Let’s talk about derailments for a moment, shall we? I have a story to tell. There may be profanity. So be warned.

Achray Campground in Algonquin Park.     Photo courtesy of Turnipseed Travel

One fall in the early nineties, Hubby and I were camped in our tent at Achray Campground on the shores of Grand Lake in Algonquin Park. Following the shoreline all along the curve of the lake was a railway line, for freight trains. It’s abandoned now, but was still in use at the time. Achray is a beautiful campground, and the campsites are located on a small peninsula that juts out into the lake, between the lake and the rail line. The rail line which was, I might add, unbeknownst to me.
Now picture this. It’s midnight. And very dark. We’re tucked into our sleeping bags, on our air mattress, on the ground, in our tent. Our campsite is back from the lake, making it about a hundred metres from the invisible, to me anyway, rail line.  It’s a warm night so the tent door is zipped open. And lying there we can see out the screened inverted-V-shape of the tent doorway to the dark trees overhead, the night sky, the stars. Well, we could see that if we were awake, but we aren’t.

The ground begins to shake. We are awakened by a dreadful rumbling, like thunder. We feel it as much as hear it, up through the ground, through our thin air mattress. Then dead centre in the middle of our tent doorway we see a large, bright, round light. The thundering, and now a rushing sound, gets louder and louder, and the light grows, and seems to be bearing down upon us. It fills the doorway. I am paralysed with fear. I can’t even call out to Hubby. I remember thinking, “It’s a UFO. It can’t be a UFO. It’s a freaking UFO.” I also remember thinking that we were going to die.

The noise gets louder and louder, and after a few breathless moments the light moves off to our right, the thundering and rushing now are clearly off to the right, and the noise begins to diminish, and finally dies down. I remember yelling, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.What the hell was that?” Hubby is spluttering, “I thought it had left the track. I thought the train had left the track.” And then we can’t talk at all for a while because we’re in hysterics, laughing with released tension. It came out later that, as I was lying there staring into the maw of an apparent UFO, Hubby, who knew about the rail line, thought the train had derailed as it came around the curve of the lake, thought it had left the tracks and was heading straight for our tent. Seriously folks, until you experience it, you can’t imagine the deafening, thundering, bone-shaking noise of a thousand ton freight train as it passes close to you. Especially when you’re lying on the ground looking up at it. Ha.

We still laugh about this story.

We laughed about it the other day, in fact, when out of the blue I came down with shingles and said that I guessed my plans for the week would be derailed.

Plans to meet a friend and former student to see her new house in the country and then decamp to the local pub for lunch. Plans for a long bike ride and a picnic with Hubby. Plans that have been rescheduled twice already for various reasons to meet a friend for dinner. All cancelled. My newly revised fitness regimen, derailed. Plans for outfit shoots one day. Cancelled. No outfit shoots this week. In fact, no outfits period. As I said to a friend, I fear my clothes at the moment. Can’t stand anything moving across my skin.

So all my plans for the week, derailed. Replaced by slouching around the house in soft pyjama bottoms and a super soft loose tee, holding my side, wincing, and whining.

When I said to Hubby the other day about my plans being derailed, we laughed about our derailment adventure back in the day. But not for long. It hurts too much to laugh. In truth, I feel as if I’ve been hit by that long ago train. So…shingles. Not fun and not funny.

But enough of that. I just deleted a whole paragraph of whining as too boring for anyone to read. It even bored me.

I will say that sitting at my desk at the computer feels okay. So that’s good. And Hubby has been casting about for ideas for a  meal to cheer me up. Despite all the culinary skill he’s acquired over the past few years, all the wonderful meals he’s learned to cook, he’s hit on a supper of barbequed hotdogs with toasted buns and steamed onions. My absolute favourite childhood meal. Isn’t that sweet?

You might think it odd to have trains run through a wilderness park like Algonquin. But trains and Algonquin Park go way back. Logging has a long history in this part of Ontario. Freight trains serviced the mills and the small logging communities in and around the park area for eighty years. And passenger trains ran to the park from Toronto back in the early parts of the twentieth century. The well-heeled citizens of the south could board a train in the big city and be in pristine wilderness by evening. Some of the gracious lodges they visited still exist, although now you have to drive your car to get there.


Hubby remembers going fishing with friends in the seventies, loading their gear and their canoes onto the train that passed through the park. The engineer dropped them off and then picked them up a few days later on his way back to Ottawa. Hubby still laughs about one trip where a group of hapless canoeists, including him, huddled in the tiny station house while a couple of black bears pawed their way into the packs on the platform, looking for food and fresh fish. In fact, when he grew up Hubby’s younger brother was the engineer who drove the train through the park. That’s a pretty cool connection, I thought.

But enough about trains, I must go. There’s a cold compress somewhere in the house with my name on it, and I’m way behind with my whining. It’s raining and raining today. A good day to pop some pain meds and settle down with my book. I’m getting pretty good at reading lying on my stomach.

P.S. Thanks so much to the folks at Turnipseed Travel for letting me use their photo. Here’s the link to their travel website.


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From the archives


With My Nose in a Book

To tell you the truth, I think I've lived my whole life with "my nose stuck in a book," Here are some of my all time favourites.

What’s Your Magic Wardrobe Number?

What's your magic wardrobe number? How many clothes do you really need to make dressing fun, instead of a chore? It's less than you think.

Off He Goes Into The Wild Green Yonder

Hubby is heading off into the wild green yonder this week. Continuing a love affair with the wilderness that has lasted six decades.

69 thoughts on “When Plans Get Derailed”

  1. Poor you. How very unfortunate and I've heard shingles are very painful. Amusing post despite your suffering. How scary that camping experience must have been at the time but what a great story afterwards. Loved the two Susie Steiner books especially the second. I see she's working on the third. Agree with all you said about Manon. Thanks again for the recommendation. Glad hubby is looking after you. Hope you feel better soon. Iris

  2. Susan, I recently discovered your blog and am thoroughly enjoying it. I am so sorry you have contracted shingles and hope that medication will help shorten its duration.

  3. Husband and I have been meaning to get the shingles vaccines. Your post has been a good kick in the rear. It sounds miserable. Your train story, however, sounds terrifying. (Yet another good reason for me not to sleep on the ground in a tent – ha ha!) -Jenn

  4. Sorry to hear about the shingles! A friend of mine had it a few summers ago. Hope if goes away quickly. Your story reminded me of when friends asked if they could camp out in our driveway for a night on their way thru our city on a cross Canada road trip. Sure, no problem, park your little camper in our driveway and stay the night. Well…trains run past our house about half a block away. We are so used to them that we rarely notice them any more. Well my poor friends were suddently woken up at 4am by a train and they said it sounded like a 747 airplane bearing down on them!! We laughed later…and no we don't expect them back for another visit haha

    1. Ha. Great story. We had friends sleep in a tent trailer in our driveway… turns out we had a nest of crows nearby. Baby crows… very noisy when you can't just close the window and shut them out.

  5. Hope you feel better soon. I've had shingles and know how miserable you feel. The hard part for me was finding a comfortable position for sleeping. Hope you have some great books to enjoy! Mary Lou

  6. My husband and I were recently inoculated with the new Shingrix vaccine, which is supposedly more effective against shingles than the traditional vaccine. Shingrix is given in a series of two shots, administered two to six months apart. My health insurance plan here in the US considered the injections “preventive,” and covered the shots in full. You and your readers may want to look into Shingrix. I hope you feel much better soon, Sue!

    1. I heard about that new vaccine…ironically when I was diagnosed with shingles. Bit late for me. But I will get it in a few months.

  7. Oh no Sue! That is so nasty, to say the least! My hubby contacted shingles 7 years ago and I was vaccinate thereafter. I do hope you recover soon!
    Such a good train story, I had to chuckle. Sorry! Funny, how we laugh hysterically when something scary affects us?! Thank goodness you lived to tell the tale!! 😉
    Take care!

  8. So painful, glad the the viral meds for available now. Good excuse to wear baggy clothes and rest. Sad about cancelling plans, I’m disappointed when this happens too.

  9. I'm so sorry about the shingles,it is so painful -I hope you'll be better soon. Do you take some medications?
    But,if it was meant to be-better now than during your travel to Italy
    What a story-it must have been awful.
    Camping in the middle of nowhere sounds good but I don't think I'll be comfortable,after all the scandi noir crime novels (and your train and bear stories)
    I've enjoyed S. Steiner books immensely-what now? Everything seems so meh after them
    I wish you a quick recovery (and good books in the meantime)

  10. What a story! I hope your case of shingles gets better soon. Thanks for the reminder that I need my second dose of the new vaccine.

  11. Oh, I’m so sorry about the shingles. My husband had shingles last year on the side of his face. Not a pleasant experience. We have been told that it can/may return. The new vaccine is said to be much more effective. Great camping story….

  12. I'm so sorry about the shingles, my mom had them a few years back, they are the worst.

  13. Yikes, poor you – I understand it is very painful, you are smart to take it easy. Years ago a 50-ish co-worker of mine showed me a painful rash spot on her torso and commented that the office clinic person had said to put some antibiotic cream on it and ignore it. Knew at once it was shingles, that characteristic hatched pattern so I suggested she call for an appointment someone with more expertise – they didn't seem to be able to DO much for it at that time but at least it was on the record…..and she wasn't told to ignore it!

    We are still waiting for the new vaccine, need to nag my person a bit more!


    1. My doctor gave me anti-viral meds, and told me to take Tylenol for the pain. No mention of the deep, jabbing pain that would develop as the rash moves through its cycle. And no mention of any other ways to help cope. Thank god for the Mayo Clinic website etc which I checked out of desperation. Cool baths, and cool compresses… especially at 4 AM have been a lifesaver.

  14. The train story was wonderful and I was with you in that tent as I read about your experience! My empathetic nature is in high gear as I have suffered from shingles too…it was not only painful but itchy and lasted far too long. Stay comfortable in loose clothing, read to take your mind off the uncomfort and enjoy those special meals…love a good barbecued hotdog especially loaded with onions! Hope you are feeling much better very, very soon! Cheers, Alayne

  15. Ugh, the shingles. I had them and HAD to go to a family lunch to meet my future brother-in-law. Having to wear a bra through that ordeal was hell. Hope you feel better soon.

  16. Oh my friend! I hate that you have shingles! I saw something odd on my late husband's back and when he said, it had just begun to bother him, we got him to the doctor that day! Full blown shingles averted, but they came back when I was diagnosed with breast cancer and the Army sent his son to Afghanistan. My girlfriend had them from front to back, all around her body, and she was miserable. I hope they vanish… SOON!! xoxox, Brenda

  17. I'm so sorry about the shingles! I haven't been impressed by the efficacy stats on the vaccine previously available, but the new one seems promising and I'm thinking about it. . . . I hope you can find some comforts as you move through the virus' progress — so nasty! Take care. . .

  18. Been there, done that — about 15 years ago. I had not had the shingles vaccine, but I did go immediately to the doctor who gave me some viral medication that made the shingles event SO MUCH LESS AWFUL than it would have been had I delayed going to the doctor so fast.

    Moral of my story — any itching / stinging / painful "rash" (or skin eruption) demands immediate attention from our medicos, we should always advocate for ourselves in the direction of shingles to be sure that its diagnosis is duly considered.

    I hope you get completely well VERY VERY FAST!

    Ann in Missouri

    1. Me too, Ann, thanks. It's unfortunate that I first noticed the rash on Friday night, then thought… oh well… I'll get to the doctor on Monday which I did. But since then it has been mostly downhill. Bu-ut… I;m hopeful that the antiviral meds mean that most of the pain will be gone soon… hopefully.

  19. Having had the shingles while we were living in China, I can sympathize completely! I hope that you got onto the anti viral medication right away as it makes a huge difference. Hope you're feeling much better soon!

    1. Oh my, Elaine. Was the healthcare much different than here? Took a few days for me to get onto the anti-viral… but still hope it lessens the duration.

  20. Susan, I'm so sorry about the shingles….it's a horror. Hope you have gotten necessary meds. Hubby and I just took the second of the second (and new) round of shots to hopefully escape what we have witness our friends go through. Prayers for a quick recovery.

  21. Hi Sue, tried to post a comment earlier but it didn’t post … frustrating:)
    So sorry to hear about your shingles. I understand how painful and irritating it is. I hope you’re managing to remain relatively pain free and comfortable.
    I totally get your experience with the train or ufo lol ? it must have been terrifying!!
    Take care xxxx

    1. Pain free… not so much. Can't seem to find anything that can touch it. Hoping that this maybe builds character? Silver lining etc.

    2. The only silver lining that I can see is that it didn’t occur near to or during your Italy trip! Plus, how thoughtful of Stu, cooking your favourite comfort food. I have certain foods that I only really fancy or eat when I’m unwell … something very comforting about eating food that your mum cooked for you when you were unwell as a child 🙂

  22. Shingles is the pits so wishing you a speedy recovery. Keep taking the meds and using the cold compresses. Very scary train story.

  23. So sorry to hear about your run-in with shingles. I had them a few years ago, but it took a long while for me to consider what it might be — it was a fairly mild case — until my boss heard me complain about itchiness around the bra line. Feel very lucky it wasn't too bad, although lying on the sheets at night felt like a bed of prickers.

    Hope that by the time you read through all of the messages of support from your loving blog community, you'll already be feeling loads better!

  24. Our nurse-practitioner daughter has urged us to get the new shingles vaccine, which my husband did earlier this year and which I'm planning to ask for at an upcoming physical. I'm so sorry to hear how miserable you've been feeling; I hope your symptoms will soon ease. I also hope it's possible to find a reasonably comfortable position for reading or watching Netflix!

    Denise L.

    1. Thanks, Denise. My doctor said the new vaccine is much more effective that the old one, but not covered, at least in Ontario. I'm 7 days in and have left the house once to try to drive one of our vehicles to the garage while my husband took the other. A 1o min drive at most and I was sweating and hyperventilating from the pain caused by the movement of the truck. Thongs are easing gradually. Last night I slept for over 12 hours.. that felt good. Next year I'm getting the shot!!

    2. I'm in Ontario too … we're fortunate enough to have excellent health insurance through my husband's employer and this vaccine is covered. Hooray for your 12-hour sleep, but that drive sounded like a terrible ordeal. :o(


  25. No fun! Hoping that the pain subsides sooner than later. Thankful to learn about the new shingles vaccine via these comments. Thank you for sharing this trial. Get well soon!!!
    Charlene H

  26. Hi Sue, Shingles are a nightmare and I hope your assessment as above is holding true. Also, I read the two Manon books this week, just finished the second one. Should I comment here or on that earlier post?

    1. So far so good…well…not exactly good… but better than yesterday:) Hope you liked the books, Phoebe. Wish I hadn't read the second one so quickly…I'd still have it to look forward to.

    2. I loved the books, especially the second one. The first one was very good but very "police procedural." I kept inserting the characters into the sets of the British tv mysteries I've watched. But the second one was tremendous. i definitely think the books should be read in order, even if this means having to wait for library reserves to come up.

  27. Shingles, oh gosh, so sorry! I hope your sense of humor helps, but I know that pain whittles away at one's good cheer over time, so I hope whatever treatment has been advised is helping even more.

  28. So sorry to hear about your pain. I want the vaccine as soon as I can get it. Not quite 50 yet. I live where Mother Mayo began and glad the website helped. It is a great resource. My mom had them on her face not long ago and I let her know she could give the grand babies them as not vaccinated yet against chicken pox. Yikes. My husband and I both had terrible chicken pox so no desire to suffer shingles too. Our derailment this year was his open heart surgery in April and as we were celebrating the 3 month mark, he fell off his bike and broke a bone in his writs and full cast up past the elbow for 3 weeks. Just starting week 3 and hoping he gets a smaller splint/cast on the 7th, at Mayo. My care taking skills are being tested! I hope you are feeling much better.

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