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Brian Cray - Budget Travel

Hitchhiking, Train Hopping, & Backpacking

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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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