Day 1: Edmonton

04Jan08

Imaged from Wikimedia Commons

In an attempt to get in some traveling between jobs, I’ve decided to spend some beetle probing money on a 30-day unlimited North American rail pass. My final destination is unknown at this point, but for the immediate future I plan to check out the American west coast.

While I’ve crossed the continent via bus several times, I’ve never done a long-distance train trip outside of Europe. Generally, this has been an economic decision; however, it turns out that for youth under 25, the cost of a 30-day pass on VIA is identical to a Greyhound one (I happily discovered this after agonizing over the $130 difference between regular prices). That leaves the trade-off of comfort on the side of VIA versus flexibility (both in terms of frequency of trips and available destinations) and access to Mexico on the side of Greyhound. Additionally, I think that the points I will get from this purchase through VIA’s rewards program will also net me a free, short trip at some point in the future.

In the end though, I think it came down to pure curiosity about train travel: its historic role in Canadian and American expansion; its under-used presence on a continent of car-lovers; its position atop the pedestal of sustainable transport. Hitchhiking would be cheaper, flying would be faster, and busing would let me practice my Spanish, but my hope is that the rail system can serve up the best intangible travel experience. I’m sure that 30 days of non-stop travel of any form is enough to burn that kind of naivety out of anyone, but let’s hope not.

I’m currently in the Edmonton train station; while the VIA trains out west may not have wifi, at least the station does. Currently, I am eating pizza and watching the hockey game while waiting on a train that has been delayed 30 hours. Luckily, I knew it had been delayed, so only have to put in about 3 hours waiting. Interestingly, I’m told that if I were not on the North American pass, I would be entitled to something like a $180 credit for this delay. For the flexible and frugal traveler, it seems that intentionally booking delayed trains would be a great way to travel for cheap. While VIA doesn’t post updated train times on their website, I imagine calling their reservation line would work.

I also plan to try out Couchsurfing, the website/social network for co-ordinating free places to stay, for the first time on this trip. I’ve long been curious about it, and have heard positive reviews from several friends, but yet to put it to use, as either a guest or host. I will be sure to report back on my experiences with it.

90 minutes until the train allegedly gets here. So much for getting to see the Rockies in daylight…

Image by Leonard G. on Wikimedia Commons, released under CC-SA 1.0

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