The Tram

Chaos in Print

At this point in my life, I’ve divided my life into two parts: “before Japan” and “after Japan.” Something about spending a year in another country shifted my viewpoint somewhat. And now, when I do things that I haven’t done since before Japan, they seem slightly different, although wholly familiar. There’s one thing I’ve wanted to do since “after Japan” started, and that’s return to my beloved Canadian Rockies. It’s an opportunity I didn’t have until just a couple of days ago.

My niece and nephew were visiting and, in a quest for something to entertain them, my parents decided to pack them up for a whirlwind two-day trip to Jasper. Since I’m at home and unemployed, I got packed up, too. In just a few short hours, I was once again gazing at Roche Miette, knowing that I had at long last returned.

When I was a kid, just about every summer vacation was spent at Jasper National Park. It’s hardwired into me now. The mountains represent relaxation and rejuvenation. A summer without the mountains became an unimaginable horror. And now, with three years since my last visit, I was long overdue.

Naturally, the parents wanted to make this trip special…you know, for the grandkids. That, of course, meant a trip to the Jasper Tramway. Now, the Jasper Tramway has got to be one of my favourite places on Earth. There’s just something magical about the place. Firstly, since the equipment is all electric, it’s a lot quieter than you’d think. You just watch those bright red gondolas go swaying out of the ground station, and if you listen carefully, you can hear them groan slightly as they sway gently in the mountain breeze. Before you know it, it’s disappeared somewhere along the mountain, and in a few minutes, its sister comes silently gliding down and into the ground terminal. It’s just so amazing.

I even almost worked there one summer. I was in university, looking for a summer job and, just for the hell of it, I sent them my resume. About a week after I sent it off, I got a call from the Jasper Tramway manager. “Are you going to be around in 2 hours? I’ll call you back then and we’ll do a phone interview,” he told me. I was elated! 2 hours later, the manager called back with apologies. In those 2 hours that passed, the person who quit came back and begged to have his job back. So, the manager broke the news that the position had been filled.

I got over it. Besides, it’s so freaking expensive to live in Jasper, as indicated by the current price to ride to the top. $22 per person. But, anything to please the grandkids. Before long, my father, my niece and my nephew were slated to ride to the top! Mom doesn’t ride to the top anymore, not since the time she saw an airplane flying beneath her.

We had 20 minutes to kill before our tram left for the top. It’s tightly scheduled, now. So, I kicked back with my niece and nephew while we watched the trams go up and down. One came down completely filled with Japanese tourists. I told my niece and nephew that, when those people came off, we had to say, “Otsukarasamadishta!” Luckily, my niece and nephew couldn’t master the pronunciation of it, so we let it go.

It wasn’t long, though, before we were on our way up. I know the view and the trip all by heart. The slow accent, allowing you to see the entire valley that Jasper resides in. You can see each and every lake that surrounds the area. The bright, wide blue strip that is the Athabasca River. The narrow, emerald green stripe that is the Miette River. A gentle sway and a few bumps as you go across the tower that holds up the cable. It’s not long before you pass the downward tram, the halfway point. Then, the climb gets really steep, and the guide points out the really tiny trees that are over 200 years old. And then…you’re at the top of Whistler’s Mountain.

Well, not really at the top. There’s a hike that you can take to the top. I’ve only ever managed to do that hike once. We all scrambled out of the tram, and my niece, nephew and I took in the view. It was a cloudy day, but the clouds were high enough that they weren’t blocking the view. My niece and nephew marvelled as a pointed out a low-flying cloud floating beneath us. “Look, guys! We’re actually above a cloud!” They loved it even more when the tram departed for the ground station, only to actually pass through the cloud. I looked down the valley and saw that a lot more low flying clouds were heading our way.

We caught up with my father, and we began to walk around outside the upper terminal. We marvelled at the machinery that runs the tram, all located in back of the terminal. We marvelled some more at the view and, as we were getting ready to take the hike to the top, the winds picked up. These winds were really strong. And it was pushing those low-flying clouds closer. And it was getting cold. We turned back for the terminal.

We got inside just in time to hear the announcement. Because of the high winds and the clouds, the trams were shut down. The upper terminal had become completely fogged in. The strong winds were beating against the building. We were trapped at the top of the mountain. We gathered in the upper terminal’s restaurant and bought ourselves a drink. Nothing to do but wait it out.

It took an hour before the trams started moving again. While the clouds had lifted for the most part, we were still being rocked by a strong, cold wind. People started leaving in droves. The lines for the downward trams were phenomenal. But, we weren’t ready to leave just yet. Perhaps some of this trip could be salvaged.

We went outside to take another look around. The wind was coming out of the west, so we remained on the east balconies. The building was acting like a windbreak. We took in as much of the view as we could, but the winds were making everything awfully cold. We walked to the edge of the building, knowing that, beyond, the wind would be making things really cold.

I stood at the edge for a while and looked up to the top of the mountain. I looked out at the expanse of boardwalks and balconies that make up the back of the upper terminal. At the end of the boardwalks was when the hike to the top began. Every time I’d ridden the tramway to the top, I’d made it at least to the end of the boardwalks. To come all this way, and then just stop at the restaurant? Unacceptable.

I synched up the cords that tied my hat to my head. I zipped up my jacket. I squinted my eyes. I sprinted out into the wind.

Without the safety of the building, I was now walking through the strongest wind I’d ever experienced. But I didn’t focus on it. I just kept going. The end of the boardwalks and back was the only thing I had in mind. I was going to do this.

I reached the end of the boardwalks and went a little further. I spotted a big rock, and figured it would be a great place to stop and adopt a heroic pose. I stopped there and struck a pose. I turned around to see that my niece, nephew, and father had followed. Naturally, we posed for a picture, then sprinted back to the upper terminal.

Now that I had gone as far as I always go, I knew I could go back down with a clear conscience. We returned to the upper terminal and got in line for the downward trip.

As is the way with all things, by the time we were back on the tram and heading down, the wind had stopped and it was shaping up to be a nice day. We shrugged it off and went back down the mountain.

Dad and I were a little let-down. That was one of the worst Jasper Tramway excursions we’d had in quite a while. But, the younglings seemed to enjoy it, so we weren’t going to make a fuss.

We arrived at the bottom, tracked down my mother, and the younglings proceeded to tell her all about their adventure. I just looked back up at the upper terminal. This was my first trip after Japan, and, I had to say, I enjoyed it even more. Yes, it was slightly different. When I rode tramways in Japan, I’d often feel cheated, as I’d get to the top and spy a parking lot and a bus stop, meaning I could have saved my money and just taken the bus. But here, the top is still isolated, remote, and truly provides an adventure.

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