Sunday, December 28, 2008

Day 10

Merry Christmas! Welcome to the brown north!

Whoever disclaims that Global Warming is happening should be looking at our weather here in the boonies of Donald, Ontario (Koshlong Lake Road, off Haliburton County Road 1). We've had rain the past couple days, temperatures in the low single digits (metric...this means it's in the 40's-50's in fahrenheit), and nearly all the snow we've had here has all but melted away. The lake is breaking up to a certain extent (wasn't ever solid enough for people to go out on the ice much for Michaelea's wish to go ice-fishing while we were out here), and if all that wasn't enough...we're getting so much wind that we've had power bumps pretty much all day and a 4-5 hour long outage. Not quite long enough to warrant getting the generator out of the garage, but long enough to make us think about what needs to be done to get the residence ready for a longer outage, in weather that's potentially just as ugly. In any event, I'm thinking we'll be getting appropriate stuff done tomorrow to make sure we're ready for such a potential eventuality.

Dial-up internet remains a hate for me. Web surfing is pretty much out of the question, and downloading 308 spam messages over dialup is painful at best. At least the home-brewed router (using the iBook G4's modem bridged to the airport connection was easy and reliable) works!

Had a few of the Oshawa based Harrison's (and Chaputs) up to see us today. Nice to visit, right in the middle of the power outage. :-)

Couple days ago, did up a few logs into wood suitable for the wood stove downstairs (thus the lack of worry about heat in the house) with the hydraulic log splitter, and yesterday, Michaelea officially named "Hazel"...that is, she applied the late Aunt Hazel's signature to Dad's new John Deere tractor which he's using for landscaping stuff and snow-blowing. We also did it's first oil and transmission fluid change. Only one broken socket in the ordeal of getting the oil pan drain plug undone! (Doubt we'll ever tighten it up that much again to need a breaker bar and a sturdy socket to get it undone!)

Other than that, life is progressing out here. We'll be posting photos and so forth when we've got broadband internet once again...

Until next time,


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Day 6

Arrived into Union Station last night a little on the late side, give or take about 50 minutes down. Apparently some people on the train only started gathering their rather sizable pile of luggage when the train stopped at Aldershot. The service manager was rather clear for the stops a little further on about getting luggage ready prior to arrival at Oakville if that's where they were getting off.

Stayed at the Strathcona Hotel, the walk to there was a little...interesting shall we say. Not that the distance was any issue, since it was only a block and a bit away from Union Station, but that the snow on the ground made for tough walking and my feet are paying for it. The Sorels work wonderfully at keeping feet warm and dry, rather important with the slush on the sidewalks and really watered down slush at the curb edges crossing the road. But they're not made for a lot of walking and with the condition they're in means that feet move around a bit and my feet are now quite raw. I am quite happy to have running shoes to provide some better support to the feet.

Anyhow, back to the hotel. Everything was good, though internet isn't free, and the room was a little on the small side. But the bed was really comfortable, which after all the "all-nighters" we've pulled over the past few days is Very Appreciated. Answered the alarm on my cell this morning and then promptly fell back asleep. Woke up a little over an hour later when Michaelea advised we'd overslept. I continued sleeping. :-)

Checked out after packing up everything and having a shower. Back over to Union station and found the walk a lot wetter this morning than yesterday. Got to the car rental place (Alamo/Enterprise) and went through the process. The rental agent must've been quite sympathetic to our "adventure" and put me on as a second driver for no charge (regular value of $11/day - When I heard that price, I had pretty much decided that Michaelea would be the driver) and the vehicle we got was considerably "upgraded" from what I was expecting. I had requested a compact car (ie: a Chev Cobalt), and what we got was a Chrysler Sebring! Leather seats, much more room, and potentially even Sirius Radio. Not that we need it since we brought our iPods and the RoadTrip to play our music on the drive.

Departure out of Toronto was rather uneventful, the Don Valley Parkway moved pretty well and the 401 east was pretty good too. Around Oshawa we had to pass by a car which had done something stupid and removed the front bumper at speed, spinning out as well. We followed the ambulance in, but traffic moved around the wreckage pretty smoothly. The rest of the 401 was in wet condition, no worries atll. Once onto the lesser highways, we're noticing a fair amount more slush and lots of fog, but otherwise, no issues for us. Michaelea's even following the rather pedantic speed limits. (out in Alberta, these roads would be rated for at least 90 or 100 rather than 80...)

So we're definitely into dial-up internet after this update (we'll do a bit of war-driving to post this) and enjoying our holiday time with the folks...Next update when we have a few spare minutes.

Cheers to you and yours!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Day 5 Night

We are finally aboard VIA 1 from Windsor to Toronto. The train got going a little late, which will probably mean a night in Toronto for us. Which looks like it's going to be the best thing anyway considering the weather. We will get a room in a Hotel not far from the Toronto Union Station and then pick up the rental car in the morning and then head out. We are hoping that we will be going against the flow of traffic in the morning. We are happy. They have fed us good food and wine, liquor, coffee, and tea, juice. Any type of drink you want. I had a small glass of wine. It's my yearly drink since I am allergic to alcohol. If the entire trip was this nice there would have been a lot less frustration.


So we're going to definitely miss the 10:10 deadline for the car rental. Looked up on the interweb a few hotels close to Union Station and have decided on the Strathcona Hotel which is all of a block and a bit away from the front door of Union Station. It's really _really_ nice to have internet access onboard the train, something I wish would expand out of the Windsor-Quebec Corridor. It'd be handy to have on the Canadian when you'd like to check in on e-mail while you're crossing the country.

I'm glad to have introduced Michaelea to VIA 1...She gets to experience first-hand why I always prefer travelling first class! Life is good at 95mph in the VIA 1 car...

As we don't have internet at the hotel, we'll likely be signing off on this for tonight and perhaps will post one more update before we head out to the hinterland, where we'll be on dial-up internet...Yuck.


Day 5 Afternoon/Evening

We're back in Canada!!!

Yes, it's only Windsor, but at least we're in Canada. Arrived into Detroit (and the station there leaves a lot to be desired...) and had the station agent make a couple phone calls to find us a cab willing to take us across the border into Windsor. Cabs unfortunately are pretty pricey affairs, about $45 flat rate, plus the tolls (about $7.50 US for a round trip). Probably either of our most expensive cab ride yet, and the distance/time wasn't too bad for us, though the bigger problem was for the cabbie going back home. 1) He can't take a fare back to Detroit to alleiviate the trip and 2) the line up going through the tunnel to Detroit was stretched the entire distance of the tunnel and out past the toll gates!

For us in the back seat, the border crossing was pretty smooth, only a few questions and that's it. We had more issues with the customs agent wanting exact placement of the appropriate windows at his window and the cabbie didn't quite comply as nicely as he could've? In any event, we're back...Lunch was typical Canadian Fare. Sandwich or Chili at Tim Hortons, which thankfully is only a block away from the VIA station. I managed to secure a couple tickets for us from Windsor to Toronto while we were stuck waiting for another Amtrak train to pass us outside of Ann Arbour, MI...Thanks to the folks who left their internet connection open for us to "borrow" for a few minutes!

Train is supposed to arrive in Windsor at 5pm, turn around and head back for Toronto at 6pm. Hopefully we can keep to the schedule or else we'll be looking for a hotel tonight in the centre of the universe since the car rental desk closes at 10pm. We've got agreement with them to hang around for 10 minutes after that, in the event our train is on time and arrives at 6 minutes after 10pm. Mich would love to be able to drive up tonight and see her parents, but we'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, we're waiting at Windsor's train station.


PS: We decided for kicks to see what sort of time the Lake Shore Limited left Chicago and see whether we made the right decision to go for Detroit. Sure enough, we absolutely did. The LSL left Chicago around 1:30-2pm this afternoon, which would've guaranteed a missed connection in Rochester or Buffalo and another night in a hotel and another wait for the train to Toronto. Yikes! (and for those wondering the folks waiting for the Empire Builder left about an hour early for the next day's departure time (ie: they're about 23 hours behind schedule!!!)

Day 5 Morning

And the adventure continues...But it's getting to be not so fun any longer. After we signed off on last night's update, we tried to get some form of rest on the floor of the Metropolitan lounge, and during which time, things started to get somewhat ugly. Information was not forthcoming from the people who had it to the people who wanted to share it with us. Conductors came and went with tickets and assurances for those ticketed on the Empire Builder (trains 7 and 27 to Seattle and Portland respectively) and yet the train was not being boarded.

The Lake Shore Limited was even worse...guesses were made as to when the train would be ready to go, but those times came and went and nothing further.

So a few people were demanding to be put up in a hotel but due to the time of day (so late at night, it's morning), the agents in the lounge were not able to help out in that respect. Legal actions were threatened (only in America!), people started rushing the desk, and it wasn't until an Amtrak Police agent came in and very loudly and firmly got everyone back under control.

A little while later (give or take 2:15am), train 354 to Detroit was announced as being ready for boarding. This was a train due to leave Chicago around 6pm but didn't due to much the same reasons why the other trains weren't leaving either (frozen equipment, lack of locomotives, etc.).

So with no news about the Lake Shore Limited, I checked out what sort of availability VIA Rail had out of Windsor. Sure enough, there's space available from Windsor (just across the river from Detroit) to Toronto, and if we're lucky, we'll get into Toronto around 5ish pm as opposed to 8ish...Provided of course that we wouldn't end up with yet another misconnect between the LSL and the Maple Leaf. So, went to talk to Isabelle (one of the Met Lounge agents) and asked if there was space aboard the Wolverine she just announced boarding for. She did, so I said we'll take the train to Detroit and then make our own way to Windsor and VIA. We're now aboard that train, with a somewhat quirky arrangement. Our entire coach of passengers going through to Detroit is sitting backwards, the engine's pushing us (I'm not sure whether we've got a Cab Car or another engine at the "front" of the train), and the door at the back end is stuck open. We're getting a little chilled as a result, but managing to get some sleep in the trip. I gave Michaelea the idea to use the toque as an eye mask, and once she removed her glasses, worked fine. Managed to get some decent sleep too. Me, I got a few winks here and there, and hopefully will get a few more aboard VIA. After all, if the car rental is still available (and bloody well should be given that I made a couple phone calls yesterday to Alamo's main call centre and the Toronto desk to advise of our late arrival and to NOT give our car away since we're no-shows for the 22nd), we've got ourselves a few more hours at the wheel to get to the cottage outside of Haliburton.

So, upcoming will be arrival into Detroit (hopefully not much more than an hour) and then get the Maple Leaf refunded, and find a cab willing to take us across the border into Canada.



Monday, December 22, 2008

Day 4 night

They still can not get us into a sleeper for our train tonight. We were supposed to start boarding at 8pm for our train which was supposed to leave at 10pm, but it is now 9:30pm and they still have not called our train. We don't know when we are going to be able to leave at this point. We are hoping that it won't be too much longer.

Update: it's now almost one am, and still no news for our train. Several other trains have left but no word on ours... We were told midnight but that has come and gone without any further news. {sigh}

Day 4 Evening

Amtrak put us up in the Hyatt for the afternoon. We jumped in the
shower as soon as we got into the room on the 20th floor, it was so
nice to get clean. After our showers we went to find a bite to eat.
Out of the 4 restaurants in the hotel the most expensive one was open.
We each had chicken caesar salad. I ordered a ginger ale and the
waiter got me a regular one and then he came back with one that he
mixed himself which was lighter and less fizzy. It was nice. We then
headed back to the hotel room and took a nap for the afternoon. I
still woke up with a migrane, but felt refreshed. We are now back at
the Amtrak station waiting for 8pm which is when we are supposed to be able to start boarding our train. I am in the "Sleeper Car" special
waiting room and Jon is out exploring the train station and seeing if
we can get a sleeper on the car. Due to the large amount of delays we
may just get lucky and get one.

There is so little room left that I am sitting on the floor behind one
of the chairs. There are lots of people standing as well. They just
told about 10 trains that they are delayed and that they will not be
getting dinner on the train. They are encouraged to go and get
something in the food court and that they would be re-imbursed for the cost of the meal. Up to $18.00 per adult and up to $9.00 for kids.
Jon went and checked for sleepers and unfortunately, no luck. We'll try talking to the conductor to see if anyone missed their connection (like us last night) and left some space open. Jon also grabbed some goodies for our trip, some cinnabon cinnamon rolls, plus some assorted junk food for us while we're waiting or on the train.

The Adventure continues!

Day 4 Morning

We have arrived in Chicago and are now sorting things out at the station. We were booked on the Lakeshore Limited to Rodchester for last night in a sleeper, but now are booked for tonight in coach. At this point we didn't care we just wanted to get on a train in the right direction. The people going to Detroit got bussed there since the train was cancelled so plan B wasn't going to work, not only that but we would have missed those connections as well. Jon is calling the car rental place to make sure that they hold our car reservation for another day and now they inform me that we can get a hotel and they will give us money for a taxi and a couple of meals. Once Jon's back we will look into that option. I could really use a shower right now. I have clean clothes on, but my hair is really feeling dirty and the shower Jon took on the train was a quick cold shower so I'm sure he'd like to get clean too.

So in all if the rest of the trip goes well we should arrive at Mom & Dad's late on the 23rd or morning of the 24th.

Day 4 morning

Around 5:20am, we were woken up by an announcement from Charles to announce the first and last call for breakfast in the diner, and that he would want access to the room before Chicago as he wanted off the train as quickly as possible. I think the rest of us were in full agreement. Arrival in Chicago is slated to be arond 8:30am, which all but kills our chances of getting the Wolverine to Detroit and then Windsor to Toronto today. We'll have to wait and see what the options are for us to get to Toronto. All we hope that it's not on a bus!

Pulling into Milwaukee and hopefully we can find a wi-fi spot to post this and last night's message. Most of the hotspots which have shown up on the computer are all locked, and that's if they show up at all in the first place.

Breakfast this morning was pretty disappointing for Jon, as they were serving Scrambled Eggs and French Toast. That's it! For those who
have never had breakfast with Jon, he's never enjoyed or tolerated
eating food whose primary ingredient is Eggs. Nothing for cereal,
toast, etc. He went to the lounge car and found little there in the frozen space worth the price being asked, so he's been munching on cookies to take the hunger pangs off.

The adventure continues...

Day 3 Evening

We're still moving, thankfully. Passed through Fargo, ND
approximately 16.5 hours behind. On the bright side, we'll get a full
night to sleep in for arrival into Chicago...

We had lunch in the diner with a couple who boarded in Portland,
headed for Columbus, Wisconsin. They're in coach and one of them
isn't taking the night in coach very well... We had the Angus
Burgers, served with Chips. Now, bear in mind, these aren't the
"English" chips, as it's pretty dangerous to have a deep fryer aboard
a train. (A good bump happens pretty often, and I can only imagine
the horror of scalding oil on a cook's hands!) Of course, good news
with the bad. We were parked at Minot, ND getting various things with
the train corrected, one of which was a frozen shower drain on our
sleeper, which was fixed just as we were called for lunch. The car
attendant said that due to the major cold, the drain was freezing
solid and requiring a blow torch to unblock. He said that if we
wanted to use the shower to do it quickly after it was unblocked. The
shower's been well used afterwards, thankfully hasn't been blocked up
again, but the water heater is barely functional. Takes the water
from 4 degrees celcius to maybe 15 degrees. Needless to say, it's
still this ->||<- cold!

Weather is warming up a little bit as we approach Chicago. Defect
detectors have been reading not much better than -9F for temperatures,
and is now fully dark. Not terribly surprising on the shortest day of
the year.

Off to dinner now...just got the call for our dinner reservation.

Dinner was good we both had the Flat Iron Steak dinner which included
a baked potato, mixed vegetables, and a starter salad. Dinner was
really good and filling. For dessert Michaelea had chocolate icecream
and I had vanilla.
After dinner the showers were unblocked, but there wasn't much in the
way of hot water. Jon tried having a shower and it was a quick on. I
didn't even try. Charles our attendant stopped in to make sure Jon got
his shower and to see if we wanted our beds made up. We decided we
would get the beds done now so that he can get some rest before
Minneapolis/St. Paul. We will try again to get an internet connection

Breakfast if we want it is going to be served between 5:30am and 7am
tomorrow morning to allow all of us getting off a chance for something
to eat, since we are going to be into Chicago at 8am. We were supposed
to be there at 3:45pm this afternoon.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Day 3

We woke up sort of, since we never did really go to sleep just stayed
in that travel sleep not quite asleep but aware of your surroundings,
at 7am Mountain Time with a Station stop and the announcement for
breakfast. It is -27F outside right now -33C or just under. The
scenery is farmland and hills spotted with the odd tree here and
there. We have seen 4 pheasants as we go by. It is much like the
Alberta scenery. We are now passing Bainville which has a bunch of
pump jacks scattered in the field and a cemetery. The sun is now
cresting the hills and spreading a warm glow on everything despite the

We went for breakfast in the Dining car. They called our names and
since our car is at the front of the train and the dining car is near
the back it took a long time to get there. They even did a second
calling for our names, we were only one car away at that point. Jon
had the Continental Breakfast with oatmeal and a biscuit and I had the
french toast. We sat with another young couple going to Detroit to
visit his parents.

Just out of Minot the operating crew ran out of hours. They are only
allowed to be working for 12 hours and not a mintue more, so as i
update this note we are waiting for the "dog catch" crew (Engineers
and Conductors) to arrive. I guess that's what happens when your train
is 14-15 hours late. We figure we'll be into Chicago around 7am on the
22nd and then we (us and Amtrak's Customer Relations desk in Union
Station) need to figure out what to do from there.

We are haning out in our room watching the scenery and playing games.
We would go to the Sightseer Lounge, but one of them is being used for
extra Coach passengers and the other one is really cold. I guess there
are advantages to being close to the engine when it is so cold
outside. When we walk through the cars on the way to the Dining Car
the temperature seems to drop the farther away from the engine we are.

We have seen more pheasants and grouse along the sides of the tracks.
The scenery still looks like prairie, but there are a few more trees
now, most likely planted by the original farmers.

The crew is now changed out and we are stopped in Minot to pick up
passengers and unthaw heating systems and water systems. Jon is hoping
that they'll get the showers running.
If you get this that means the freight train has passed and I'll get
the signal back from the houses across the street.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Day 2: Evening

We sat in the waiting room at the Shelby, MT train station. There were movies on, but due to the large amount of people waiting for the train going West it was too noisy to hear it, so I bought a word search magazine and Jon and I worked on it until out butts were too sore to sit on and we walked around the small station, played games and talked to the other people in the station. Quite a few freight trains were getting through before the Westbound train got in. Jon ran out and took pictures of most of them. The westbound train came in at 7:30pm, only about two hours late. We wish ours was only that late. Everyone in the station was really nice. After the westbound train boarded there were only 5 of us left in the waiting room until around 10:30 when more people started arriving. We ended up eating our leftover pizza at around 9pm. The station manager let us use the microwave to heat up the pizza and wings. At the time I write this we are still waiting. By the way the windchill is -37F outside which is about -38C, -40 is when it equals out. If the train does show up at 1:05 as they are now predicting we will get into Chicago at around midnight on the 22nd of December and then we still have to make our way to Canada. We will miss our connection in Chicago to Rodchester or Buffalo, and the following train is solidly booked, so we're not sure what we're doing once we get there. We may take a train to Detroit and take a Taxi across the border to Windsor, ON and take the VIA into Toronto from there rent a car to get to Haliburton. That's just a guess. We really don't know at this point and are calmly taking it as it comes. It's all part of the adventure.

Day 2 Afternoon

Afternoon of Day 2:
We are currently sitting in the Shelby, Montana USA Train station waiting for our train which is over 11 hours late to arrive. Murray stayed with us for most of the day and we took a quick trip to Havre, MT to do some railfanning. We went to the Amtrak station to see how late the train was. We found out that tomorrow's trains were cancelled. We then went to the railway museum and looked around for a little while before going to K-mart and Wal-mart Superstore.
We decided to have a late lunch at Pizza Hut in Shelby since we didn't know when our next meal would be. We now have pizza and wings leftover for our dinner/snack tonight. Either that or we share with the others in the station.
Stay tuned for our next chapter of our adventure..

Day 2 Morning

We stayed in the Comfort Inn at Shelby
We woke up to more freezing temperatures. We know the train is going to be late, we just don't know by how much. Today is going to be an adventure! Now we're off for breakfast.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Christmas Trip 2008 Day 1

We left Calgary at 5:05pm on Friday December 19th in Murray's truck. Due to the bad weather we didn't go through the city, but took hwy 24 South to Lethbridge. The roads were fairly good with a few icy sections.
We headed south to the border at Coutes and then to Shelby. We arrived in Shelby at 10pm. The border guard at Coutes was really nice. He is a rail fan too. We invited him to Calgary for the Supertrain show that we
are involved in.