Friday, April 07, 2006

Two weeks to departure

So here I am, sitting in my grey cubicle, in a grey office, next to a grey highway, under a grey sky and in a typically grey state of mind... week after week of working with Excel spreadsheets is slowly partitioning my mind into little rectangular boxes. Every box needs to have something inside it: either a number or a formula to lead you to another number. I actually threw away my newspaper in disgust one evening when I realised that the first thing I did to wind down during my commute home on the métro was the sudoku puzzle in the free newspaper. After seven hours a day trying to find the right number for the right box, it seemed a bit stupid to spend another fifteen minutes doing the same thing...

But just two weeks from today, all the stability of this carré lifestyle will cease, and I will begin the journey. One month of going everywhere and no-where: seeing the continent that was built by the train, but which has gradually chosen to marginalise and reduce it's importance as a form of mass passenger transport. Hold on North America, I'm coming...

These past few weeks have beeintersperseded with amusing momentary distractions. During lunch break sojourns on the internet, I've visited dozens of travelogues shared by othetravelersrs. The most recent and entertaining one was the sketchbook travelogue of Ruth McNally Barshaw, a children's book illustrator from Michigan. She recently rode on one of my forthcoming trains - the Lake Shore Limited - to attend a conference in New York City. The entire trip has been uploaded in the pages of her sketchbook, which has been a fantastic inspiration for me to draw more during this trip. The amount that I draw is usually a reflection of how active my mind is, and in the last few months I must confess that the output has slowed to a bare trickle. I will endeavour to find a scanner while en route to share my humble doodlings.

Preparations so far have included but have not been limited to:

  • Asking BM to mail the silky soft and lightweight Thomas Cook Airlines blanket I gave her last year (for overnight trips on trains with overactive air conditioning);

  • Buying up remaindered multipacks of delicious Ilford HP4 black and white film from the photography store just near our apartment;

  • Trawling the Hospitality Club for friendly looking hosts to look after me in the cities where I don't know anyone;

  • Hunting around for diagrams of Amtrak and VIA carraiges to find out where the best seats are;

  • Locating my inflatable neck pillow... everyone has one somewhere... you only ever have to hand when you come back from a trip without it and dig it out for the next one (and which you subsequently forget);

  • Buying maps;

  • Reading the Amtrak System Timetable

  • Researching air fares for a mystery guest who might join me for part of the trip...

It's also been entertaining reading on Wikipedia about the history of the grand lines along which I'll be travelling. I particularly enjoyed the photo above, of Donald Alexander Smith, driving home the last holding spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway on 7 November 1885 near Craigellachie in British Columbia. British Columbia was promised a railway linking it with the east of Canada when it joined the Confederation of Provinces in 1871. It wasn't completed until 1885, when the Canadian Government realised the administration of B.C. was serious about 'defecting' to the United States because of a lack of trans-continental development, and progress was speeded up.

Thank goodness the line and that of the later Canadian National were completed, because this journey probably would not be the same without the sense of achievement I hope to accomplish crossing Canada from the Pacific to Atlantic...