Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Whistler arrival and some train history

Cuban music plays on the Westin Resort and Spa's pool deck speakers 

and on the side table next to my lounge chair, an elegant tumbler of Pinot Grigio keeps cold on an impromptu ice bucket: a Corona pail whose bottom has been lined with a layer of perfectly cold ice cubes. So, this is summer. In September. In Whistler.

When I shade my eyes with my hand I see blue cloudless sky, a forest-green rise of rocky mountain, purple petunias and in the distance, crevasses of snow. I'm startled by how easy I am: usually it takes months of planning and economic rationalizing to get me here, to my happy place. Usually it's a foreign country where the bathrooms are called banos and I've had to fly, then cycle for hours to get here.

But this is B.C. and my three week exploration of bikes, trains and Western Canada has begun back here in Whistler (see my Crankworx column), of all places.

Why Whistler? Because this is where the Whistler Mountaineer has deposited me and they know that I've been following the progress of their Vancouver-to-Whistler rail service since it began just a year ago (in 2006).

The owner of Whistler (and Rocky Mountaineer ~ which has connected Vancouver to Banff by rail since 1990 and now also connects Vancouver to Jasper) is ~ by good karma ~ a family-owned B.C. business.

It's good karma in my books especially because I feel a certain affection for Canadian rail journeys. It's a train hat brought me here to western Canada in 1991 and it's (then) B.C. Rail trains that introduced me to interior B.C. in my first few years in the province.

Like many others, I mourned the drastic cut-backs that first VIA Rail then B.C. Rail experienced in the 1990's, and I craved the gob-smackingly stupid joy that simply riding a train provides. Right off the bat, you can't help but feel affection (affection!) for a company that takes a chance on trains ~ Canadian trains.

I don't know much about Armstrong Group (the company that owns the Whistler and Rocky Mountaineer) except that they invested a lot of money and hope in the idea that Canadians and their friends want to experience our mountains, rivers, communities and people by rail.

I do, and Momentum editor Amy Walker figured I'd be a good candidate to ~ as we call it in the biz ~ do some primary research. Us Vancouverites know there are some trains whizzing around the province, but what? Where? When? Amy raised the bar a bit by challenging me to do the journey a) with a companion, and b) with a folding bike instead of my usual touring bike, "Mite-Y-Miss".

Radical stuff, this.

I put the call out to all my bike friends and Michelle fairly hit the "Reply" button as soon as she received it. When we made contact, I told her there was one condition.

"What's that?" she asked sportingly.

"We're going to do the entire trip with Dahon folding bikes and ~" I paused for emphasis, "~ we're going to cycle 300km on the folding bikes down the Icefields Parkway from Jasper to Banff."

Like me, Michelle is rather attached to her own bike. It's got brackets for her lights, it's got racks for her panniers, and it's got a bike computer for her 26" wheels. The Dahons have 20" wheels.

"Okay!" she said brightly, "And the problem is...?"

I grinned as I put the phone down. This was going to be a fun three weeks. View photos.