The Trans-Canada Journey, Part 3

This is the final part of the tale to my Trans-Canada journey, so if you’ve made it this far – congratulations! Now you too can follow my sage advice to NEVER DO ANYTHING LIKE THIS FOR AS LONG AS YOU LIVE.

Now, read on…

Having probably only gotten a couple of hours of broken sleep at best my brain struggled to deal with the rapidly changing time zones. The hours were sleeting past at this point and whilst my brain was in Toronto my body was about two time-zone hours west of that, rapidly moving further away from my precious circadian rhythms. I’m not normally that badly affected by time zone shifts, I say this with the wonderful certainty of someone who’s barely experienced them of course, but quite probably due to the sleep deprivation issues this time it really started to add to the layer of befuddled confusion that made up most of my concious state by this point.

Eventually we pulled into Regina sometime in the morning, as usual nowhere near the town but at least there was some food. Some precious, greasy, fried breakfast food.

Mmm, tastes like clogged arteries.

Have you ever eaten a fry up after two days on the road and about five hours sleep whilst in a constant amount of nagging pain from the waist down? No? Well if you ever do find yourself in that situation don’t eat the fucking fry-up! My stomach had more bounce than a bungy fanatic. As we piled back onto the coach, now for no good reason re-arranged yet again to place the noisy smoking drug addicts back onto our now crowded bus, I spent most of the next three hours trying to think very placid thoughts and hold my stomach in place so that I didn’t get to see my breakfast in re-wind.

Yet again the coach departed late for no obvious reason, meaning that even though the three hours-behind had been nullified by the long wait in Winnipeg were were yet again running an hour or so behind schedule. It’s also worth mentioning at this point that most of the coach drivers we had been given were, with occasional exception, complete and total asshats. I believe the phrase we are searching for here is ‘jobsworth’, a wonderful turn of phrase I picked up off an old boss of mine. These people are veritable kings of their own little castle. I don’t doubt that most of them hate their job, and even more likely the pay sucks. So how do we deal with a job we hate that doesn’t even pay worth a damn? We take it out on as many people as we can of course!

I imagine this is what they see at each intersection.

Apart from constantly threatening to leave anyone behind if they were even fractionally late back to the bus – in defiance of the amount of times they’d just stand around whittering to each other whilst we’re all waiting to go – the particular driver on our stretch between Regina and Calgary seemed to take great offence at people even breathing loudly. Now I admit I found the guys behind me to be a bit of a pain in the ass but I’m not entirely sure why the driver felt the need to threaten the entire coach with expulsion if the noise level wasn’t dropped to below that of a buzzing gnat, like we’re all obnoxious school kids going on a field trip or something, but I think it is clear by this point that Greyhound (and possibly all coach operators going by past experience) really, really need to work on training their drivers on that whole ‘customer relations’ thing. Hint – if you don’t like dealing with people, don’t take jobs where all you do all day is interact with other people! Just a thought.

We stopped in one of the few nice towns we saw on our journey, Medicine Hat (wtf?), which was blissfully uneventful. We did happen to see the worlds largest teepee, which was about as interesting as it sounds. It was just a few large metal poles with some fake fabric on it. Ehhhh. The scenery around here was quite pleasant though, all slightly undulating green prairie as far as you could see, which for some reason made me think of Norfolk.

We pulled into the edge of Calgary, which from a distance looked like quite a large city but as usual we didn’t get to look at any of it, and were told that we only had about twenty minutes to make our connecting coach to Vancouver so get to it soldier!

Move yo’ ass before ‘dis driver loses his shit wit’ you!

So we ran, and we got to the (big) queue and…we waited.

and waited.

and waited.

Around this point I was seriously tempted to just scream out “FUCK YOU GREYHOUND!” and go find out where Calgary airport was, except I couldn’t do that because money. Dammit.

About two hours later we were piled onto the tiniest, most cramped, uncomfortable shitfest of a coach I have ever seen. And I’ve ridden on coaches in Devon. This was by far and away the worst vehicle on four wheels ever designed to take more than a small family over long distances I had ever seen and now I was going to be trapped on it for the last sixteen hours of our journey.

EVERYTHING I FEARED HAS COME TRUE!

I couldn’t even fit in my chair at all with the people in front reclined into my face, who I couldn’t really complain to because they were only reclining to get away from the seats in front. However it had apparently been designed for midgets or something because neither me or Dan could comfortably even put our heads on our seats headrest without splaying ourselves out at weird angles and desperately jamming our skulls backwards.

Literally the only comfort that could be found during this physical hell was that we were now going through probably the most picturesque part of our journey – the Rocky Mountains. I can’t even begin to describe how epic they were even whilst trapped within our portable Hell vehicle. For one thing they were massive, looming over the road on both sides. Covered in trees even at the most absurd of inclines, and largely bereft of snow since hey – summer! We began our journey through the Rockies at Dusk, so we go to see the sun set over their edge which was cool.

What wasn’t cool was that our driver, who was clearly some sort of draft-in due to us being so late and overcrowded back at Calgary, was absolutely desperate to get to the finish line. Now I admit so was I but I preferred to get there via the road and not via simply throwing ourselves off the side of the fucking mountain but I’m not entirely sure he had the same idea. Sleep was basically impossible anyway but the sheer amount of G-Force and pants-soiling terror involved in this guy slalom-ing us down the side of the fucking ROCKY MOUNTAINS at a speed I don’t even want to think about did not assist in this. There have been few things more terrifying that I have experienced in my life than careening around some bend where on one side there was a mind-numbingly long drop, and on the other side was a huge articulated lorry roaring past close enough to kiss.

Obviously we eventually passed out the other side where he suddenly pulled into the absurdly named town of Kamloops at 3am, hopped off the coach and disappeared. Literally. Not a word to anyone on the coach just stopped – off – gone. Eventually realisation filtered back up the coach with those who apparently had balls of steel and had managed to sleep groggily started moving about. We fell off the bus into the cold of the Rocky Mountain air and had to wait, as one final ‘fuck you!’ from Greyhound, until yet another replacement driver came and we could finally get a move on.

Eventually he did. The rest of the trip was blissfully uneventful.

Finally. FINALLY. Vancouver.

WHERE AM I? WHEN AM I? WHO AM I?!

But that is a tale for another day.

 

The Trans-Canada Journey, Part 2

I’m actually in Auckland now, since it’s taken me a while to get into a position where I can actually write down the next stage of this journey. However I want to finish talking about Canada before I get onto what I’m up to now I’m in New Zealand, so you’re going to have to  hold on for now.

Also note my highly imaginative renaming of my site. Can you tell what I did yet?

My last post finished in Sudbury. I wish that my journey had finished there as well but unfortunately there was about three thousand miles of Canada left before we would actually be able to stop moving. A theme of the various stops that we had to make was that the places we were stopped in were either extremely unremarkable, or we were just  nowhere near the actual centre of the places we were in. A case in point would be Thunder Bay which is either just a thin stretch of warehouse units or I was nowhere near the actual bloody town.

In a spectacular moment of utter stupidity whilst we were out foraging for some food in the brief twenty-minute hiatus we had in Thunder Bay I managed leave my passport on the counter in some fast-food restaurant and I only noticed this fact about five minutes before we were due to set off again. Cue frantic running across a busy road and madly dashing about inside the restaurant barking at people if they’d seen plastic folder left anywhere.

I briefly managed to put this guy to shame.

Otherwise the journey continued in extremely slow fashion in a relatively uneventful manner. We passed through a whole bunch more of unremarkable Canadian towns and villages and eventually the rugged beauty of Ontario gave way to the wide stretches of the prairies that make up the bulk of the interior of Canada. It is worth noting though that it took almost the entirety of the first day to actually get out of Ontario. This is partly because Ontario is absolutely massive (The UK would fit within Ontario eight times alone) but also because the roads weave, wind, duck and dive and largely do a whole bunch of geographical gymnastics that seemed rather out of place after the rigid lines of Toronto.

Sometime towards the end of day two we finally arrived at Winnipeg, capital of Manitoba and the first major city we were due to pass through on our way to Vancouver. Yet again my plans were foiled. We had a six hour layover here and even with our massive delays when leaving Toronto we were still looking at around four or so hours to wait for our new coach. However rather than being in the city the Greyhound station was – surprise! – not in the bloody city. It was in fact at the airport, nowhere near the city, but then that didn’t really matter too much because the fleeting glimpse we got of Winnipeg was unremarkable. Maybe it was the drizzly rain and dreary skies. Maybe it was the fact that I was in no small amount of pain from buggered muscles and cramped legs. Maybe it was because I was so damned tired after nearly two days on a fecking coach. Whatever it was I really didn’t care about whether or not I got to see Winnipeg in the end.

What was annoying though was that in all of Winnipeg airport all we could find to eat at was a bloody Tim Hortons. Now I’m a fan of Tims and I’m already missing it but God dammit I wanted some proper food! Not a lasagne in a pot! Oh well.

Whilst we were waiting for our next coach just about every machine in the waiting area broke down, which was weird. One by one they all busted and then ten minutes later after a ‘This machine is out of service’ label had been placed on them some overweight kid waddled up to them and jammed some coins into them anyway, because apparently he couldn’t read or something, and then lost his shit about losing his money. There was one brief moment of ‘faith restored in humanity’ when I watched some guy win an Angry Bird stuffed toy in one of those grabber arcade machine things and then promptly give it to some unrelated little girl who’d been playing nearby and walk off. A rare moment of class.

As a side-note the coach had airport-security level stuff going on, bag searches and everything, which was rather intimidating. I suspect this was in response to the Incident of the crazy Japanese guy who decapitated a guy with a sword. Yeah.

The trip out of Winnipeg towards Calgary was, at least at the beginning, a fair bit more enjoyable. We were split across two coaches this time and most of the noisy drug addicts went on the other one meaning that not only was our coach a damned site quieter but it was also half-empty and that we could spread out a bit and for the first time in two days. We both took separate chairs and I managed to make good use of this extra space during the night to get absolutely no fucking sleep at all. Again.

This is a good representation of my mental state by this point.

The prairies outside of Winnipeg had an eerie feel to them at night-time though so I didn’t mind too much. The sky was empty of clouds but there was a fiercely bright full moon casting a weird hue over everything. I saw my first ever shooting star whilst idly gazing out over the vast expanses, which was kinda cool. In the far distance there would periodically be weird looking flashing lights – presumably radio towers or something – and also the ominous red lights attached to electricity pylons that reminded me of Dear Esther of all things.

That’s enough for Part 2. I’ll finish this off with Part 3 in a few days time, then I can talk about Vancouver, my departure from Canada and my first thoughts on Auckland. So at least I have plenty to talk about for a while!

The Trans-Canada Journey, Part 1

I have done it. I don’t know how, but I’ve actually done it. 72 hours, give or take, of continuous coach journey all the way from Toronto to Vancouver. I’m sat here now in the crapped out, run-down Hostel Dan booked us into (more on that later) trying to fight off my incredible tiredness so that I don’t completely screw my sleeping pattern over so I thought this would be as good a time as any to try and assemble my thoughts and break down how the journey went.

Basically how it went was fucking terribly.

Surprise!

So come with me on this recent walk down memory-lane and revel in my continued ability to walk from one catastrophe to another.

It started just like any other day – a day of standing and swearing loudly to anyone nearby who would listen to my enraged cursing at the TTC – Toronto’s Transport Commission – failed to deliver me a streetcar within the ‘every five minutes’ category that they are supposed to. Not even within ten minutes. Or fifteen. Twenty? Nope. Twenty-five? Nah. Thirty? Eeeeeeh, alright then.

When it finally rocked up into place it was of course packed with people, and there’s nothing I like more than having to stand there holding a load of heavy bags for a half-hour streetcar journey whilst being rammed up against a bunch of other people. The icing on this particularly irritating cake was that the bus seemed to be full of screeching school-kids (which confuses the Hell out of me because I’m sure that the schools are off for summer now) who felt it necessary to hum in horribly out of tune fashion the invincibility theme from Super Mario Bros.

Upon finally arriving at the coach station we take our position, well over an hour in advance, and feel secure in the knowledge that we should be able to bag ourselves decent seats. Besides all that, how many other crazy bastards can there be out there who’d choose to do this kind of trip?

It. Was. FULL. Full! Full of people! So one of our main coping strategies of ‘spread out a bit’ had already gone down in lard-ass immigrant flames as everyone from Homer’s Indian cousins to the Hispanic Family decided that today of all days would be a really good day to go spend seventy-two-fucking-hours on a coach. But hey, at least it had power or Wi-Fi or something right to help pass the time with…?

So by this point I’m already angry. It’s an old coach. It’s cramped. It’s noisy. For no reason that was ever accurately explained we were also over an hour late departing, though I suspect it likely had something to do with the Jumbo Indians and the twenty (TWENTY!!) bags they brought with them. And then the old Hispanic lady reclines her seat straight into my knees and refuses to even acknowledge me as I ask, initially quite politely, for her to pull her seat back up at least a bit. So I lost my shit with her.

Those who know me will know that whilst I am prone to occasionally going off the deep end, it’s normally done in private and/or at people I know because at least I know that 8 times out of 10 I’ll get away with almost anything I say. So for me to reach critical mass before the trip has even started and start swearing away at this mad old bat says something for my frame of mind at this early point. However I quickly realised, much to my increased irritation, that she didn’t speak a word of English (Though I’m pretty sure she must have gotten my intent clear enough just from my colourful array of hand gestures) so Dan took the bullet for me and swapped seats.

Annnnnyway we set off and were both glad to be free of Toronto’s horrific humidity and horrific transport system. I liked the place but damn, its negatives hung like Acme-Weights during my temper when we pulled out. Beyond the racial stereotypes on the coach there was a guy who seemed to be the new Bob Geldof, a large bunch of what back in the UK would be called Chavs but here are just called ‘assholes’ who kept shrieking and whooping and drinking and smoking weed so that was great and also a bunch of tattoo’d thugs who seemed determined to start a fight with anyone who so much as sneezed at them. So we had the basic demographics sorted out nicely.

With no power there was no way I could pass the time using my laptop like I’d hoped to, plus it turned out that there was so little room even with a non-reclined seat in front of me that I could barely open the screen anyway. Mercifully I own a Kindle and right now I’d like to tell you that they are the best invention ever. With an entry price at a lowly $100 and a battery that lasts almost a month I cannot recommend one of these fantastic devices enough. If it were not for a Kindle and a large number of Terry Pratchett novels that I’ve been re-reading (having not read most of them since I was a kid) I think I would literally have lost my mind if I had not had the wonders of the Discworld to distract me.

Legend.

Of course there were wonders outside the coach window don’t get me wrong. Most of Ontario’s scenery is extremely impressive with most of the road having been blasted out of the rock and creating some quite dynamic vista’s that reminded me of some of the roads around Stockholm. Throw in a variety of greenery and intermittent views of Lakes Michigan and Superior and there was definitely some stuff to be looking at.  The thing is though, and I don’t want to sound ungrateful exactly…but after several hours of it your eyes start to go blurry. It’s just so hard to maintain constant interest in that sort of thing, for me at least. Dan didn’t even have the Kindle yet somehow managed to find enough constant amusement in the scenery that he staved off madness but I needed Pratchett for that.

We eventually reached Sudbury which was our first major stop on the long road out of Ontario. As you can tell this is going to be a bloody long story as I’ve only just gotten out of Toronto as far as the narrative is concerned, so I’m going to break this up into a small series that I’ll work on uploading over the next couple of weeks. Hey, at least this way I can guarantee some content!