VIA Rail's Canadian, from Vancouver to Toronto over four nights and three and perhaps four days, is as close to the Wild West as you ever expect to get in Twenty-First Century railroading. It is an adventure every time, and you never know what will happen next. I of all people should know not to ride this train when I have anything of importance happening the day of arrival, or even the day after arrival. Yes, but here I am anyway, engaged in a great race I appear to be losing, badly.
I had planned to ride train number 2 a couple of months ago with a friend. The friend couldn't make it, and after I was ticketed friends of ours in Washington, D.C., said they would host an engagement party for our son Patrick and his fiancé Kelly this Saturday evening. My wife Cathie said to go ahead and ride the train. "If you make it, you make it," she philosophized, "and if you don't . . . ."
My plane out of Toronto leaves at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. If train 2 arrives as much as five hours late, at 2:30 p.m., I should still be able to make the flight. But I also instituted Plan B, which was to buy a cheap ticket on Air Canada from Sudbury, Ont., to Toronto, leaving mid morning Saturday. If train 2 is eight hours late getting to nearby Capreol, I can bail out there and reach Toronto well in time for the 4:30 flight. And if train 2 is more than eight hours late? Well, I'm screwed. And as of right now, with our train being serviced in Saskatoon, Sask., more than five hours late and still a day and a half from Capreol and two days away from Toronto, it appears I'm screwed.
You're probably thinking my wife has already exonerated me. Yes, but I didn't like the look in her eyes the last time she said , "If you make it, you make it." And I don't want to disappoint my son and future daughter-in-law by standing them up. So now I am considering Plan C.
Let me bring you up to date. It has been a fun trip, as they all are on this train. I've made a bunch of new friends, including one man who knows all of my Frailey family relatives in Florida. The temperature has been below zero Fahrenheit from the moment I woke up the first morning in Kamloops, B.C., but on the train we've been snug. And believe it or not, we left Edmonton, Alta., at midnight last night, on time.
Overnight, everything fell apart. By 6:15 this morning, we'd gotten only to Wainwright, Alta., 125 miles. Do the math; that's an average of just 20 mph. Now it's 2:45 p.m., as we leave Saskatoon, and we've advanced only another 200 miles, now averaging about 30 mph. The reason, of course, is freight train interference. The woods are full of 'em. Our assistant engineer was in the obs car to direct the backup move into Saskatoon. "I've never seen Canadian National this busy," he said. "We'll meet 15 trains in the next six or seven hours."
What is Plan C? To bail out in Winnipeg and fly to Washington from there. We're due there at 8:30 tonight, but I'm figuring 3:30 to 4:30 a.m. There's a noon flight to Reagan National that gets me to the engagement party a day ahead of time! Dear Old Dad will get extra credit for that.
Only a miracle will keep me on the Canadian past Winnipeg. A miracle means getting there in the wee hours no later than we now are and perhaps even sooner. But now it's snowing, there are those 15 trains to get past before we're even halfway to Winnipeg and it's therefore hard to believe in miracles. I'll let you know how this works out.--Fred W. Frailey