The train pulls through the night. It rolls into town and the horn blasts three times, echoes rippling round the valley. Orange headlights cut through the darkness like ghostly eyes. The diesel engine rumbles past our van; the commotion pulls me from sleep. I lie still and listen to the endless carriages which follow. They squeak and grumble in protest.
The train pulls through the night. Relentless. A constant force which cannot be stopped or slowed. The train passes through Canadian wilderness, through the alpine. The climbing in the mountains is on a scale we can’t comprehend: distances are days and peaks are giants. We’ve stood on snowy summits in the evening glow, an untouched world stretching to every horizon. My heart beats faster as I remember the fear: each time we shoulder our packs and step into the hills we make a bond of strength and courage, but we step into the unknown.
In the light of a full moon the train slides past dark mountains and shadowed forests, silhouetted against the night sky. Sparks flash from the wheels and bounce on the tracks. A silver river is caught in the moonlight. The train shimmers in a reflection.
As this train passes us, carriage after carriage behind the thunder of the engine, we wait for several minutes. We’re parked near the centre of town, saving money by sleeping in the back of the rental van. Every few hours another train pulls me from silence, my anger rising with each blast from the horn. We’ll find a different place to sleep tomorrow.
The train pulls through the day, too, and we see it snake through the valley when we climb on the limestone walls. From our perch way above the town, we see everything. Containers stacked double, old and weary in the sunlight. Faded graffiti. Paint peeling after years of pushing, pulling, protesting. Each train travels day and night, through towns and cities.
The train pulls through the night. This train finally passes our van and the rumbling fades. I lie still, a deeper quiet returning. I take comfort in the silence. I think of tomorrow’s journey, into the Rockies again. We’ll walk higher and higher through the trees, leaving the road behind. We’ll criss-cross through limestone bands, loose blocks stacked tall. We’ll crunch snow beneath our boots. The mountains will grow to their full height and we’ll stare at the rock in front of crisp blue skies. These are the mountains we’ve been dreaming of. Alpine north faces await.
The train pulls on, the destination unknown.
This piece was written in September 2015, when Uisdean Hawthorn and I spent a month climbing in the Canadian Rockies. We were on a tight budget, sleeping in our rental people carrier car in Canmore. On one of the first nights we were repeatedly woken by massive trains which sounded their horn as they rumbled through town. We were livid!
I was going to write a follow-up to this piece, because this year (2016), Uisdean and I returned to the Rockies and had a much more successful alpine climbing trip. We also stayed at Nick Sharpe's apartment (thank you a million times, Nick!). This meant we didn't see or hear from our old friend, the jumbo trains! What a relief.