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It's Wednesday, June 26th. The day that we would throw all caution to the wind, climb aboard the northbound Little Bear, get dropped off 142 miles north in the middle of nowhere, and attempt to capture a photo of the southbound Polar Bear Express crossing Ontario Northland's longest bridge (1800 feet) over the mighty Moose River. We would then camp out overnight and catch the southbound Little Bear home Thursday morning.

My good friend Wayne Demarell, a Cochrane Station CSSA and myself spent about 2 weeks running though lists making sure that all of our supplies were taken care of. Thank goodness for that because I wouldn't have had any idea as to what I would need up there. Wayne is the experienced camper, so his suggestions were indeed carried out. All in all, by Tuesday evening we were ready.

Soon enough, 11:15 am rolls around on Wednesday and The Little Bear rolls out of town right on time. I had mixed feelings as we cross 3rd Avenue heading north because it started raining just as we started moving. I wasn't too worried. If you refer back to the Polar Bear trip last summer on this site, you'll see that the weather was downright crappy in Cochrane and absolutely beautiful in Moosonee. I was hoping for a repeat performance of that same weather pattern.

On board, Wayne and myself grab a couple of sandwiches in the Diner and chat with the Staff and the Running Crew about what we were doing in Moose River. Soon enough we're about 3 miles out and we head to 412 to unload our equipment. A couple of Moose River's residents, along with ourselves unload our things and the train pulls away. You could hear the 1800 and 2000 units for miles as they roll on to Moosonee. We were soon surrounded by quiet. All except for a generator running at a shack used to power the town.

That theory I had about the rain clearing up meant nothing now as the rain was coming down in buckets. We decide to take a walk a half mile to the bridge to scout out where we'd get the photo. Since it was severely overcast, pretty much anywhere would do. We found a potential spot then headed back to set up our tent. We were soaked. After a brief chit chat with Tony, the Moose River's ONR Watchman (and a bit of suggesting by Wayne) we wound up staying in an empty Hi-Rail truck's garage. Sounds primitive, but this place was great! No tent, a roof over our heads, and lots of nails in the walls to hang up wet jackets and hats, along with our 5 or 6 smoking mosquito coils. We set up, sit back, smoke a couple "Century Sam" cigars, chat a bit, and wait for the southbound Polar Bear. The rain still was coming down.

6:15 pm, still raining. We came this far, so a bit of water wasn't going to ruin this photo shoot. Wayne and I were on a mission! I immediately cut a hole in a garbage bag to use as a rain coat (Wayne cut out the arms for me). Wayne had his own actual raincoat that he brought with him so he was ok. My ONR ball cap was soaked from our previous walk so I resorted to using one of our bug hats.

Our next invention would be something to help shield the expensive camera from the rain. Wayne (a.k.a. McGyver) rigged up a garbage bag with a couple longs sticks in order to hold it over my head while I'm taking the photos. After grabbing our garbage bag, an axe to get a couple branches for the makeshift "canopy", and the camera equipment, we begin our severely wet half mile trek back to the bridge. We scout a little more and decide to capture the train from the southeast bank of the Moose River. There's nowhere to sit so we stand there, smoke another cigar and laugh repeatedly about how everyone on that train will think we're totally nuts. The rain still wasn't letting up as the Polar Bear rolled out from behind the trees to to the bridge. "There she is!", I yell. Wayne immediately grabs the canopy and hangs it over my head as I juggle the camera bag to get the camera out and get ready to snap photos of the approaching train.

The speed is slow as the mixture of the noises of two howling Caterpillar diesel engines, the sound of the wheels running over the rails being amplified from being on the bridge, and the echo bouncing off of the banks of the river were very impressive as the Polar Bear slows to a stop to pose (which reminds me, A big Thank You to ONR for arranging the train to stop on the bridge). With an "all clear" wave from us and two short blasts of the horn, The Polar Bear fires up to continue on her journey south. We continue to photograph the Bear as she rolls back into the wilderness. Wayne and myself were completely soaked to the skin, but were happy that our mission was accomplished.

We return to our Hi-Rail garage and make ourselves something to eat. Exploring Moose River was pretty much out of the question this night as the rain seemed to be worsening. In fact, Bernie, The Little Bear's Conductor notified us during our trip of RTC's Torrential rain warning across all Subdivisions. The first time we ever recalled RTC doing such a thing. All in all, we sit around and chit chat the evening away and eventually fall asleep.

4 am, dark and cold. When the sun goes down, the temperature still drops. The clothes that were soaked were indeed still soaked, but as the sun rises, we find it's going to be a great day. Therefore we spread our shirts, hats, and jackets over anything that they'll hang on and fire up some breakfast. We still have a few hours until the 10 am arrival of the southbound Little Bear, so we decide to explore Moose River a little.

Wayne's a bit of a history buff and did a fair amount of research on the history of Moose River and wanted to walk some of the trails and perhaps find a spot to set up camp when we decide to come back next year (oh yeah, we decided to make this an annual event). We follow the trails to places like the Moose River Cemetery, The Wilderness Bible Camp, and we find a great place to set up camp next to the river about 200 feet from the bridge the next time we camp here. It was a great way to spend a few hours. Alas, 10 am was approaching and we begin our trek back to our Hi-Rail garage.

The rest of our gear is packed up and piled at trackside. My portable scanner complete with cheap rechargeable batteries died during the night, but you can hear conversations between the mixed train and RTC echoing from the bunkhouse. Soon, the local residents arrive and meet up on trackside where we all chat, soon followed by the echo of a roaring FP7au and GP38-2 thundering through the forest.

We exchange waves with the head-end crew as they rush by and were soon greeted by Bernie and Pat (Pat was working the Baggage Car this trip). We laughed and joked about living through the experience of overnight camping at Moose River as Pat and Bernie give us a hand with our gear and we board the train heading south.

We arrive in Cochrane a little tired, a little hungry, but really happy that I finally made the journey to photograph The Polar Bear Express crossing The Moose River after wanting to do it for most of my life.

Rain or no rain, it was indeed a thrill of a lifetime. We'll see ya next year, 142.

 


A Big Thank You goes to Wayne and Karen Demarrel, Maurice Bernardi, Yvan Gravel, Elke Chapman, Wilson and Mary-Lou Bridgeman, Guy Papineau, Steve Thompson, James Perriera, Tony Onolack, The crews of The Polar Bear and Little Bear, and the residents of Moose River for making our journey to Moose River possible.