Fixing super heater tubes on CP 2816

It doesn’t take long for me to get back into the swing of (some) things. I’m already working on trains again. This time, it’s the locomotive from which I caught the train chasing bug.

I got a call from Don on Saturday, wanting the tapes I shot for 6060’s trip out to Jasper last year (see [[The Great Jasper Run, CN 6060 Stettler, Red Deer, Edmonton, Hinton, Jasper]]). We chatted briefly, then mentioned that I should drop by the roundhouse at CP’s Alyth Yard to see 2816 all steamed up. Asking if the engine were heading back to Vancouver for a six-month inspection or more work, Don replied that 2816 was making a run from Calgary to Banff and back with some of CP’s executives. I was to drop by around 11:00am on Sunday.

When I arrived, Don’s truck was nowhere in sight. Having never been here before, and coming at Don’s invitation — not CP’s — I was careful to wait for my escort. Don arrived shortly afterwards, and I followed him in.

2816 was not out in the yard, or even on the turntable (as I’d hoped). It was tucked inside, the smokebox cover completely removed, the superheater covers removed, and four men milling around inside. Present were Bill (2816’s lead engineer), Jim (CP employee, RMRS member, and steam locomotive engineer — Jim had run 6060 to Jasper with us last year), Al Broadfoot (who supervised 2816’s overhaul), and another man who I’d never met before.

It seemed that the night before, after Don had left, Bill noticed an odd noise in the smokebox. Upon investigation, he found steam eminating from one of the flue tubes. That could mean only one thing — a superheater had burst.

We had arrived to find them in the midst of removing superheater tubes. Luckily, they knew exactly which one was giving them trouble, but it was tucked behind a couple of other tubes that needed to be removed first. This involved using an overhead crane for support, and a forklift for leverage. Superheater tubes, especially in larger locomotives, are extremely heavy. Removing them by hand is torture (or so I’m told by the 6060 crew, who had to do just that).

I didn’t directly participate. Partly because Bill and Al don’t know me, but also because I have no idea what I’m doing. I’ve never seen this done before, let alone participated. I fell into my role of gopher. (Which I’m quite comfortable at, especially with people who know a lot more than I do.) That basically meant a coffee run.)

While all this was happening, I had long chats with Al. It would appear that my education of Al has been woefully one-sided. I’ve heard lots of stories and some generally not nice things about him. I’d always been a little skeptical … but not enough. Al seems to be a genuinely honest man, trying to keep locomotives in good running shape. This is what I gathered talking to him directly. He actually mourned the RMRS’ lack of a proper shop to maintain 6060. (This is something everyone agrees with.) Needless to say, if for nothing else, I’m glad I went just so I could talk with Al.

The troubled superheater soon slid out of the boiler. As it popped out and was slowly lowered to the ground, water seeped from the bend. Etched in the forged piece was a tiny hole, about 1/16th of an inch across. Possibly a thin-walled area, aggravated by a grape (a weld that has pooled into a sphere on the inside) causing an eddy, bored right through the side.

Normally, this would sideline a locomotive. But with CP’s resources, it’s a matter of cutting off the offending piece and getting in a welder to attach a new bend. Jim knew a good one in town who could come the following day to fix it.

We left 2816 in the roundhouse, covers off, superheaters laid out, awaiting repairs. It almost looked like a patient anxiously awaiting a dentist to fill a cavity. It’s due to run to Banff (Bamf!) on Friday. I’m pretty sure it will.

Home for a rest

You’ll have to excuse me,
I’m not at my best.
I’ve been gone for a month,
I’ve been drunk since I left.
These so-called vacations
will soon be my death.
I’m so sick from the drink,
I need home for a rest.
— “Home For A Rest”, Spirit of the West

I arrived in Calgary last night at 8:30pm. It was dark, cold, dry, and I was harbouring my second illness in a month. The snow that fell here only days ago was gone (thankfully — I don’t think I’m ready for that yet). But it already felt like home.

My house was full again, the shipment of furnishings from my mom’s house having arrived during my absence. (Thank goodness for roommates.) The cats were cranky, but they’ve been that way since Spaz arrived. I’m doing something about that tonight. I walked into my room, tasted the smell of used kitty litter, and flopped down on my bed — the cloud of dust it kicked up had me coughing for a few minutes. But it felt like home.

My last week in Halifax had been eventful, even when all I did was watch the Queen’s Gala on CBC. I took another train (no, you shouldn’t be surprised). I saw Halifax, Lunenburg, Peggy’s Cove, and the Bay of Fundy. I crossed Cape Breton twice. I met more amazing people. I bought seafood and travelled to Huntsville for a family Thanksgiving. (My apologies to those of you in Toronto — it was a last-minute decision, and I didn’t venture any further south than gate B20 of Terminal 3.) As I sat in the plane last night, taxiing down the runway, I couldn’t wait to get home.

This morning, it was minus two degrees outside. The leaves that were green when I left are now gone, dropped to the ground and neatly packed away in the garage (see previous comment about roommates). The walk to work seemed completely new, yet totally familiar (as it should be). My legs hurt from the walking. You’d think after a month of wandering around I wouldn’t notice.

The office hasn’t changed much. A couple new faces, others on their way out — nothing out of the ordinary. My project hasn’t moved forward one iota. I joked with a colleague that I was going to leave a sealed envelope with a message that read: “Nothing will change while I’m gone.” Our laughter was nervous, because we both know the truth.

Flipping on my computer, I was greeted with a cacophony of error messages. It seems my nicely drafted message to keep dirty paws off my computer hadn’t helped. The IT department felt it necessary to “upgrade” my computer in my absence, leaving me with a broken computer to return to. No email for me to start the day.

The calendar might say “Tuesday”, but it feels like a Monday.

Meetings at 10:00, lunch at 11:30, fires burning by 1:00. Three projects that are in dire straits already need my attention. I don’t even know what the hell’s been going on for the last month! So goes the story around here: Sink or Swim.

Every person asks the same question: How was the trip? I give the token answer: Awesome! Great! Stupendous! Life-altering experience! But none of the answers come close to what I really want to say: You will never understand until you’ve done it yourself. I don’t want to let people down like that. I can show them all the 80 pages of journal entries and the over 2,500 pictures I took. But it doesn’t get the same feeling, the same idea. Everyone wants to see the documentary. I tell them one might be coming, but I haven’t heard for sure. Most seem to want to see a five episode series that covers every aspect. I can only hope.

Email is restored through a borrowed laptop. It’s quirky to say the least, and half the functionality I need is missing. But I can at least try to figure out what few things have transpired in the last 45 days. It’s only 765 messages (a record low for the period of time), but a lot of people knew I wouldn’t be answering. Most are CCs or bulk TO lines. And spam. Drat.

The cold is worsening. Throat’s killing me. Mint tea helps, but barely. I’m thinking tracheotomy. Head spins (or the room, still not sure which), blood drains from my face, and I resist the urge to sneeze for fear my throat might explode. Why couldn’t I just get the same cold I had on the train? That one was manageable.

Despite the harsh weather, the harsh illness, and the harsh reality of being home again, I can honestly say I’m happy. I’m happy that I had the opportunity and the honour of being with the CBC and celebrating 50 years of television. I’m happy that I’ve found more people I can call friends.

The adventure is finally over. For now, anyway. A little quiet time with the nose on the wheel will probably do me some good. If anything, it’ll make me appreciate the trip even more.

The saying goes, the journey is half the fun of getting there. The trip was more than half of that fun. But a little should be reserved for getting home. Although perhaps not so much fun as it is comforting.

Be it ever so humble (and cluttered, and smelly), there’s no place like home.

I want to go home

I’ve been on the road far too long.

Last night was Thanksgiving dinner up at the cottage. Good food, family, friend (there was only one), and good times. Even better sleep, in my old bed (since co-opted for use in the loft).

Mom and Cathy drove me down to the airport. We made a side trip to see a rather uninteresting antique dealer in Gravenhurst. Aside from that and a couple of bathroom breaks, we made Pearson in a fairly good time.

We grabbed a late lunch at Swiss Chalet. I checked my luggage after eating, and we switched to the bar.

Even though I was at the airport, boarding pass to Calgary in hand, I didn’t really feel like I was going anywhere. I was in a bar with my family, as I’ve been (a few too) many times this year.

Mom and Cathy were soon off for Oakville, leaving me to wait for my flight. (We left early to beat the returning weekend traffic. We left perhaps a little too early.)

I waited at gate B20 for about an hour, reading Wired. Nothing out of the ordinary (at least for me, lately). Even when WestJet staff started yelling for passengers (the microphone to the PA system wasn’t working), there was no rush. For me, it’s all routine.

I think I’ve actually travelled too much this year.

But as I boarded the plane and took my seat, a feeling of reserved relief crept upon me. I’m going home. My month and a half abroad is ending in a few short hours. Tonight I will sleep in my own bed in my own home. I will see my cats. (Tomorrow, I’ll have to go back to my job — hey, it can’t all be roses.)

I’m tired. Take me home. Please.

Halifax to Huntsville

I hate alarms. Especially when they go off while you’ve still got an hour of darkness left of the night. I had an early flight to Toronto, though, and wasn’t keen on missing it.

I had packed the night before, so all I had to do was shave, shower, dress, and throw all my bags in the trunk of my rented car. Checking out was trivial, just the way I like it. Then it was off to the airport.

Now here’s where either my unbelievably good sense of direction, or my unbelievable stupidity, shows through. Most normal people would ask where the airport is and how to get there. Not me. I decided I could find it based on the solitary sign I’d seen on the Highway 102/103 interchange yesterday. Oh, I should mention that it was still dark when I entered the highway, and the radio was calling for dense patches of fog … about 10 seconds before I ran into one myself.

So I drove north. I wasn’t sure if I was even going to the correct airport. (I didn’t know how many airports were in the Halifax area.) For a short time, I considered turning off to get directions. But something kept me going. I found my way to the airport, though. The correct one, at that!

One of these days, this behaviour is going to get me into trouble. Big trouble.

Checking in was fast, as was picking up the seafood feast I was bringing back to Ontario. Five lobster, two pounds of mussels, and a pound of scallops. And so help me, none of it cooked in butter. (Not counting sautéing the onions and garlic for the white wine sauce.) The box the seafood came in, however, needed to be taken on the plane. Along with my two carry-on bags. This was over my limit, and a bit of worry. Luckily, the plane was only about three-quarters full. The staff didn’t stop me.

Toronto came quickly, and I was soon waiting in the baggage claim with my three carry-ons. My duffle bag was the first bag off. My knapsack was significantly later. As I exited baggage claim, my mother came in the main doors. Five minutes later mom, Cathy, and I were on our way north.

I was goaded into coming back to Ontario for Thanksgiving. I wanted to go home to Calgary. I’ve been away for a month and a half, and I want adjustment time. But somewhere in the back of my mind, staying for a couple of days in Huntsville seemed like a good idea. I gave into pressure and decided to come in. However, I’ll probably only see the airport, the highway, and the cottage. I doubt I’ll see anything else, or anyone else.

The ride north was uneventful, save for the Teeming Thousands who were similarly heading north. The traffic, according to Cathy, wasn’t too bad though. On long weekends during the summer, you simply just don’t go up on Saturday’s. It’s just shy of declaring insanity. When we hit the Highway 69/Highway 11 split, the traffic lightened. The rest of the trip wasn’t so bad.

At Orillia, I convinced Cathy that we needed to stop for lunch. I hadn’t eaten a thing since leaving Halifax, and it was now 3:00pm according to my stomach. This meant, of course, a stop at Weber’s — an institution in this part of Ontario. Virtually everyone who’s driven this stretch of highway more than once has eaten at Weber’s. And for good reason: it’s fast, fresh, and good.

We were in Huntsville about an hour later. After a quick stop for beer (I’m a picky drinker), we made the long trek out to the cottage. It’s a bit of a hike — a lot longer than I remembered from my last journey out here (see [[Visit to Ontario, Cottage in Huntsville, Thanksgiving Dinner, Algonquin Park]]). But the cottage was as I remembered it. The outside, anyway. Cathy and Craig (mostly Craig) have put in a huge amount of renovation. It’s not done yet, but one day it’s going to be the smartest-looking small cabin on Lake Vernon.

Craig was already there, having been doing yard work for most of the day. Bear and Kylie (both dogs) raced out of the woods to greet us. Within minutes of being inside, I started to feel a little more relaxed. I still wanted to go home to Calgary, though. I guess all this travel has just left me feeling a little tired.

The renovations were awesome. The kitchen was totally different, the floor all tiled, and the bathroom looked almost totally new. (Well,it practically is.) Still, some work was still needed, including the walls of the living room and dining room, and the downstairs. But one thing at a time.

Dave arrived not long after, Chuckie (Dave’s dog) in tow. Anne and Rebecca arrived not long after. We chatted and made fun of each other until it was time to get cooking. Which was when the lobster pot finally got to a boil — after being on the burners for about three hours.

Lobsters: about 10 minutes. Mussels: about 7 minutes. Scallops: about two minutes. Time to eat it all: about an hour and a half. But worth it, if for no other reason than it cleared out the memory of the scallops I had in Lunenburg. We had no room for dessert.

The fun continued after dinner as we resumed making fun of each other. I didn’t participate as much, being quite tired from everything (and the alcohol not helping much). It was a good time, but I didn’t really feel all that relaxed. I still wanted to go home. Maybe tomorrow, I won’t feel so uptight.

Touring Lunenburg and Peggy’s Cove

One of these days, I’m going to remember to stop booking things at the last minute. I wanted to go to Lunenburg. I wasn’t about to take a taxi – it’s a little far for that. A car was the only real solution I could think of. But finding a car wasn’t easy. Especially on the Friday of the Thanksgiving long weekend. I ended up with a compact car from Budget. Not the best deal, but it was a car.

My first stop, however, wasn’t Lunenburg. It was Point Pleasant, at the tip of the Halifax peninsula. My goal was to find an anchor. According to the story I’d heard, it was an anchor from one of the ships destroyed in the Halifax explosion. The anchor, supposedly, had been thrown the three-odd miles to land in the park. I never found that anchor (it might just be a story), but there is an anchor from one of Canada’s long-decommissioned aircraft carriers.

The park is also full of Halifax history, from the old battlements used during the 1700s to the rotting dugouts from WWII. One of the oddest things to see is Prince of Wales Tower. It’s not a tower per se (it looms more than it towers), and doesn’t even come close to meeting the surrounding tree height. It’s a squat little erection that looks almost like a giant’s footstool. Once upon a time, it had been support for the other British battlements around the Halifax harbour. It later became a depot magazine, which ironically is what saved the tower from being torn down.

Leaving Halifax was a bit of a challenge. Although it was during the day, the traffic was such that movement was slow. Interestingly enough, a local CBC reporter tried to get my input on the problem while I was stopped at a light. She was quite frustrated to learn I was only a tourist. (I got the feeling she was having trouble getting the input she needed.)

Soon I was on the highway heading south. I had no real idea of where I was going. I only knew that Lunenburg was about an hour south of Halifax. Luckily, there’s an invention called a road sign that readily provides information for drivers too stupid (or cheap) to buy a map.

I ended up passing through Mahone Bay. This time, I took the road out of town that we’d avoided. A little over 10 kilometres down the road, the houses of historic Lunenburg soon lined the streets.

Downtown Lunenburg is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The houses are kept in immaculate (original) condition, as are the museums and restaurants. There’s even a Subway restaurant that you’d miss if you weren’t looking. The ships sitting in the harbour, including the Bluenose II, only accent the feeling.

My first stop was for lunch. Having yet again skipped breakfast, I needed to eat. I stopped at a place Daryl had recommended a while back. Although it looked like a good establishment, I was extremely disappointed with the meal. I’m sure that somewhere, someone likes vegetables boiled in butter. My stomach was flip-flopping the rest of the day.

I visited the Fisheries Museum next. Built into what was probably a canning plant from the heyday of Lunenburg fishing, you’d almost never know what you were looking at, were it not for the signs. It’s a quaint little place that shows what it was like to fish on the east coast, equipment and all.

On the waterfront are a pair of boats owned by the museum. One is the Cape Sable, a retired fishing vessel. I’ve seen “The Perfect Storm”, so I thought I had an idea of what a fishing ship looked like. But there is a certain reality when you look at the tiny compartments that these men lived in. The Captain’s room, though large, was little different than those of the other officers. The bed was the same as everyone else’s. The interior was almost enough to kill off any thoughts of ever living a life on the ocean.

I held off seeing the best until the end – the Bluenose II. I remember little of the Bluenose. The last time I saw the ship, I was eight years old in Halifax. Although sealed for the winter, you could still make out the distinctive hull, the masts, and getting right up next to the ship, you could see the deck and its contents without trouble. But I would not board the Bluenose this visit. That will have to wait until my return to Nova Scotia.

Before heading back towards Halifax, I rounded the bay so I could get a picture of Lunenburg with the town glowing in the sunlight. I was not disappointed, though I would have liked to have been a little higher up. You get what you can.

My next stop was Peggy’s Cove. I know what you’re thinking: Hadn’t I already visited there? I had, but an idea crossed my mind that drew me back. One of the signs in the post office in the Peggy’s Cove lighthouse said that letters posted in either the lighthouse or the mailbox next to the gift shop would receive the Peggy’s Cove cancellation. At the time, it hadn’t really sunk in. The idea of sending a postcard to friends and family from Peggy’s Cove really appealed to me, and was the sole reason I went back.

The good weather was welcome, though. As much as I like the pictures I took a week ago, the setting sun provided some wonderful angles and bright light, backing onto the blue sky. Even black and white pictures looked better.

Returning to Halifax along Highway 333, I found my way directly to my hotel. I ditched the car in favour of walking downtown for dinner. Still trying to ditch the icky feeling from lunch, I opted for the cleanest food I know and love: sushi, at Hamachi House. A little green tea, a little tempura, and couple rolls of some of the freshest fish I’ve ever had.

I sat at the sushi bar. The restaurant was quite full, with people all around the bar. But no-one I knew. I’ve gotten used to eating in restaurants on my own, but it doesn’t ease the loneliness. After being with people for the last month, travelling on my own left me feeling a little more empty than I like.

Tomorrow, I begin my long journey home. That’s pretty much what’s keeping me going right now. I’m tired. Tired of the waiting, the pacing, the walking, the seeing, the doing. I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I want to go back to a job that drives me crazy – at least it’s predictable.

Touring Halifax, Part 2

Sleeping in is good. Too bad I didn’t sleep in. Instead, I woke around 8:30 and began to get on with the day. The first order of business was typing out some of the journal entries I was behind on. The second was making the CD-ROM for Ken. The last was making arrangements to visit with a friend of a friend.

The sky was overcast, but threatened no rain. In fact, the clouds were so thin that I had to wear sunglasses to cut down on the glare. I hiked down to the VIA station, where I dropped off the CD-ROM and a card for the Bras D’or crew. Then it was off to resume my tour of Halifax.

I wandered down Lower Water Street, zipping in and out of various shops and courtyards. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but was curious to see what was there.

Several of the wharves are no longer in active use, save for the odd tour boat. The rest are permanent (or semi-permanent) moorings for vessels of historical significance. Some are tied with the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, such as the CSS Acadia. There is also a permanent berth for the Bluenose II, even though the Bluenose itself was in Lunenburg for the winter.

During my jaunt, I found Canada’s first and only mouth-blown crystal manufacturer, Nova Scotian Crystal. They keep their garage door open so people can peer inside to see the process at work. I could barely see with all the onlookers, and moved on.

I ended up doubling back on my route, but going down Lower Water Street instead of along the boardwalk. I arrived back at Brewery Market, and thought I’d take another look inside. Although I wasn’t going to take the brewery tour again, there had been several shops that had been closed the last time I was there. With a sign that read “Maritime Handicrafts”, I decided a peek was in order.

As I rounded the corner, what did my peering eyes spy, but a new friend: Stephanie. She had mentioned that she worked in a jewellery store the day before. This wasn’t exactly a jewellery store, but had some jewellery for sale. Not interested in such baubles, I concentrated on the handicrafts. We talked while she showed me the wares. But there wasn’t much there that I saw of interest.

Instead of helping me buy something I didn’t want, Stephanie directed me to Spring Garden Road. She quietly said that there was more there for me to see, and I could also tackle my lunch problem. As a convenient bonus, I was also to meet my contact at the Second Cup on Spring Garden at 3:00 – a scant half hour away.

There were many shops on Spring Garden, including Jennifer’s of Nova Scotia (the best gift shop I saw in Nova Scotia) and HMV (where I had to strongly resist the urge to buy something). Being almost time, I headed over to the Second Cup.

I had never met Jiye before, nor had I even seen a picture. She’s a good friend of my good friend Kim. (Kim had asked that if time I allowed that I meet Jiye.) Luckily, it was easy to spot Jiye – she was the only young Chinese woman standing out in front looking for someone.

I had loosely planned to spend only a half hour with Jiye. Not that I didn’t want to meet her, but I wanted to get to the Halifax Citadel before it closed at 5:00, and have enough time to actually see it. But we got so deeply engaged in conversation that time completely vanished. It was nearly 4:00 when we finally broke and parted ways.

I hope Jiye does well in Halifax. She had moved there, following her PhD advisor, who had come to Dalhousie. She was finding the experience difficult, since she didn’t know the city, had no friends, and didn’t have much of a social life. As Jiye wasn’t enrolled at Dalhousie, she couldn’t take courses either, making meeting people difficult. I offered some advice, hoping that it might make her life on the east coast a little more bearable.

Jiye returned to her apartment, and I headed up the hill to the Citadel. By the time I got there, I had barely 40 minutes of time until it closed. Deciding that a half-hour was better than no visit at all, I attempted to purchase a ticket. I say “attempted” because I wasn’t actually able to buy my way in … in the last half hour, the fee is waived. Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch?

The Halifax Citadel isn’t as polished as La Citadelle in Quebec City. Where La Citadelle is immense, and made of smooth-faced granite blocks, the Halifax Citadel is mostly rough rectangular stones. The Citadel is no longer in active service, unlike Quebec City, so is preserved in its original state. It’s a neat place to visit.

The museum portions of the Citadel are quite extensive. You could easily spend most of a day just wandering in and out of the honeycomb of rooms. With my general lack of time, I did what my sister and brother-and-law do in museums: Look and keep walking. I tried to speed-read certain things, but didn’t take in too much.

A whistle in the courtyard announced the five-minute warning. I snapped pictures hurriedly, and scooted out the door as it was being locked behind me. More pictures of the outer walls and the moat, and then of the town clock, just down the hill from the Citadel. Then further down the hill to the waterfront again, where I started to plan my evening activities.

One thing I wanted was a picture of Halifax at night from the other side of the harbour. That mean taking a ferry. The question was, which ferry to which port? There are two: one to Dartmouth and a second to Woodside. If I’d ever been on the other side of the harbour before, I couldn’t remember. The other thing I needed to do was eat. I still hadn’t had breakfast or lunch, and was getting a little peckish.

My plan was: eat, take a ferry across to the other side, snap pictures, come back, and wind my way back to the hotel. Seemed like a simple plan. The key was in the timing. I had to wait until it was dark enough to get the full effect of the lights at night. It was too early to begin even dinner, so I took the opportunity to walk further down the boardwalk, past the casino, all the way to the naval base. (An American aircraft carrier was in port, and I was curious to see which one. I never did find out – the name appeared hidden.)

About an hour later, I pulled into a small pub and grill on the boardwalk to satisfy my hunger. Mussels, salmon, and some bread did a satisfactory job. My waiter was extremely helpful in solving my other question – apparently Dartmouth offered a better view of downtown.

The ferries that run across the harbour are small – about twice the size of the SeaBus in Vancouver, about half the size of the Toronto Harbour ferries. No vehicles (except bikes), and meant for commuters. The ferries have been running for 250 years. Originally, it was a teamboat – a ship propelled by a team of eight horses. Now it’s a small fleet of bi-directional diesel-powered vessels.

The trip is short – only 10 minutes or so. But the waiter had been accurate — the view was spectacular. It was also much closer to the bridge, which I also wanted to get pictures of. I took up position at the end of a wharf, and took pictures until the next ferry arrived almost a half hour later.

The trip back was better than the trip over. This time I faced Halifax. The buildings cast bright lights onto the harbour. The naval vessels glowed at their edges. And as a treat, we were passed by a half-full Hapag-Lloyd container ship. Then it was off around the downtown again, slowly winding my way back towards the hotel.

When I’d parted company with the Bras D’or crew, I had taken a bit of a gamble and left my name and phone number with Stephanie. My hope was that she might call, even though my expectation was that she wouldn’t. Stephanie and Angela were fighting off a nasty cold both days on the train. Even when I’d found Stephanie earlier in the day, she’d reiterated the need to get rest. But ever the optimist, I thought I’d take a chance.

That, and I was tired of wandering around. I wanted to sit down a while.

I ended up watching the Queen Elizabeth’s visit to the CBC Broadcast Centre in Toronto (looking around the audience for people I knew), and then the Gala Celebration at Roy Thompson Hall. It was a beautiful show, and really showcased some of the best of Canadian talent. It made me feel inadequate about my artistic abilities, which are generally pretty lousy.

I fell asleep with the TV on. Probably a good thing. I had a lot of driving ahead of me.

Riding VIA Rail’s Bras D’or, Sydney to Halifax

It was still dark when the alarm clock (bolted to the night table) tuned in the local classic rock station. Great thing about radio – there’s always a classic rock station available.

Showered and bags packed, I hiked my way back to the train. It wasn’t too far, and with only two bags wasn’t a big deal. As I neared the train station (barely more than a plywood lean-to with a small painted sign that reads “Sydney”), I began to wonder if the train departed from the same station. I didn’t see anyone on the platform, so I couldn’t be sure.

Pressing on, I turned the corner and crossed the tracks. As I did, I could hear the bell of the locomotive as the train approached. A little more relieved, I then noticed some of the crew and passengers waiting on the platform. I felt much more relieved. The train and I arrived at the same time.

Ken was there to greet us as we boarded. Lisa, Joanne, and Desmond were elsewhere on board, no doubt preparing for the day’s events. There was no sign of either Angela or Stephanie at first, but I had little doubt they’d miss the trip.

As the staff passed by, I bade them each a good morning, which they returned. Only unlike most of the other passengers, they used my name. I felt for a while like I was home again, with friends who know who knew me.

The train left on time, and began to retrace the route from yesterday. Breakfast soon appeared, and just as soon disappeared. Once the tray was gone, I began wandering again. I passed by the rail fan who Ken had been wary of the day before. He cast me a look that wasn’t quite dirty, but certainly wasn’t hospitable. (Ken would later sternly instruct the man that he was to remain seated while in the domes – he was regularly standing at the top of the staircase, blocking not only entry and exit, but also the view from other passengers.)

I returned to the coffee shop, where the staff was beginning to congregate again. Conversations resumed as we watched the scenery go by. Lisa had brought snacks: her mother’s cherry poundcake (absolutely luscious) and cookies called “fat archies”. I’ve never had a fat archie before. Lisa calls it a “molasses raisin cookie”. It has a healthy dose of cinnamon, and is almost like eating a small cake. I’m not a big fan of raisin cookies, but I could eat a whole tin of fat archies. Wow.

Lisa’s parents were also along for the ride. They were just like the rest of the Bras D’or crew – extremely friendly and very hospitable. Must be a Cape Breton thing. Lisa’s mom would later sing along with Stephanie, Angela, and Lisa, and her father would play his keyboard during the jam session in the coffee shop later in the afternoon.

Our first stop was in Orangedale. Again, the passengers disembarked, looked around, and listened as Stephanie, Angela, Lisa, and Lisa’s mom sang some of the traditional songs of Cape Breton.

Back on the train, we headed to Port Hawkesbury. The scenery was stunning. Although mostly cloudy, the sun managed to peek through enough to make everything seem somehow more magical. Hawks and bald eagles flew alongside the train, swooping and diving in some aerial ballet, playing with the sunbeams that pocked regularly through the clouds.

Not everyone climbed out at Port Hawkesbury. I suspect those who didn’t had been there the day before, and saw nothing to see again. I climbed out, but really only for one purpose: take a picture of the crew. Yesterday, Ken had asked me to take pictures of the scenery for him. I figured he also needed a picture of the crew. Especially if this is to be the last crew of the Bras D’or.

Shortly after crossing the Canso Causeway, we received lunch. Chicken for me, I wasn’t in the mood for the seafood trio I’d had the day before. And only one cup of wine this time – I didn’t want to be stumbling around the train. The meal, the wine, and the light rocking of the train soon did me in, and I was out. I woke as we started passing through Antigonish.

Returning again to the coffee shop, I found only a couple people present. The rest were off tending to duties. I chatted with Angela. I was curious to see what I was missing in the tour. This was the job Angela used to fulfill, before VIA installed the automated system. Angela shrugged and replied: “Not much”, saying the only thing the automated system didn’t include were the stories.

The second music session began a few minutes later in the Laurentide Park car. It was almost reminiscent of the jam session we’d had on the CBC train coming out of Edmonton. Just not as raucous. (I was still the youngest person on board, although there were a few more younger people.) I sat in the last seat of the dome, and listened from above. I think I recognised two songs the entire session. All beautiful, but few familiar.

When the group broke up, I headed to the Skyline lounge to watch the passing countryside. (The rail fan was back at the top of the stairs again. I opted not to say anything.) As I peered out the window, Angela came by and sat down for a moment. She asked if I were bored. This had to be the most surprising question I’d been asked since I left Calgary.

“Why would I be bored?” I asked.

“Because you saw the same thing yesterday, only in reverse. What’s the difference?” Angela returned.

She had a good point – I had seen (more or less) the same thing the day before. But there were a few things that she hadn’t considered. Angela rides the train for five months a year, twice a week (once in each direction). So immediately, that makes the trip a little dull for her. I’ve never seen any of it before. I had also made a point of getting to know the staff. Not because it would be advantageous to me (though it most certainly was), but because then I’d have someone to talk to, and hopefully meet new friends. Good conversation, carefree play, and good jokes make even 10 hour trips disappear.

Shortly after Truro came the jam session. As many people as could squeeze into the coffee shop grouped around Stephanie, Angela, and Lisa’s father. For the next hour and a half, they played whatever songs came to mind, including “American Pie” and what almost seems to be the theme song of Nova Scotia, “Barrett’s Privateers” (I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the song since arriving.)

In the last hour, souvenirs came out for sale, and the staff began to pack up things no longer in use. Before long, Bedford Basin came into view. Everything was being packed away. Ken even commented on packing things away in his “tickle trunk”. I’m not sure if he said that for my benefit or not.

The last vestiges of the CBC train were gone. Skyline 8502, Banff Park, the museum cars, the baggage car, and the coach car had still been in the station yesterday. (Locomotive #6403 and the generator car had left by then.) The only thing left of the trip in Halifax was me.

I was sad to leave the train. I had made new friends, who had treated me exceptionally well. I bade them all farewell, and promised to drop off a CD-ROM of the pictures I took to the VIA office the following day.

In lieu of a taxi, I hiked back to the hotel. I found this not only good exercise, but a great way to prevent aggravation. Getting a taxi at the train station is almost like waiting for Godot.

Exhausted from my trip, I’m staying in tonight, and ordering room service (it was a small pizza, nothing fancy). And laundry. (When you run out of clean underwear, it’s laundry time.)

Riding VIA Rail’s Bras D’or, Halifax to Sydney

Waking early after a few days of sleeping in (even if just a little) was difficult. But given the day’s activity, I couldn’t wait. I was taking a train.

Yes, a train. A month on the CBC special hadn’t dampened my spirit one bit. And the free coupon one of the VIA product managers had arranged for me gave me the perfect opportunity to ride more trains. (If I could, I’d probably take the train back to Calgary.)

The Bras D’or (in English, “Golden Arm”) is a rail cruise VIA runs from Halifax to Sydney in Cape Breton. It’s a 10 hour ride, arriving in the early evening. You spend the whole day on the train, save for one scheduled stop at Port Hawkesbury.

I was the youngest person in the waiting room. A seniors tour was on the train, as were several other couples travelling on their own. There were two or three others, not counting myself, who didn’t have grey hair. But that was fine with me.

This was the first train I would board where I didn’t know anyone – not the crew, not the passengers. It was a peculiar feeling. No more unsettling than how the interior mirrored the CBC train. The coach cars had extremely similar layouts, but none of the clutter. The Skyline car (#8505) was a spitting image of the one we’d had (#8502), except for the TV in the coffee shop. The Laurentide Park is a bare six digits in serial numbers from the Banff Park … the only visible difference is the painting in the Mural Lounge. It almost felt like home.

Breakfast, in the form of fresh fruit and a small bowl of cereal, came not long after departure. We rounded the Bedford Basin and began our trip out to Truro. From there, we’d go through Stellarton, New Glasgow, Antigonish, before arriving at the Canso Causeway. We’d cross into Cape Breton and pause for a while at Port Hawkesbury. Then north(ish) through Cape Breton to North Sydney, Sydney Mines, and then into Sydney itself.

I started wandering about not long after the empty breakfast tray was taken away. I found the dome cars in marginal condition – the glass was either blurred or contained many small cracks. The windows are a decade old, and are in need of replacement. The scenery is no less beautiful, just difficult to take pictures of through the windows.

I ended up in the coffee shop of the Skyline car, where the windows are large, very clean, and defect-free. Not a perfect place to take pictures, but there was an added benefit – this was where the crew sat when not doing rounds. They recognized my CBC vest. They asked if I had been on the CBC special.

The next few hours passed quickly as I slowly got to know the crew. There was the Service Manager, Ken, and his staff Lisa, Joanne, and Desmond. (Desmond is also a service manager, but wanted the quieter trip of the Bras D’or, and takes a seat behind Ken, who has more seniority.) But that’s not the entire crew – two of Cape Breton’s finest represent Cape Breton Tourism on board, Angela and Stephanie.

By the time lunch had rolled around, I had gotten to know some of the staff; listened as Stephanie, Angela, and Lisa tried to write down the lyrics to “Coal Town Road”, a traditional Cape Breton tune; and been offered a rail fan’s dream. While Ken and I discussed some of the finer points of rail travel, he leaned in, grinned, and asked if I’d like to see the cab. I thought he meant while we were stopped. He meant while we were running.

Amongst rail fans, a cab ride is like winning an Oscar. It’s an award bestowed by your peers, and an honour to be treasured. Mostly because the official route in getting a cab ride is long, convoluted, and extremely difficult. (We found this out on the CBC train when we tried to get Daryl into the cab to shoot video.) I did my best to agree eagerly, without looking too eager.

This was kept very hushed, because there was a problem with Ken letting me go in the cab. And it wasn’t the engineers – it was another rail fan. Another man on board, from the Hillsborough and Salem Railroad, is what rail fans describe as a “foamer” – someone who foams at the mouth when talking about trains. They’re a little too fanatic to trust entirely. This guy had been pestering Ken since the trip started to go in the cab, but there was no way Ken was letting him in the cab. I guess I was calm and patient enough to be deemed “safe”. The trick was getting me in the engine without anyone seeing me.

But I would wait until after lunch, which was served just out of Antigonish. It was wonderful to just sit and watch the countryside go by. The explosion of colours were already visible in the vast forests. The most fantastic reds, fresh greens, and bold yellows I’ve ever seen. We’re only in the early stages of fall here in Nova Scotia – I can only imagine what it will look like in a week or two.

Lunch was cold, but no less delicious. I’d never had cold scallops before. A little chewy perhaps, but still tasty. It even came with a selection of local wines from the Jost Vineyards. (I have to say that while I did end up having both the white and the red, neither rated particularly high with me. I thought we’d have to rotate through the Skyline coffee shop, as we’d done with the CBC, but the staff delivered it to our seats.

The Canso Causeway was built in the 1950s to join Cape Breton Island with Nova Scotia. It’s was a huge project. Due to the depth of the chasm, no bridge would work. Instead, rocks fill the massive gap allowing for a highway and a rail crossing. A small canal allows transit from one side to the other through locks. The locks don’t control water levels, just ensure that the current is controlled.

Port Hawkesbury isn’t really much of a stop. But it’s necessary to change out crews. The rail line runs on CN to Truro, then on CB&CNS north to Sydney. The Cape Breton crew comes on at Port Hawkesbury. That means a half hour for us to wander around and do very little.

Actually, it’s supposed to be an hour. But Port Hawkesbury isn’t exactly a riveting location. That’s why the stop is only 30 minutes. The rest of the stop comes a few miles down the line at Orangedale.

Orangedale is a small community, but somehow has ended up with the best rail museum in Nova Scotia. It’s not large by any means, but has preserved the station building in its original state, and has several pieces of rolling stock on their grounds.

But that’s not all. As part of our stop, we get a mini-concert. When the Bras D’or originally started three years ago, Cape Breton Tourism staff would act as tour guides, pointing out interesting features and telling stories. Today, the system is mostly automated. According to Angela, it does a pretty good job. As a result, Stephanie and Angela’s jobs are somewhat reduced.

One of their jobs is to sing traditional songs from Cape Breton and Nova Scotia. Stephanie is an accomplished guitarist, and sings like an angel. (Stephanie is moving to Toronto in October. Music industry, please take note!) I couldn’t help but stop and listen for a time. Even when I wasn’t in the station house, you could hear her voice clearly.

Resuming our trip, Ken pulled me aside and asked me to hide for a few minutes in the kitchen. That’s when Howie appeared. Howie was one of the two engineers, and had come down to get snacks and coffee for him and Everett, the other engineer. The two of them led me through the coach cars, and through the baggage car (it’s quite odd to see one of those empty). At this point, I put in my earplugs, and followed Howie into the engine room of #6409, the train’s sole locomotive.

The last time I’d been inside an engine room was with Peter in Melville. It had been loud then, and the engine was idling. Now it was under load. Howie had been through there so many times it probably didn’t faze him at all. I was glad to have earplugs. We emerged into the cab, where Everett met me with a big smile. Howie immediately offered me his seat on the left side – Howie sat in a fold-down seat mounted to the rear wall.

Riding in a cab really brings the idea of an “iron horse” to reality. The ride is not smooth (especially on rough track), and even with shock-absorbed seats, I nearly flew out of my chair more than once. Howie and Everett didn’t seem to have any trouble at all. (Of course, they make regular runs on this stretch of the CB&CNS and know every little detail. While I was missing the tour on the train, I was receiving my own personal version from the engineers.)

The scenery around Bras D’or Lake is almost indescribable. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Reminiscent of the west coast, northern Ontario, Lake Ontario, and Scotland all rolled into one. (I’m going on assumptions of Scotland, mind you. I haven’t been there, but I have seen many pictures and video.) And with the fall colours beginning to take hold, it’s a gorgeous place to witness first hand.

Which made my trip all the more poignant. Little did I know when I boarded the train this morning that the Bras D’or might be meeting the same fate as BC Rail’s Cariboo Prospector. CB&CNS wants to abandon the line north of Port Hawkesbury, due to lack of income (most of the mines on Cape Breton have closed) and maintenance. Right now, there are two freight trains and one passenger train a week.

That would mean that next week could be the final run of the Bras D’or, through some of the most beautiful landscape I’ve seen. It’s a terrible shame, since to follow the same route of the Bras D’or is quite a challenge in a car. Roads don’t come event remotely close to some parts of the track. While a highway does follow the west bank of Bras D’or Lake, I doubt the view is the same.

The abandonment is not yet certain, but is expected. This has left the Bras D’or’s crew with a lot of questions. They work together extremely well, and would want to continue the trend next year. However, there’s no way to know if the train will even run next spring. So until official word comes, they must wait.

The residents of this area are also saddened with the news. It’s the only place where I’ve seen signs that read: “Welcome VIA”, sitting on the side of the railway. An elderly man in North Sydney even came to see the train pass, holding a sign that said: “Best Wishes VIA. We will miss you!”

As we passed Sydney Mines, it was time for me to leave the cab. We didn’t want the other rail fan to see me leave the engine in Sydney. I didn’t quite make it back into the coach cars, though. I ended up spending some time in the near-empty baggage car talking with the VIA staff as they took a final break before arriving at the station.

I could have walked to my hotel. But I wasn’t exactly sure where it was, nor was I too keen on carrying my bags that far right away. I opted for the five dollar, four minute cab ride. But I was checked into my room and sitting in the bed a scant 10 minutes after detraining. A record since I started riding trains a month ago.

Sydney is an industrial town. In other words, there’s not much in it for nightlife. (Even the Bras D’or crew admitted to that.) But I wasn’t really interested in doing much anyway. All I wanted were a few pictures, a good meal, and a good night’s sleep.

A fairly lengthy hike brought me down to the harbour area. That’s where Sydney has a fairly extensive boardwalk along the edge of the harbour, running for about a kilometre or so. A pretty good location for getting pictures of the city at dusk. A little further down were more hotels, the Royal Cape Breton Yacht Club, and an office building or two. I stopped into the Crow and Moose in the Delta Hotel for what were supposed to be the best fish and chips in the area. I couldn’t complain.

Sydney has one of only two casinos in Nova Scotia. You’d think it would be clearly marked on signs and easy to find. I looked briefly, then decided that it wasn’t worth my time. My lucky streaks seem to tend towards life experiences, not money. Knowing my luck, I’d probably lose my shirt the moment I entered the door.

Returning to the hotel, I curled up for a good night’s sleep. It would be another early morning.

Touring Halifax, Part 1

Sleeping in is one of those little pleasures of life that I’ve been ignoring for far too long. The fact that I was still exhausted from yesterday made passing through my alarm even easier.

I skipped breakfast. I was in serious need to finish my journal entries. My contract with CBC expired last night, and it was necessary for me to complete the deal. I wrote and edited until after noon, then disappeared to the bar downstairs to upload all the content. Finishing around 1:30, it was time to resume my tour of Halifax.

Naturally, it was raining.

Actually, I knew it would rain (the forecast had been heralding rain for days). I planned my tours to include Pier 21, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and the Alexander Keith’s Brewery tour. All indoors … except for the distances in between.

Pier 21 sits between the Halifax railway station and the harbour. (Back in the day, they were connected by track so the Intercolonial Railway could whisk away newcomers to distant corners of Canada.) A short taxi ride kept me relatively dry.

Pier 21 was one of the many immigration entry points into Canada. It serviced incoming passenger ships that crossed the Atlantic from 1920 until 1971, when its last landed immigrant passed through its doors. In 1999, with grants and assistance from companies and donations, it reopened as a museum to those who worked at the facility, and all those who passed through its doors.

The museum is sparsely furnished and yet conveys the confusion, process, and lives that existed within the walls. Exhibits tell stories from those who worked or passed through Pier 21, offer artefacts that illustrate the periods of time, and let visitors experience the caged feelings new arrivals must have felt.

Perhaps the single best story is that told in “Oceans of Hope”. It’s a “four dimensional” multimedia presentation that incorporates slides, movies, audio, and a series of translucent screens that create a multi-dimensional view. The presentation of the medium is one thing, but the story it tells is something else.

Just shy of one million people passed through Pier 21, all receiving the much-desired “Landed Immigrant” stamp. It is impossible to tell all those stories, so those presented are conglomerations of them. The original immigrants, the soldiers who passed through during WWII, the war brides and their children, the Jewish orphans, all linked by the narrator, a fictional immigration officer.

The story is moving. And the projection method makes the people seem not only real, but also like ghosts. It seems as if the walls are telling the stories that it has seen for over three-quarters of a century. The presentation, in concert with the rest of the museum, makes you feel a little different about being Canadian. Not necessarily proud, but privileged. As a Canadian writer (and immigrant) wrote: “A Canadian is an immigrant with seniority.”

One of the more interesting exhibits is the Canadian National Train. It’s a larger-than-reality mock-up of a passenger car, where you can experience a trip across Canada. In five minutes. The trip runs from Halifax to Vancouver – it’s a video filmed several years ago (the equipment you see are VIA Blue cars, not seen in transcontinental service for almost a decade, and it runs through Swift Current, which is CPR territory). Having just finished the trip myself, in the opposite direction, it’s an interesting perspective.

I took another taxi to the Maritime Museum. The rain would have soaked me to the bone, and I was without umbrella. As it stands, I was better off taking the taxi regardless – I arrived with five minutes to spare before the Titanic 3-D movie, and the extra time allowed me extra time to look around.

The movie was filmed at the same time as the IMAX’ Titanica, but using different equipment and crews. The film doesn’t tell any stories – it is a 20-minute view of the wreck unlike any I’ve ever seen before. The ability to actually look inside the ship as if I were actually there is both wonderful and horrific.

Exiting from the film, I wandered around the wind-powered portion. The musty wooden smell was overwhelming at times, but reminded me of my sailing days. Then it was through the extensive Titanic exhibit, and the wrecks of the Atlantic. There have been a lot of ships lost on and around the shores of Nova Scotia.

So many that I lost track of time. I ended up having to rush my tour of the rest of the museum.

I half-jogged down to Brewery Market in the rain, which hadn’t relented one bit. Slightly dampened, I entered through the North Arch, the original portal through which delivery carts once parcelled kegs of beer to points around Halifax. (There is a groove worn away in the base of the arch from the wheels.)

I joined the tour in progress. The tour starts in the present, then works its way back to 1820, where it begins in Alexander Keith’s dining room. The room is gorgeous, and looks like it should be hosting lavish dinners, not a five-person tour group including three men from Georgia, one from Vancouver, and a latecomer from Calgary.

Above the fireplace is a painting that is actually a plasma television screen. It shows a seven-odd minute film about Alexander Keith and how he started his brewery. You’d think something like this would be a wonderfully historical piece, considering the money they spent. (It’s a very nice-looking production.) Only problem – it reads like a beer commercial. Go figure.

When the movie ends, the main character (the brewmaster) calls out for Mr. Keith to continue the tour. You almost expect someone in character as Mr. Keith to open the next door. It’s not Mr. Keith, but the assistant brewmaster, who immediately apologizes for Mr. Keith – a busy man who must attend to affairs of the city. (Alexander Keith was twice mayor of Halifax.)

The tour leads through an office, and then into a small brew house (seen through windows from the courtyard). I think beer is still brewed here, but it isn’t the main brewery – there’s no way this small room can create the entire batch of Keith’s sold in Canada. It’s not terribly informative, either.

After the brew room comes the barrelling room. We expected to see the cellar, a malting room, all the things you’d expect when on a tour of a brewery. But instead, we ended up in the restored Stag’s Head – the basement of Keith’s original house, and the pub he used to operate. It was sampling time.

I felt kind of bad for all the actors employed. They tried very hard to make the experience interesting. But with only five people in the tour, it was extremely quiet. With such a small crew, I would have liked them to drop the act, but I guess that’s part of their job. They did it well, though. I suspect with a larger group, the tour would be much better.

It was still pouring outside. I had no particular place to go next, and touring downtown in the rain was not a particularly wise idea. I took shelter in the Four Points Sheraton before snagging a cab back to my hotel.

I called to see if Chris, Amy, or Roger were around. None answered. (I knew they were all still in town.) Figuring I’d arrived back too late, and they’d gone to dinner, I called back leaving messages wishing them a safe trip back to Toronto, hoping our paths would cross again. When I called Roger to leave the message, he answered.

Roger had been out playing golf with clients. In the driving rain. He’d been thoroughly soaked, despite wearing foul weather gear. But he’d still had a good day. Apparently, Amy and Chris were still out touring around – we would get together for dinner when they got back.

Amy and Chris had been out in the Bay of Fundy, going as far as Kentville. Returning, they’d laid down for a little while before the four of us went out for Italian. Amy found Il Mercato in her Frommer’s guide … but it was the same one Daryl had recommended earlier.

We ate, discussed our futures (collective and individual), and enjoyed the company. Eating our fill, we returned to the hotel. I said my goodbyes – I was leaving on the Bras D’or early the next morning, and would not see the three of them off.

But I would get another chance.

As I sat in the hotel’s bar, using their Internet connection, I heard a familiar voice exclaim: “Geoff!” I looked up to see Tracy and her cousin. I had thought Chris, Amy, and I the last ones in the hotel (Roger had moved to the Westin for business). Both Tracy and Marc had extended their stay to visit their respective families.

I would join Tracy and her cousin on the way back to Marc’s room. Marc’s friend was also there. Roger would arrive shortly thereafter, followed by Amy and Chris. It felt like the last party. I did not stay too long. I had an early morning.

As I walked down the hall back to the elevators and to my room, the sounds of the small get together died out. The hallways became deathly quiet. Everyone was gone. We were the last.

CBC TV 50th Anniversary VIA Rail train, Bay of Fundy

[This entry written by Geoff Sowrey, ©2002 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Text used with permission of CBC. The opinions expressed within do not necessarily reflect those of the CBC, employees, affiliates, or subsidiaries.]

Day 30

This is an entry I dreaded writing from the beginning. It’s the last one. It’s the last day. Today, people begin their trips home. Some are staying around for a little tourism, but they are few.

I joined up with Duffy, Gerry, the Bills, the Robs, and Trish for a little excursion to the Bay of Fundy. Loading up into the crew’s two rented minivans, we took off out of the city for parts unknown. Gerry drove the first van, Trish navigating. Duffy followed in the second van.

I sat next to Bill C. and behind Rob N. Bill, the crossword king, scribbled on his newspaper for most of the trip out. Our van was quiet, unlike Gerry’s. But it gave me time to think about how lucky I was. A small handful of people were given the chance to make this trip. Sure, it was hard and at times very frustrating, but in the end it was all worth it. This is an experience that I cannot imagine having passed up.

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