Let's go adventuring
Saturday December 13th 2014

Going VIA Canada: Leaving BC

What a crazy past few weeks it has been. Packing, traveling, packing part two, and finally leaving Vancouver for parts unknown.

For a couple that only spent around 15 months in Vancouver and was trying not to accumulate items, we gathered quite the collection of books and knick-knacks. Nine boxes and two suitcases were handed over the removalists, as we harboured dreams of setting off across Canada with a suitcase each.

“Yeah right!” the inner voice told me — I should have listened.

As we packed for our final day in Vancouver, it soon became clear that we had left behind far more items than would fit into our suitcases, let alone be under the 23kg or 50lb weight limit for the train we were about to take. Consequently on our last morning in Vancouver, we purchased a big black bag to hold all our excess.

Down we went to the train station, and was told by the baggage handler that all our bags were overweight and we would be charged penalty fees on our bags. Removing some of our luggage, we went home to try and jam the new excess into our carry on backpacks. This wasn’t a good idea.

Such was the excess of the excess, that on our taxi ride to the train station, we returned the same bag shop from the morning and purchased the exact same bag. The dream of 2 suitcases had multiplied to 4 suitcases that luckily were all just under the weight limit.

Thus finally on the night of Friday June 24th, we were able to board the VIA train to leave Vancouver and travel to Toronto.

Don’t you two hate trains?

Back in August 2009, Claire and I took a look at the Northern Territory and decided to do the Alice Springs to Darwin leg on the Ghan. This decision was based on the gushing stories from parents after my sister and I had stumped up to give my parents a trip on the Ghan in one of the nice sleeper classes for Christmas. But Claire and I were in steerage, and boy did it feel like cattle class.

We froze the entire night as all we were wearing was shorts and t-shirts after being in 35+ degree heat all day, and the train was set at a relatively chilly 20-something and we had no warning as to the setting of the air-conditioner beforehand. On top of this, the person responsible for looking after our cabin was a complete prick of the highest order, who read out rules like a house master the moment we got on board, and refused point blank to raise the air con temperature — before anyone had even asked for it to be raised.

Based on this experience of the desert ice-cube on rails, the Ghan ruined any positive thoughts I may have had for train travel.

But after the good experience of the Skytrain in Vancouver, and a 50% off sale, I was willing to give the train another try — this time we would be forewarned and be packing jackets.

It also didn’t hurt that we coughed up for sleeper class on this trip.

Ghan who?

What a difference a day makes.

After only twenty-four hours on the train so far, we are overwhelmed by it. The food has been delicious and in copious quantities; the beds are soft, warm, and surprisingly roomy; and the views have been something else entirely.

At this point in the journey, I would highly recommend a train trip across Canada.

However that recommendation is only after 24 hours, in a few days we return to Edmonton to travel for three days to Toronto. We shall see if the recommendation can survive that.

The Rockies

There’s a reason that half the cost of the fare between Vancouver and Toronto is for the Vancouver-Edmonton leg: and that reason is clearly the Rockies.

Coming up on Yellowknife

Yellowknife -- on the BC/Alberta border

I knew when I came to Canada that Australia had mountains that were a joke by comparison, but it wasn’t until seeing the Rockies that I can appreciate just how much of a joke they are.

The first night we left Vancouver at 8:30pm and we woke up around 6am just outside of Kamloops where Claire managed to sight a big horned sheep. At the time we thought it was quite dry in the Rockies, but only later did we learn that we had seen this area before on our trip to the Salmon Run — we were barely a couple of hours drive out of Vancouver and would have the entire day to get to and go through the Rockies. We are unsure what the train did that first night, presumably it departed Vancouver and stopped the moment that darkness hit, the train stopped.

During our trip through the Rockies we saw waterfalls, bears, lakes, and sediments/rock faces forced into vertical positions — the forces needed to do this are staggering.

Pyramid Falls

At points of interest the train would slow down quite considerably for enjoyment and photo opportunities, like Pyramid Falls above. On sighting a bear, a call would going down the quarter-mile length of the train “Bear on the left (or right)” and everyone would rush to the window to spy the animal.

A stop at Jasper gave us a chance to stretch our legs and drink some coffee that wasn’t of the train drip variety — but true to form in a ski resort, the first six voices were heard off the train were Australian.

Jasper

Once out of the rockies, the train found another two gears and really sped up as we approached Edmonton — where we would take up the Albertan leg of our trip.