An Odd Family: The Art of Bus Travel

At 3:45 a.m. we hear the local bus driver over the loudspeaker: “Good Morning. We will be arriving in Whitehorse shortly. The only restaurant open 24/7 is not…”

I didn’t make arrangements to be picked up, but I am not worried. I live here.

We get off the bus, an odd sort of newly made family, all a little dazed.

Some are whisked away instantly without goodbyes while the driver looks after the remaining lost souls, making certain all have a place to go.

On a Greyhound bus one is in good hands. As passengers we also look after each other. Travel is quite relaxing.

However, to make it truly pleasurable is an art form.

The less artistic ones probably don’t talk much, but in the end they still become part of the bus family.

Mostly we are a talkative bunch, but each of us can be quiet for hours, because the choice to withdraw, compactly, into private space, is always available. Put your pillow against the window and hang back.

My bus marathon started in earnest at Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. The bus terminal clerk, in the restored 1884-era hotel station, recognized my voice from the phone earlier in the week, before I went into the Great Sand Hills, a beautiful place on Earth.

Though it was almost May, snow heading toward Regina is what I most remember from that initial stretch towards Toronto.

The artistry begins with a “Hi, where are you traveling to?” chirp from a woman sitting across the isle: it is my introduction to the people seated close by who come to know each other after being together for a few days. What we have in common is that we will be together for a few more.

Behind me are the guys I call the soul mates, because they share a particularly exceptional humour. They met days before during a mutual row with the bus driver. I hear this tale after my failed first attempt at sleep.

As I begin a conversation with them and my own bus buddy on the dark night highway, the bus halts.

I believe maybe a moose is crossing, but I’m wrong. The bus driver faces all four of us with a reprimand; the unspoken rule:

“Here, bedtime begins at 10 p.m.”

Most sleep surprisingly well on the bus — the art of travel. Some journey five days, and remain looking good, despite their rumpled clothes and inevitable smells.

Bathroom stops are well used.

Finally, arriving in Toronto at a too-early hour, I walk six blocks in darkness to the YMCA to shower and swim. It’s free for first-timers.

I travel by bus and stay in hostels for similar reasons. Hostels are clean, friendly, and comfortable — both are inexpensive.

And then there is the sight seeing. Slow travel by land habituates one to destinations uniquely.

I didn’t know how beautiful the Canadian Shield is; it is an endless mountaintop. My mountains around Mendenhall subdivision happen to be Precambrian granite, just like the shield.

Scheduled smoke stops, in both directions, are at scenic locations where, smoker or not, all pour out.

With abundant wildlife along the way, we often notify each other of sightings. And the local bus driver even stops for photo opportunities.

I traveled in May, winter everywhere, journeying down and back across a cold, often harsh, southern Canadian spring. Returning home, reaching Pink Mountain, I fully realize once again the best climate, beautiful as always, and warmer this spring, is our North.

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