After lying my ass off to the Park Ranger at Baxter State Park, I found myself with a pink warning slip in my pocket, my pack in the bed of his vehicle and my ass plopped in his passenger’s seat. He lived in Maine his whole life, worked at the park for 12 years and offered me a job as a gatekeeper attendant. He set his truck in park outside of the Family Dollar in Millinocket and pointed across the street at the headquarters.
“See that buildin’, wit the white sign, pass the McDonal’s?”
“That’s the headquarters…get a job application there…we’re hirin’.”
“Alright…cool. Thanks man I definitely will.”
As soon as I hopped out of his vehicle I trotted across the street, indulging in a victory McDonalds meal before setting off to fill out the application. The whole document took a half hour to complete, with all my jobs, employment gaps, addresses, phone numbers and remembering the names of every manager, it felt tedious and futile at the same time. Only because after letting my feet breathe from my boots, cleaning up the sores and blisters between my smelly toes, I knew I could not sit still long enough to hear from them. Instead, enduring each uncomfortable stride and wrenching jolt of pain, stifling my tramp to a miserably slow pace, I walked alone into the dusk, rambling through quiet neighborhoods to the end of Katahdin Avenue by the train tracks.
Engines revved across from the river as kids sped down the gravel roadway on their ATVs, spitting up rocks and dust clouds among their chatter and cheers. I stood, hiding in the boscage by the banks of river, between poison ivy, vines and towering oaks, a canvass of green, waiting for the crowd to pitter off with the onset of ebony sky.
As the sky fell and opened up to myriad stars, speckling night like a neon paint splatter, with a swirl of the Milky Way, the commotion died. The kids left. The only sound that remained was that of nature.
The river lay, so calm, so clear, rippling peacefully. With the subtlest of breezes, the buzzing of mosquitoes tapered off. I sprawled out by the gravelly banks looking up at the yellow fireworks of sky cast out beyond the silhouette of train bridge, closing my eyes for the purest night’s rest.
Her body clanked along the steel and I scurried under the train bridge that morning hearing her loud shriek of metal, the jarring of freight cars and her stoppage on the main line. I felt at ease. The sensation and passion pittered back to me in those moments of future unknown freedom. Where would her wheels roll to I did not know?
I scuttled up the ballast, slipping backwards up the steep slant of hill until I reached the plateau, drifting across the mouth of the yard. I wandered her line of freight cars towards her rear, reaching her tallest gondola and gripped her rungs of simmering steel, heated from the flaming torch of sky on that cloudless day. My innocence long left me years ago and I no longer felt the rush of hopping freight, but merely embraced her oasis of beauty, America’s hidden gem. I climbed to the top. I jumped in and tucked away in her corner on loaded wood chips, dodging the sun in a sliver of shadow as I leaned against her brisk steel wall, waiting for the soft simmer of air and rumble of her wheels.
Not long after, her hoses hissed. Her wheels creaked. Her cars clanked. Her wood chips grumbled. She slowly inched, stewing forward, and churning side-to-side as she drifted into miles and miles of Maine wilderness, stunning and untouched as far as man could see.
I felt on top of the world, standing there atop a puzzle of wood chippings, the breeze floundering my hair about as the views rolled in slowly and steadily. She rode at a whimpering creak, slower than riding loaded coal from Denver to Amarillo, slower than riding the Pan American from Portland to Bangor, slower than any damn junk train I ever hopped. My eyes captured the picturesque beauty of the landscape creeping by and never let go of its majesty. The vibrant colors of earth just kept rolling by like a surreal film.
My eyes wandered. Freight cars of wood chips became a mosaic of rumbling stomachs pulsating under rattling steel, wanting to explode! I watched the line of loaded gondolas, in front of me, clank about the steel, shimmying side-to-side like the unsettling motion of a ship at sea. Dark green coniferous forest draped its branches towards the tracks, and the smell of pine and cedar wood chips endlessly flowed throughout the air for miles.
She putted along at unbearably slow, but scenic speeds, meandering the maze of steel through the wilderness of Northern Maine. Outside Millinocket, the virgin land between the small quaint cities of Brownville, Mattawamkeag and Danforth, thrived with priceless views only seen by train. She gifted me that ultimate solitude. Never in my life have I felt such freedom, such at ease, such extraordinary scenery, rolling by at just a “creak” through blazes of lime green grass, through shimmering wetlands with the deepest navy blue lagoons, through the calm cerulean lakes and rivers, from a rooftop paradise. I sat on top of the world, on loaded wood chips, with the biggest grin and keenest eyes, sifting through unknown territory, with no phone, no direction, and no timeline, riding blind into the sunset.