“High-speed rail may be the future. But in a world whose future may depend on us all slowing down, slow-speed rail can be our future, too, connecting us with each other and with the land in a way no other mode of travel can do,” Vincent Gragnani wrote on his blog, Slow-Speed Rail.

No other way? Seriously?

Paddling is still the perfect slow-speed travel

Vincent Gragnani seems like a smart guy, a master’s student at City University of New York, where his research is on slow-speed train travel through the lens of environmental psychology. Maybe he’s just spent too much time on trains and not enough time in canoes, kayaks, rafts or on paddleboards. In a recent interview on CBC Radio, Gragnani told the host he rode the rails 9,100 miles during the pandemic, and probably 25,000 miles on Amtrack and Via Rail since he began his postgrad research.

One of Gragnani’s favorite train rides is through the Colorado Rockies, the stretch of rails between Denver and Glenwood Springs served by Amtrak’s California Zephyr running between Chicago and the San Francisco Bay Area.

“There are some stretches where you go through canyons you can only see by train or river. There are no roads and also no Wi-Fi and no phone service. There is no way to connect with the outside world. You’re sort of in that moment.”

I know you’re thinking what I’m thinking.

person portaging a canoe along train tracks in the sunlight
No phone, no pool, no pets / I ain’t got no cigarettes. | Feature photo: Goh Iromoto/Ontario Tourism

Slower and better than Gragnani’s slow-speed rail obsession is floating the river at the bottom of the canyon in a raft. So is tracing a coastline in touring kayaks. Canoeing barren land rivers. Sneaking through mangrove tunnels on paddleboards. Bouncing down mountain streams in packrafts. And boofing 15-foot falls on any river, anywhere. I liked trains as much as any kid and even jumped a freight train once, but I grew up to like paddling more.

“If I were to pitch train travel to people, I would have to start with the fact that in North America, it is slow,” says Gragnani. “It is inefficient and you have to be prepared for delays. So it’s not for everyone.”

In this issue, our annual Paddling Trip Guide travel edition, you’ll find 131 inefficient ways of connecting with each other and with the land. And when things don’t go exactly as planned… well that’s when real stories begin. These are the stories we end up telling most often. We tell our stories to strangers when we’re on planes and trains. We can tell by the looks on their faces, our adventures are not for everyone. In fact, that’s kind of the point.

He may not know it, but paddling trips fit Gragnani’s definition of slow travel more than any fancy dining car: “Slow travel can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. To some, it could mean visiting a destination and spending a lot of time there rather than moving from place to place. And for some people, it could mean utilizing slow transportation.”

Even when we paddle quickly, we travel slowly.

Like in 1995 when Frank Wolf was the first to paddle across Canada in a single season. It still took him and his tandem canoe partner 171 days. You can travel across the country from Halifax to Vancouver by train non-stop in six days. The Via Rail brochure says you will fall asleep in one time zone and wake up in a completely different part of the country.

When Frank Wolf went to sleep each night on this summer’s 1,300-kilometer canoe trip through the Yukon and Northwest Territories, he woke up in his tent right where he left off the night before.

That’s real slow speed travel. And we love it.

Scott MacGregor is the founder and publisher of Paddling Magazine.

Cover of Paddling Magazine Issue 67This article was first published in the Summer 2022 issue of Paddling Magazine. Subscribe to Paddling Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.

No phone, no pool, no pets / I ain’t got no cigarettes. | Feature photo: Goh Iromoto/Ontario Tourism 



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here