Thursday, August 30, 2018

Welcome... to Jasper Park!

This entry is going to be mostly pictures and videos, but I suspect you won't mind. I have some interesting stuff to share, but I need to get a few housekeeping things off my chest:

Halifax to Montreal: ~22 hours (on time)
Toronto to Winnipeg: ~36 hours (one hour late)
Winnipeg to Edmonton: ~28 hours (four? hours late)
Edmonton to Vancouver: ~29 hours (two hours early)

(everything else was short / as scheduled)

Books Completed: Autobiography of Ben Franklin, Snuff!, War of the Worlds, Siddhartha, The Secret Adversary, Call of the Wild, First Men on the Moon, more? (will update when I look at my kindle again)

The trip from Edmonton started expectedly enough - delays and starts & stops. Eventually we made our way toward and into the Rockies and landed ourselves in Jasper.

At that particular stop I decided to stay on the train (instead of going into town - where I should have bought some beer or something). While on the train, I saw a head and backpack walk by my window that I thought I recognized - could this be Stoch from the Toronto-Winnipeg trip? A text and a quick jog to another car and my suspicions were confirmed! Where I'd spent five days in two cities, he'd spent five days hiking and camping around Jasper. We were now bound for Vancouver.

The rest of the trip was taken up by sharing our different experiences (and how annoyed he was at having departed with his $50 can of bear spray) and cards (half-remembered cribbage can be highly amusing!). Unlike the rest of the train trips, I got a decent sleep (after taking forever to get comfortable) and he had a rough time (one would expect differently after having slept on cold ground).

We departed the train in Vancouver together and made a night of it... but that's another entry. For now, a bunch more pictures.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Up and Down Alberta

The train backed into the Edmonton VIA Rail station four or so hours behind schedule and I was a nervous wreck. Unlike every other stop so far, I'd met my host before and my mind was spinning with worry. Perhaps we hadn't had the connection I thought we had? Perhaps our friendship had developed from set & setting and would not survive different circumstances? Perhaps we'd come to resent being in continued close quarters for a few days? Perhaps perhaps perhaps...

I'd met Mellina at PAX Unplugged - a major board game convention that took place in Philadelphia in 2017. She came to an event I was hosting and we hit it off immediately - I had to be reminded a couple times that I should take a minute to chat with the other attendees (normally I'm pretty good at circulating and making folks feel welcome). Over the next two days we became fast friends; when the convention was over there was definitely a "we need to hang out again" in the air (though it was highly unlikely: we live in different countries and connecting with travel friends is always tough).

Over the next months, as my trip across Canada solidified, it became clear that we would reconnect - this time on her turf. She offered (or, perhaps, acceded to my request) to host me as I took this train trip. Which brings me to arriving in Edmonton.

While we'd been communicating about the delay as the train inched toward, then past, then backing back into, Edmonton station, I was starting to feel burdensome - not only was I taking up the usual time & energy of a host, the train being late was certainly piling on some anxiety. Would this whole adventure work out as I'd hoped?

When I saw her smiling and waving on the train platform, a giant wave of relief washed over me and I knew everything would be great.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Gears of Tour

As requested, a list of how badly I overpacked things I packed for a two-year trip.

  • Osprey Farpoint 55 convertable bag. This unzips into two bags - one small backpack (under seat "personal item") and one, well, larger backpack (overhead bin carry-on or "flight's full" gate-checked item). I keep the small bag filled with essentials, important stuff, and one change of clothes and keep it on me at all times.

  • One khaki "military" cap
  • Three quick-dry (REI co-op sahara heathered) tees
  • One quick-dry (REI again) long sleeve
  • Two regular tees (one "Phillies" and one "Wacky Rally")
  • One short-sleeve casual button up
  • One long-sleeve casual button up
  • Two white undershirts
  • One adjustable cloth belt
  • Two pairs of jean shorts
  • One pair of cargo shorts
  • One pair swimtrunks
  • Two pairs basketball shorts (one orange, one black)
  • Six pairs of quick-dry underwear (exofficio)
  • Five pairs of quick-dry socks (smartwool)
  • One pair Keen Montfort shoes
  • One pair flip flops
Non-clothing cloth:
  • Two quick-dry towels
  • One silk pillowcase
  • One hankerchief
  • One "US Census 2010" totebag
  • Extra pair of shoelaces
  • One pair cheap sunglasses
  • One self winding watch
  • One Nerd Nite Philly button
  • One Ben Franklin in Beaverskin Hat button
  • (acquired) One Canadian Flag pin
  • One Google Pixel 2 XL (with Google Fi service)
  • One iclever folding bluetooth keyboard
  • One no-frills Amazon Kindle (loaded with ~250 books from Project Gutenberg)
  • One crappy AC-USB converter
  • One USB-USB-mini (micro?) cord
  • One USB-USB-C cord
  • Three USB-mini (micro?) to USB-C converters
  • One international power adapter
  • One international power converter
  • One USB stick
  • OneMini-SD card
  • One USB-C to 3/16 headphone jack converter
  • Three cheap 8x10" notebooks for everyday stuff (that I suck at using)
  • One  5x7" waterproof notebook
  • One regular (3x5"?) moleskine notebook
  • One mini (1x.5"?) moleskine notebook
  • A dozen or so scrap pages for letters
  • A dozen or so Philly postcards for host gifts
  • (acquired) a dozen or so postcards for sending (or future hosts)
  • A half-dozen letter envelopes
  • Two 10x12" big envelopes (to send filled notebooks)
  • Lots of US Postage (to use in Seattle / Alaska / LA)
  • Map of Germany (to explain my 2014 trip)
  • Map of Eastern Canada / US (it appeared in my bag)
  • Write-up of my 2016 trip
  • One-page RPG rulesheet / charactersheet
  • Spacepen
  • Four misc pens
  • One Foldable travel toothbrush
  • Three mini tubes of toothpaste
  • Two rolls of floss
  • Two tubes of chapstick
  • One regular-size underarm deoderant stick
  • One small tube of excema cream
  • (acquired) two bars of soap (totally didn't forget to pack this...)
  • (acquired) one sample bottle of bodywash (which came with...)
  • (acquired) 400 pack of q-tips (smallest size they had!)
  • Tweezers
  • Nail clippers
  • One comb
  • Three bic disposable razors
  • A couple sheets of chewable Pepto tablets
  • (acquired) Small bottle of aspirin
  • Several packs of earplugs
  • One plan-b packet in case I make a friend and there's a slip-up
  • Game box (chess, checkers, backgammon, special APS cards)
  • Half-dozen safety pins
  • One travel sewing kit
  • A couple alligator? paper clips
  • A few yards of 550 cord
  • One mini-M&M container (perfect for odds & ends - might have to find anotherd)
  • A few rubber bands
  • One flimsy carabiner
  • One hundred Philadelphia-themed paper presents for hosts (and bribes?)
  • One trusty money clip
  • A million napkins
  • Passport & passport card
  • (acquired) packet of emergency ramen
  • About $500 USD, split between my person and the various bags
  • Maybe $150 in Euros and Pounds from my last trip to the EU
  • Capital One Credit and Debit cards (no international fees!)
  • Chase Credit Card (just in case CapOne freezes my account due to fraud or whatever)

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Laking friends in Winnipeg

Upon arrival in Winnipeg I walked from the station to go meet my host for my stay, Misty. When I arrived at her home, she let me know that she was about to leave to go to hang out with some friends at a lakehouse (hence the "typo" in the title) and I was invited. As I'm trying to be a bit better about accepting invitations and changing plans at the last moment, I said I'd join. A shower, a nap, and a bacon and tomato sandwich* later and we were on our way.

We picked up two of Misty's friends along the way and drove up to Red Rock Lake (by a somewhat circuitous route). We arrived intact and ready to have some fun (though two days of poor sleep were certainly having an effect on me). All together there were eight of us - just about the perfect number for the size of the cabin and the composition of the group - big enough that there were always a few conversations going on but small enough that everyone quickly got the feel of one another.

There's not much to write about the night that would be of interest in a travel blog. I had a ton of fun swimming, drinking, playing games, and chatting around the fire (as I suspect most of us did). There are certainly little things I'll remember ("that's my towel!") but I fear anyone who has ever attended an intimate house party will find any details I paint unique in specifics but with a common hue.

After the party (and breakfast and hangover cures) everyone made their ways back to whence they came. Misty and I went to see the legislative building in Winnipeg for a minute (they have a unicameral legislature that has fewer members than Montreal's city council!) then got some dim sum. I spent the rest of the night resting and being distracted by the television. This is the first city I was unable to get my "bonus" achievement of writing a poem in a library completed.

The morning of this writing I woke up, headed over to the train station, and boarded the train on which I'm currently sitting. It's supposed to take 23 hours to get to Edmonton, but we hit a snag (a disabled freight train) so we'll see how quickly we actually make it. The scenery has been pleasant (fields and such) but the company has been less so (noisy kids in every car, no strong connection to any passengers). I completed H.G. Well's The First Men on the Moon and might finally finish Herman Hesse's Siddhartha (I keep starting and stopping). Maybe I'll even do some writing (assuming two blog entries don't count)!

*Some of you know that I hate tomatoes (and tomato products) with a passion. The smell of spaghetti sauce makes me gag - sometimes to the point that I have to leave the room before I puke. That being said, I'm not allergic or anything, it's just some misfiring synapse in my brain. To that end, I'm trying my best to eat them when offered on this trip (trying being a key word - I failed twice in eating spaghetti with sauce). We'll see if I don't return to the States with a more varied diet.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Train Train Train (Train of Fools)

The train trip from Toronto to Winnipeg did not start well. Much to my dismay, I chose a section behind a whole group of Asian tourists who couldn't figure out how to stay in one seat (much to the frustration of the staff) and next to a family who brought the noisiest baggage and child one can imagine. If the kid was not playing a game at full volume or its parents weren’t repeating “do you have to go pee pee” four hundred times, she was crying. The crying, of course, spurred the family to start rooting around in crinkly bags to find something to sate the kid. Earplugs didn’t help.

I enjoyed the view from the train - the Canadian wild is absolutely beautiful - but the commotion inside the train was driving me nuts. Every time I moved to another part of the train (e.g. the cafe car, the glass dome car) noise makers seemed to follow. Luckily, I make friends easy, and the rest of the trip is what I'll really remember.

When I was in line to board I started chatting up the guy next to me, an Ottawan (I assume that's the demonym) by the name of Stoch. As we waited it became pretty clear that our personalities would work well together and, when I found out that the train was laid out two-and-two (I had expected two seats on one side and one seat on the other as with the Ocean), I suggested we sit together. It worked well enough the first night - he slept quite well and I wasn't troubled by him (though, as mentioned, I had a terrible time sleeping).

In the morning we figured it was time to head up to the dome car. On the Canadian there were maybe four special cars (of the twenty-some passenger cars) that had cafes, tables, and an upstairs glass dome. The order of events isn't particularly important, but we connected with two girls we'd been pleasant to at various points earlier in the trip (Melissa, from Germany, chatted with us while in line with her uncle, and I'm not sure how we connected with Mia, also from Germany). The four of us would be traveling companions for the majority of the trip - we more-or-less claimed a table at the front of the dome car where we chatted, ate, and played a lot of cards.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Toronto, or "Toronno" as the locals say

When I got off the train in Toronto I was pretty hungry, strangely craving noodles. There’s a great little travelers information booth that would help me on several occasions, but my first request there was where to get some hand-drawn noodles. I wandered over to Chinatown and sated my desire, though I made a slight mistake - I should have grabbed a vegetarian dish instead of being sucked into a “spicy” beef dish (it was not spicy - a common theme in the food I would consume). I then headed over to the subway and headed over to my AirBnB for the night.

Not my AirBnB - City Hall

The AirBnB was possibly the best appointed I have ever been to. My host, Charlene, had set out fresh fruit, cereal bars, water bottles and all sorts of little things that make traveling. Plus she was great to chat with and I got many tips about exploring Toronto.

Laundry & sleep and I was on my way the next day. I decided to make city hall my first stop - I hadn’t realized it was “Federation Headquarters” from Star Trek, so that was cool. It also had a small display of flags of indigenous persons, which I obviously enjoyed. I arrived in the middle of a fire drill, so I took some photos and tried to get into Old City Hall (it’s a functioning courthouse - they would have let me in, but there wasn’t really anything to explore). Eventually the fire drill ended and I took a self-guided tour, which included one of my artsiest photos - a side view of the “wall of nails”. I also wrote a poem in the library inside city hall.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Still Alive! (Just no internet)

I just got in to Winnipeg and am now headed out to a cabin on some lake.

Fun fact: the trains out west don't have wifi and only barely ever have cellular signal, so I wasn't able to get a post cobbled together for Toronto. (Plus I made some new friends!) Given my schedule for the next week or so, I suspect I'll be having too much fun to sit and type.

Rest assured I'm having a great time (outside of issues sleeping on the train).

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Overindulgence City (Ottawa)

The White House... no, wait...

In a huge twist, I went to Ottawa and saw the Parliament building. Oh, wait, that's what everyone does. I only had a few hours in the city (train arrived at 2pm and I would depart at noon the next day), so I just kind of ran around.

I've titled this post "Overindulgence City" because, well, I was a bit of a glutton, starting with splurging for a taxi from the train station (it was an easy 40 minute walk). After checking in to my AirBnB I rushed over to the capital complex (they have a name for it... that I forget). A nice information girl gave me the low-down on a couple things and I was told that, basically, there was no way I was going to see inside the buildings. I was then directed to the Bier Markt for an early dinner.

"the American invasion" - words I'll likely see again

I had a few local brews and, still a little miffed about my burger the previous day, decided to eat some specialty burger on the menu. The beer, the service, and the burger were all great, if pricey. I even got a show as some huge group of tourists decided to dine & dash, which was understandably annoying to the staff.

Stares and Stairs (Montreal and Quebec City)


I left you in Montreal with the promise of the excitement of laundry and relaxation in my next post. Well, I dare not disappoint - I did, indeed, relax and do laundry on Wednesday! I've also done a few other things since then.

As I'd bought a three-day metro pass, I figured I should get some use out of it ($19CAD for five trips - I should have done each trip separately [though, had I done that, I suppose I wouldn't have been driven to use the pass and go downtown on Wednesday to "get my money's worth"]). I had two things I needed to check off my list - I wanted to see a government building and I wanted to write a poem in a library.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Halifax Explosion (and how one egg is un oeuf)

My last entry was written at a fine cafe by the name of "Dilly Dally" - additionally, I believe I mentioned stopping in at a bar on my first night in Halifax - both of which are photographed below for your viewing pleasure.

I'm trying something a little different this time with the blog - instead of using the Blogger app, I'm typing all of this directly into the Blogger website. I've heard from a few of you (okay, okay, just my mom) that you didn't receive a push notification / email when I published the piece I wrote at Dilly Dally the other day. Maybe putting it through this way will change that?

In any case, I should probably catch you up on what I've been up to.

After leaving the cafe, I made my way up to the Citadel in Halifax. Due to my time limit in the city (my train left at one in the afternoon), I chose not to purchase admission to the site and instead walked around it for a bit - it seemed like the type of place that would take a half-day to actually wander around and take full advantage of. Instead, I circled it and read some plaques - including a reminder that the largest pre-nuclear explosions happened in the harbor (bay? water area?) in Halifax due to munition ships colliding. The whole story is fascinating and a testament to human courage and charity. If I were on a real computer, I'd link to some info right about now.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Bad Omens, Good Outcomes (Philadelphia to Halifax)

I'd not one for signs and portents, but if I were, I'd never have traveled on August 4, 2018. The whole week prior I'd seen a dead bird nearly every day, culminating in a giant dead crow on my travel day. Add in nearly constant fear of dying in two ways ("Am I having a heart attack or just stressing out?" "Is that a lump or do my nuts normally feel like that?") and waking up to a giant rain storm and I'm surprised I even got out of bed.

But I did.

I ran my last few errands (mail, credit union, ominous last meal) and boarded the MFL to Jefferson Station to catch the train to the airport. Waiting for my train, I realized that in my packing spree I'd never actually checked in for my flight. Air Canada gave me a seat assignment of "GTE" - as in, see the gate agent as there's a distinct possibility that I could be bumped from my flight. Don't gooooo...

It turned out there was something wrong with the train to the airport and, after waiting twenty minutes to board, we went two stops and had to switch to a shuttle bus at 30th Street (had I known, I would have taken the MFL straight there). A shuttle bus pulled away just as a group of us got to it - several people started loudly complaining, but all I heard was Don't gooooo...

We all packed together when we finally got on the bus - I grabbed a seat near the front (just behind the "reserved for those in need" seats). As we pulled away, I remembered my manners and offered my seat to two different older women - one of whom had offered me her seat earlier in Jefferson Station when she saw my enormous backpack. While neither took me up on my offer, one praised me for being "such a nice young man whose mom must have raised him right". This was the start of fortune's turn around - I am a nice young man whose mom did raise right.

On the bus to the airport, I started to consolidate all the "bad omens" I'd seen / felt over the past few days and pushed them into a narrative. My Bad Luck Vacation. My Ill-Fated Adventure. How Simon Died: A Travel Story. As the narrative formed, I began to take control again. Hell, if Air Canada bumped me, I'll just skip Halifax. Or I'll make them fly me to Montreal from Halifax (as I'd miss my train). Or I'll just cancel a couple stays and make things work - it would be okay.

We arrived at the airport around the time we would have had the train been working and security / getting to the gate was easy enough. The gate agent came around and gave everyone gate-check tickets - the first outside sign my luck was changing. Not because I had the ticket, but because my ticket ended in 828 - my lucky numbers (a.k.a. my birthday, August 28). The plane was late, but that was okay - compared to my imminent death, a late plane was nothing.

Bad luck and good luck crossed over the next few hours. I had bad luck with a seatmate on my first flight - he couldn't stay on his side of the arm rest - and the door that the gate-checked baggage wouldn't open. I made it to Montreal alive though, so that was a start. I got through customs in time (though there was a frantic man yelling "I have to get through - my plane's in fifteen minutes!" as if we weren't all in the same boat). My gate was at the furthest reaches of the airport, so I used my "city walk" to plow through dozens of mouth-agape tourists whose idea of catching a flight was apparently "mill about in the middle of foot traffic".

My first real human interaction came while I waited for the plane to Halifax. Julie and I had a delightful chat about all sorts of things - she was headed out to meet some friends and see a ZZ Top concert. I also had better luck with my seatmate this time around - Donna was headed home after a two-month stint in Nunavut. She expressed an interest in doing the Wacky Rally ( someday (which she totally should!).

I was a bit impatient when I finally got to Halifax and ended up splitting a cab to get to the downtown area (ugh, that's the price of a day's stay wasted). I checked into my AirBnB, did an 11:00pm walk around the block, and found myself a bar with local beer (Freeman's) and some delightful company (Shay, bartender, who didn't like the newspaper I also found disappointing; Colin[?] who gave me some great advice about finding my way to the train station in the morning and who passed up a once-in-a-lifetime free rail trip on board a famous rail car; and Matt, who was doing a similar thing to me, though he is job-hopping instead of... well... whatever I'm doing).

I'm writing this in a quaint little cafe ("Dilly Dally" - very appropriate as I look at the clock creeps closer to my departure time). To pull back the curtain a bit, I have a bunch of blog questions. Should I publish this now or should I wait until I get on the train (and have seen a bit more of Halifax)? I don't have any good pictures - should I wait to publish until after I take a few? I haven't hand-written any bit of this (a HUGE surprise to me - normally I hand-write these then type them up later) - should I get this on paper at all?

I think I'll push this out as-is. I'll just have a Halifax post later. Apologies for typos - this keyboard introduces twice as many as I normally make and I'm not always good at catching my normal amount!

[edit] Reading List: Finished Franklin's Autobiography, started Christie's The Secret Adversary