When I was a kid I found an old forgotten atlas book lying around the house. It was truly massive, and I would trace the long roads with my small fingers, dreaming of one day venturing out on some of those roads myself. A few years later I would discover Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and devour the book in a matter of days; absolutely mesmerised by the idea of never staying in one place for too long, by the ability to so easily drive through states, countries, landscapes and call it a lifestyle.
I wouldn’t think of it for too long after that, but the longing must have somehow got stored into my brain. As a young a girl I became fascinated with cultures and the thought of travelling and experiencing things. I desperately wanted to see things and go places on my own.
Three summers ago my sister and I took the train from one end of Canada to the other, from the lakes in Ontario, through yellow fields in Manitoba to the snowy mountains in BC. Train travel is a convenient and relatively affordable way to cross Canada, but the country is absolutely massive and Via Rail is not exactly known for its regularity or sticking to its schedule – it’s not uncommon to hear of 30 plus hours delays. But the thought of being stuck on a train for days on end didn’t faze us. We were looking for adventure and charm, for a slow journey that would force us to stare out the window for hours and find enjoyment in that. We were just content in taking the long way to get to Vancouver. And we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.
On a Saturday afternoon we packed our huge backpacks and hit the road. About a day and half later we were in Halifax, after hours of witnessing a whole lot of nothing from our window. The ride from Toronto to Nova Scotia is basically watching the untouched vastness of the country, a couple of farms scattered here and there. We spent a week in Halifax. We visited picturesque little villages by the Atlantic, we ate lobster rolls at the harbour, we shared a luxurious lobster on a spontaneous evening, we took tons of pictures at Peggy’s Cove, we tried to get to Bay of Fundy, but it turned out to be impossible without a car. We shared a dorm in a downtown hostel with two Australian girls who would lay out beach towels on the bedroom floor, hats and sunglasses on and pretend they were on the beach – they had been there for too long. Halifax was so peaceful and the perfect summer getaway, but it was only the beginning.
We flew back to Toronto and braced ourselves for the real deal. At this point we kind of knew what to expect. Or at least we thought so. It would be days and hours and long, long minutes until we got to the west coast. The train was packed through the entirety of the trip. People would get off and new people would get on. This time around there were a lot of screaming kids on the loose. We met a German girl who had been on the train for so long, she had made a home for herself on a little corner. Seeing other people on the same journey made us feel like we were part of a small community of crazy adventurers.
Watching the sunset from the train was a daily gift from nature, and those little moments were always special. We had so many hours to fill with thinking and overthinking, talking, laughing, making up games, getting bored and amused, getting into stupid arguments, and then feeling like we were going a little bit crazy. One early morning we finally got off to Banff and were welcomed by an overwhelming beauty that felt like magic. It would then be days of hiking, getting lost after sunset, meeting amazing people and making some of our best memories. When we hopped on the train back in Toronto we had no idea when we would actually get to Banff. Delays are always to be expected and they are part of the journey just as much as any other passenger on the train, so any estimated time of arrival is more of a suggestion than a rule. So it was a bit of magic and destiny that we got to Banff at the perfect time to meet the right group of people and live some of our best moments.
Our love affair with Via Rail was almost over, but not quite yet. We still had a bit of a long way to Vancouver. And despite the delays and a train full with impatient passengers we surprisingly got there on time. That would be the end of a tiny, fleeting era. An era of long hours alone with our thoughts, of small talks with strangers, disappointing meals and uncomfortable nights. We had survived an epic journey, the slowest cross country journey we could have picked. It was time to celebrate life, sisterhood, and the end of a beautiful summer.
We took a plane back to Toronto, a mere five hour journey. It was like we teleported ourselves back to reality. It had taken us so much to get to Vancouver and we couldn’t believe that in just a matter of hours we were right back where we started.