We’re about half an hour late into Thompson, having turned off the main line once more, and performed the slow manual turning manoeuvre just outside town. This time, though, there’s a longer stop, and I have plenty of time to walk into town to get some more food supplies for the rest of the trip. Tara opens up the door at the back of the train for me, and she points me in the direction of town. I walk along the rusty tracks in the opposite direction to that from which we arrived, and at a level crossing with the road to the station make a right. In fifteen minutes, I’m back in the Canada that I know: grey suburban sprawl. Featureless suburbs, carpet shops, hardware stores, car dealerships, kids out from school for lunch, their hands stuffed in brown paper bags from Kentucky Fried Chicken. It’s strange to be back in a miniature metropolis.
I turn right again at a garage where dozens of shiny Ford trucks and minivans are lined up (‘Built with pride in Ontario’) and find the side entrance to a large Wal-Mart mall. I steer clear of the Wal-Mart, but instead go into the Safeway store to buy hot soup, bagels, salami and cheese. I retrace my steps up a low hill and over the crest between electricity pylons and next to a yellow traffic sign that warns drivers to beware of crossing skidoos. Now that the snow has all gone, I doubt there’s much to look for now, but I make a precautionary glance to my left and right just in case.
I’m back at the station with plenty of time to spare, so I walk past the train on the side of the freight sidings. There aren’t many wagons here, but to my left is a low pile of left-over ballast, and between some of the sleepers are small piles of wood chips, memories of departed loads. I walk the length of the train, take a few photographs, and then walk round to the platform side. I surprise the two Winnipeg tourists, who see me emerge from the wrong end of the station with a Safeway shopping bag. The station is a small pale yellow building. The platform has an old hand pulled cart for loading freight and baggage onto the train. I crunch across the unpaved car park, but there isn’t much to see in this muddy end of town. I re-board, and eat my scratch lunch in the part of the dining car where the tables aren’t set for lunch. All sense of obligation to Tara’s cooking has gone by now – it’s very good, but I’m still getting by on C$30 a day.
We leave on time at 12.35. The train has now emptied of it’s Churchill passengers. Vera and I are alone in the sleeper car, and there are maybe a half dozen passengers in the one unlocked coach.