve made up my grocery list of key items that you will not regret having for the 3 day journey.

Grocery list

  1. 2 reusable water bottles. At least one of them needs to be opaque.
  2. Several packets of dried oatmeal.  (They do offer free hot water on the train.)
  3. 1 750 mL bottle of Pimm’s. (I find this spirit is relatively independent, meaning it does not necessarily need ice. It also has a lower alcohol percentage, meaning a smoother finish from those water bottles.)
  4. Several cups of dried ramen noodles with vegetable seasoning.
  5. Inno’s food coconut clusters. (These are ridiculously delicious and they fill you up.)  

https://www.amazon.ca/Inno-Foods-Coconut-Clusters-500g/dp/B01MS70A1A

6.  Many Cliff protein bars.

7. Basic toiletries.

8. Several hours of new music, podcasts, or downloaded episodes.

9. 2 good books.

10. A comfortable neck pillow. (VERY IMPORTANT)

11. Sense of adventure, patience, and courtesy towards others.

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