Tuesday, September 11, 2007

North Vancouver departure by train

While the Whistler Mountaineer waits in the rail yard, I have a realization.

I think Michelle knows what I'm thinking because she is looking at me, smirking. "It's happened, hasn't it?" she grins. I look over the tracks at all the freight cars, the storage sheds by the side of the Burrard Inlet, and the freshly painted Lion's Gate bridge looming over us down by the station.

This is a perspective of Vancouver that you won't see except from a bike or a train. We're on one of those trains now, and ~ best of all worlds ~ our bikes are with us, safely stowed elsewhere on the train. After think about this journey for years and imagining it in my mind, I am finally doing this: travelling in and around B.C. on a train, with a bike. I've travelled in Thailand, New Zealand and the U.S. on a train with a bike and at this moment I realize I've never done it in my own country.

The train begins its journey northwards into Howe Sound. As of now, I can leave the scheduling, costing and logistics behind and just enjoy the ride. I grin back at Michelle and mutely nod my head. Yep, the realization that the trip begins now has just happened.

Those of us who live in this southwestern section of B.C. and visit Whistler know every curve and rock bank along its 75km of highway from riding in cars or buses. But the scenery takes on an entirely different perspective from the train tracks. There's a tunnel to enter and trestles to cross. The milky blue glacial water of the Cheakamus River takes on an almost intimate feel and from the deck of Whistler Mountaineer's refurbished open-air viewing car, you can almost feel the spray of the water as it smooths rough rocks into smooth boulders.

Almost everyone else on the train is from somewhere else, and while that's a bit of a shame (in the sense that I wish more B.C.'ers were here) it's a bit of a boost: when Howe Sound opens from Horseshoe Bay or when the train slows for a crest view of Brandywine Falls, their excitement is palpable.

In fact, a TV crew from New Zealand wanders the train with its hulking camera and it reminds me of the TranzScenic train I took on the North Island over Christmas to get my self and my bike from Wellington to Auckland. There too, the beauty of the country side reveals itself most elegantly by train, with some help from onboard commentary by rail staff and crew.

No doubt the TV crew will bring back images of a foreign place as ruggedly beautiful as their own country. Like myself they'll experience a sense of how the familiar can be made extraordinary by slowing it down to 20 clickety-clack kilometres an hour.

Come to think of it, it's kind of like being on a bike. It HAS happened. I'm not cycling yet but time HAS slowed down and the journey HAS begun. View photos.