March 15 (Day 18)
Its odd to sleep between solid walls, roof again. Gear was successfully loaded last night. I pick at breakfast, then go for a short stroll around the ground, wandering up to the tracks to look at our final 500m of yesterday. It’s a cold clear blue sky – blowing snow has erased all evidence of our procession. How ironic, I can see clear across the lake, to the far hills 7 km away! Barely 24 hrs ago, I was there, now the body is here, the rest of me scattered in fragments in between, not yet together/assembled.
Early afternoon drifts into mid afternoon and we are still waiting in the shack adjacent to the tracks for the train to arrive from the north. When it does, its anti climatic. A dull boom as it grinds slowly to a halt, pushing snow drifts out of its way. We board, settle and prepare for the long ride back to Sept Iles. It’s the same story as the ride north, with delays, sitting on side cars and moving backwards even. I ignore it all and watch the sun drop below the horizon before napping in the seats. By 1am we have completed 202 miles in 10 hours and 45 minutes – there is another 128 miles to go! The trains top speed is 35 mph but this journey is averaging around 19 mph. Everyone is patient – what else can you do? I pass the time chatting en francais avec UN homme de Sept Iles (how’s that?) – I understand that he is returning from a week holiday of taking caribou pictures while traveling with his Indian friends. A somewhat surreal scene unfolds: 3 bright head lamps appear out of the darkness, the train slows, men on snow mobiles with guns strapped across their backs get off and load people, Rubbermaid boxes on to the train. A whole different style of travel in the backwoods.
Finally the lights of Sept Iles appear about 4am…we roll into the station in reverse, having recovered from a malfunctioning signal and split rail causing the delays. The freight car opens, and everything is tossed out into a heap – passengers rush to claim their belongings as the first purple light of morning streaks the sky. Its not so cold down here in the ‘south’ we exclaim, feeling like real northerners.
Our rooms are still available at the Comfort Inn although we make little use of them other than a shower. It’s a quick and dirty parting of our group, people melting away faster than a late spring snow: Joe is driving back to Maine and leaves almost immediately. Maria and Mary are driving back to New York State and leave after breakfast. Janet has a 10am flight. Soon its only Garrett, Alexandra, Leif and I left, staring at our lunch plates. My flight is at 3:30pm – I’m sipping a beer in the waiting lounge by 2pm, having said my farewells.
The experience has opened a whole new world to me, that of winter camping and particularly warm winter camping. A seed of an idea, a little dream starts to grow. What about a bigger, longer winter trip? I ponder my drink and wait.