Craynadian Wanderin’ the Summer of 2019
It’s 5 AM. I can’t sleep again for the third night on this train. It’s cold. The rain finally stopped after nearly four days of intermittent pitter-patter and downpour, but the chills of the night sky linger with films of morning dew in the air. I can’t help but wait for the light, a dose of sunshine to strip me of the doldrums, this miserable state, and feed life back to my frozen toes.
It’s never completely dark out near the Yukon as I watch the black outlines of trees blaze by pointing to the bright eyes flickering in the night. They are so bright. They churn in the sky like fields of fireflies as I look up from my well gazing at them, listening to her heartbeat run wild, shrieking and skittering and slicing and squealing along narrow bands of steel.
She runs through the clouds as they form a ring around the base of distant mountains and this journey feels limitless. Suddenly, sprinkles burgeon from a gentle caress of raindrops into a riot, striking my bare hands and face as another storm ensues. I should feel angry, afraid, cold, alone, but it’s my own fault for being stripped of my gear. Instead, I just feel numb, naked, and aloof having left Ridley Island without my sleeping bag that’s nestled safely under a pine tree in Prince Rupert.
What happened was, just three nights prior I set up camp in a wooded alcove right by the GM yard on Ridley Island to catch out of Prince Rupert. Through the tangled tree roots swallowed in verdant moss and a dead blanket of pine needles I laid my sleeping bag beyond the pines. I tied my tarp to skinny tree trunks that shimmied with the wind to prepare for another restless night of rain and set my food further down the tracks to keep the grizzlies and black bears away from me (I already had one encounter on the Kiwanis Trail and did not want another one, after all, winter as on its way and the bears needed to fatten up for hibernation).
As my eyes drooped and I started to surrender to the depths of my dreams, I heard the chugga…chugga…chugga…choooo…chooooo of a freight train. With the ocean nearby, the acoustics amplified the sound of the train horn and loud surging wheels, disorienting my hearing. What direction did the noise come from? I couldn’t tell. It didn’t sound like an eastbound train, but when I lifted the tarp from over my head and sat up, my eyes met with the glaring headlights of a freight train heading eastbound for Prince George. Rain pummeled down from the pregnant clouds, swallowing my jacket in drenched goose down feathers, soaking tendrils of my curly hair floundering about in my face and eyes. I scrambled to my feet. I wiped the water from my brow and glasses, and quickly started throwing gear together, stuffing and jamming and scrunching it deep down into my backpack, just making sure it all fit without the organized, methodical detail I normally do. I had folded and squished my sleeping bag into its stuff sack, the down bulging and cattywampus, and had untied the taut paracord from the rings of my tarp. I had folded it sloppily like a nylon napkin placing it in the center pocket of my pack. But food. Where was my food? I flung my backpack over my shoulders, and grabbed my gallon jug of water stumbling over Medusa’s hair through a swamp of pine needles and puddles of mud.
A river flowed down my face, fogging the lens to my glasses and making it hard to see as I jostled through the woods to grab my plastic, grocery bag of food, a few hundred yards from where I had set up camp.
By now, the tail end of the train crept around the curve and she gradually slowed down to a hoppable speed. I threw my jug up, then my pack, snagging the ladder of a well and climbed up into the 40′ that held a reefer. I rushed to lay out my tarp like a shield from the rain. Then patted around on the porch for my sleeping bag, my fingers grazing about the wet steel, searching furiously for the stuff sack, but it wasn’t there.
She picked up speed, her wheels thrashing in harmony with the sky as it fell harder and harder. I lay there shivering inside my tarp, the warm exhaust from the reefer hitting my face and hands, regretting I had ever caught out in the first place as I watched the alcove disappear into the silhouette of night. I never saw that sleeping bag again.
But I tried to not let the past days of endless rain bother me or ruminate on the loss of my sleeping bag. Instead I let Red Pass and Jasper steal my eyes and my heart the following morning when I woke up to a tranquil sky full of life and milky clouds and a vibrance that made me smile ear-to-ear. The train gods always found a way of making everything right even in the worst of times.
The wind tossed my hair as I looked out at the deep-blue, glacial lakes, their sapphire sheen twinkling under the verdance of chiseled rocks, mountains sitting there like peaceful giants beneath baby blue sky and fluffy pearls. The sinuous track at every bend and curve danced with the beauty of the gods as she roamed through the Canadian wilderness, deep into the Rockies, through chasms of rock and pristine landscapes speckled with wild flowers and double rainbows. I stood there in awe at the mercy of her whim listening to the fantasia of nature as it all faded to memories branding my mind.
She sided briefly in Jasper, parked between crags of sandstone and a ravine of frigid, mountain water, its soft flow the only sound for miles and miles. I hopped off my ride and wandered to the banks of the creek, shuffling over cobbles of ballast and through thickets of brush. I bent down, peeling off my wet boots and socks, letting the smooth pebbles and stones touch my bare feet as the rushing water pierced my skin, washing the stench from my raunchy toes.
Lime knolls painted the landscape in the distance with pointy hats sparsely grouped among the hillside in a deep forest green; it looked surreal, the colors, the mountains, the water, everything. I dried my feet and put on fresh socks. When I slipped into each boot, the sibilance of air shot through the train like a rocket, fueling her with life. I moseyed up the bank and noticed a freshly painted signal box with a THEORY moniker buffed out beneath the silver coat. I quickly outlined it in red Markal, bringing it back to life, and scrawled my mark below it.
THEORY is a legend. If you’ve never seen his artwork and creations you’re missing out. He’s been in the scene for years, paintin’, rippin’ trains, scribblin’ monikers and livin’ life to the fullest on his own terms. He is the definition of autonomy in my mind, homesteadin’ and livin’ free somewhere in the Canadian bush. I’ve never met him. I’ve never talked to him in person or online, but when I saw the wax covered beneath the new paint, I needed to bring it back to life. I don’t know the rules when it comes to this sort of circumstance, or what got over me in those moments leading up to departure, but this is one mark I’ve always enjoyed seeing on my travels and a man I’d like to meet one day, if I ever make it back to Canada.
Her wheels started rollin’ gingerly as the oncoming train whipped past on the mainline and I hopped back on my ride, watching the signal box disappear with distance, setting my eyes on the candy of nature that colored the landscape all the way to Edmonton.