Train Hopping Abroad
Palmerston North to Hamilton
The sun crept its piercing fingers through the nylon draped over my head, poking my eyes, as I lay there in a steaming pool of sweat and grime. I awoke only a few hours later at 8 AM, trackside in Palmerston North. My eyes drooped in lethargy as the ominous glares pried them open to a beady squint. I stripped my train gear down to my base layers, a t-shirt and khaki pants, plodding along the wobbly ballast to scope out my next hop out.
Much of the day I lounged in the high brush like a bum, waiting, napping and listening to the clanking of freight cars roll by at moderate speeds, but I did not budge. I lay back counting the bolts on each wheel with my eyes locked on each passing ladder located inside each freight car, between the couplers, making catching on the fly even more dangerous. Every car that crept past thumping, thudding and squealing consisted of exposed flat cars with Intermodal containers, limiting my chances of day riding out of the yard. I waited. I lay down in the tall grassy bush with loose thorns pricking my bare skin looking out at the distant signal with empty hopelessness etched on my face.
12 hours crept past slowly with nothing to do, but stare off into the scorching blue sky. Its dainty tendrils of wispy white clouds masked the undulating rays while I benched incoming and outgoing freight cars. Freight in New Zealand fascinated me, mainly because, the consist of their freight trains spanned between ten to twenty cars. Why not just switch to trucking companies? It did not seem feasible or profitable to ship freight to the ports in Auckland and Napier by train, exporting lumber and other goods. Suffering from profitability, several lines decimated over the past years, so I felt lucky to ride freight in New Zealand, period.
Incoming freight halted at the signal right before the switcher and outbound freight crept by at reasonable speeds, but I did not risk it. Instead, I basked in the shadows of overgrown weeds. My mind drifted to the deepest holes of sadness and better being. I just wanted to wander, free my thoughts, but the price of patience sometimes weighed my soul.
Oncoming dusk dimmed the horizon to a bleaker shade of blue. Another short freight train crept by on the main line, its consist all Intermodal containers on flat cars. I felt void of feeling, sitting all day, watching freight pass with my drowsy dark eyes. I wanted to move, anywhere.
I stood up, hunched over with my pack slung over my one shoulder, moping around on the loose ballast. My head swiveled towards the mouth of the yard and then at the signal. I did a double-look.
“Huh…train looks stopped from here,” I thought.
My feet strolled towards the signal casually, second-guessing my sight for imagination. But, as I moseyed closer I noticed the red signal switched to stop. I jolted. Ballast flung out from my scampering as I gasped heavy breaths of air and then I slipped. My knee caught the brunt of a rock while my hands sprawled out in front of me, sliding along the ground. I smiled, hopping back up to my feet all too quickly. I feared she might air up and leave as sweat poured off my face, but she did not.
I threw my pack up between a small space on the last flat car, hoisting myself up between two containers, riding the end of the train. My chest cavity burned like a choking flame as I wheezed heavily, coughing and breathing in exhaustion with sweat dribbling down my face. The thumping knocks of my heart rung through to my ears, echoing between the steel boxes. The thrashing sound of a front engine hummed past headed to Palmerston North Yard and then the sweet sound of air hissed, sending me on my way into the vast countryside.
We roared in between the shades of green, rocking through the countryside, flushed with verdant landscapes of alpine hillside, and lush endless fields of farmland. The cows stampeded from the brash noise of the serpent slithering among the steel tracks. Their curiosity peaked. They stopped chewing. They stood up, hunched near the woven wire fencing, their eyes following the movement of the train.
“MOOOOO COWWW…MOOOOOOO,” I mocked them, letting out a giggle of laughter.
And as she hummed onward through the open rural landscape, their curiosity faded and they dispersed back to masticating in the open field. Some stood on the jagged hilltops, traversing the rugged landscape like mountain lions, as their black specks faded from my view around the next bend of jagged hillside.
Herds of fluffy white sheep wandered about, galloping at her oncoming rage as she wailed violently among the steel, around each bend and curve, dancing between it all, between each and every shade of green.
But, as the sun dwindled behind the clouds, the sky swallowed the vibrant forests between me. I no longer wandered between the shades of green, but the black mirages of forest and hillside, while the moon touched the deep blue sky, shimmering the skyline like the ripples of the ocean. My ears drowned in silence from the shocking breath of the dark chilling night. I shivered. My teeth chattered. My eyes surrendered to the sweet ambience of the blue lights beckoning across the sky.
When I awoke, we rolled into Hamilton Yard, stopping on the main line. How would I find my way out of the barbed wire fencing?