Each participant in the Sleepolympics has the same basic tools to work with: a reclining chair, a foot and leg stool that swings out from underneath, and about four train cars. This is our universe-three coaches and the dome and dining car. At various times throughout the day, guests enter the challenging event, the time largely determined by their originating time zone. But after the sun goes down, every one joins in and attempts to peel off a few hours of uninterrupted nocturnal bliss.

I was reminded of several facilitated sessions when we were given a set of tools, simple instructions and a time limit to complete a task. In all cases, the creativeness and make-up of the group determined how the goal was achieved, and no two attempts bore any resemblance to each other. The Sleepolympics on the VIA Canadian produced a similar result.

Heather and Ben, across from us on the other side of the train, pulled out both sets of leg rests and put them in the up position. Heather grabbed a corner of the aisle seat and splayed out her legs creating a cradle of sorts for Ben who fell asleep almost instantly-Heather was not far behind. Dylan and I attempted the more traditional reclining position with partial success-Dylan zonked out almost instantly. I, on the other hand, was deeply unsuccessful in this regard, taking about three or four hours to find the right position to join my son in a few winks, somewhere just east of the Kooteneys.

Across the way, positions changed with Ben stretched out across both seat and Heather perched on the edge of the leg rests, legs stretched up the window in an exotic yoga pose. That lasted a few minutes until the stop at Kamloops, when several passengers disembarked, opening a window in the Sleepolympics for Heather to grad two vacated seats for herself.

My fate took a decidedly bad turn for the worse when I took a trip to the washroom only to return and find Dylan in possession of every available inch of seat space. Exhausted, unable to sleep, I gave up and beetled off to the dome car to leave my three travel companions to sleep in peace. Carefully navigating the dimly lit corridors of the three coach cars, I avoided feet and legs sticking out every which way, orphaned water bottles that had made their way into the aisles as the train weaved and bobbed through the mountain passes and blankets meandering away from their owners, stretching out into the neutral space.

There is no shame in the valley of the shadow of sleep. All pretence of decorum is thrown off the train and even the most prim and proper devolve into contorted and potentially disturbing positions desperate to shake off the bonds of wakefulness, determined, inventive, desperate. Families draped, strangers drooled, friends flopped, crew members drifted.

Then, in the wee hours of the morning, one by one they began to stir. At once, all alone in the dome with a young fellow draped in a sleeping bag-moments later, people began entering the scene, filling the seats well before the stroke of six. The Sleepolympics were over, with lots of satisfied winners, an equal number begrudging souls who gave it a good try, and a peppering of total losers like myself. Day two on the VIA Canadian was underway.

July 25, 2010


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