Train Hopping Across America
A few years ago when I first really contemplated about train hopping across America I did not think I would really do it. After four years of on and off homelessness, with a short bout of no work and nothing much to do I decided to get out there and really hop freight trains. Last year on a short trip between jobs I rode a train from Flagstaff, AZ after I quit my job at Xanterra in the Grand Canyon, all the way to San Bernardino, CA, but when I hopped off, I stuck to thumbin’ it. The yard, security, workers, gettin’ caught, it all scared me and I figured gettin’ one ride in in my lifetime was more than most people. But, somewhere down the road, between the dirt, the grime, the unknown of travelin’ by foot and thumb, I got an itch. Ridin’ became a part of my gypsy blood and I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to hop trains across America. Of course, other methods of travel like the occasional thumb and trampin’ applied, but I really wanted to go yard to yard, travelin’ the unknown with nothin’ but the sound of steel clankin’, wheels hummin’ and my hair flowin’ in the breeze. With little work until my seasonal job packing parachutes picked up in New York I figured this marked the start of my travels by train.
I started in January in the dead of winter, gettin’ caught in a snow storm in Portland using some of the money I had to bus it to Eugene to recover from frostbitten toes and it all commenced there. My journey took me over 12,000 miles from January to May riding freight trains across America. As I remember a past blog post I thought this form of travel was simply not possible. Travelin’ the United States by bicycle, foot and thumb over the past few years, I needed something new, something exhilarating, something different. I found it on the rails. I never quite thought I would take the next plunge into train hopping for a plethora of reasons: a fear of citations, jail time, and most importantly, injury or death.
But along the way I learned the ropes of ridin’ the rails and although I still consider myself a greenhorn after 60+ trains, I can honestly say this is now a part of my life. By the end of it all I dumpster dove for food, hit up food banks and ran low on cash depleting everything down to $80 before finding work in my local hometown and headin’ back up to Albion, NY for another season of packing parachutes. I miss the freedom of the unknown. I miss waking up in random places. I miss the views of the snowy mountaintops, the sounds of the train sing along the tracks and most importantly the freedom from society. Granted having some money makes travel easier, but I respect those wandering with nothing at all but the clothes on their back and a pack. I still have some place in this world and although I have yet to find it, embracing the rails re-energized me. I found myself with something to write about. I found adventure. I found the luscious beauty of stolen land whirring by me on free rides to nowhere in particular and most of all I found myself.
Camping outside for months at a time became easier than in the past with constant walking and hitchhiking. It felt more invigorating and I only hope that my life never shears to a materialistic end like most people. I understand the value of money and its importance for food, but I really do not want anything other than what I currently have now. And as long as the railroads are in business you will find me somewhere along the steel, not permanently, but intermittently between seasonal work, a future tiny house on my future land and maybe one day my wife will come along for the ride.
Below is a 30-minute clip of Train Hopping Across America from January until May with some hitchhiking in between. I plan on documenting more of my travels by video in the future as well as through words, providing as many stories as you all will read. Thanks for reading the blog and I hope you enjoy the video. Please subscribe if you have not already and enjoy.