I don’t believe in having regrets. Everything that happened or didn’t happen in my life has led me to where I am, here and now. I can’t even regret the years of trauma I endured because without them, I wouldn’t have two beautiful children. They say at the end of your life the things you regret are the things you didn’t do. The closest thing I have to a regret is one of those things.
When I was 18 or 19, I had my heart broken. I decided I needed an escape, a change of scenery, time to rest and reflect. A friend of mine who lived in Kelowna invited me to come and stay with her for a couple of days. I boarded a train in Calgary.
Oh, what a tragic figure I painted! Girl travelling alone, tears streaming down her face, writing sad poetry in her journal. But riding through the Rockies, feeling the rumble of the train beneath me, watching the spectacular scenery pass by – I didn’t stay sad long. I was a bit of a drama queen and rather enjoyed playing out the role of the broken-hearted. Eventually, it began to get dark. It was, after all, early October. I moved from my seat by the window to the club car, which was nearly full. An old man waved me over and patted the empty seat next to him.
I settled in, ordered a vodka soda, and we began to talk. His wife had passed away just a few months earlier, and he was on his way to Vancouver to see his kids. For the next few hours, we talked and drank together, revealing things about ourselves that are sometimes easier to say to strangers than the people who love us. As the alcohol found a foothold, our conversation became lighter, filled with laughter and a comfortable companionship. A couple of hippy-looking dudes who didn’t speak English pulled out a guitar and began to play songs everyone seemed to know. Before long the entire club car was singing along. One of them beamed at me. My companion nudged me and said, “See that? Smiles, laughter, and music. That is the real language of love.”
I got off the train in Salmon Arm, smoked a joint with a couple of backpackers who were sleeping in the station and made my way over to a 24-hour coffee shop to wait out the four hours before I could catch a bus to Kelowna. During my coffee shop stay, I made friends with a young runaway. We talked for hours, exchanged poems, and just before my bus arrived, we used the payphone to call his mom. He hugged me before I boarded the bus, said he would always remember this night and the way I helped him find his way home again.
The rest of the trip didn’t matter. I learned the journey really was more important than the destination. I learned there were more people who wanted to help you than there were people who wanted to hurt you, and from there, the dream was born.
One day, I would ride the train from coast to coast. I would meet people, listen to their stories, and experience the whole of the country by rail.
But there was always some reason I couldn’t go. There were no cell phones back then, and I worried something might happen to someone in my family and no one would be able to reach me.
The truth is, I wasn’t bold enough. How different might my life have been if I had boarded that train?
Again, regrets are something I won’t allow myself. Maybe someday I will board that train and from there who knows what might happen?
In the nearby town of Summerland is the Kettle Valley Steam Train. It’s a 90-minute, round trip, scenic tour of the area. While it’s not the same as a cross-Canada journey, I thought it was something I should do anyway. Impulsively, I booked two tickets and dragged Santana along for the ride.
The valley was hazy from wildfires across the border, but the sun was shining, and the air smelled of autumn. I had booked an open-air carriage, wanting to experience this with all my senses. I wasn’t disappointed. The whistles and bells of the train, the stunning views of the valley, the way falling leaves would blow inside the carriage, and of course, the pure joy of being on a train again remembering that long-ago journey made the whole thing worthwhile.
The dream is still alive.
8 thoughts on “Trains”
Thank you for sharing that story! A train trip across Canada – that really would be amazing. But the Kettle Valley steam train is nothing to sneeze at either.
Thank you, Angelika! I wonder if Steve would enjoy the trip…
Really enjoyed this post! I’ve dreamed of a cross-Canada rail trip, too, ever since I watched “The Railrodder” as a child (multiple times–such fun!). Our family did do a cross-Canada road trip the summer I turned 16. I didn’t appreciate the whole 6-people-in-a-4-person-tent-trailer experience as much then as I probably should have…. But lots of good memories looking back (and lots of photos! and a notebook full of daily comments, post cards, etc.) … I did enjoy a railway trip from Prince Rupert to Prince George to Kamloops at one point (even though I was sick and looking after 5 little kidlings… another kind of adventure, LOL!). Anyway, thanks for the memories … and dreams….
I’m glad you enjoyed it, Norma. I took the time to watch The Railrodder. Made me laugh.
Wonderful post Sally. So beautifully written–I felt I was there. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for reading! I miss you. Hope to connect soon.
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The train rides in India are some of my favorite memories of the four months I spent there (2 trips). One “11-hr. express train” trip stretched out to 26 hours because heavy fog slowed the train. We didn’t mind a bit – so many interesting people to talk with. Everyone has a story they’d love to tell you. Beautifully done, as always, Sally.
Thank you, Aggie! I’d love to hear more about India one day.
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