As a kid, if my family traveled, it was because someone died.
Travel was a luxury that my Black working-class family could scarcely afford. So, when we moved about, it was so that we could pay our respects by attending the funeral of a loved one. Although much of my personal experience with travel was linked to loss, I became more acquainted with some of the joys of journeying by living vicariously through other people’s stories. As a native of Miami, I learned how fascinating and vast the world is through conversations with tourists on vacation in my hometown and with my grandfather, who worked on luxury trains for over 30 years.
If you ask my 90-year-old grandfather, Daddy Wes, about his career on the rails, this man of few words will regale anyone with numerous tales of his professional ascent from train oiler to mechanical supervisor. As a product of hardworking North Carolina sharecroppers, he moved to Miami with the hopes of providing his seven children with a better life. Even though he proudly worked for a luxury locomotive company, I never had the opportunity to take a long-distance train ride.
While my parents were better off financially than their predecessors, leisure travel was still something we couldn’t afford to do regularly. That was the story of my childhood. However, as an adult, my desire to see the parts of the world I’d only heard and read about fueled me. I carved a path as a travel journalist. My writing became my ticket to see the world and I’ve spent the last few decades hopscotching my way across the globe. In doing so, I’ve found that I have never been the sort to savor the journey – I’m all about the destination.
But in the fast-paced, ever-evolving world of travel, there’s something novel about taking a step back and slowing down. So, when I was offered a chance to take my first cross-country ride through Western Canada with the luxury company Rocky Mountaineer, I took it.
I opted for their “First Passage to the West,” a two-day route that meanders from Vancouver to Banff (or vice versa). I flew from Washington, DC, to Vancouver, Canada, to start my adventure.
Rocky Mountaineer is popular for its fleet of trains with glass-dome carriages (Canadian routes only) that offer unobstructed views of nature. The trains only travel during the day, so passengers can enjoy the fascinating landscapes. On my route, we stayed overnight in the city of Kamloops. There are two levels of service featured: GoldLeaf, a bi-level train with seats at the top and a dining room on the bottom, and the SilverLeaf service, on one level, with food served to passengers at their seats. There are four train routes: three in Western Canada and a fourth between Denver, Colorado, and Moab, Utah, in the U.S.
I rode aboard a GoldLeaf train, enjoyed roomy seats, delicious regionally inspired dishes, and unlimited drinks. During the journey, the train snaked along a historic train line that has connected Canada from east to west for more than 130 years. Two staff members were on board who cared for all of our needs while also providing historical commentary about the locations as we rolled past. There are no televisions on board. Nature is the star of this tranquil and picturesque ride. And there was a lot to see. I was captivated by wildlife, waterfalls, turquoise lakes, and double rainbows as we traversed through farmlands, marshes, and mountains.
When I wasn’t craning my neck to take in the spectacular views, I was being lulled to sleep by the hypnotic hum of the wheels gliding along the tracks. When I got tired of sitting, I ventured down to the viewing platform between railcars to allow the crisp mountain air to give me a jolt, while still enjoying the sights.
Slowing down lends itself to introspection. As I sat in my plush seat on the Rocky Mountaineer, and sipped champagne surrounded by Canada’s wildly beautiful landscapes and jaw-dropping mountain ranges, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the path that brought me here. I’m humbled by the realization that this experience is more than a luxury escape. In every twist and turn of this train, I imagine my grandfather working tirelessly to ensure seamless train journeys much like this one. In that, I see echoes of his dedication to providing a better life for his family. My journey aboard this luxury train is a tribute to his legacy and a nod to the previous generations who toiled to lay the tracks upon which my dreams continue to unfold.