GENESIS OF A TRAIN TREK
“To write about something is to live it twice”
In 2004 I was fortunate to purchase an extensive and interesting railroad book collection. The focus was mainly on Western US trains, and the collection included over 600 pieces of ephemera, mainly brochures and advertising pieces for long-distance rail travel in sleeper cars. I was fascinated and “hooked.” Here was a glimpse into the past of such trains reminding me too of ocean liner voyages before both their demises at the wings of the aeroplane. It would have been nice to have kept that entire collection, but the reality of my book business is to sell books and related items to be able to buy more books, and pay the bills.
The images of those 1930s, 40s and 50s observation cars, dining cars with white linens, and sleepers with their quaint roomettes stayed with me as something I had to experience. While talking with a customer in the shop in November 2010, I discovered that he was quite a railroad enthusiast, and I mentioned my desire to travel in a sleeper car. He mentioned that one of his favorite trains leaves Montreal for an overnight journey to the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula, travelling east along the St. Lawrence River. I was intrigued! Then in December after our annual production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL I treated myself to a Road Scholar Christmas program in Quebec City for 5 days. I asked the group leader about the Via Rail train to Gaspe, and he told me that I needed to learn about The Canadian that travels 3 ½ days from Toronto to Vancouver – WOW!
My travel research for the year began in January. In 2010 I made 10 trips varying in length from an overnight to 15 days for a total of 39 days slept other than in Walpole. I set a goal for 2011 of 45 nights away, but more importantly I wanted unique memorable experiences. At first I was struggling with what to do, almost forcing ideas, which is not the way to plan. Then David asked if I would like to join them in Italy in July and things started to fall in place for the year.
In February I began playing with the Via Rail website reading about The Canadian, but was not ready to buy a ticket. During my research I found The Society of International Railway Travelers which includes The Canadian in its list of the World’s Top 25 Trains.
Attempting to fill out my travel plans I signed up for a Road Scholar program at the Biltmore in Asheville, NC, but as the day came to make the final payment I decided that I did not want to spend an additional $400 plus for a plane ticket to get there. “Gee,” I thought, “$400 is almost half a trip to Europe.” And that is what I did instead, I bought a ticket to Ireland with a rental car for a week, and you got to join me on that journey.
But I kept reading about The Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver. One day I was on the Via Rail website, and the price had dropped almost $300 CAD. I went back the next day to buy the ticket, and the price was back up – I became discouraged, and The Canadian, although in the forefront of my mind, was just becoming a dream. It was the end of June, and I was leaving for Italy in just days. In the mail came a check from an auction house for books I forgot they had, “wow,” I said to myself, “here is the price of The Canadian.” Then I read an ad for bus travel from Bellows Falls, VT to Montreal and thought that is how I could get there easily to begin the trip. And then that afternoon I was in an antique shop buying books and on the top shelf was a book I did not know existed, LAST TRAIN TO TORONTO: A CANADIAN RAIL ODYSSEY. It had chapters on the trip I wanted to take. Do you believe in signs? I do, and on June 29thI went back to Via Rails’ website – they had dropped the price again – I picked up the phone and bought my ticket.
I had a great customer service representative who asked, “how will you get to Toronto?” I replied that I would get to Montreal and then go by train, to which she replied, “let me book you Business Class with wine and dinner at a special rate from Montreal to Toronto to meet The Canadian.” “Sounds, great,” I replied. Trip booked, well, half way.
I had no idea what I would do when I arrived in Vancouver, or how I would return home, but since planning is more than half the fun, I figured I could work on that when I got back from Italy. So, off I went to Italy, and shared that with you too.
While in Italy I decided that instead of trying to travel around the West Coast once arriving in Vancouver that I would just explore Vancouver for a few days since I only spent a few hours there in the late 1980s. So, that leaves just planning to get home from Vancouver, and once that is arranged I can search for B&Bs in Montreal for the first night, and Vancouver for the Saturday and Sunday nights I will be there. Travel back should be easy, right – WRONG. Easy Greyhound connection from Bellows Falls to Montreal, but a horror story coming back. Here I go again with Steve Martin and John Candy trying to get home. Most flights back to Montreal had a 24 hour wait in Montreal prior to getting a midnight bus to arrive in White River Junction, VT at 4 AM for a 4 hour “layover” 45 minutes from home. This was the only bus back to Bellows Falls, and not ideal. Nor were any other routes I explored ideal. I checked flying into Boston or Manchester (more expensive) and buses even worse (Boston to Keene – only 14 hours by bus with a transfer in Springfield, Massachusetts). “Think, Ray, think!” ah, I thought, “Burlington, Vermont!” Yes, Greyhound has a number of buses to and from Burlington to Montreal, and Burlington is just a tad over a two hour drive from here. But, which bus? Well, more playing with schedules in trying to avoid much wasted time coming home, and avoid an unnecessary hotel bill I finally decided on a plan, and bought my tickets. I will leave Vancouver at about 4 PM, arrive in Montreal at Midnight (sleep on plane) and take an 8 AM bus back to Burlington. It works!
I have been pleasantly surprised with the “visits” to SHUNPIKING WITH RAY. My record is 51 visits in one day, and a day does not go by that I get a dozen or more, and this is without my travelling and posting. Search engines index my pages very well and within moments after my posting, and the use of tags facilitates even more “hits.” One of my most popular pages has been UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN when David and Mari and I walked to Bramasole, Frances Mayes’ home in Cortona. Thus, I am posting this page prior to my trip with many related “tags” in the hopes that travelers on Via Rail’s The Canadian train will read this page and post comments about their experiences crossing Canada by train, or maybe even be one of my travelling mates in early August. So, let me hear from you. Thanks, RAY