Riding the Rails on the Rocky Mountaineer
When people tell you this is a trip of a lifetime, believe them.
It took my husband about 3 seconds to respond to my text. He has never, in 17 years of marriage answered me so fast. And with exclamation marks which, for Jeff, is akin to a guttural cheer at a hockey game.
An email from Canada Rail landed in my inbox, inviting me to buy a couple of seats on the Rocky Mountaineer. If you live outside Alberta or British Columbia or have zero interest in train travel, it’s okay if you don’t know about this legendary train. The train is famed for its domed seating car, part of the Gold Leaf service. The isn’t a single obstructed view. You can put you chair back and your feet up and watch the miles pass. Mountains, trees, rivers, towns, tunnels…every minute I sat in awe of this beautiful country I call home.
This trip was a very big deal for Jeff. He loved trains as a boy and continues to love them even today. He fondly remembers a train trip he took 40 years ago, from Toronto to Calgary. He’d honestly be happy living in a world where trains are the only means of travel.
After breakfast, we headed out to the open-air vestibule. Out there, wind is the great equalizer. Everyone’s hair is blowing in all directions. The train goes slow enough that there is plenty of time to take great photos and absorb the view. We took hundreds of photos on Day 1 as we rode from Banff to Kamloops.
At no time during the 10-hour journey did I feel the need to look at my phone (other than to use the camera). As we went through the mountains – literally – there was no cell service. It was just us savouring the clickety-clacking of the train, the swish of the trees as we passed, the hum of the engine, the occasional squeal of the wheels, the deep thrum of the whistle. I didn’t care where we were or when we would get where we were going. For the first time in a long while, I was 100% in the moment.
The train only travels through the daylight hours, so we were served breakfast and lunch on board. The food that comes out of the galley kitchen is fresh and made with the best ingredients. For breakfast, I chose eggs Benedict and Jeff chose scrambled eggs with crème fraîche. The servings are generous enough that you leave the table feeling satisfied, but not overly full. I made extremely audible nummy noises as I savoured the Hollandaise. It was probably the best I’ve had outside of Europe. For lunch, I opted for the Quinoa power bowl, while Jeff had risotto. It was a smart move, leaving me room for dessert.
Our trip was to last two days, but sadly, we were cut short due to the fires in British Columbia. Rocky Mountaineer made the difficult decision to not continue our rail journey in order to keep us all safe. We were devastated and I’ll be honest, Jeff and I were pouting like petulant children for the rest of that evening. The next morning in Kamloops, we were loaded onto a coach bus bound for Vancouver. It was a pleasant ride and Rocky Mountaineer and Canada Rail did right by us. We were handed a bag filled with provisions for the ride.
Truth be told, the best part of the journey is on the leg from Banff to Kamloops. Highlights are the old train station at Lake Louise, the Continental Divide, the Spiral Tunnels, the Kicking Horse Canyon, Rogers Pass and Craigellachie – where the last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was driven.
Our hosts in our car, Ashley and Michelle, were friendly and clearly happy to be at work. Michelle has been with RM for 20 years and her knowledge about everything on that route is extensive. She had remarkable tales about every bridge we trundled over and every tunnel we went through. Ashley comes from a long line of rail workers and was right at home on the train. I am still laughing at how red her face turned when some us of eyed a very fit and shirtless rail worker and discovered it was Ashley’s father.
I’m going to let the photos do the work from here on out. If the Rocky Mountaineer has been on your bucket list, make it happen. It’s worth saving for. Money comes and goes, but the memories will be with us for a lifetime.