The Canadian 002 from Vancouver thunders steadily along the steel rails and timber sleepers, cajoling its way through the majestic rocky mountains deep into British Columbia. This great train journey is oft-forgotten in the run-down of the worlds finest scenic rails and for there in lies a great shame.
With a veritable feast of landscapes, this rolling rocket delivered unto me an opportune way to traverse the vast plains and prairie lands of Canada. From the breezy west coast of Vancouver, past those synonymous mountain ranges, though vast endless fields of golden wheat and on to the great lakes and sprawling forests of Ontario. Fortune smiled on me further with seasonal whimsy as a perfect wash of blazing reds and autumnal oranges marked the seasons turn to what the Americans call fall. Ah yes, the Americans.
“So where y'all from?” radiates the thick southern drawl of one American retiree to me over my smoked pickerel in the dining car. They never needed to ask each other as they were all adorned with name tags embossed with a home state, so everyone knows who everyone is. Saves actually asking.
The mighty train is equipped to accommodate all budgets you see, whether you wish for the privacy of your own cabin to be rhythmically swayed to sleep in or are on the hardy backpacker budget and possess the kind of traveller’s sensibilities that can embrace the economic comfort of the sleeper chairs. The undoubted majority of passengers here, however, are more likely to challenge you to a game of bridge than pull out the box wine and wax lyrical about riding the rails.
I seem to be the novelty here, a man of 30, treated as a curiosity by a sea of elders plagued by curiosity as to just whom is filling the statistic outside their own. No one ever asks what I may be doing riding the retirement rail and I am not entirely alone, as a scattering of younger folks can be spotted amongst the grave dodgers. More likely they try to deduce your origins through questions. “So what do you do?”. As the meal time goes on, eyes always drift to the window pane.
I spend my days watching the cinematic landscapes unfurl before me and start to memory bank those quintessential scenes. I will never forget the lone Coyote stalking through the golden fields or Manitoba, nor will I forget the rusted VW Beetle laying entrenched deep in the forest of Ontario, a none-retrievable remnant of a bygone age, a metaphor perhaps.
As the final night comes to a close I can't help but wonder; am I ahead of the game? Decades ahead of a retirement plan I try to live for the now. From the breathless mountains to the endless horizon, no one ever asks me what I'm doing here, just where I'm from. As they say, it's only when you get to where you are going that you appreciate where you have been. In travel, or in a life time.