The Amateur American Hobo : Vancouver to Calgary (Part II)

by macksemil

Our first night in Vancouver we went to the gastown district to meet with a friend of ours for a beer. While at the bar it started raining decently hard so we started working out a way for us to sleep indoors. Our friend asked a favor and we were allowed to come back and sleep at the apartment she was staying at. On the walk home we saw two skinny punker kids beating the crap out of some guy in a suit in a parking garage. The apartment was a veritable flop house ten stories up in the sky. The city of Vancouver seemed pretty wild that night for some reason. Back at the apartment, Bob and I tried to get some rest on the living room floor while two giggling French-Canadian girls smoked weed and chatted into the early hours of the morning.

The next day we found our way via transit to a spot in North Vancouver which we had read was a good spot to catch eastbound trains. The spot was pretty, right on the water underneath a bridge. We walked out on the pilings and could see a marina across the way. We hung out for the day and didn’t see anything, then at night we missed our train due to not waking up. Bob started feeling sick, so we decided to go find another camping spot so he could rest up. Something was wrong in his throat so he bought some salts and slept for a very long time while I did some reading, writing, throwing sticks and watching the breeze go through the stand of trees that we were camped in.

After a full day of rest Bob was feeling a little better so we went back down to the train yard at night to wait for another eastbound train. Late at night one came by and we found a grainer hole to ride in. Bob took his side and I took mine, and we traveled about 20 miles east to Port Coquitlam where our train parked for the night. Bob spent the night in agony due to the worsening infection in his throat. By the time we gave up on the train and walked to a nearby bus stop he could no longer speak and was communicating via notes in the journal. There are three wobbly lines that read:

“Must go to clinic.”


“Hot Dice?”

After our game of hot dice we rode a bus  to a more or less random district in Vancouver. We asked some people on the bus and the street where the nearest clinic was and we were pointed in the right direction. We got to the clinic and they were able to see Bob shortly. The doctor was quite distressed by the seriousness of Bob’s condition and all but demanded that we immediately go to the Emergency Room and have Bob get surgery. She supposed the infection to have turned into a peritonsular abscess; an infected pus blister that was swelling around the tonsils. If the infection and swelling continued to worsen, it could potentially have blocked Bob’s esophagus and resulted in asphyxiation.  After explaining that Bob wanted to try antibiotics first, the doctor very reluctantly gave Bob a prescription for some very very strong antibiotics and cautioned us upon leaving that it was her professional advice to go immediately to the ER and not go fill the prescription she had just written.

After leaving, I had to eat something so I went to the store next door and got a bagel. When I came back to the parking lot, Bob had hacked up everything from his throat and was now able to talk. It seemed that the infected blister had popped and Bob was feeling a little better. He decided to fill the prescription for the antibiotics anyway to prevent a relapse so we walked a long ways up a huge hill to the hospital. I took a nap in the lawn while Bob got his prescription filled.

With Bob in fragile health and us wanting to be on with the journey, we decided to hitch-hike to Kamloops to pick up the train there. We stood on an onramp in Vancouver for about an hour before getting picked up and taken to Chiliwack. At Chiliwack, I had my first experience with the favorite donut and coffee shop of all Canada, Tim Hortons. We had bad luck at the onramp we got off at so we walked across town to the next one. We got there near sunset and were treated to some colorful clouds in the sky while we waited for a ride. We also got some fried food and sweet potato fries given to us by a couple of young girls while on the onramp.

It was starting to get dark and we were scoping out the stand of trees across the street. It was a nice warm night and camping out was pretty inviting, especially since we had succeeded in getting out of Vancouver and Bob was starting to feel better. I decided to smoke one last cigarette, and if no one picked us up by the end of it we would go find a place to roll out for the night. Just as I was putting the butt off the cigarette out and picking up my pack, a small sedan pulled over for us. He was a really nice guy and talked about a lot of the economics in the area and Canada in general for the whole ride to Kamloops. He dropped us off where he thought would be a good place to camp, right at the park by the river in downtown Kamloops.

We wandered around for a bit on the warm summer evening before settling down along the riverbank in some tall grass about a quarter mile west of the park itself. In the morning we went back to the park and set out some of our things to dry from the dew. We felt pretty conspicuous with our packs spread out to dry on the rocks by the walking path but all of the passerby greeted and waved at us so we relaxed and enjoyed the morning in the sun by the beautiful river. We found some nice spots to hang out in the shade, patched up some holes in our pants and Bob took a bath in the river.

Once the sun went down we went behind a closed business next to the tracks and played some games of hot dice while waiting for the train. We had only waited an hour or two when our train came by and stopped with some nice Canadian grainers right in front of where we were waiting and playing dice. We climbed in and rolled out, falling fast asleep and waking up in the morning. We noticed in the morning that there was the body of a fellow trainhopper on the porch that had long since caught the westbound and was mummified.

As we continued down the tracks the mountains grew more impressive. We spent the whole day hanging out on the porch of the grainer enjoying the views. We hardly were in sight of the road and were enjoying some of the most scenic trackage in all of North America. To top it off, this was Bob’s first train ride. I had to break the news to him that it was all downhill from here.

Once we got into the mountains proper we noticed some changes. For one, we started seeing some wildlife. We saw an adult black bear about ten feet from the tracks in the bushes. As we went by the bear sat up and looked around. The rivers looked more glacial, faster flowing and more full of water. The air cooled a little to bring a stiff chill to the breeze in the dusk hours. The night was clear and the stars were fantastic.

We got off the train in the early morning hours outside of Calgary, AB. We made our way to town as it was getting light and parked ourselves at a Tim Hortons inside of a fancy office suite. We were quite dirty after the long train ride and stuck out like sore thumbs, but that hot coffee and breakfast was a godsend after being on the train for a few days. We walked around until we got in touch with Bob’s friend Tenille who lived in Calgary. She gave us directions to her house where washed up and relaxed.