Ontario Visit: Fleeting Glimpses – Via Rail Days 2 – 3i

For some reason it is taking much longer to write about my train ride than the actual trip took! However, the time has given my the opportunity to reflect on some of my notes, my very few photos and my hope to do it again!

After warming up from my chilly night in the dome car with an excellent cup of coffee – my own of course – and breakfast I spent a good part of my day staring out the window, reading my book and dividing my window time between my seat, the dome car and the gathering area where people chat, play games, eat and listen to the entertainment. Summer train travel is great for the entertainment side. Usually a small audience yet so appreciative. I am always happy when the powers that be have not allowed economy class to enjoy live music and a break from the eventual monotony or train travel.

I thought I had his name – nope! However, he is from Victoria so maybe I will see his picture somewhere he will be playing when not on-board.

By the time we reached Sioux Lookout time was approaching a standstill. We were not exactly behind, just going through Northern Ontario…..and going, and going. Getting outside was becoming a palpable need for all onboard.

We have some great names for places in Canada!

My seat mate left sometime before Sioux Lookout, I would have the two seats to myself for the remainder of my trip. Small mercies! Soon enough we were in Winnipeg where I was joined one woman to explore the Forks, an area I am now quite familiar with after a few trips to -even staying at – Winnipeg in recent years. The Forks is a great place to stock up, I bought a giant chickpea roti and a vegetarian Somosa (I seemed to have been eating these lovely bundles a lot) to supplement my packed meals. There was so much I expected they would last a couple of days.

I met up with two writers I had talked with while in line in Toronto who were travelling in the sleepers after their attempt to visit me and a fellow passenger onboard had been thwarted. Thinking on our feet one handed me her only business card to take a photo of for me to look up.

Although I have no idea what the book is about beyond her marriage the title intrigues me.

Once the train left Winnipeg, with a new crew, there was a sense of truly going west. Many passengers left the train yet it still seemed quite full, enough that I was a little worried I might lose my double seat.

Hedging my chances: It comes in handy when travelling with the backpacker essentials!

As I wound my way through the muskeg, rocks and mosquito laden land – firmly seated in the AC dome car – I was once again struck by how fortunate I am to be travel in our vast land even though on a cinched tight budget.

Shades of straw with goldenrod hues peeking through green fields and manmade blue ponds turning to mud – it was not yet drought conditions. Saskatchewan fields live up to the oft used patchwork quilt. Arrow straight, stitched side roads to forever. Lovely field of sunflowers appeared outside my window seat – a perfect, silent in memory of the death of my father nine years ago, born in Saskatchewan. Sadly I missed the Perseus Meteor Shower.

Stopped long enough in Saskatoon to walk to front of train!

Vanscoy, SK. Inevitable bales of hay.
Perdue, SK. A lot of flat fields, blue sky with fluffy clouds on this trip!

Then suddenly, we were in Alberta. Red hills, undulating, rolling, held in stasis until we pass. It was a strange sensation. We crossed over what was once (still?) the longest train trestle in Canada.

Dotted with cattle.

Wainwright Via Rail Station. A little worse for wear.

Many of us were train weary by the time we finally made it to Edmonton. I was in dire need of a shower. Upon discovering we had only three hours at a relatively new side station with the closest places 3 kilometres away walking in the oncoming mosquito infested dusk. (A few of us considered taking one of the taxis buzzing around much like the mosquitoes) settled to wash my hair in one of the Ladies Room sinks. I discovered I was not the only one!

Hurray, I was still at two seats when we pulled out about 45 minutes late, way past my bedtime in any province. The doldrums of day 3 were dissipating. We were headed to Jasper with visions of mountains to greet us in the morning.

Jasper! Mountains, fresh air, pine trees, rivers,, small town feel with so much to see and do. One passenger said he was equipped to camp for two days in the mountains before hopping back on the train. Winter vs. summer – the mountains appear tame with no sign of the bone chilling snow and ice. Do not be fooled. There are bears in them hills. The fellow said he had camped in Africa where the lions roam. (I have not heard anything about a missing hiker in the area so he must have survived) My closest encounter, soup and a small loaf of day old bread at The Other Bear Claw, now a favourite stop when in Jasper. It was time to sit back to enjoy the views.

Moroccan soup chock full with vegetables and chickpeas. Bread filled with cheese, basil & tomato

Back on the rails, expectations from nature – best quotes far. Upon seeing Thunder Falls on the far side of Moose Lake one passenger quietly exclaimed to her seat mate, “That’s it? We came all this way to see a trickle?” Much later Pyramid Falls silenced them. Except they wanted the train to stop!

Thunder Falls
Pyramid Falls

We passed a tiny place called Blue River, except it’s green – ribbon of molten moss. Passengers come and go – moving vignettes into the lives of travellers. Boredom was interspersed with the glories of canyons and mountains and eavesdropping. A call for a nurse or a doctor also meant we stopped along the way. Some sort of medical emergency. A nurse practitioner from economy class stepped up and it seems a doctor from the sleeper cars was also available. One of the crew members had her radio with her that crackled the ‘patient’ was conscious. It seemed they would be sent to a hospital in Kamloops.

I finally had to order a meal. Not always easy with dietary needs! The chef went out of her way to determine if there was anything I should not eat in some of the choices before suggesting a chef’s salad with an extra egg in place of the ham. Lots of fresh vegetables, and great garlic bread.

We arrived in Kamloops as the sun was setting before I was lulled to sleep with dreams of home.

Expenses: The Other Bear Claw – lunch $9.00; onboard dinner – $11.00 (I had reluctantly thrown out the other half of my roti bought in Winnipeg. It was delicious, just too much potato and chickpeas that seemed to upset my stomach. Just as well I did not have a seat mate!

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


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.


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.