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

Wanderin' the world, at will, by any means

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Speedballin’, Spacebags, Sidewalk Slammers

Train Hopping Colton

​We awoke in a field straight across from Wal-Mart ready for train hopping Colton.  My head throbbed from all the whiskey we drank the night prior and my brain ached as if someone squeezed it from beneath the meninges.  I swore to myself I’d take a night off from the booze, but we all know how that goes…

“Rooster you wanna hit up Wal-Mart…I need to charge my phone?”

“Fo Sho, lemme just sleep another hour.  Fuckin’ tired bro.”

“Aight…”

I felt content looking up out at the mountains, their peaks drizzled like white chocolate as I sat in a city surrounded by peaks.  For the first time in weeks I started to regain feeling in my frostbitten toes as the temperature roared into the high 70’s.  That hour flew by quickly, dazing off into oblivion, I found it odd how I kept myself occupied so easily.

Nonetheless, Rooster yawned and stretched with a big sigh, “Oommf…we need to get whiskey for the train ride.  Think ima take a break from trains today…if that’s ok with you?”

“Word, sounds good dude.  Get some rest, check out the yard, try to find the hop out spot.”

“Fo Sho, gettin’ drunk tonight.”

“Aight…I’ll have a few dude.”

We stood up, wobbly and hungover, for a brief tramp to the Wal-Mart, flinging our gear down on the sidewalk by an outlet.  One after the other, Dirty Kids approached.  Dirk looked like a typical train kid with Carhartt pants, some holes blown out in the ass, a studded, sleeveless, jean jacket patched out over a grimy hoody and a newsboy cap.  His greasy short black hair shot out from under his cap and his tanned skin reflected many days of trampin’ on the open road.  His little dog pranced next to him with her shiny golden-brown fur and cute swagger.  Cid on the other hand wore shorts over long johns with flaps of camo cloth dangling behind his ass.  He sported a buzz with a patch of long blonde hair swaying off the back of his head all under a studded and patched cap.

Colton train hopping

Doggy in the sun, gettin’ ready for train hopping Colton

Dirk grabbed a marker to make a sign, scribbling the word “FEWD?” In big, bold, black letters.

“You think the kids these days will get it?”

I chuckled, “Yeah…looks like Food…am I right?”

“Yeah, pretty broke, tryin’ to fly a sign to make a few bucks before headin’ to see my sister in LA.”

“Haha, no doubt,” I said.

Rooster and I offered him some food, but he declined.  He just wanted some beef jerky.  Rooster set off to grab some and peaches while we all loitered outside of the monopoly.

Cid looked over at us.  “Any you seen Randy anywhere…I was supposed to meet em here. Haven’t seen em…”

Dirk blurted out, “Yeah he caught a train north…other day I think.”

“Really…what the fuck…why the fuck he goin’ North? Well ok…guess I’ll kick it here for a bit…see if he shows up.  I’m broke as fuck, haven’t had my name ran here since 09, wanna keep it that way.  Any yous tryin’ to score some dope?  I know a home bum who sells it under the bridge…”

Dirk chuckled with a sudden spurt of joy, “Yeah man…was spun out last night, but why not?  You guys wanna chip in on a spacebag tonight?”

I nodded, “Yeah I’m down, but I’ll pass on the drugs.”

A flabbergasted expression broke out across Cid’s face.  “What you guys gonna do all day then?”

Rooster walked back into the circle, throwing a package of chipotle beef jerky towards Dirk.

“Score, thanks dude.”

“No problem. Me and Brian are gonna check out the yard for the eastbound hop out. Kick it, relax, then drink later tonight.”

Cid scoffed, holding back laughter, “Wwwwhaaat? You don’t drink durin’ the day?”

“Nope. Only at night.”

“Haha okkayy. Well we’re gonna go shoot up dope under the bridge. Spacebag later?”

Everyone nodded in agreement. As the two walked away I noticed Dirk left his phone plugged into the wall. Rooster ran to catch up to him and we returned his phone.

Cid mentioned, “Oh btw hop out is near Cedar…it’ll be an IM.”

“Sweet,” we said.

We trucked along following a road parallel to the yard headed towards Cedar to check out the hop out or lack there of…

Train Hopping Colton Yard

Get drunk…ride junk…train hopping Colton

Both of us chipped in for sidewalk slammers, two 40’s and two Four Loco’s. We watched the yard from a distant grassy field, taking cover near the only lone tree.  My ass left an imprint of dirt and grime on the cinder block beneath me as we scoped out the yard for eastbound trains. Everything plowed through the yard westbound, and the only eastbound trains rolled too fast to catch on the fly.  Not sure if Cid juked us in the wrong direction, but no trains stopped, CC’d, or slowed down enough to hop out from said location.

“Dude this definitely isn’t the hop out Rooster. It is Sunday…so iunno, maybe check out the mouth of the yard a few miles back tomorrow?”

“Yeah, he was full of shit dude. We’ll check it out tomorrow.  I dunno about you, but I’m gettin’ drunk. Dirk never hit me back.  Don’t really wanna hang with a bunch of junkies anyway.

“True…just seems like bad news. Let’s drink, figure the hop out tomorrow…”

Hours passed and it looked hopeless so we started to tip our elbows, getting tipsy off sidewalk slammers.  Plans fell through for a communal Spacebag and after hardly any schwills I passed out in a vacant field on a patch of grassy pavement covered in prickly goat-heads. That night I awoke stumbling around to piss and lodged at least ten of those fuckers in my frostbitten feet.

“Fuckkkk…what in the hell…”

I reached down plucking the little needle-like balls of thorns out of my feet and immediately drowned into a drunken sleep.

The sun fried my face with its vibrant rays awakening me too early in the morning.  My eyes sagged with a tiredness about them, but surprisingly I felt fine, no hangover.  I looked over at Rooster, who lay there dead on the pavement, as the sun tickled his beard with undulating heat.  Sweat broke out across his brow, but he just lay there unabashed by its torment for hours.

I passed the time reading an old kid’s classic, The Boxcar Kids.  Peering into the yard I watched as the yard dog worked and broke up trains while the main lines remained dormant of traffic. Ocassionally westbound IMs cruised by, but nothing eastbound.

Brrringggg…brrringgg…Rooster leaned over like a sloth and answered his phone.

“Yo what’s up? Who is this…”

“Cid, did you steal my fuckin’ pack?”

“Hold up man…this is Rooster.  We weren’t even with you guys the other night…what’re ya talkin’ about?”

“Ohhhh shit…my bad…Dirk gave me the wrong number…we were speedballin’ all last night with a group of friends…pack went missin’…we’re cool man…my bad…thought you were one ah Randy’s friends…”

“Oh…well hope you find your shit bro.”

With a click of his phone and a long yawn he sat up and looked over at me.  His bloodshot, teary eyes drooped in the fierce sun.

“Man, I’m fuckin’ tired as shit…still…”

“Haha you’re just hungover Rooster…we’ll go grab some grub and head further up the yard to find the hop out.”

“Fo Sho…ima pack up my shit and we’ll roll out.”

Trampin’ along down the highway we wandered parallel to the tracks.  A Union Pacific worker honked his horn sending us a friendly hello as if encouraging us to hop a train out of Colton.

Train Hopping Colton

Colton, California…the beauty…stoked for train hopping Colton

Wal-Mart felt like the ultimate bum spot full of train kids, and home bums alike. We met more drug dealers cruising around on bicycles, all spun out on dope, asking if we were holdin’ or needed any “supplies…” It made me realize how incredibly easy it was to get meth on the west coast.  Not that I wanted that shit.
We loitered, charged phones and handled our fair share of harassment from rude locals.  Some old, wrinkly bitch, with half her teeth, snarled at us, spit projected from her mouth like she just took a slobberknocker to the face.

“Nope sir-e, you ain’t gettin’ my dollah…no way…dirty ass, non-workin’ scum bags…tryin’ take my hard earned dollah…nope…”

Under my breath I mumbled, “Suck a dick lady…I never asked you for your fuckin’ dollar. I’m not spangin’ or flyin’ a sign…fuck off.”

My frustration got the better of me and Rooster calmed me down.

“Dude, chill out. It’s not worth it.  People like her are lookin’ for a reaction.  Be nice or ignore her.  She’s not expecting that.”

I cooled off and my temper subsided, taking his advice kept us out of jail.  So it did not further escalate to a physical altercation.  The ugly bitch and her man stumbled away from the vending machines all strung-out and bickered their small, vulgar, vernacular towards us.

“Whatever…”

We tramped towards the overpass at the mouth of the yard, just studying it like a textbook for an exam.  Junk trains all lined up in the yard awaiting departure.  Railfans ruined our attempts to hideout under the bridge, as we waited patiently for their train boners to diminish.  After a few snaps with their Nikon cameras of some grainers working in the yard they reached their climax and hit the road down the I-10.  We hustled along the overpass, scurrying over the guardrail for the clearance box under the bridge.  Several tags scrawled out everywhere along the concrete covering the structure wall-to-wall.  We left ours of course, scribbling them on in thick black marker, Jungle EBD, Rooster EBD.

No sooner did the felt-tip marker leave the wall did we hear the ear-piercing thunder from the horn of a departing train.  She rolled past at a slow speed, clicking and clanking along the steel, with a consist of mixed manifest.  Rooster fumbled for UP’s phone number, calling in a boxcar on the locomotive, while I scrambled down the slippery, dirt embankment.

“Go…go…it’s headin’ to El Paso…” he screamed over the noise of the train.

I ran along side the last freight cars of the train, dancing along a grainer.  As my feet danced, my hands clasped onto the brisk ladder, pulling myself up and propping my boot on the last rung.  I scuttled aboard the train throwing my bag onto the porch and squeezed myself and my pack into the fox hole.  I felt claustrophobic in there like a tunnel rat during the Vietnam war, but I made myself cope with discomfort for at least a few miles outside of Colton Yard.  I wanted to stay on this train.  After all, it brought us one step closer to Phoenix, dropping us off in Tucson.

Train Hopping Colton

Foxy baby…train hopping Colton grainer style

At the first siding we jumped off to find a more comfortable ride.  Gondolas sat about ten freight cars up the line, but we did not know if they were loaded.  So instead, Rooster hustled off towards the backend of the train, trudging along the ballast.  He yelled back at me, “High wall grainer, two cars down, bud…LET’S MOVE!”

I threw his gear over and hopped off with my pack clung around my shoulders.  My lungs gasped for air as I dashed for the open grainer, afraid the air might release and our train might escape from us, but it didn’t.  We chucked our packs on the porch of the high wall and waited for a higher priority train to pass.  What did we do to kill the time, you ask?

We got loaded and took schwill after schwill of Black Velvet Whiskey.  I hated the putrid taste of all liquor, but getting tipsy on a train definitely made it easier for me to catch some zzzzzz’s at night.

Black outlines of mountains cast out into the desert as the train accelerated along the thin rails of steel.  Rooster sat there bundled and calm looking off into the night sky, as I did myself.  I knew what put him into a trance-like daze, the pure beauty of the night sky. The stars froliced among the full moon and to the north, Venus struck the sky with her brute, blinding ecstasy.  We both lay there against the cool metal porch, the train rattling full-throttle, as we sipped whiskey and lost ourselves in the vastness of Mother Nature.

Train Hopping Colton to Tucson

Look at Venus…she so pretty…train hopping Colton to Tucson…

As we approached Tucson we both took shifts sleeping.  I hardly remember fading away, while the train jarred and wiggled along the tracks, but I did for at least a few hours stuffed inside my sleeping bag, boots and all.  As the train lulled along the tracks my eyes broke out into a saccade, fixed on the dark silhouette climbing the ladder of the adjacent freight car.  I heard a holler from Rooster, “Come on up dude…let’s train surf the roof of this grainer…”

“Fuck man…I don’t know…”

Everything I learned about hopping trains, train safety and the dangers of riding on the roof, all made me apprehensive towards it.  But, she rolled along gingerly in-the-middle of nowhere.

“Alright,” I yelled up at him following his every move up the ladder.

He roared from the top of the train like a madman as I held onto the top of the ladder.

“Well come on up…made it this far…”

My heart thumped with loud bangs knocking my chest cavity from pure adrenaline.  “This was so fuckin’ stupid,” I thought as I crawled up onto the roof, my knees buckling under me as I held onto the side grates of the grainer.

“Well stand up, walk around a bit…make it quick…”

I stood up quickly like a baby taking its first steps.  It wasn’t so bad.  Actually I felt a sigh of relief exit my lungs.  I stood there, above the highway, chugging along through the desert towards Tucson, surfing my first train.  The wind wrecked havoc on my body, chilling every inch of me, making my hairs stand on end.  My hair cascaded behind me into darkness as I locked eyes onto city lights and in those few seconds the world stood still. I felt freedom in its entirety.

We skedaddled down the ladder and safely hopped onto the porch of our high wall grainer.  I wiggled into my sleeping bag, immediately feeling the warmth engulf my body and frostbitten toes.

In the past month I experienced more on trains than ever before, but I learned one important lesson on my long trek from Seattle down the coast of California to Tucson.  Never underestimate winter and what Mother Nature’s unpredictable fury can do to your feet without the proper boots!

Train Hopping Colton

Sunrise in Tucson after train hopping Colton

We arrived in Tucson and hopped off before entering the yard, laying it down at a dead-end street by an industrial park.  I thought about my feet and how I neglected them over the past month, wondering if irreparable tissue damage in my toes would ruin my life of travel by trampin’, hitchhikin’ and ridin’ the rails, but only time would tell.

Later that afternoon my feet tingled with a warm, numbing sensation and pain shot up through my toes as we walked. We put the road on hold for family, hitching a ride with Rooster’s aunt to Phoenix who saved him from possible arrest in Tucson for panhandling. That was that…now let my toes rest and heal up for a few days.

Here Comes the Rooster

​Bakersfield made me feel like a home bum after five full days of holding off on train hopping.  I still cannot feel my toes in either of my feet, but hey, as I sit here in the sun, peering out at the yard, I feel relieved to head further into the warmth.

Abandoned Bakersfield

Slept in an abandoned boat for a few hours in Bakersfield

That last bone-chilling night in Bakersfield, with a film of frost on my bag, waking up to a text message on the roof of a church, made me smile.  My breath froze in front of me like plumes of white smoke as I walked to the train tracks along the dark streets to finally meet my road dog, Rooster.  With three points of attachment I crossed over the knuckle of two boxcars holding onto the brisk metal ladder.  Hopping onto the ballast I turned around looking for Rooster and noticed an open boxcar so I climbed in hoping he might see me.  Shortly after the air hissed like a vicious snake I hopped off, afraid of leaving him behind.

Panorama Park Bakersfield

Panorama Park

Rooster stood inches taller than me with a lanky frame and two backpacks next to him.  His long black hair and scruffy beard hid his face along with a baseball cap.  He gradually added new studs, pins and patches to it as he found them on the road.  Aside from that, we looked pretty similar, not really fitting into the whole “Dirty Kids” appearance at all unlike other travelers we bumped into.

Cherry popped – 1st Unit

That day rekindled my spirits having a buddy to kick it with by the tracks while waiting for our next ride out of town.  Much of train hopping is patience, using that time waiting to keep yourself occupied.  With small talk it made it lighter on my mind to pass the time.  My thoughts did not wander as much. I took a break from reading and writing for the first time since I hit the road in late November.

Bakersfield Train Hopping

Purring along through the mountains

We plopped our gear and asses on the sidewalk treating the overpass like a stoop.  We waited patiently kicking the time with words until the faint squealing of steel raised our brows.  A large train slowly rolled into Bakersfield headed southbound.  Our heads moved from boxcar to lumber to oil tanker to gondola, scanning the train for a rideable freight car.  Inch by inch the locomotive slowed to a screeching halt as we sprinted towards the gondolas on the train.

I climbed up ladder after ladder, my fingers turned a rusty brown as old paint flaked off the car.  Poking my head over the side my efforts remained futile as every car loaded to the brim with wood.  Adrenaline pumped as we galloped along the ballast our hopes slowly dwindling with each loaded car we passed.  I followed behind Rooster as he stealthily climbed into the bright yellow unit at the backend of the train.  To my surprise he jiggled the handle and we both scurried in quickly placing our gear in the bathroom then laying out on the floor.

Here comes the Rooster

We never called in the train, but we knew it headed south or east. Bright sunshine lit up the cab as we lay flat on the floor ready to hide in the bathroom if an engineer inspected the unit.  The locomotive continued rolling through Bakersfield steadily picking up speed as we rode Cadillac in the luxurious unit.  The small area filled with comfy leather seating, a toilet, outlet to charge our electronics and most importantly computerized train controls that if touched would surely get us pulled off the train if not arrested.

Trains for days

The unit purred as loud exhaust bellowed from the engine.  It pushed the cars faster and faster until we plowed through the yard whistling smoothly across the steel beams for the mountains.  I looked down at the speedometer and just 13 miles out of Bakersfield the locomotive gradually came to a halt.  I panicked.  My heart raced fearing the worst.  Maybe someone called us in from a crossing? Minutes turned to what felt like hours as our train waited patiently hoping to chug along the single track through the Tehachapi Mountain Pass.  My anxiety faded and once I heard the air release a spark of joy illuminated a white smile across my face.

Inside of the cab

We plopped our asses in the chairs as she squealed around the steep curves, clanking through the greenest of mountains.  Cows grazed yonder, sipping from the dry riverbed, a motionless puddle of water.  Dry trails of tributaries faded out of view between the barren trees as we chugged along getting closer to the desert.

The door opened and the sound of diesel exhaust roared from the pusher.  Rooster walked out onto the plank.  The cool breeze tickled my nose as I followed behind him, grabbing onto the railing tightly with each step forward. My hands clasped the cold metal, ch…ch…ch…ch rung in my ear drums, rattling out every sound, but the sound of the locomotive hauling tons of freight.  The sun began to vanish behind the dark silhouettes of mountain and our journey on the plank ended quickly as we scurried back in the cab for warmth.

Colton, California lay just past the Tehachapi Loop and with the night sky fully immersed in bright, twinkling stars, we pulled out a bottle of Whiskey.  I did not drink too much, especially when traveling alone. Drugs and alcohol left my life years ago, but with new company on the open road I made an exception, taking a few schwills to new experiences.

Colton, California

I felt schwilly after passing the bottle back and forth with the last drop of whiskey burning the back of my throat.  The train chugged along at 15 mph through the mountains until gaining speed over the pass.  We now entered the desert and kept our eyes peeled for entering the yard to steer clear of the bull.

The train pummeled along the tracks putting us straight in the yard and kept rolling and rolling.  “Fuck” we needed to get off as it started heading westbound.  It slowed down to a few miles per hour and we grabbed our gear, darting out the back of the unit.  Headlights shined in my eyes as the bull sat there in his vehicle playing on his phone.  I made a run for it, sprinting towards the highway, breathing heavily as I scrambled over the flimsy, chain-linked fence.  I looked back at Rooster.  “Come on dude…GO…GO…the bull is right there…” He hobbled faster throwing his two bags over the fence as he climbed his way to freedom.  Once over, we casually walked down the shoulder of the highway to find a spot to sleep.  The bull never noticed us or he did not care, either way we managed to stay out of jail, and citation-free.  A Wal-Mart towered above the other industry near the yard and we set up camp in the adjacent field, sleeping on a nice grassy patch under a hill by the open road.

Goin Nowhere

Gettin’ Flooded

The inclement weather followed me as it always does on the road. Getting wet is apart of travel, but the key is staying dry. Roseville did not change that and although I never encountered Sergeant Flood, I certainly dealt with my fair share of rain.  

I felt too lazy to walk, too lazy to find a cozy spot in the woods to setup camp and honestly too damn sick to step another inch.  I plopped my ass and laid it down under a bridge by the railroad tracks. Railcops, UP service trucks and police all drove past sporadically throughout the night.  They saw me most definitely, but the fierce howling moans and torrential splattering sweltering throughout the night, worked to my advantage in that sense. They did not fuck with me.  To them I looked like an ordinary home bum shootin’ up under a bridge. 

I felt safe and more comfortable traveling despite exposing myself to the open world. With my knife in my pocket, clenched between my sweaty, aching palm and fingers I dozed in and out of sleep almost like a hallucinogenic trance.  My body ached from a cold and my bones squirmed at the touch of the roaring winds.  I shivered and curled up into the fetal position, nestled into my bag and my feverish state eventually subsided after much rest.

I woke up late. Much later than normal as the sky still sprinkled, laughing at my vulnerable state, as I packed up my gear. The soles of my boots squeaked with each damp, squishy step and I only sustained feeling in my arches and heels.  I lingered around town for a bit and felt like a bum with nothing but time to kill.  Somewhere between all the chaos a window of sun shined through illuminating my reflection in the ripples of each puddle I unsuccessfully avoided.  

Walking south I tramped past the yard and Roseville Market towards a vacant industrial field, the usual catch out spot for train riders.  Tags scrawled across a lone tree with graffiti lining the stone walls near a drainage culvert, a sign of other riders.  I explored the area carefully with an incognito sway about my step. Sergeant Flood did not fuck around when it came to riders and I heard quite many stories about citations for trespassing in this adjacent field.  So I maintained a low-profile and set up a lean-to near the back of the stone retaining wall. My fever lashed back at me with an unrelenting force so instead of fighting it I felt safe enough to rest during the daytime.  

As my eyes fluttered I heard drops sprinkle from above, gently thumping against nylon, quickly progressing to an abomination.  Layered in all my clothes I lay there dry and warm free from the demon above as Hell pounded its sins down upon me.  The blocks of ice attached to my ankles no longer felt like anything, but a numb existence, detached and barren. I awoke hours later to nothing but a dark misty sky, the only light peering out from the security vehicles patrolling the yard beyond the mesh fencing.

I scrutinized the yard for hours looking for an opportunity to hop out, but nothing looked promising other than getting caught from this location.  Dancing with the Devil I took a prowl three miles further south in pitch darkness down desolate back-country roads to find another spot to watch the yard operations.  I took “Rob Nothing’s” suggestion and hid by the overpass in the shadows of what seemed like perpetual gloom.  

What are these? Please tell me…

Encumbered by sickness I instantly fell asleep shielding myself from Mother Nature’s spontaneous, unpredictable outbursts, resting peacefully under yet another bridge.  That night she mellowed out to a calm, cloudless sky, breezeless and stunning through her twinkles.  I awoke on separate occasions to silhouettes scampering down the trashed, adjacent road.  Garbage cans, pallets, trash bags and a speedboat scattered across the ground like a wasteland portraying greed.

I eavesdropped on two normies talking about their materialistic lives and a mirage of problems.  But in the distance I saw a lone man.  He looked like a blurring shadow of darkness as he stealthily tiptoed through the east side of the yard, hopping the fence as he disappeared into a boxcar on an arriving train.  Perplexed, I wondered what he was doing?  He moseyed across two stopped trains and vanished like a cloud of smoke.  A train rolling through on the main line looked hoppable as it crawled slowly along two bands of steel at a turtles pace.  Maybe he caught on the fly. It would have been much easier to do so on the west…I never found out as I drifted off to sleep.

The following morning I awoke to radiant rays of sunshine seeping through my sleeping bag scorching my eyes. Finally it looked promising out, a great day to catch out if the opportunity presented itself. One train sat on the arrival tracks while another lingered in the classification area. I quickly packed up my gear and moved to a less obvious location, west of the tracks, hidden in tall brush by a lone shrub.  

Beneath the hill lay the tracks and a tent propped up out in the open, completely blowing up my chance to catch out.  Out hobbled a black man, reaching for his zipper to take a morning piss. He aimed straight towards the tracks as I shook my head, “what the fuck was he doin…”

In this moment I studied the train on the main line really quickly to figure out if it was headed southbound.  All the tracks pointed geographical southbound, but I knew trains from here headed either east, north or south so with a 66.6% chance of going the direction I wanted to, why not, right? Then I studied the train more closely.  Loaded lumber mixed with boxcars meant a lower priority train compared to an IM, but I remembered riding a similar train south from Eugene. So my deductive reasoning told me if that train headed southbound through Roseville with a similar load then maybe this train went south too.  

One-Eyed Bandit

One-Eyed Bandit

I looked back over at the home bum and he waved at me after putting his unit away.  

“Can’t stay there dawg, workers gon report you if they see you, they ain’t here tho.  Where you goin’…”

“South dude…tryin’ to kick the cold.”

“Well hop on…think it’s goin’ Fresno.”

With that confirmation I made up my mind and ran from under the bridge to the first open boxcar.  Ssssssssiiisssssisss…the sound of the air released from the brakes. I flung my pack in first and hopped in as stealthily and quickly as possible.  Just as I drug my leg in she started rolling along the steel picking up speed fast like a jaguar.  I rushed, squabbling in the car to push the door further open to keep from getting locked inside. “Shit I never grabbed a loose railroad spike,” I thought…

I held the door tightly clenching the cold metal in a death grip between my fingers and sweaty palms.  Fuck…I needed something to jam it, but what? I thought quickly and reached for my spoon jamming it in the groove under the door tract, but it shimmied loose still. I looked around the rusty boxcar floor, scanning it for anything.  At first glance it appeared empty, but ahah, a few stray pieces of lumber.  I sprinted over to two pieces grabbing them like batons and ran back to the door prying them in the loose space near the spoon. I gave it some extra oomff whilst kicking it with the bud end of my boot.  The door wiggled back and forth, but she stayed jammed, completely open to the scenery as I rode that one-eyed bandit towards Bakersfield.

Ridin' the Rails SBD to Bakersfield

Ridin’ the Rails SBD to Bakersfield

She bellowed from the inside, yelling, squeaking, screeching, and moaning at every turn along every wye and change of track.  It sounded worse than chalk scrawling against a blackboard, but I just lay there on the cold metal floor, shaking back and forth, watching the scenery fly by around me.  The freight car jiggled and gyrated ferociously to the point of nauseousness, and sure enough I threw up yet again.  She wiggled, bounced and threw my body around that empty box like a rag doll. It looked like a boxing match in there or a scene from Fight Club.  I could not tell. 

My eyes just glued to the scenery of open green pastures with cattle grazing, and orchards popping up in each adjacent plot of land. Almonds, Pistachios and a great deal of other natural resources reflected the huge industry of farming along the railroad tracks following the I-5, a multi-billion dollar industry.  Though sparse with residential development, the land boomed with ranches over the 200 mile stint to an unfathomable degree.  

We blazed through Stockton and shortly after came Fresno, I only knew because of the GPS on my phone.  With only the one door open, I never saw the yards, but the bright orange and yellow vests gave away the workers from miles away.  I stood close to the corner walls of the boxcar to avoid getting pulled off the train.  As she cruised along, the smooth steel guided her along the tracks like a ‘pas de deux.’  The night sky quickly approached as the sun crept away through the fluffy clouds and in the distance I saw the silhouettes of palm trees.  I used the big green highway sign propped on the side of I-5 to determine my location, Bakersfield 24 miles.

“Ahhh,” I sat back and waited unsure of what to do next…Get off in Bakersfield or head to LA?  She slowly screeched into the yard. I hopped off with my feet running, tripping over a large piece of ballast as I smashed into the ground rolling head first towards the fence.  Damn that hurt, but now where would I sleep? 

Under a ‘Needle-Infested’ Bridge

Train Hopping Roseville from Eugene

After working and bumming around Hawaii for the past few months my world changed as I entered Seattle as if leaving a dream. Going from a tropical, beach, paradise walking around in shorts and maybe a t-shirt while the cool ocean breeze tickled my chest, well that was long gone. Now my pack strapped to my shoulders felt ten pounds lighter because I wore every damn article of clothing in it.

My buddy picked me up from the airport and for the first time in months I slept peacefully in a comfy bed.  We kicked it for a few days, but I already felt antsy to move freely again and hit the road.  His truck route took him near Portland, OR so on my last night I hitched a ride with him to Kalama, WA where he dropped me off at the side of I-5.

The brisk night air taunted my exposed skin turning my cheeks and nose a rosey red. I started sniffling. “Ahhhh, it felt good to be back on the road again.” I looked out at the railroad tracks near a siding, waiting for a train to halt. Slowly my feet numbed from the cold, snow swallowed my worn boots ponding water in the open holes of my soles. Fuck I thought…this was gonna be a long journey south. Standing there like a jitterbug I wiggled around to maintain my circulation, but shortly capitulated. So I trampled nowhere fast, sloshing through the moist snow down the tracks and along a steep, snowy, slant of ballast near the highway. I walked and walked some more until I reached a road where I laid it down under a patch of pine. My feet felt cold as stone as if a chilling spectre encroached my body slowly gnawing away at my comfort, darkness followed and I dozed off.

Next I knew the morning sky surfaced through a dense layer of fog. I trudged to a convenience store for warmth stomping the sledgehammers where my feet once were.

With a warm coffee in hand and my socks plastered to the tiled floor, my toes started to come back to life in a warm, tingly sensation. I looked out the window and pondered, “Guess it’s time to start hitchhiking…” I dreaded leaving, going back out into that ravage beast, feeling the brutality of her breath drown my skin to a chilling, miserable state. But fuck the cold I was going south! I threw a thumb out by the on-ramp decked out in all black like a ninja and to my surprise a shuttle bus stopped and gave me a lift after only 5 minutes, dropping me in Vancouver, OR.

De-icer or sand does not exist in Oregon as I quickly found out. The hipster environmentalists boycotted its usage making tramping even more difficult for me, but I managed. I slipped and slid, fell on my ass on more than one occasion and my feet fell into a deep hibernation. At points it felt like I hovered along the sidewalk as I lost all feeling and just when I thought the weather could not get any worse…it did. Dark clouds fizzled above with frozen tears bouncing off the ground, ricocheting like pellets in every direction. I scrambled for a bridge, but I was so far out in the middle of fuck meandering through back roads following the I-5 that by the time I reached one I stood there shivering, and drenched in a downtrodden state of self-destruction. I changed out of my wet clothes into dry gear as I lingered under a siding beneath a bridge. With tweekers and home bums infested nearby I decided to hit the road once it calmed and I ended up getting clobbered again for round two.

My hitchhiking efforts remained futile with shoulders covered in mounds of ice and the sky erupting its fury like an active volcano. So I walked. I couldn’t get any more wet or could I? With some money saved up from a few days of work packing parachutes I decided to give in to a Motel 6.

Just a few miles over the bridge it sat off the highway calling my name. The pedestrian walkway over the bridge covered in a thick crust of black ice. I slid. I fell. I reached and grabbed onto the railings and slipped some more. It sucked. My shoes squished with each step as freezing water stalked my toes to a mesmerized state of numbness. I felt sick and feverish, but a bed was within reach, a look of relief crossed my brow. Halfway across the bridge the sky dumped more chilling cries and I about lost it. I cursed, moaned, and pleaded, but it did nothing. It amplified to a torrential rainfall, but I reached the motel by this point. My face beamed with joy. The rain halted as I stood in freezing puddles of water. I looked up at the sign and in big bold red letters it said, “No Vacancy…” Wait…what in the flying fuck…no vacancy…

Infuriated I grabbed fast food just to get indoors, to warm up for the long, dreadful night ahead of me. I sought refuge under a bush shaking and wiggling in my sleeping bag with my tarp shadowed above me. It did no use. I lay there cold, my teeth chattering like firecrackers and my body just aching from the neglect I put it through. The freezing rain intermittently showered throughout the night and as soon as 5 AM rolled around I hit the McDonalds for a place to warm my body.

It took hours to regain feeling in my extremities and even still, though warm, they felt numb and distant like an out-of-body experience. The ice storm continued with a fierce vengeance. I barely kept my eyes opened as my head bobbed, nodding in and out in the restaurant. I noticed a bus across the way and took the opportunity to free myself of Portland’s flooded roadways. With useless attempts of hitching I freed myself from the outdoors, getting some Zzzzzz’s on the same bus route multiple times before getting off at the Greyhound.

 Eugene - Train Hopping Roseville

Eugene – Train Hopping Roseville

I grabbed a cheap ticket for Eugene and figured I’d catch out once I was there, spending the next 12 hours indoors while I dried my gear, stayed warm and caught up on sleep. But you know that sly Dog that’s never late, always has WiFi, outlets and the classiest people, well it did not go as planned…it never does. They cancelled my bus. So I spent the night on the floor at the Greyhound station with a free food voucher, and cable TV dozing off for some much needed sleep.

I awoke early morning to the bitchiest, most racist front desk clerk. “Cuse me sirrr, ur bus left las night at 12 forty five. Why u still here?”

I was told my bus was cancelled for 11:30 PM and I could go to sleep.

“But I seen u all day yestaday. All day. Why were u here all day.”

Because my bus didn’t leave until 11:30 PM and I’m travelin’…and you guys cancelled my bus…can I get a new ticket?

“But why u didn’t get on an earlier bus?”

Why do I feel like I’m being interrogated? My ride couldn’t pick me up until then, ok?

“Damn that’s all u had to say boy…”

After what felt like a police interrogation of 30 minutes I left on a bus to Eugene arriving in the early morning. With nothing but time on my hands I walked to Skinner Butte and followed a trail that ran along the river. Home bum paddies scattered along the banks of the river with trash and human waste near the walking path. It reminded me of Portland, a place where public bathrooms did not exist, and locked dumpsters became more and more common. I wandered through the adjacent neighborhood that ran parallel to NW Expressway where I could hear the deafening sound of train horns and the thunderous jolts of freight cars getting humped together in the distance. A free little food pantry stood at one of the street corners and I grabbed a loaf of rye bread while I watched the trains arrive, depart and change crews right by the highway, all headed northbound. But with daylight shining through the scattered clouds I did not want to expose myself to any workers or the bull so I just waited and the hours slowly drifted away into a dark oblivion. The once busy roadway steadily shifted to a faint purring of noise as cars seldom drove by giving me the opportunity to roam about.

Train Hopping Roseville

Entering a snowstorm near K Falls while Train Hopping Roseville

But my sluggish state succumbed to sleep in the very bush I staked out the yard from. The rain whimpered in the night sky and the pitter patter of its drops against my tarp lulled me to sleep. I slept in that morning, too late perhaps and found myself just watching the yard operations and reminiscing on my last hop out which happened almost 4 months prior as a 40-miler in WNY, catching the same line a few times while I visited the trestle bridge in Letchworth State Park. The benevolent freedom associated with the wind swaying my hair, and my face erupting in a deep smile as tons of freight clanked against mere inches of steel made me look past the harsh prior days on the road. I smirked in anticipation of my future ride waiting for the perfect moment to catch a lift to nowhere in particular.

I decided to find a new spot though. Roaming around I bumped into a home bum under one of the grossest overpasses I ever set foot under. Human feces lay frozen and scattered between empty soup cans, cardboard and plastic among other festering debris and a plethora of needles showered the ground like a new sequel for a Saw movie. Yet this bum lingered here for two years as he told me. We chit chatted while I waited for my train to cc on the main line. But eventually I found myself scurrying to a locked dugout by a corner church. I finagled my way through a small gap in the doorway for a few hours of secure sleep.

Train Hopping Roseville

Over the river and through the woods to Dunsmuir while train hopping Roseville

Nightfall loomed above and for the first time in days I cast my eyes up at a few twinkling stars. Just as I decided to hit a local mart I heard a faint sound, a sound that came back to me almost instantly. Slowly inching forward as each bolt became visible in the moonlight an IM loaded with piggies, 48’s and 53’s screeched to a stop. I ran back to a bush near the road and waited for the right moment to cross and jump on a freight car. My heart thumped with blood pumping faster from the adrenaline. Where was the bull? Did someone notice me? It’s still kinda light out…all these thoughts raced through my mind. But fuck it, I made a run for it. My dark silhouette camouflaged in the night sky behind a blanket of massive freight headed southbound. I picked a 53’ to ride fearing I might get caught in a piggy. The first one I scrambled to had no porch, second one, no porch, third one, wasn’t a T-Well, fuck…fuck…fuck…I’m wasting time. Cars are passing in both directions now. I need to find something fast. So I gunned it for the next car, a piggy. I used every last bit of energy, every last bit of breath as my lungs gasped for air, wheezing like smoker’s cough as I squeezed myself into the wheel well of a semi truck.

 Eugene - Train Hopping Roseville

Snow not cocaine

I sat there soaked in a myriad of sweat, catching my breath, keeping my eyes peeled for the bull. But I guess he just didn’t give a shit, after all, it was 30 degrees outside, who’s gonna be hoppin’ trains in this shit, me I guess. Minutes passed, my stomach settled and body cooled down, I began to relax then the sound of air hissed near the couplers and I became wrenched in multiple emotions.

Slowly we rolled along picking up speed quite quickly. I sat there still as a scarecrow scrunched on my backpack as we left Eugene, OR headed southbound. Holy shit…that feeling of adventure came back suddenly and my droopy tired eyes became mesmerized through the blurry street lights of the city. Railroad crossing after railroad crossing dinged as everyone stopped to let the train pass and I felt like a king in my castle waiting to lay down on my throne once outside of the city.

I nestled into my sleeping bag on the floor underneath the semi and drifted to sleep while the wind whispered into my ears. We cruised. We cruised fast and when we stopped I awoke to a film of snowflakes cuddling up against my bag. We made it into the mountain range near Klamath Falls and she dumped inches of fresh powder, decorating the evergreen trees in a blanket of white beauty surrounding me. Wow. Just wow what a beautiful sight. The train did not sideout for long, maybe a few minutes, but once she picked back up speed, I fled back to my sleeping bag and threw my tarp over me to stay warm. The temperature dropped. It dropped well below freezing and with the wind shield I thought how crazy I was to leave a tropical paradise for this. But I loved every minute of it, even if my toes disowned me.

Cruising along I awoke early morning just past sunrise, upset that I overslept, and I missed seeing the peak of Mount Shasta. But honestly, I focused more on staying warm than the scenery, which meant staying bundled. I shifted back to the small space between the wheel wells as the cold made my fingers and toes squeal like little piggies while I rode towards Roseville on a piggy.

Dunsmuir veered right in the distance and the train meandered through the forest green mountainside along a turquoise flowing river. Mini waterfalls sprung along the sides of cliffs rushing water into the river and the train began to dart through a series of small, dark, tunnels as I covered my face from the carbon monoxide fumes. The snow ceased and as we declined in elevation it turned to freezing rain. I chuckled as I thought about riding on the porch of a 53’. The train swiftly approached Roseville as the brakes screeched around a sharp bend by a home bum infested golf course. Tents, tarps and filthy camps scattered near the fencing as the train rolled into town. I took this opportunity to jump off, seeking refuge under a bridge for that night, hoping the days ahead of me would not involve any conversations with Sergeant Flood.

Train Hopping Roseville

Roseville slowly approaches…

Hitchhiking Sausalito

Hitchhiking Sausalito and the Driftin’ Dream 

Hitchhiking Sausalito

As I traipsed the streets of Sausalito I watched the riches of both the land and the architecture unfold in front of my eyes.  Waterfront properties guarded the bay like immaculate fortresses of military prowess.  Their sheer size signified dollar signs, authority and prestige, but the truly rich and powerful resided on “The Hill” across the bay.  Those homes towered over the mansions making them look like dollhouses.

People snubbed me as I walked past giving me a look of disapproval, but whatever, I just wanted to continue north towards Washington.  After all, I spent the last three years on a journey there, which originally started out on my bicycle.  I planned to cycle from Delaware to Seattle, Washington, only making it as far as Colorado.  It felt like the right time to wander there, hopping trains, catching planes, hitching rides and bussing it all became an individual piece of the puzzle.

Sausalito charged for bicycle parking, which made me chuckle, as I walked closer to the ramp for the 101.  The sun plagued my spirit after hours of tramping as I looked for a place in the shade to sit down and rest.  The hill across the bay caught my eye once again and I wondered what it felt like to swim in more money than life itself?  Then I thought about the stress that came with the money and felt content with my own life, my own stories, and my own adventures.  Biggie Smalls said it best, “Mo’ money mo’ problems.”  I wasn’t broke, but sometimes I dreamt about taking the other path, the path of the college graduate, business-owner, etc.  But, no amount of money could buy all of this and these experiences.

I fell out of my daze and “Dream” came over to me, an old hippie rockin’ out in the sun with a bowl in hand, puffin’ on some weed.  He spoke philosophically about life with mumbo jumbo spewing from his mouth getting deep into thought as I lost track of his points in our existential crisis.  My soul was his soul and our souls joined with the souls of every other soul to make one soul exist on the planet we call Earth, or something of that nature.  I lost him after I soared high as a kite after scoring some California weed.  Two hits and I sat there baked off my ass like laying in a cloud of marshmallows.  He lived on the waterfront in Sausalito and asked if I knew his friend Larry Moyer, an advocate for Marinscope community.  Honestly, I never heard of him or Sausalito until that day of tramping through it.  He paused and his head sunk slightly in disappointment.

“Awe man, too bad, he was a great guy!  I wished you knew him I’d invite you to “A Tribute to Larry Moyer”…,” said Dream a bit too optimistically.

“Ohhhh…his funeral,” I said confusedly?

“Nah…not like that man.  We are celebrating his life at the Community Media Center of Marin later.  We’re gonna have a big party.  He inspired a lot of people around Sausalito.  Made a big impact on our lives man.  Just one of those free-spirits.  Did everything….an artist, filmmaker, photographer, just everything.  A pure soul man,” said Dream as he reminisced the past with his beloved friend.

Moyer fought for the community of Sausalito in the 1970’s becoming an organizer along the waterfront to protest the development at Waldo Harbor Point impacting the lives of his neighbors and friends whom also lived in along the bay.

Moyer ended up on the Waterfront as a “transplant” back in 1967, “The Summer of Love.”  After World War II, specifically Pearl Harbor, he ended up in California, becoming a resident of Sausalito for over 40 years.  He lived on a houseboat residing on the waterfront with one of his great friends, Shel Silverstein, a traveling buddy and companion he met in Moscow during the war.

In the old days, the waterfront comprised of free-spirits, paying no rent, trying to make it by as an artist, author, etc., just floatin’ around on the bay hangin’ with your buds.  Moyer’s support saved the waterfront from developers and although they lost the battle so to speak they did not lose the war.  As they fought for the right to stay and won.

“Sounds like a rad dude…wish I had met him…,” I said.

Dream nodded.  “Well, I gotta get ready man.  Here’s some stuff for the road.  If you’re lookin’ to hitch north, just hang out by that intersection up there…you’ll get picked up.  You headed to Garberville,” he asked.

I reached out my hand and grabbed a small chunk of dank nug, tucking it in my pocket.  “Yeah…how’d yo know,” I said in a shocked voice.

“I told you bro, our souls….our souls…you’re in for an adventure in NorCal…safe travels,” said Dream as he walked away in a clouded state-of-mind.

I tried walking myself, putting my one foot in front of the other singing Christmas music in my head, man was I fuckin’ stoned.  Talk about all the crazy shit he said too.  It just blew my mind.  What an interesting guy?  How on Earth would I hitchhike now, with bloodshot eyes and the inability to stand up straight?

I flew a sign on the 101 that read, “North.”  Time felt like it stopped.  Each minute felt like a black hole, reaching a dimensional of time that did not progress forward, at all.  But, really I just stood there stoned, my face frozen with a goofy expression, restricting me from hitching a ride.  Yet somewhere out of thin air a king soul picked me up.

He rambled on the phone the whole time, in his business suit, with a Bluetooth headset and before I knew it he dropped me off literally 6-miles down the road, off an exit with zero traffic, in a city called San Rafael.  Normally, I asked where the driver headed to, but he kept shushing me, as he talked on his private business phone call.  But, whatever, I slept on the on-ramp that night on the hill.

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