Cross Canada IV: It’s Like a Butterfly Fest Over Here


The long train home

Our last day in Revelstoke was leisurely: Zack and Shannon split off to do some kayaking (I declined, as I have no balance and maintain that I would have been in the water in minutes), Gillian walked along the river, and Brianna slept the day away. I decided to do my wander thing: I put on the runners, popped in the earphones, and prepared for some quality walk-about, to really get a feel for this city, like I was some anthropologist or particularly skilled traveller. I maybe put on cargo shorts. This was, perhaps, overzealous: Revelstoke has 8000 people, and its numbered east-west streets go up to the number seven. I completed my navigation of the downtown in about fifteen minutes, and began circumambulating, taking alternate, winding paths, to both prolong my walk and to milk at least some sense of accomplishment out of the excursion.

We reconvened that afternoon, attempted to make it up Mount Revelstoke (a long drive beside cliffs, an even longer walk to the peak) and realized we needed to head back into town if we ever hoped of making Edmonton. We slammed it back to Shannon’s house, packed her vehicle full of what we could (abandoning our air mattresses and the tents in the service of a few extra square centimetres of space), and crammed two fully grown adults into the trunk. Hilariously (for us, anyway), Shannon and Chuck scrambled in: by far the two tallest members of our entourage. They repeatedly asked why this was so, while Brianna and I, the shortest and most un-licensed, quietly demurred.

Our ludicrous pace on previous days perhaps left us both over-confident and over-ambitious, but we were positive we could make Edmonton by midnight, if not far before. Our cousin Tracey had benevolently offered her basement for us to sleep in, and we wanted to make good on this and arrive by a decent time, both out of courtesy and to prove we could.

Farewell

As we drove along the deadly mountain pass between Revelstoke and Golden (we had to wait, once more, as another car-wreck killed three people earlier in the day; just last week, another crash apparently took six), I began to smell something amiss. I dismissed this: the car had been emitting a number of strange smells and sounds the past few days, and this one I at first believed to be the remnants of burnt rubber from earlier when we had issues with our emergency brake. A wafting of something chemical was of no concern!

Shannon soon asked if anyone else smelled the thing, and worried by the confirmation that someone else was detecting it, I also chimed in. Shannon shifted things in the drunk and discovered that something was issuing a plume of thick, black, plasticy smoke into the car. We hurtled to a stop, in an inopportune spot: the side of the highway essentially plummeted straight down, and with minimal shoulder, the other side of the car opened out into mach speed traffic. We popped the trunk door to try to decipher the issue, but worried that we would be stuck by the side of the highway, Shannon took charge, crammed us back in, opened all the windows, and we barrelled off to Golden.

West Edmonton Mall

In the parking lot of the gas station/Tim Horton’s we were trapped in two days before, we opened the trunk and tore off the casing. We had a tool kit in the car, and Chuck got to work deciphering the problem, eventually declaring that a broken windshield wiper had been left on, its circuit continually firing over and over, eventually giving way to a small, contained electrical fire. Oh, just an electrical fire! Everybody back in the car.

We were able to disconnect the circuit and test the car, finding no more melting wiring to give us any problems. I say we because the long travel bonding makes me feel like I was part of the process, but really, I did absolutely nothing. Brianna and I were but occasionally humorous baggage for swaths of the trip, and while the commotion surrounding the trunk went on, we sat on a curb, drinking tea and eating cheese popcorn. We were and are both embarrassingly unaware of how cars work, less still of how one might jury-rig a fix to get one back on the road. The second we figured out there was a burning wire in our truck, I began plotting my route to Edmonton and later Toronto via Greyhound and a series of small Cessnas, so sure was I that the car trouble was intractable.

My lack of faith notwithstanding, we piled back in and made hit onto the road, now about two hours behind schedule. I was not particularly concerned: though we yearned for familial courtesy, at worst we would annoy our cousin at an ungodly hour or find a motel in Edmonton. I had no idea the roads we would be taking.

Our eventual route took us back into the mountains, through Jasper and a number of ice fields, all of which were ostensibly beautiful but also practically invisible, as we passed them in pitch black. Zack later mentioned he was positive he was going to drive us off the road as we tore along mountain roads, high over speed limits and common sense would allow, apparently bracketed on both sides of the road with countless deer. I am unable to sleep on car rides very well, but I became drowsy and delirious, and would occasionally wake as we took a sharp turn along curves and forests that looked hauntingly identical to what we had surely passed hours ago.

We made it into Edmonton at 4 a.m., and called upon our cousin to let us into her house. She was gracious even then, but we merely slumped into her basement, rolled down our sleeping bags on the hardwood, and fell asleep. The next morning she raised a ruckus over this, wondering how could we not tell her so that she might fetch her own air mattresses and fill every last one of them? My family is one of those ones that becomes enraged when you try not to impose: the twin desires to be courteous, to cause as little imposition as possible on one side and to claim that absolutely no request is an imposition at all on the other, collide frequently.

We had less than 24 hours to spend in Edmonton: our train would leave the station that night, and so we wanted to fill the little free time we had with the greatest of attractions: the West Edmonton Mall. It’s one of those shopping centres of a particular gargantuan breed, containing an unseemly number of stores, activities, and places to drain you of your money. If you could count it as a town, the population that works at the WEM makes it one of the largest cities in Alberta.

It has, as my cousins assured me, everything. Every store I have ever entered or heard of was present—indeed, due to the size of the mall, there were multiple outlets from the same stores so that you wouldn’t have to walk the kilometres to get to the next one. There were rollercoasters. There were music and book stores two storeys high (I could have spent all day, and indeed my entire savings account, in the book store). There were live aquatic shows. In one glass case there were a family of marmosets, gaily hopping about their habitrail. Zack managed to track down a shooting range.

Mindbender

I like to think we bonded as cousins fairly well over the trip, and good bonding means you know your limits: after we rode the rollercoaster together (apparently another death trap too, with multiple beheadings in its sordid, metallic past), we split off, happy to browse the cold, mercantile depths each on our own. Over the span of four days, we were, essentially, never not within twenty feet of one another, and the occasional bouts of solo time were welcomed.

Once we were shopped out, we piled into the Blazer for the last time (Brianna and I rode in the mostly emptied trunk this time—I recommend an empty, two-person trunk less than I do the single-person, encaved in bedding kind), and headed for another cousin’s house (I have many cousins). This was the original premise of the trip: to venture across the country and represent the bulk of the family for the few western cousins at Trevor’s reception. Of course: we could only stay for a few hours before hitting the road once more.

The leaving was full of hugs and shouts and promises of returning once more. We said goodbye to our Edmonton cousins, to Shannon and Chuck, and to the Blazer, which I had become strangely attached to. We headed off to the train station, exhilarated and ready for the last leg.

at the station

And then we hit the train station and were told the train would be delayed by about half-an-hour, from 10:30 to 11:00 p.m. No bother! We had been to WEM, so we were drowning in books and entertainment, so this was no worry. And lo! Free Timmy’s rested nearby, waiting for our tired, hungry maws. None of the station workers mentioned anything, but occasionally, one of us would glance over, noticing that the projected time of arrival had crept up another half-hour. Suddenly it was 11:30 arrival, no, now midnight, and still more delays. The train eventually arrived at 1:30, prompting an entry Zack placed in the communal Via Rail Travel Log in the middle of the station (“Via: For when walking just isn’t slow enough.”).

This is largely the last of my complaints, because otherwise our train ride was peacefully uneventful. We were able to get an insane deal on tickets (75% off for a cabin, less than even the regular cost of just a seat), and compared with the go-go nature of the rest of the trip, the jostling single beds felt like the height of luxury. Things were cramped and awkward, as one would expect in a tiny room on a fast-moving vehicle, but incredibly comfortable. Once you manage the logistics of opening the bathroom door, sluicing your body past the ladder to the top bunk and into the toilet area, the room is a cinch.

train bedroom

I am also left slightly vexed by the quality of the food on the train: both by the fact they were able to prepare vast quantities of it in small, vibrating kitchens, and that the industrious waitstaff was able to serve it without dousing elderly trainriders in tomato bisque. We ate regularly and well, and when we were not eating, we were dozing, napping, reading, sleeping, drinking, or resting. People told us it would be cool to see the country this way, with a train, but the regular over-feedings coupled with gentle rocking makes it difficult to see anything, what with being asleep.

As we arrived in Toronto on the last day, I tried to summarize the trip in my brain. Regular themes emerged: Canada is very pretty. There’s a lot of it, and you have to drive very vast and for a long time in order to see much of the beauty, but it ends up being worth it. Another: not every inch of travel must be planned. With Europe, I researched and planned obsessively, checking Google streetview to find my way to my hostels months before I even set foot on the continent. On this trip, but for the bumpy and circuitous route through Ontario, we were afforded far more leeway in our planning, and could mostly just drive as we wanted to, as the only direction you really needed was to be heading towards the sunset.

And the last: travelling with family, at least ones roughly your age, is not so bad. You don’t have to try that hard, some very long-standing in-jokes have already been established, and you all have a decent awareness of one another’s personalities. The others want to head east next year, and Zack is suggesting he may come to visit me in Asia. I wonder what it’s like to travel with people I’m not related to?

The beggining

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