Train Hopping!

Train Hopping California

I woke up early to hit the ramp to hitch out of Goodyear for Flagstaff. After a few hours of standing on the shade-less shoulder, sweat dripping down my brow and into my eyes, I decided to check the Greyhound. For $20 I found a ride to Flagstaff arriving at 1:15 AM. I gave into the heat, sun and close proximity of home, giving Kelly one last night of me, well at least until bedtime.

She drove me downtown to the Greyhound and for my first time as a married man, I set off for a solo adventure. I felt a tingly sensation of loneliness enter my body as Kelly hugged and pecked me on the lips. My eyes wandered watching her exit the building as her long slender legs slowly strolled out the door, her dress swaying in night breeze.

Train Hopping California From Flagstaff
Train Hopping California From Flagstaff

My body phased in and out of sleep throughout the duration of the 2-hour bus ride. But once we arrived my adrenal glands triggered sending me into a sleepless journey down Route 66 back towards the mall. I wandered through the shadows of darkness, down lonely dark roads, where my ears only heard the subtle rumbling and grinding of loose cobblestone beneath my footsteps. I tiptoed on making my way up along the rails meandering in and out of tall brush as oncoming trains and vehicles passed.

After an hour of walking I approached a nice patch of shrubbery where I planned to call it a night. As I threw off my pack and lay behind the bushes I heard an oncoming train crawling in the distance. Within a minute it rolled to a screeching halt just feet from where I stood. I crept through the dark up along the Intermodal Double Stacks looking for a 53′ or 48′ IM unit with a porch. Every car I checked my eyes looked straight through to the wheels stopped amidst track. I avoided the piggybacks and continued browsing for a hoppable train until stumbling upon a 53′ T-Well. My hands clasped the cold ladder and I climbed up the train nestling my body and pack under the porch. I finagled my limbs into all my winter clothing, snow pants, a few long sleeve shirts and Goretex jacket. My body sprawled out on the cold, metal porch waiting anxiously for the departure west bound. We slowly putted along picking up speed quickly as all the engines worked full throttle. Chills spread down my back straight to my toes which felt cold as icicles. I lay there wiggling them to insure their mobility as the wind penetrated my bare skin. No matter how many sock layers or articles of clothing I added, I felt uncomfortable and cold. But my stern look off into the twilight remained full of adventure as I peered up into the sparkling sky. Specks of brightness zoomed by my head through my checkerboard vision as I lay under the porch. The rough night made for a sleepless stupor canvassed with immaculate views of the night, desert, sky.

Train Hopping California
Train Hopping California Through San Bernardino National Forest

The train rolled on for hours as I watched the sun rise with a sliver of the moon fade away off in the horizon. I sat up for the first time in hours looking out at the nothingness of desolation. The desert looked the same as the Sonoran in Arizona. Same tumbleweeds. Same sand. Same cactus. But somehow it felt surreal from the porch of a freight train as I lay there with my nose briskly touching the wind. I stood up and stretched my legs when the training stopped at side-outs, just waiting for it to continue on towards California.

The anticipation killed me as I lay there waiting patiently for the train to move while I removed my cold gear slowly hobo rolling it and placing it back into my pack. The train picked up after a few hours of changing crews. I looked off towards the highway squinting to read the signage to determine my location, 91 miles to Las Vegas.

I peeped out from the porch seeing abandoned shacks lined up along the railroad tracks, all with dirt roads connecting them to one another. The remote countryside felt empty of people aside from the occasional moo. I baked in the sun as I sat there crouched leaning over the porch, my only shade from laying under the T-Well.

My only fear when stopping was ending up in the yard for the bull to spot me. I used mile markers and an estimate of my location to figure out where I might end up, but really I had no idea. I predicted Los Angeles, but as the Intermodal entered California I knew we ceased westbound after rolling through the Barstow yard. I panicked. I did not want to get off in the yard, but I also did not want to end up in the middle of nowhere with only a basic phone and little civilization. I remained incognito under the porch camouflaged in black while the train veered south through the National Forest. The most scenic views bestowed me with green patches of mountainside and white rock forming through the winding valley.

15 hours into the ride and I became antsy to hop off. The train halted, but never released the air brakes so I knew I might sit there waiting between 30 minutes to 3 hours. I relieved myself in the bushes and hopped back on my unit watching the sun melt its colors over the horizon turning the sky to a bright pink. I did not know where I was at as my eyes fluttered from lack of sleep.

18 hours into the ride the train finally moved again through the night sky slowly progressing further south for twenty miles. I hopped off at the next crew change ending up somewhere in SoCal. My arms and legs felt droopy. Bags accumulated under my eyes and my stomach gurgled from almost a day with no food. My stomach led and I followed headed towards the Dollar Store for some grub. I moved my head down towards my receipt reading the words, San Bernardino, CA. I munched on pineapples, peanut butter and Mountain Dew while I scoped out spots to sleep. As I wandered past the Home Depot and the overpass, I jumped over the guardrail and found refuge in the tall brush underneath a palm tree.

I heard the faint noise of train horns, highway traffic and the close proximity of a fork lift driving by as I lay between two fences, sprawled out on my sleeping pad.

The morning started off with a few hours of useless flying to get further west to Los Angeles. My sign failed to get me a ride as the temperature slowly increased, but I did end up with a bag of donuts from a nice Mexican man. I walked towards the other end of the city. As I approached the 215 on-ramp towards Palmdale I noticed the amount of homebums spread out through San Bernardino. Every corner filled with bums, behind dumpsters, in bushes, and business districts. I just wanted to get the fuck out of there and I eventually did with some luck and effort, but the next stormy days really put a hindrance on my travels, which you will shortly find out.

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Brian Cray is not a cyclist. He’s not a hitchhiker. He’s not a train hopper or an adrenaline junkie. He’s just an ordinary man with gypsy blood in his veins, who can’t seem to settle down. Nothing defines him. He goes wherever this world takes him on this journey we call life, roaming the world, at will, by any means. He aspires for a life of indefinite travel, a tiny home in the woods for him and his wife, and any work that keeps him wanderin’. Brian Cray is a travel writer at heart, sharing his stories with the world one keystroke at a time.


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