29 June northern Ontario stop 1

I wash my hair in the small bathroom sink during a stop at Sioux Lookout, which makes me feel entirely refreshed.

The conductor tells us the westbound Train No. 1 is passing us on our left.

“Wave to all the people going to Vancouver,” he says, as we watch the brightly lit faces staring out of their windows into ours.

About six o’clock, I indulge in dinner in the dining car: chicken and wild rice soup, an entrée of breaded, roasted chicken with scalloped potatoes and red pepper and zucchini, and chocolate torte and mint tea for dessert.

dinner on the train June 11, 2014

Via dinner

I sit with a young lesbian couple who met in Banff, one from Germany on a working holiday, the other from Montreal. They are quiet and hold hands under the table. Also joining us is Ami, a Japanese lady who is completing a working holiday at a day care in Calgary and is on her way to Halifax, with a two-day stopover in Montreal. That may well be cut down significantly as our train is quite late.

Ami sits behind me across the aisle in the second economy-class car. This evening, to seal our friendship, she gives me a bright pink origami crane.

“I make one for all the people I meet on my journey,” she says.

I try to sleep off my enormous dinner, but when we pull into Hornepayne an hour or two past midnight, I’m wide awake and try to connect to the Internet, our only opportunity before Toronto. I’m able to download my email but the connection is weak and I can’t send anything out.

I know Hornepayne is a good three-quarters day ride from Toronto, so the likelihood of arriving on time at 9 a.m. tomorrow is next to impossible. There’s a good chance I’ll miss all connecting trains to Ottawa by the time we get there, but I can’t do anything about it, so I curl up for another night in the carriage.

I dream I’m in the engine looking over the train driver’s shoulder. “What’s that?” I ask when I see two lights coming towards us on the track. Turns out it’s a deer – an extremely unafraid one that moves out of the way but stays very close to the train, peering into the carriages as they pass.

Sometimes I can’t see the track, but the engineer assures me that it’s there. “Used to be over there,” he points to his right, but I don’t see. Then as we chug up a dark slope that appears to be completely trackless, the train loses power.

“Are we going to roll backwards?” I ask, thinking of the dozens of carriages behind us.

“Yup,” says the engineer. “Most people don’t realize it’s not so easy to drive a train. It takes skill.”

Indeed. I wake up. We’re still going forwards and quite speedily at that.

I have slept so much on this eastbound train, in a kind of denial about returning to Ottawa and my struggling freelance business.

dinner-with-ami-at-holiday-inn

dinner with Ami in Toronto

We arrive at Toronto’s Union Station 10 hours late. This means I miss any chance to continue on to Ottawa tonight, which doesn’t bother me one bit, as I’m reluctant to go home. In fact, my reward is a free stay in a downtown Holiday Inn, and a free dinner – Atlantic salmon stuffed with maple butter, basmati rice, a glass of Shiraz and cheesecake for dessert – with my train friend Ami, compliments of Via Rail.

It’s late when we finish eating and chatting and when I ask the waiter, “Are you closing soon?” he answers, “We’re already closed.”

Tomorrow, I’ll complete the last leg of my journey.

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