Sometimes, narratives don’t present themselves. This is what happens when I take an amazing trip, tons of notes and photos, and still can’t figure out what story to tell.
Life on the train becomes predictable quickly, in the comfortable way that cruise lines and escorted tours like everyone to have everything they need almost before they anticipate it and to know they’ll have everything they need almost before they anticipate it.
The Rocky Mountaineer fits this mold, but for a frenetic weekend traveler like me, this predictable and paced form of travel is ridiculously refreshing. After troubles crossing the Canadian Border, less than four hours sleep at the delectable Four Seasons Vancouver, and a bit of anxiety about being a single traveler on trains clearly designed for twos, this new, stimulating form of slow travel is exactly what I need to reconnect to myself and the reason I love to travel.
By eastwardly following the route called ‘First Passage to the West’ for two days, our itinerary crawls northwest out of Vancouver across several mountain ranges until it ends in Lake Louise. This is the destination I’m most anxious for, but I try to tune in early and appreciate what’s happening Now; if I’ve learned anything it’s that constantly looking forward to Next is the best way to poison the present experience.
The expansive farmlands outside of Vancouver feel warm and familiar — after seven years living in the Midwest of the U.S. and spending countless hours on road trips past fields of corn, soybean, and wheat, it takes little more than a few cows and a barn to make me feel nostalgic. These fields give way suddenly to evergreen forests and the early hills of mountain ranges. Now I’m reminded of growing up in Alaska. The beauty is in its early stages, but I can only imagine how much more magnificent it will be.
By the second day though, I’m beginning to habituate:
Oh look, another beautiful forest.
Wow, that lake is so blue.
…Said with increasing listlessness. In the absence of dramatic visual stimuli — of which I’m 100% certain there is more to come — the details begin to take center stage.
I become obsessed with the telegraph line abandoned alongside the train; I want one of the glass insulators as a souvenir. The flash of sunlight, clouds, and reflections on ponds and creeks entrances me with its erratic pattern. I occasionally catch snatches of birdsong or the babble of a creek alongside the rails in a few minutes of slower speed. These things I might normally dismiss as irrelevant to my travel experience slowly step into the spotlight.
I’m granted the opportunity to appreciate these new details by my increasingly permanent presence on the vestibule, where the wind and open air solve many problem I experience at my seat, sleepiness and reflective glass being chief among them.
On the vestibule, my senses are continuously enhanced. I begin to be mesmerized by the music of the train itself; the screech of the wheels on rails, the rhythmic banging together of metal components, the gentle squeak of small rubber shock absorbers.
I realize I haven’t put on my earbuds in nearly 24-hours, despite being in a state of nearly complete emotional solitude and relatively no conversation.
When I do speak up — mostly at meals in the dining car where I choose to sit with fellow travelers roughly half the time–, I come to learn that the self-selected population sharing my the carriage are surprisingly well-travelled: there’s the older Japanese man traveling with his son and daughter-in-law who speak over lunch of travels to Egypt, Morocco, and Sweden in his younger days; the half-Australian, half-Kiwi couple midway through a six-week North American tour that includes New York City on Independence Day; and the young English couple, the only ones within a decade of my own age, who are surprisingly friendly when I caught them out in the vestibule, despite the fact that they had sat and ate alone throughout the entire rest of the trip.
What is it about a destination or itinerary that draws together people of such disparate origins, all looking for their own special version of the experience they’ve heard about or been sold?
I feel like this is essentially existential, rather than specifically related to the Rocky Mountaineer. Why does everyone feel some strange need to see the Eiffel Tower, to stand nose-to-nose with ruins in Angkor Wat, or selfie it up with Christ the Redeemer? Do we just chase experiences and then mark them off like stamps in a passport or checks on a to-do list? How do I tap into my own travel compulsion and show my different approach — early in my travel days I was an incessant itinerary planner and obsessive sight-seer; now I’m lucky if I have more than 1-2 sights I ‘must see’ in a given place.
Since returning, many people have voiced their amazement that I could take this particular trip so young in life, and how it sits on their bucket list. I hear that a lot about traveling — we (the universal ‘we’) seem constantly torn between two lifestyles. One is rigid, responsible, and conventional; the other is dramatic and adventurous, unbounded by traditional restraints. One travels in a rigid, responsible, and conventioal way, with all the details; the other travels freely within and between places according to whim rather than guidebook. We also seem compelled to believe these travel personalities are polar opposites incapable of co-existing.
The Rocky Mountaineer is proof that the two types of travel — and traveler — can seamlessly co-exist. Purposeful travel, maybe this thing we’re calling ‘slow travel,’ is the place to find balance between rushing anxiously and wandering randomly around a beautiful place. Train travel in general may be the answer to a new need we feel for travel, to constantly be going but still connect with ourselves and our destinations in meaningful ways. On a train, we’re in motion, but we’re also standing still.
How This Partnership Happened
I applied for media trip consideration on the Rocky Mountaineer through a platform called Blogger Bridge, which allows influencers and travelers to apply for co-promotional opportunities. Rocky Mountaineer accepted me based on my blog and outside writing experience.
This post is possible due to a partnership with the Rocky Mountaineer that allowed me to take a three-day trip (including two days on the train) as a guest of the train. Not that this should be considered a review, but as always my stories and opinions are my own, and you can’t have them. Go get your own! ?