On day 3 of the trans Canada train trip I woke up in Winnipeg. My last trip to Manitoba’s capital didn’t go so well, it went terribly.
In the summer of 2009, along with two friends, Coop and Kirsten, we decided that it would be fun to bicycle across Canada from Victoria to St. John’s. I never would make it to St. John’s, but that isn’t what this story is about. What this story is about is my disastrous expedition into Winnipeg.
I can’t recall where exactly we had started that day, but to get into Winnipeg we had cycled over 180 km. All three of us were shattered, it was getting dark, and the campground we had set as our destination was nowhere to be found. Things were getting desperate.
We did find the campground, or what was left of it. The front gate was chained up, the grass was waist-high, and there were derelict camping trailers everywhere. If there ever was the perfect spot for a serial killer to hang out, this was it. There were so many good places for him or her to hide, I could be killed at any moment then turned into a lamp shade and no one would be the wiser.
The place was creepy, but it was also abandoned. It was getting late and there weren’t a lot of options for accommodation in the area.
I thought this place was fine, “Guys let’s just stay here, it’s abandoned. Who knows the water might even be running.”
Coop was keen. Camping here meant a free night, he saw the value in that. Looking for a new camp ground meant more biking, and neither of us really wanted to sit on a bike seat anymore.
Kirsten on the other hand was a little more reluctant, and we should have listened to her. Coop and I dismissed her fears of this creepy camp ground as ungrounded paranoia. You know what Coop and I forgot? That women are usually right, and every now and then you need to camp in a serial killers lair to realize that.
The three of us unpacked our bikes and started to set up shop for the night. There was a payphone that worked, so I used it. This did not set off any alarm bells in my head.
At the conclusion of my phone call Coop and I did a brief survey of the area. What used to be the head office of the camp ground was now an old dilapidated shack. Its roof sagged so low and the walls leaned so sharply that most people wouldn’t feel safe storing their garden tools in there.
I knocked on the door. There was no answer. Things seemed normal for an abandoned campground. At this point things would start to get a little weird.
There was classical music playing faintly. Just loud enough to be heard, and just quiet enough to be as scary as possible. Coop heard it first, but after he pointed it out I couldn’t ignore it.
It got worse. While we were trying to listen for any signs of life in the shack, we noticed that there was a single lamp on in the house. If that wasn’t bad enough the lamp had a sheet draped over it to dull the light. There was a very real possibility that we were dealing with a vampire den. Whatever it was, I didn’t want to wake up missing a few pints of blood.
Coop and I exchanged panicked and confused glances. In silence we acknowledged that Kirsten was right about this place. We didn’t tell her what we had just seen. What we did tell her was that we needed to pack up our shit and get out.
“What’s wrong guys?”
Coop, “Nothing we just need to go, now.”
Our escape was cut short. An old blue truck with an even older driver tore into the grounds and drove straight for us. He stopped, I spoke first.
“We thought you guys might be open but I guess no, we’re packing up now.”
His response, “Yep, just letting the grass takeover.”
To me this doesn’t sound like a profitable business model. We got out of their in a hurry, and stayed in a hotel that had heavy doors with good locks. For dinner we had Taco Bell and beer. It was a survivors feast.
This was my first and only experience in Winnipeg.
My second tour went a little bit better in some ways and worse in others.
My first order of business for my second visit to Winnipeg was to break the toilet. It wouldn’t flush anymore, for reasons unknown. I know what you’re thinking, and I didn’t clog it. It was a public toilet, I could have walked away, it could have been the perfect crime. My conscience prevailed. I let the Porter know of my handy work, he thanked me. It was the end of his shift and he was almost free, and I broke the toilet.
I left the train and the broken toilet in my canvas multipurpose slippers to discover that there was 10cm of fresh snow on the ground. My slippers are good for a lot of things, wading through snow was not one of them. Being a retired boy scout I did bring my winter boots.
Winnipeg was a winter wonderland, therefore the first order of business was to leave my mark on the city. With an untainted patch of snow in a parking lot, I carved my name into the fresh white canvas. I realized after the fact that someone could easily turn my artful, ‘Nik’ into ‘Nik’s stupid.’ There aren’t that many Niks without the ‘c’ tucked in their, so that low brow slander could eventually get back to me.
Winnipeg looked nice with a fresh coat of snow, but everything does. In fairness to Winnipeg, my second visit was much more enjoyable and far less terrifying than my first.
Back on board the train we were making our way through the prairies. I’ve been through the prairies once before on a bicycle and in addition to losing a few pounds, I very nearly lost my sanity. I saw the trains going past me as I pedaled, and I dreamed of a day when I would be on that train. That day has come.
In 2009 I passed through the prairies on a bicycle in the summer, in 2011 I was taking a train in the winter being served three course meals three times a day. Did I mention that they make my bed every day? How times have changed.
My mode of transportation is different to say the least, but the prairies themselves are different as well. Being on a train that powers through a prairie expanse now covered in a dusting of snow seems almost romantic, not that I’m into that kind of stuff. I sit and write in my cabin with a panoramic postcard for a window. I don’t know how I survived this fertile wasteland on a bicycle.
There is something indescribable and exciting about lying down for the day and having a continent whizzing by all around. I sleep surrounded by change. This is in stark contrast to sleeping in my apartment in Parkdale, Toronto. There the only thing that buzzes around me are the hordes of cockroaches that sneak around in my walls.
I spend my day writing, napping, and thinking. This trip is more fun than I could have hoped. I like to think of it as an early taste of retirement, and if this is any indicator of how retirement is gonna go, then I’ll get along just fine.