Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Ultimate Road Trip has No Roads 

Rocky Mountain Flyover
Rocky Mountain Flyover - click left or right (or use the arrow keys) to see more.

As a kid - or even as an adult - I was never fond of the classic road trip. When you’re small and sitting in the back of a car all you see is the inside panel of the car door and all you feel, if not motion sickness, is boredom. Well now I’ve found the ultimate road trip doesn’t even have roads. If I told you, you could be ferried through some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes sitting in a comfy chair while someone brings you snacks and drinks and meals you may think I’m referring to a virtual reality video game. Yet in truth it’s the oldest form of road trip - the continental train passage from the lush verdant west coast to the pointed snow capped peaks of the Rockies.

Oh sure, you pay for the privilege of experiencing beauty esconced in luxury whilst uniformed staff offer sweets, savouries, wine or beer but hey you’re worth it. If not you then who?

I guess you could do this via the cruelty of the winding highway and common crudeness of gas stations but then you would have to pay attention to the road and not the mountains where the earth literally touches the sky. Or maybe you’d prefer to hike the trails with a rucksack and a mule full of supplies like out forefathers did. Trust me, I’m pretty sure our forefathers would have preferred a leather chair with a glass of ale and the occasional nap rather than risking life and limb. Plus, all the bugs? No thanks. You know there are ticks now that can make you allergic to red meat? Yeah. I may never go into a forest again unless I’m surrounded by steel and glass. That's the beauty of taking the train. You’re separated from the dirty bits of nature while simultaneously carving through it - with a glass full of your favourite beverage, with or without ice.

What to say of the views that the poets haven’t already said? You cannot look away. Golden light falls on mountainsides above deep, churning rivers as eagles casually veer overhead. You pass big horn sheep standing still as museum pieces until one looks right back at you as if it’s thinking, “What the hell are those things?” And all of this is accompanied by the clinking of silverware, the flapping of newspapers and the smell of bacon, eggs and freshly brewed coffee. The Coastal Mountains, The Cascade Mountains, The Selkirks, Rogers Pass, The Connaught Tunnel, The Fraser River, The Thompson River, Adams River, The Columbia River, the Kicking Horse River… here geography and history mix with commerce and culture in equal parts.

If this sounds like travel brochure prose that shouldn’t be surprising. This trip is essentially a land cruise by rail. Every moment feels planned, from the food service to the uncanny ability of the staff to know the exact moment an osprey’s nest will come into view. Despite the ceremony and tyranny of scheduling you can’t deny that everyone on this car appreciates what we are experiencing. At times I’m fully self-aware of being like the futuristic tourist floating in a protected bubble of glass but at other times I can’t help but slap my sleeping elderly seatmate awake to point out the cluster of eagles taking flight on the shore just metres from our travelling Lazy-boys. There have been times I spotted a trail on the side of the railroad heading who knows where and I wanted to eject from my seat and follow its muddy path under a canopy of bright yellow birch leaves to wherever it would lead me. Down to the turquoise water and rocky shores I would run and kick off my clothes and abandon civilization to quickly die of hyperthermia no doubt. Still, it’s nice to believe some wild creature still lurks within me. In truth, I’m no more connected to nature than the bottom row of rare elements in the periodic table and seeing a landscape from behind a pane of glass has only emphasized that fact.

Ironically, as I write this the song currently playing over the railcar sound system is “East Coast Easy Feeling” and someone is singing along. It’s the first moment of incongruity on this carefully choreographed trip that is quickly corrected with John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High”. Forget about the world you left at sea level. Here all is well. Everything in its place. Thank you and safe travels.

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