Rick Antonson has never really left the tourism industry, despite now enjoying a career as an author.
The former head of tourism agencies in Edmonton and Vancouver and former vice-president at Rocky Mountaineer has scribed several travel and nature books, the latest of which is close to both of those paths, not to mention his family life.
Last week, he launched his eighth book called “Train Beyond the Mountains: Journeys on the Rocky Mountaineer.” For the man who has ridden trains in 35 countries, this travelogue was the perfect fit. For those who have never been on the famous railcars through the Rocky Mountains, Antonson’s narrative takes you right along through the history and the geography – not to mention the incredible scenery.
The fact that the memoir brings along his then 10-year-old grandson Riley makes this a journey worth reading about. Having those two voices narrate the travels effectively puts the reader right on the seat between them.
Perhaps he has never truly left the tourism industry. To him now, however, travel writing is just as much of a trip as its subject is.
“It’s not about the destination. I think that as a writer, I get to play more with the experience. And I also get to see it through people. This is my fifth travel book, and the main narrative thread is the journey, but the telling – whether it’s about geography or history – is usually about people and through the eyes of people or a historic personage, or somebody involved in the welcoming or the problem-fixing for travelers,” he said during the phone interview from his B.C. home.
“I’m with you: I probably haven’t really left. I just get to concentrate more on a sense of place in my writing, and on some personal quirks.”
Antonson can be forgiven for those personal quirks. His gorgeous writing is generous to the reader’s imagination. Riley was a lucky companion for being in on his grandfather’s literary itinerary from Jasper to Vancouver, though the pre-teen seemed to tire of all the history lessons from time to time.
Grandchildren aside, “Train Beyond the Mountains” brings you in with warmth and humour. It is your own companion for the journey, not your guide.
“I was told once by a publisher that no one wants to read about a travel writer who thinks he’s smarter than the reader. Fortunately for me, that’s easy: I’m not. My stub in my traveler’s toe is evident in each of my books,” he said.
The author glows with love for Jasper, one of the “few towns left in North America where one side of the main road belongs to railway tracks and a lone station while the other side belongs to low-rise shops and accommodation and a display of welcome,” he writes.
Remarkably, this book serves yet another purpose. This trip on the Rocky Mountaineer with Riley took place in 2019, the year before COVID changed the concept, the practice, and the implications of travel by any mode. In that vein, “Train Beyond the Mountains”is also an adventure that serves as an ode to train travel pre-pandemic.
For readers of romantic non-fiction timepieces, this book assumes much the same nostalgia as one would get from reading about travel by horse-drawn carriages.
That works well for Antonson, who basks in the glow of the suggestion that his writing is that of a romantic vagabond, one who travels not just to see places but more so to learn about culture, meet people and become richer as a person from the experience.
By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Apr 28, 2023