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Brian Cray - Hitchhikin', Trainhoppin', and Wanderin'

Wanderin' the world, at will, by any means

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Archives for May 2016

The Fresno Train Yard

Freight to Fresno on a Work Car

Train Hopping Fresno

It briskly showered the night before covering my bivy in a film of morning dew. My sleeping pad soaked up every droplet of water from the moist ground making it feel like a 5 pound weight strapped to the top of my pack. I retreated back to the road to avoid being seen near the top of the overpass, throwing my pack over the fence. It made a loud plop as it hit the ground splattering water every which way, leaving a wet imprint on the sidewalk as I lifted it back up, throwing it over my shoulders, immediately loathing the extra weight.

Knowing little cover existed near the train yard I decided to wander further east to check out Panorama Park, relaxing and allowing my gear to dry in the overcast weather. I wandered through suburbia, little quaint, run-down homes surrounded me. As I walked I heard vicious, disgruntled barks held back by chain link fencing, they slowly faded with distance as I separated myself from each property. Each park car I glanced at presented itself with a security sticker on the driver’s side door along with steering wheel anti-theft devices. I continued my walk through the rough neighborhoods, my body odor and backpack shielding me from crime.

Mill Creek Park

Mill Creek Park – Train Hopping Fresno from Bakersfield

When I reached the park, it attracted many locals, dog walkers, joggers, runners, teenagers, power walkers and squirrels, a myriad of California Ground Squirrels. They squabbled about in the dense vegetation chasing one another through the many Cottonwood and Sycamore trees as I sat on a bench overlooking the Kern River. The dark blue river meandered through the bluffs with the densest oil fields my eyes ever witnessed cascading endlessly in the distance. Thousands of rigs worked in unison monopolizing my eyes in amazement from the over-industrialization spread out beneath the steep slopes of the bluffs. I watched, and read, as the time passed by and the clouds caught up to me filling the sky with sadness. People fumbled for their keys, running for their vehicles to exit the rain, as I headed back towards downtown seeking refuge under Mill Creek Bridge in the park. The homebums slept on benches and gathered around tables near the restrooms with their shopping carts and other clutter festering in the park. It lightly sprinkled as I waited for night fall to catch out north towards Fresno or Stockton on a GM.

My eyes shifted to the Mallard ducks below, swimming in circles, chasing rain drops in Mill Creek lake as I threw bits of bread to each of them. Train hopping took patience, but the thrill of catching out was worth enduring every minute of the outdoors no matter how serene or despicable. I waited, and waited some more, sprawled out on the bridge deck with my head nestled on my pack.

I spaced out for a bit not realizing the rain halted. I walked down the north end of the tracks through a hole in the chain link fencing putting me within a mile of the train yard.

Panorama Park

Panorama Park overlooking the Kern River – Shortly be Train Hopping Fresno once I find a rideable unit in the Bakersfield Yard

I found cover in tumbleweeds, placing the barricade in a circle around my body and gear, as I lay next to the tracks, waiting, praying, and hoping for a train. The sky groaned like a plague waiting to drown the city. A horn blasted signaling a departure. I peaked my eye through the thistles of tumbleweed preparing to catch on the fly as the train journeyed northbound. My body lay still, dressed in black, waiting for the front engines to pass in order to make my move out of the conductors’ vision. Shortly, the two front engines rolled by as I crouched in the brush, counting the bolts on each wheel to judge its speed. Coal trains, and loaded gondolas whizzed by in a depressing string of unrideable units. I set my eye on a grainer towards the back of the train, but the locomotive picked up too much speed and I did not bother catching on the fly. The train surpassed my running speed with 30 pounds of gear so I bailed, looking for a better spot to catch out closer towards the yard.

Drops splattered against my jacket, and their slow rhythmic beat shortly turned into a ferocious spatter of turmoil, drenching me within mere seconds. I found myself stuck in a downpour, with no cover, soaked and miserable from the wet, soggy feeling of damp gear and squishy boots. I walked casually headed towards the bridge next to the train yard, muttering obscenities under my breath. This completely destroyed my cover, but I just looked like a homeless man under a bridge, seeking shelter from the rain.

I staked out even longer than expected as the dismal sounds of the rain heightened my depression. By now I just wanted a warm place to sleep or a boxcar to hop into to get out from under this bridge, but nothing rolled or screeched into the yard from the south. Every train plowed through the train yard heading southbound. I nearly capitulated at the calm of the storm, loathing the long walk to where I slept the night before, but I stuck it out and waited longer, as I sat crouched against a pillar. Two days near the yard really was not that long of a wait and I knew something would come through, it was a matter of when that irked me.

Train Hopping Fresno

An empty work train headed towards Fresno from Bakersfield, CA. ┬áTrain Hopping Fresno was a bumpy, empty, rainy ride…never again will I ride an empty set of open boxcars.

My eyes quivered from exhaustion as I watched the bull drive back and forth in his white truck. Three shady people trespassed into the yard with bolt cutters and shortly after a homeless man wandered in, collecting cans and random trash, placing them into his shopping cart. The bull caught him and made him move along, knowing he was not a train hopper. I just wanted to get the fuck out of there as I watched bicycles and cars line up across the street buying drugs off the porch of a house. The area I ended up in was not ideal for standing, especially at night.

But then, I heard the faintest screeching sound of metal whistle through the downpour and I jumped up quickly, shocked by the noise. My ears heard the vibrations of the wheels resonating against the track. Sure enough, as I looked up, my foggy lenses witnessed a stopped train headed northbound through the blustery weather. I put my head on a swivel looking for the bull as I bolted through the tumultuous pellets shooting down from the sky looking for an open boxcar. My feet slid on the slippery ballast as I ran down the line of units searching for my ride. As I approached the back of the train, I put myself in plain view of the yard office, but as I fumbled for cover I noticed an open boxcar a unit south of me. Quickly I threw in my gear and hopped up inside, hiding in the back corner, forming a puddle beneath me.

A smirk formed across my face accentuating the crinkles around my lips and in that moment I felt happy. Happy to find shelter from the rain and fortunate to get further north through California. I curled up into the fetal position drowning my eyes out from the gloomy sky. The train crept and with its sudden jerks I found myself waking to its spurts of slack action.

My stomach grumbled as the train shook rapidly vibrating against the track as it wheeled along northward towards the unknown. I hoped it headed north for Stockton as it stopped sporadically over the course of the 8-hour period, shielding me from the chaos outside the unit. With every stop I looked down at my clock noticing the GM spent more time letting trains pass than actually moving. I remembered the mile markers and tried to decipher one of them as we wobbled past, in an empty state. The train felt completely free of any cargo and when I spotted a marker I knew I picked the worst possible train for distance, a work train. In an 8-hour period I moved only 100 miles, screeching to a halt in the Fresno train yard. I threw up a little on the ride from the harsh vibrations as we stopped. Feeling completely exhausted, scared and full of adrenaline, I hid in the corner trying to figure my way out of the yard…

The Fresno Train Yard

The Fresno Train Yard


Goin’ Bakersfield to Catch a Train

Hitchhiking Bakersfield

I chased the rain, or it chased me, I was not sure at this point. I thought traveling through a state in a drought promised dry weather, but I spent the majority of my time seeking shelter. As I stood on the on-ramp for 215 North, I held out my thumb in desperation with a sign that read, “Palmdale.” This felt like the only corner free of homebums and junkies and promised a ride out of town to a less abandoned shit-hole. I stood there hopefully wishing each passing car to pull off and stop on the shoulder giving me a lift into the next town. Like Arizona, the heat in Southern California killed my spirits, and I almost succumbed to the shade, but just as the thought of surrendering loomed over me a Subaru pulled off on the shoulder and a window rolled down. Sweat dripped down my face splashing on the ground as I squinted looking in at the driver. I laid eyes upon a 50 year old surf bum decked out in shades and a baseball cap headed for the rural mountains of San Bernardino National Forest about 10 miles from Palmdale. I hopped in eager to get out of there and as we cruised he drove out of his way to drop me off at the nearest McDonald’s in Palmdale. I relaxed beneath a palm tree in a vacant lot by the highway, which was not uncommon for the area as I indulged in more sweet pastries from the morning. As much as I wanted to head north I loathed the heat and standing around hoping for a ride so I searched for a place to sleep and waited for nightfall. Vacant fields, and buildings existed all throughout the city between mall complexes, schools, and housing developments so finding refuge took little effort, but finding a decent ramp to hitch out of town took more walking, time and sweat, which I left for tomorrow.

Hitchhiking Bakersfield

A payphone in Palmdale…didn’t know they still had this shit. Pretty soon I’ll be hitchhiking Bakersfield and hopping trains.

I managed to dodge the rain and peacefully slept in a field of tumbleweeds on the arid desert floor. It lightly sprinkled as I faded away in the breezy darkness preparing for another adventurous day as my thoughts dissipated with the muffled sound of the wind. Morning presented itself with more walking as the temperature slightly increased with each passing minute. I sought out the next ramp, which made an unfavorable spot for hitchhiking. The ramp curved around to the highway with little space for vehicles to pull off or slow down making my efforts to catch a lift futile. A train kid who spanged near the intersection walked by with his Pitbull advising me to take a cheap Greyhound out of town. I quickly considered his suggestion as the police warned me for hitchhiking, politely asking me to leave. My feet fumbled beneath me as I staggered towards the Greyhound fighting to avoid potential rainfall. The rumble from above resonated distant thunder as a collective of darkness marched in as an army of clouds. I raced against the rain hiding out in the Greyhound terminal watching raindrops sputter against the ground in a violent downpour, which thankfully I managed to avoid. The clock ticked as I sprawled out along the floor waiting for my bus to arrive to take me to my next destination, Bakersfield. I knew Bakersfield sat north of Palmdale as the next big city along my journey to Northern California. That and it was a cheap fare that saved me from the vicious tears of mother nature.

Hitchhiking Bakersfield

In Palmdale hitchhiking Bakersfield along the horizon…

Many of my first days in California involved hide and seek, from both the bull and the rain, but they also presented me with the tranquility and beauty from long periods of freethinking and daydreaming. As I looked out the many windows of buses, passenger vehicles and boxcar doors, I felt ecstatic wandering between jobs. I always romanticized about riding trains in America like the hobos of the early 1900’s and as soon as I stepped off the bus in Bakersfield I tramped along towards the yard.

Hitchhiking Bakersfield

Hanging out in Bakersfield trying to avoid the rain.

The Greyhound always left me in the run-down part of town, near the low-income housing, which made for a clear-cut, short walk to the train yard. I continued my game with the weather watching a collage of grays and blacks shift in from the south spreading gloom above the train yard as it waited to strike with force. Little cover existed by the yard as I tiptoed in the shadows of ballast by the west, crawling my way through the hole in the fence, as a GM arrived, slowly screeching to a halt. It headed northbound to Fresno or Stockton, which marked my next destination. I sprinted to the east side of the yard, grabbing onto the only rideable unit, a gondola. As I climbed the ladder I peered into the unit and my nostalgic expression slowly evaporated seeing it half-full of metal debris, making it unsafe to ride. I hopped off the unit, grimacing, knowing the likelihood of catching out that quickly only happens once, and it already happened for me in Flagstaff on my ride to San Bernardino. My heavy eyes fluttered in exhaustion and with little cover near the yard, other than the adjacent bridge, I decided to roam east to find refuge. I slowly trotted through the city, passing homebums on sidewalks nestled in blankets and in front of businesses, watching bicycles pass, and shopping carts rattle as blank stares looked me over in confusion. I avoided confrontation, briefly saying, “hello” and disregarding obvious drug deals proceed in front of me. The only people up this early in the AM were either homeless, crazy or a combination of both. I was no different, so I blended in, melding with the misfit night-owls as I walked, searching for temporary shelter.

Hitchhiking Bakersfield

Where I slept the one night in Bakersfield…

When I walked by the library I noticed an overpass with a drainage ditch by the highway on a sloped hill. I searched the area for trash and setup shelter in the tall brush behind a few trees making me incognito from the road and adjacent homes.

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