Train Delay: Or How to Pass the Time 

It cannot be said often enough, trains in Canada are not like trains in Europe and many other countries. They do not run on time. Factor in winter and they can be many hours behind. I arrived at the station 8:30am – only to discover it does not open until 10:00 – having taken the free shuttle. No problem, I headed for the Information Centre, opens at 9:00. Library not until 10:00. So I headed for Smitty’s where I drank copious cups of coffee. During that time I checked my email, messages and texts. An email shortly after 9:00 am from Via Rail, a delay, expected ETA in Jasper, 6:00pm. That would be the only official notice I would receive. I had to drop off my bags and find a way to amuse myself.

Via station service manager (he was at the station until the train arrived except for a couple of breaks) updated the ETA, 8pm. I needed lots of distraction. First stop, Information – again. There I found out the Jasper Pride Festival House was nearby. I wanted some stickers or pins. I headed back out into -21 C. It is important to have a destination in such weather. I thought I could hang out for a while but only managed to buy some things just prior to their closing the doors at 11:00! (I found out later they only had a handful of volunteers to man the various venues) They did tell me about a documentary that would be showing at a local hotel, In the Turn, about a young girl in Canada who is transgender and a lot about roller derby. Interesting connection.

A quick trip to the art gallery at the Jasper Libary and Cultural Centre showed little of interest to me. I was rather disappointed, perhaps it was just what was on offer at the time. Once again I headed into the blowing, dry, tiny, biting ice-snow. In the wrong direction. Perseverance, or pigheadedness, got me in the right direction and I only missed the introduction of the movie. I was a little worried I had a touch of snow blindness- my eyes and face felt quite odd. Just adjusting to the warmth and dark. It was a completely unexpected way to spend my afternoon. A short, unplanned intermission meant a chance for everyone to grab a coffee, popcorn and candies – I gravitated to the licorice allsorts. My time was slowly being whittled away.

Before searching for lunch I checked for an update. Between 8 – 10:00 PM. I felt rather sorry for the station manager having to give this news to everyone as they arrived. Lunch was at The Other Paw Bakery Cafe, on Connaught Drive I discovered on my last train trip through Jasper. I still have to find Bear’s Paw Bakery. Delicious red pepper soup. Except I had to reheat it when it was put on the wrong table. I also had a wrap with egg, red peppers, cheese and bacon. The eggs were sort of spongy, not palate friendly. Trying to think ahead I had half bagged for dinner despite not really liking it.

I actually bought a souvenir type t-shirt with a grizzly bear wearing a baseball cap silkscreened on it. Rarely do I make such purchases; however, I desperately needed something light to wear that I would not be in for another 24 hours. I headed back to the station to hang out where I discovered a VIP gala was being set up, something to do with Via Rail’s sponsorship of Jasper Pride Festival. That seemed to be the theme of my day. I suggested those of us who were actual passengers should be invited.


Then we were. Except by the time the event (it was definitely not a gala, nor does cocktail party quite work) started I was the only real passenger! Wine, hor d’oeuvres, (including canapés – it seems these are one form of hor d’oeuvres) a violinist, people mingling, laughter, chit chat and very short speeches made the minute hand not seem so excruciatingly slow. It was a pleasant way to spend three hours or so, from set up to break down. An excellent example of going with the flow. I had a sense of looking inside from within a double glass ball – like walking into the wrong wedding party, or over/under dressing for an event. The important thing is that there was no exclusion and I did enjoy myself. I think the three passengers who arrived later were not impressed. Even after being invited to partake of a glass of wine.


The VIPs missed the party – they were stuck on the nine plus hours late train. We did not depart Jasper until midnight. However, we did see some fantastic terrain when morning came that is normally passed by in the dark.


The highlights: the views of course. One free lunch and free coffee. Meeting fellow passengers, hearing some of their stories.
The lowlights: paying for my breakfast and the free dinner. By the time that meal was being served the choices were paltry. Pasta with chicken or pasta without chicken. Or, gluten free pasta with or without chicken. No soup, no juice, no bar service – just as well, I might have been tempted. There was chocolate cake though. Something to appease the masses.

               What they fed the passengers when the food was running low.

                                         Waiting for spring.

The Thompson and Fraser Rivers flow side by side near Lytton, a unique contrast of colours and the might of water. This was a sign of being nearly to our final destination, the only main attraction left was Hell’s Gate, a hop, skip and a jump downstream from Boston Bar, where I lived for about a year when a child. (We did seem to move to some strange, out of the way, places when I was growing up). The most treacherous section of the Fraser River, Hell’s Gate was named after Simon Fraser’s voyage in 1808, who declared in his journal that, “no man should ever pass through here it was truly like passing through the Gates of Hell!” Hell’s Gate is a favourite area for white river rafting and the bridge is a major tourist attraction. To this day I still have not braved the suspension bridge nor the Airtram.
                                         Just one of several tunnels.


Guess who had the right of way.


The only little church I managed to capture. They seem so randomly placed.

Some of my photos are out of order, IPhone and Canon in use and no notes.

I must admit that soon after Hell’s Gate I finally grew bored with everything and hunkered down to read my book. The coach car grew quiet. We slowly wound our way towards Pacific Station.  We were twelve hours behind schedule by the time the train arrived in Vancouver. The last ferry to Vancouver Island is at 9:00pm, there was no possible way I, and some other passengers heading to Victoria, would make it. Some frantic texting and FB messages when there was a signal finally resulted in my having an air mattress to sleep on at my ex-sister in law’s apartment.

 

                                           This can only mean I was on the ferry!

Interesting Stuff

The Jasper train station was build in 1925 – it is now a heritage building still used by passengers to catch the Via train, or the much more expensive Rocky Mountaineer.

There are four distinct seasons, winter surpasses them all with deathly temperatures and astounding beauty. White is not just white in these mountains.

From Jasper to Vancouver tunnels dug into the mountains and snow sheds to protect the tracks from avalanche are reminders of just how dangerous it was to build the tracks as well as travelling the rails.  I had forgotten how scary it is seeing how far below the Thompson River is and just how rickety the tracks appear at times. Factor in boulders stopped in mid roll, as though frozen in time, on one side and the sheer cliffs below to the river to envision the engineering ingenuity to build these tracks all those years ago.

In 1871 British Columbia joined Confederation, but with a condition attached: a transcontinental railway had to be built within 10 years to connect its capital, Victoria, to Eastern Canada. We did eventually get the railway, running from Victoria to Courtenay. Sadly, it shut down in 2011 and is unlikely to be opened for rail service again. There were grumblings but BC did not leave Confederation in a huff.
In 1987 VIA introduced an on time policy: passengers received travel credits if their train arrived late. When I sent a complaint about the 12 hour delay all I received was an apology. I did not find when the policy was dropped nor if it was only for specific routes. Basically sit back and enjoy the ride.

Final Expense: I managed to come in under budget! $490.00 Items I purchased before or during that I will use again were not factored in. If I add a gift I bought for a friend of my daughter’s it shows I went over by $20.00. Some savings were a result of the late train, and I saved on the tour.

Then there was the money I spent on My cat, Mozzy, $1300.00 plus for tests. I had been on the verge of cancelling, or at least changing, my trip. I am happy to report he is fine, I had a nice break and all is well. Time to plan my next adventure.

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Justifying Expenses

I have been monitoring the long range weather reports for Jasper. Of course this means that the closer I am to departure the reports are likely to change. This has meant I am waffling about buying anything I might no use more than a few days. Eight days before departure I finally broke down and bought two T-max Heat thermal mock neck tops. Not Merino wool, but suitable for my needs.

Men’s, because of course women have no need for warm base layers as we approach March. These items were on sale, $19.88 each, down from $44.99 each. It did mean my choices were few, I ended up with an XL and a medium. If I were still in my 20’s the XL could serve as a mini-dress. Perhaps I will be able to go dogsledding after all. Not sure I want to try riding tandem on a snowmobile. Flurries and snow with temps just below 0 C forecast for the days I will actually be in Jasper.

Getting There

I may have mentioned in other blogs just what it takes to begin an adventure from where I live. The winter months make it even more of a challenge. If I did not live in the capital of the island an extra few hours or so would have to be added on.

I could drive my car and park it Swartz Bay, bcferries.com terminal for this side trip. However, it seems a major waste of money at $12.00 per day in the long term parking and more opportunity for thieves to ransack vehicles. It also does not save a lot of time on this end. Therefore, public transit is the most sensible mode of transportation.

It does irk me that passengers must now pay for each section of their trip or get a bctransit.com day pass for $5.00 – payable only on the bus. I would prefer to buy the pass at one of the many outlets where monthly passes can be bought. It will take two buses to get to the terminal. Perfect driving conditions will take 1 1/2 – 1 3/4 hours to get there.

As the ferries will still be running on the winter schedule I have to time my arrival at the terminal to catch a ferry without having to wait an hour. After March 15 I believe the run between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen will be every hour. It takes an hour and 40 minutes to cross. When the weather is fine the $17.20 plus any applicable taxes is well worth it. Heck, even when the weather is not fine it is worth it!

Then hop on a Translink bus once on solid ground again to the Canada Line skytrain then transfer to the Expo Line, about another 1 1/2 hours, $6.00 with a Compass Pass. Be prepared to enjoy 5 plus hours of scenery. Never a hardship when living on the westcoast of Canada.

Checking my Lists

I know I have noted in previous trip post that I never travel with a credit card. I am at the point now where I do not want one. Sometimes this poses problems. Such as when the accommodation I choose absolutely insists on one. I understand their reasoning, but not when I offer to pay a reasonable, immediately refundable upon check out, deposit. Usually I book using my debit/visa. Sometimes it is accepted, others not. (My trip across Canada brought out the little old lady in me when this happened; or, when that did not work I insisted on seeing a manager) I search for places that do not insist on a credit card to check in.

I was very happy to discover that HI-Jasper Hostel, where I chose for my stay in Jasper did not need one. Also the free shuttle to their location. The latter I double checked a month ago with an email after reading different reviews and an ambiguous description on booking.com by the hostel. Hm, seems they do charge,”a nominal fee.” Due diligence brought me back to a look at their information just days before departure. New information perhaps? It now says free hostel shuttle service between Oct 16/16 to April 30/16. Another, more worrying, change in information is that a credit card is now required at check in.

After a major night of tossing and turning, as if I do not wake up far too often during the night already, worrying about having to sleep in a doorway, or perhaps a jail cell, I finally decided I have two choices, ignore the newer listing information, or call them. I am leaning to calling, in the hope they will not cancel my booking for lack of a credit card. It is a hostel, not the Fairmont! I am willing to pay $3.00 per shuttle trip, but think it is unacceptable to have to need a credit card. I am even reluctant to get a prepaid one; which, by the way, are often not accepted at various accommodations. I need this break. I do not need the aggravation. I will post the result of my conversation.

Hurray, hurray! I do not have to worry about having a credit card and there is no charge for the shuttle until the end of April. Sometimes all it takes is talking to a real person.

Still concerned about keeping warm I bought some dollar store hand and toe warmers. Funny that hand warmers say to place inside mitten, and warns against placing against the skin. Good thing I had the foresight to pack mittens I can wear over gloves.

Wavering over taking my small, soft sided cooler – with or without the inner box – for my food. What does one take when travelling towards winter on the train in Economy class? I raided my earthquake emergency supplies, the timing worked out as they need replacing every six months. Dried fruit, variety of tuna and cracker packages, almonds, granola bars.

I tend to have a battle with myself over the bars, they have too much sugar – or none and taste like cardboard and sawdust – but are so easy to throw into a daypack for when I might need an energy boost. I will add bagels, cheese, tea eggs, fruit and pre-cut vegetables. As the hostel is 7 km out of the town I want to ensure I have enough food to last me if I decide I do not want to venture beyond the property. I have not quite figured out how to travel with coffee cream. Not sure I could bear to not have my morning coffee.

I nearly forgot about my travelling companions! Must keep them away from any hungry sled dogs.

Packing Light: or how to keep warm for a winter trip


photo-1

As promised, perhaps more of a threat, this will be a list of gear – not winter sports gear, just the basics needed when travelling on a budget to a winter location. No easy feat to pack light when everything is bulky. It is a good thing I am not planning to fly anywhere on this trip. Just looking at my handwritten list – old school all the way when I first start researching a new adventure – has me reconsidering if I really need all that stuff.

A note about outdoor winter activities: it appears some of the higher end accommodations provide the necessary gear through rentals. Guests pay for rooms using credit cards, ergo, no worry about anyone walking off with a winter coat, boots or whatever else they might not have brought I will not be using a credit card. Lesson although a nuisance, bring back my winter clothes every year from Ontario!

Daunting task – My reasoning seems sound, the weight and bulk may change my mind. Some of the items are always included when I travel.

  • Osprey Sirrus 36 – lightweight, no need to worry about stowing it in the baggage car.
  • Ultra Light Down Throw – from Quilts Etc
  • WAci ultra quick dry towel – from Home Outfitters
  • Emergency kit – I still have to go through this to pull out the important items and decrease bulk
  • Travel coffee press and coffee – perhaps the most necessary item! Small flashlight
  • Medicine for one week – after I dropped several pills while waiting at a taxi stand in Chengdu, China I always take extra with me. Perhaps I should look into the likelihood of avalanches that could close the railway in March.
  • Day pack – to stuff my thermos, food, etc. into while on the train; emergency kit, food and water if I become foolish enough to attempt a hike along one of the trails. Such an endeavour will need some extremely serious thought; I am prone to meeting up with bears.
  • one book – possibly one I can just leave behind, as difficult as that is for me to do
  • electronics – iPad, iPhone and chargers; camera. I always use my iPhone but dropped it when in ON which means the necessity of a back-up, after all, I am going to be in the Rockies!
  • toque, (2?) mittens, gloves, scarf (I did mention I left all my major winter wear in Ontario)
  • Boots – my conundrum is that they do not have great grips, only figured that out recently, and my icers are, of course, with my winter gear.
  • Winter socks – 4 – 5 pairs, I will break down and buy some
  • Light socks – 4 – 5 pairs, anything to ensure I do not get cold feet
  • slippers – I hate wearing outdoor footwear when sleeping
  • 2 pairs warm joggers (outer layer)
  • 4 pairs leggings (they will double as pyjamas)
  • 3 long sleeve light shirts (also doubling as PJs)
  • 2 sweaters – or should it be 3? My handwritten note asks if I even have that many.
  • fleece jacket and Mac in a Sac waterproof jacket (the latter is to keep my dry) I also have a heavy duty, knit sweater I am considering as an extra layer. I already know it can withstand -15c wind and cold.
  • basic toiletries

In addition, I am considering purchasing gaiters and another set of icers to keep me from getting snow in my boots and slipping. As for keeping warm, I cannot decide if I should just eat the cost and buy some Merino tops – sales are on now – or hope what I do have will be warm enough. My preference is to just buy sleeves, similar to what cyclists wear.

photo-2

After writing my list I had to take Mozzy to the vet – we do this every two weeks – which usually means some talking about his routine, when I will be away, that sort of thing. One of the staff said that a great place to look for winter coats is at second hand stores! So I did. I found a coat at W.I.N. a not for profit store that helps women in need. It might not be perfect for -30 C weather but I think it might suffice for the five days I need something to keep me toasty.

Best of all, it has a hood and is long enough to cover my upper legs. All for the insane amount of $18! For the time being my daughter can borrow it, she who came home from Taiwan to a snowstorm. If I think of it as the equivalent of five coffees, (not fancy ones) I can justify leaving the coat in Jasper for the next unprepared person.