Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Vancouver arrival by train

We're aboard the Rocky Mountaineer "Kicking Horse" route 

between Kamloops and Vancouver. As the Rocky Mountaineer slowly continues its journey westward along the shore of Kamloops Lake, we are talking about Canadian water, and how unexploited it is.

We're joking, of course ~ Michelle, myself, and the couple from Brisbane ~ but they are serious about how Australia has experienced record drought in this age of global warming. He surveys the lake which has remained undeveloped because it it rimmed on its north and south shores by railway rights-of-way, and agrees that one day, water will be recognized as being more precious than oil.

When the lake thins into the Thompson River, I catch him down in the open air viewing area, snapping photos with an enormous telephoto lens. "I work for the defence department," he jokes, aiming at an airborne eagle, "I'm bringing home photos of your water."
In fact the river is very photo-worthy at this point, and the midday sun even beckons a few more dome-dwellers out to better admire the river bank's steep and narrow sides. As the walls rise to canyon heights the deep green water rushing though the walls becomes frothy and turbulent ~ a draw for white-water rafters in the summer season.

The confluence of the Thompson and Fraser rivers in Lytton is a dramatic one: the Thompson's jade-green water slides into the Fraser's muddy brown, and over the intercom Rob tells us that at certain times of the year, you can see the two colours of water for up to four kilometres downstream.

At Cisco bridges, the CN and CP rail lines cross over the river at the same place, each jumping to the opposite shore. We pass a tiny cemetery by the side of the tracks and Rob relates the history of Canada's Chinese rail workers, their working conditions and the head taxes they were obliged to pay to bring family to Canada to join them.

I watch him as he talks, and his face becomes soft and his hand gestures suggest the poignancy of the tale. As a Canadian, the story resounds for him and he feels that it's important to share with visitors how many different cultures have contributed to Canada's railway and its history.

Rocky Mountaineer has won awards for the level of service it provides and as a Canadian on the train I particularly appreciate their "made-in-Canada" touches: menus comprised of regional ingredients, overnight stays in lessor-known towns (such as Quesnel on the "Fraser Discovery" route and Kamloops on the "Kicking Horse" and "Yellowhead" routes), and onboard attendants who live and work in the regions that they describe.

As the train moves further west and enters southwestern B.C.'s Fraser Valley, I'm struck by how familiar the scenery has suddenly become. I can no longer plead "visitor" to the land we travel through; the train is bringing me home, too. I point out blackberry brambles, cranberry fields and llama farms to the other passengers and I miss my sense of "otherness." While our perspective from the rails (rather than the roadway) is still a rare one for me, even that becomes more familiar when we enter the Grandview cut ~ a passage I've been through many a time on Skytrains and Amtraks.

I started this trip from the North Vancouver rail yards looking up and around me in wonder. Now ~ from the perspective of the second-level observation car ~ I am in the False Creek rail yards, looking down and over to the nearby Rocky Mountaineer station. We ~ all of us ~ are in East Vancouver, my neighbourhood.

The train has ever-so-gently delivered me to the place where I started. From here, everyday life welcomes me back and by all appearances, not much has changed since I left almost a month ago. The garbage strike is still on, Willy Picton is still on trial, and the front yard still needs raking. I descend from the rarified car and begin my return to regular life.

Mache catches my eye as Michelle and I get ready to wheel our bikes out of the station and onto Terminal Avenue. "Ride safe," she says, like the mother she is. I stop and turn to her. "You take care of yourself," I say thickly, "Good luck in November." I feel sad leaving the station, and so do what I usually do when I feel that way: I start pedalling. View photos.