Theres something exciting about flagging down a roaring diesel train by placing a small green and white flag into a six by six wooden post. Thousands of tons of steel come screeching, belching and grinding to a stop, air brakes snorting like some huge beast of burden when it finally rests in front of you. The train man, hanging from a hand rail, drops to the ground and places an aluminum step on the gravel in front of your feet. The experience is even more exciting when the flag stop is only 30 feet from your house.
This is how my son Jonathan and I began our adventure from Alta Lake to 100 Mile House this summer. With the Cariboo Prospector slated to grind to a final halt at the end of October, it was our last chance to venture by rail into the vast north of our province.
Our backpacks loaded with camping gear, we wave goodbye to the rest of the family and step up into the moving world of the rail car. With my minidisc recorder running, I try to capture the end of an era: the hisses and whistles of the train, the banter of the tourists, the conductors announcements; I have my camera ready for the scenery, my notepad at my side. Jonathan, however, is the ultimate journalist. He absorbs everything through his senses and, without the aid of technology, commits it deeply to memory. When youre eight years old thats simply what you do, even without a commission to write an article.
The train is nearly full and we have to sit separately for the first stretch. Im amazed that BC Rail would even consider shutting down this service after 90 years of running it through various sections between North Vancouver and Prince George, and 50 years of maintaining the entire line. This was the train that first opened up Alta Lake to tourists for trout fishing. It does the same now for numerous resorts in the Cariboo and northern Interior. In many ways its the lifeline of the province that connects the north and central Interior to the coast.
But politics can wait until later. Right now its the experience of riding the rails that takes over. Theres something unique about a train trip a feeling of community perhaps because the cars are all linked together. And theres a sense of pre-destiny the tracks have already been laid, the course is set. The journey is everything in this Zen mode of travel more important than the destination. We have no idea what awaits us at 100 Mile House, but for six hours we know well be riding between the rails with all these other folks.