Chapter 5.  Northern Manitoba

Day 21 – June 15 – Thompson

(Shari) Awakened by a clank and a roll, I turn on the light to read my watch. Only 2:30 AM. My bed must be over a wheel because I hear the clank underneath me as if the wheel is rolling over a seam in the track. I try to return to sleep but do not have much luck and the night just crawls on and on and on. I walk to the dining car but no one is up yet and it is cold. I walk back to my cubbie to read. I fall asleep and get up again to find Bert, Pam and Jack in the dining car, but it is too cold in there for me. I read some more in my warm cubbie. Finally I get up for good and sit on the bench with my head against the window and promptly fall asleep for two hours. Bert is already finished with breakfast by the time I order my eggs and hash browns but I have plenty of people to keep me company. My lack of sleep is more the exception than the rule since I was not worn out with Bert’s birding schedule like the majority of the group. Steve and Nancy again play 500 with us and not to rub salt into any wounds, but the women beat the men again. Just plain skill I say! Steve is still looking for the marks on backs of the cards he says must be there. The train is an hour late in its arrival into Thompson and the rest of the day is devoted to washing and errands. Trevor and Verna conduct the travel meeting tonight. After handing out five prizes for solving the mystery on the train, I sit back and enjoy our campfire. It is 8:30 before we get around to eating dinner.

(Bert) At 3:30 AM I find my bed too hard to continue sleeping, so I get dressed and head toward the front of the train. I can see dimly into the night darkness engulfing the train and note when we cross Thibaudeau, but eventually the monotony lulls me back to sleep. I awaken at an hour and half later when we pass Bird, a gain of 35 mi while I slept. The morning sun illuminates the frilly green tamarack which was only bare branches six days ago. In fact, everything outside is now a bright green. Winter is gone.

Now in the distance we see tall towers transmitting electricity from the hydroelectric powerplant at the Nelson River dam, north to Churchill and south to Thompson. The train takes a large bridge across the river. What once was a fur-trading route to York Factory is now left to mergansers and gulls. By 7 AM the train has picked up speed and Bent uses his GPS to register the velocity at 41 mph. The hours disappear with breakfast and morning conversation, but when the scheduled arrival time passes I am anxious to arrive. The train reaches Thompson about an hour later and we gather our luggage and shuttle off to the campground. An afternoon of errands awaits us and then we gather around the campfire Shari and I talk about future RV birding trips, enticing several to sign up while there is still space available.

Day 22 – June 16 – Grand Rapids

(Bert) After leading the pack for this and many other caravans, it’s quite different being the Tailgunner for a day while Trevor and Verna take a turn as Wagonmasters. A much more leisurely day, Shari and I stop first at Paint Lake since several of our group had decided to bird the area this morning. We find Tennessee, Magnolia, Cape May warblers and a few other good birds before moving on down the highway. Next stop is lunch at a restaurant and while the others eat I walk the area, finding another Magnolia Warbler which previous years I thought was hard to find, but not this year. The owner of the restaurant says she sees a Great Gray Owl regularly near her home and gives us directions to the place. We find it with little difficulty – the house that is, not the bird – and after a hour’s effort give up. A neighbor saw the owl late yesterday, but I figure noontime is not good for finding an owl. The rest of the travel day proves quite uneventful until … Well, I’ll let Shari tell the story.

(Shari) Being last one out today is pretty nice. Trevor and Verna are taking over Wagonmaster duties and we are Tailgunners for the day. NO ONE BETTER BREAK DOWN. I have a leisurely morning and get out of bed just as Trevor and Verna are leaving. Neat! I get to diddle around for the next 90 min. until we are scheduled to depart. The remainder of this day, I have used fictitious names for those involved. Jane, Dick, Tom and Sue told us they were stopping at Paint Lake. Not to pass them up we pull in to find them. Darn, poor Bert has to bird. How sad! And you know he hates every minute of it. He gets into the RV with Jane and Dick and they take off into the woods while I stay back to do paperwork and walk to the restaurant for a cappuccino and cinnamon roll. After they come back we depart Paint Lake but 40 mi. later we see the two couples stopped at a restaurant, presumably for lunch. We pull in and learn of a Great Gray Owl nest about two miles down the road. Of course, five birders and an SOB (spouse of birder) have no option but to check it out. We all pile into Dick’s RV and follow the map the lady gave us, but find no owl. Moving on we come to a bad section of the road that rattles our TV and the moving strap that I use to hold it falls down. We pull off to fix it. About 10 min. latter we see Dick and Jane’s rig on the opposite of the road. We assume they found a bird until we see the front passenger side has a flat tire. When we get out of R-Tent-III Tom informs us that Dick fell asleep at the wheel. I am very relieved to see Dick and Jane walking around their rig and that they are all right. Their RV is another story. It crossed the highway, went onto the shoulder and down a small incline moving a good 150 yd. over rocks and dirt until Dick got it under control. We walk the path the RV took and find brackets, sewer pipes, hoses, clamps, metal, glass, etc. littering the ground. Their holding tank is damaged, as are two more tires in the rear. Jane says the cabinets came open and stuff is all over the inside. The vehicle will not start and it looks like we have to travel 25 mi. into town for a tow truck. Dick and Jane are so calm about it and say, “Things can be replaced.” It truly is a miracle that neither one of them is hurt, for 10 ft. sooner or 10 ft. later they would have been airborne due to the ditches and steep inclines. Dick jokes that he knew he was going to be in good hands, since Bert, the Tailgunner, was only a little behind him. I think I am more upset than Jane and so I ask her to give ME a hug. Bert and I decide to go on into town and try to get a tow truck. Tom soon follows with the name and phone number of Dick’s emergency roadside service. The next two hours are spent with Trevor on the telephone with Allstate. None of us are impressed with their lack of service and after a couple of hours they finally decide to send a tow truck out of Winnipeg, but it will not arrive until tomorrow morning at 7:30. Tom and Sue go out to retrieve Dick and Jane along with their valuables to bring them back to town. They will be staying at the Inn tonight. The rest of us walk to the Inn for dinner. What a day! I don’t want to be Tailgunner any time soon.

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