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Train Hopping Across Canada - part 3

by Rodney Graham for Street Sheet Canada in Winnipeg, Manitoba

 

Toronto to Halifax
To make a long story short I'm just going to narrate this little end story about my cross Canada trip by freight train. I have to admit I did not ride any freight east of Montreal to Halifax unfortunately because I made one of biggest mistakes inexperienced hoppers make. In Montreal I failed to read my crew change book thoroughly and focus on thoughts about where I should catch out. I had spent two days in the Mac Yard bushes waiting for a train - that's in Toronto York. I finally decided that I would do what something I was afraid to - I approached a train I thought was heading east and yelled up at the engineer - and he let me on the third engine! I was glad to get out of Toronto with its humidity, mosquitoes, and smog. It took about 11 hours to get to Montreal.

The engineer who let me on in the Mac yard had told me to get off before the "yard" in Montreal so I was caught up looking for a normal yard when we arrived - I should have got off at the crew change (near Agrinon Station) and waited right there for my next eastbound train. You almost always get on the train at the same place you get off at. The problem was I was confused and thought there was no "yard", I guess it was but a small one with only two or three sidetracks and it was the regular crew change.

Stupidly, I walked a further two miles up the tracks between a massive freeway with the tracks in between the train tracks. It was another hot day - about 30c with high humidity! I was looking for a big train yard. Never found it! I did find a relatively big yard though, but didn't realize it was abandoned and just use to park junk stuff.

I trudged back to a neighbourhood called Point St. Charles just before the abandoned yard and tried to sleep that night in the bushes by the tracks behind a supermarket. I couldn't sleep because of millions of mosquitoes. My legs and arms were looking like I had some disease by now. It's a nice little neighbourhood though with old row houses that are 300 years old - and little grocery stores that sell cold beer.

I should add a few details about my two day stay there, despite the fact I was eaten alive and was severely uncomfortable I did enjoy going into town and seeing the neighbourhood I once lived in - on Durochere St. beside McGill University - I lived there for 6 months. I loved the Montreal Canadien hockey games and crazy nights on St. Denis St. on weekends. It sure was a fun city.

If you don't speak French you may have trouble getting info in Point St. Charles since many do not speak English. It's much like Europe. Anyway, I finally gave up trying to catch out and made the mistake of hitch hiking out to Halifax.

The reason I was making stupid mistakes was because of the sheer discomfort and tiredness - I was exhausted from lack of sleep and too much heat. The millions of mosquitoes were the breaking point. I could have read the crew change book that clearly stated to catch out under a certain bridge near Agrinon subway and would have realized it was the very place I had walked away from! But when you brain is baking you can't think I guess.

That's another thing I admire about the wanderers - they are tough as nails and as resourceful. They're smart in tough situations and survive well. I'll bet the SAS or the Navy Seals could learn a thing or two from them.

Before I headed out on the 3rd day I walked up St. Denis St. and saw the Just For Laughs Festival. There were a lot of weird people in strange costumes doing pantomime and comedy acts on the sidewalks. There was an outdoor theater showing Just for Laughs "Gags" episodes. What a hilarious show it is. I love it on TV as much as the Simpson's.

I jumped a subway to the outskirts and then a city bus. I was then near the highway heading east. As I got of the bus the driver asked me if I was worried about the mosquitoes. I still hadn't got any mosquito repellent because I was broke and my bank was not allowing me to use me overdraft! His words soon came to haunt me! I got a fast ride to Joliette, Quebec but as soon as I got out of the car I realized there were billions of mosquitoes on the side of the road. I could get no respite even though I had a mosquito net that I wore from waist and cover my head. You have to use spray with as much DEET as possible in it.

I spent the night swatting mosquitoes in Joliette. I finally got a ride in the early afternoon - the bugs had died down by then! I was laying on my back by the side of the highway enjoying a little shade from a highway sign I was actually trying to sleep by then. A mini van pulled up beside me and I heard some one yell, "Do you want a ride guy?" I was so tired and dazed I had trouble getting up and scrambling but I felt as though I had been redeemed and on my way to heaven! I was feeling in bad shape I tell you!

He was a young fellow of 26, a MicMac French Metis: with a strange name - Zakhary. He drove me from St. Thomas to Riviere De Loop, a town on the mighty St. Lawrence River. It was just short of the NB border.

I was fortunate now to have a bottle of bug spray and even got some money out of an ATM machine because a relative sent me some money. Things from here picked up a bit. However, don't try hitch hiking in New Brunswick, you'll have a hard time getting a ride. I enjoyed a big hoagie sandwich and sat looking out over the St. Lawrence, which winds its way past the town of Riveire De Loop. The banks of the town rise quite high above the river - about 400 feet at least I would say, so the view, particularly with a setting sun which there was, is quite beautiful indeed. Drinking a fresh coffee and seeing this scenery I felt I was really enjoying my adventure after all.

I finally wandered with my backpack towards the highway and set up under an underpass. After about 4 hours I became rather disheartened and decided to stash my pack and climb the hill to the gas station and I bought a 2 litre of beer.

I sat another two hours trying to hitch. A car pulled over a few hundred feet in front of me - two young women hopped out. They had no packs or anything so they must have been fairly local. They walked passed me and just said hello and then politely positioned themselves a ways up the highway - behind me. I think the second car that came by picked them up! I sat there another hour and finally was given a ride (mercifully) from an old fellow of about 75 years of age. He drove me all the way to Fredericton, which is a ways, and we got there around 6 AM.

He let me off at what he said was a good free hostel - the kind I never stay at - your stuff gets stolen and the employees are usually rude as hell. The guy at the desk, however, told me I could sleep on a couch until morning shift could give me a bed. That was overly optimistic, however, as a sadist was to be the next employee on duty!

I awoke after a short twenty minutes to a stout woman with burly arms and legs and wearing a crew cut. I think she may have been wearing army boots or something too I'm not sure because I was so shocked to see this frightening person yelling down at me, as I lay dozy and exhausted. After listening to her nasty harangue for a minute I suddenly jumped up and started jumping up and down - and I was totally naked - and started yelling, "hallelujah! I'm saved; Mother Theresa came to save me from poverty and wickedness! - Yahoo!"

Well she was so shocked she just walked away looking for another poor bastard to abuse. I call her type - "poverty pimps". She probably makes a handsome wage too... All the money for "good programs" often goes the way of these kinds of parasites. They whine about the system and inequity and then gobble up the funding on administration and more bureaucracy. It's the same across Canada.

I dressed and got out into the light. Fortunately there was an environmental group I am acquainted with there in Fredericton and I went canvassing door to door for them, something I'm skilled at. I made enough to pay for a few days at the pay hostel, which is in an old nunnery and serves as an International Hostel in the summer and a student residence in winters. It's a great hostel and only about 20 bucks a night.

Fredericton is a historic town and was an English Garrison at one time. There are a lot of touristy things to see, like old houses and a fort, and lots of people playing bagpipes if you like em. It's a laid back quiet town, nice to lay back and rest and recuperate - which is what I did.

The rest of my trip is not terribly interesting. I took the bus to Halifax from here stopping in Moncton for a few hours. Moncton is a nice town too. It's similar to Fredericton. People seem quite normal and not unfriendly at all.

In Halifax I stayed at the Heritage Halifax, an old courthouse: usually lots of European twinks there and some staff seem to be snobbish people. I just ignore that however, and usually get along - but a couple of kids from Germany got me in trouble saying I snore so loud (which is true) but an employee told me they were booked a few days after I had been there - I knew he was lying because another employee told me so. There is a real rush for space in summer months there so pay in advance a few days - if you can afford to or you might get shafted/framed...

I met several wanderers in an area called the "Commons" where people squeegee and flag cars at the intersection there. I met a couple of new faces too: Chris and Anthony, two train hoppers who have travelled across the U.S. They're from Boston: and their friend Mark from Halifax. I met Dale there with his dog. He gave me good info about hopping as usual. He's the prince of Canada's hoppers I'd say - probably hopping around more than anybody out there. Beerdo and Sarah were also there. I forgot to ask them if they had their "boxcar wedding" - I remember they had mentioned it the year before in Winnipeg. Joel was also there with his dog. Another interesting character I met again for the second time that year was "Digger", a young fellow from Scotland. I had met him earlier in Victoria, BC. Digger said he and Theresa were heading to St John's, Newfoundland because people were a bit snobbish in Halifax - something I would have to agree with. I did hop from Halifax to Winnipeg but will save that for another article. For pics of my trip(s) go to "rodney-graham.magix.net".