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

Wanderin' the world, at will, by any means

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Train Hopping Cheektowaga

Train Hopping Cheektowaga 40-Miler Club

Train Hopping Cheektowaga

Letchworth became my favorite hangout to disengage from work-related activities outside of the drop zone. Recently I found myself relaxing by the upper falls on more than one occasion, not just to hop passing trains (Although on this occasion train hopping Cheektowaga was in the near future), but to free myself from the stress of work and temporary settlement in WNY.

I set off for a two-day adventure adding another line to my rail riding experiences. These random bits of travel between work made me feel like a 40-miler, but nonetheless, the thrill and pure freedom of riding through the countryside brought smiles to my face. Aside from a hop-out in Flagstaff, where literally the train pulled up as I arrived at the C-C, this came as a close second for my quickest hop-outs, taking roughly 30-minutes.

Train Hopping Cheektowaga

Train Hopping Cheektowaga – passing through the countryside by grainer

I stood there mesmerized by the sheer girth of the trestle bridge, spanning across the Genesee River. My mind felt blank and free as the mist splashed my brow from the falls. In that split second I heard the faint screeching of wheels rolling across steel between the rapid thrashings of the waterfall and my heart began to race. I gave Kelly a quick hug and kiss and sped off, galloping up the rustic stone stairwell as I began my chase for freedom on the rails. The train crossed the trestle bridge, going northbound to the unknown. My heart thumped with adrenaline rushing through my veins as I matched up the units rolling by at a smooth 8-10 mph pace. I spotted a grainer with a porch a few units back, towards the end of the train, and made a run for it over the ballast. Carefully, I grabbed onto the ladder and threw myself up it as my feet ran with the beast. It screeched and squealed around the curves until straightening out on the mainline ready to roar to its blazing speed once over the bridge.

This added my first grainer to my train hopping experiences. I stashed my gear and myself in the fox-hole as we rolled through towns, fearing getting pulled off the train, or thrown in jail. With 3-hours of daylight left my eyes gazed out at the near panoramic view of the countryside. My pupils locked onto the greenest pastures with cattle grazing off in the distance. Corn husks sang as their leaves rustled in the wind. The clouds surrendered their puffy, white, cumulus texture to the beckoning, vibrant colors of the sunset as a montage of beauty enveloped the horizon.

Train Hopping Cheektowaga

Train Hopping Cheektowaga – Fox-hole Status

The short journey to Cheektowaga made this one of my shorter train rides, but the pure splendor of nature’s majestic presence made every mile worth it. We slowed to a light roll as we entered the yard in Cheektowaga and I made a run for it in the bushes, hiding briefly until I walked in the shadows.

Strawn Avenue took me down a bicycle path parallel to the train yard and I spent much of my night listening on my scanner for night-bound trains going south, away from Canada. I lay under a bridge beneath the I-90 reading monikers from past train hoppers as I drifted away into the coolness of the night. A train with Auto-Racks strung together on the main line ready for departure, but my eyelids remained heavy and closed, drifting slowly to sleep.

I awoke at 2 AM and relocated to the freshly mowed field by the power-lines off of the I-90. By early morning the train departed without me on it and I decided to wander around the city. Dirt paths by the railroads led me to shade from the scorching humidity of the sun. I loitered at public parks indulging in some reading and stumbled upon the CSX yard, with minimal security, other than a tower, and a bull. Eager as I felt to catch out during daylight, little cover existed, and hopping a night-time train did not fit into my schedule as I worked the following day. All trains that stopped on the mainline in the CSX yard looked hot and may not have stopped for 4-8 hours for their next C-C, leaving me in NJ or further east, with little time to make it back to work.

Train Hopping Cheektowaga

Train Hopping Cheektowaga – Nothing but a cool breeze and trees in the distance…

So my adventure shortly came to an end, but I learned more about the yards from listening, and watching the operation unfold around me. Soon I will no longer be a greenhorn as I continue to gain more experience on the rails. I look forward to January 2017 when I plan to hop trains for 4-6 months after finishing my job in Hawaii as a parachute packer. If nothing else, when my season ends here in WNY, I can say I hopped out over the Letchworth trestle bridge before the state replaced it with the newer one in 2017. I rode in both directions from Cheektowaga to Binghamton for a piece of history most will never experience.

Train Hopping Cheektowaga

Train Hopping Cheektowaga – The speed, the adrenaline, the thrill of ridin’ the rails…

Hitchhiking Letchworth State Park

Letchworth State Park Rail Fannin’

Hitchhiking Letchworth State Park

Over the past month of June I worked a mere three or four days with actual Tandem numbers aside from the occasional sport pack.  The murky weather, low ceiling, squirrelly winds and rain made me lose my mind.  I hate being stuck. I start to get emotional, but my spirits changed after a short trip to Letchworth State Park.

I mentioned hitchhiking Letchworth State Park to a tandem instructor at the drop zone and his home happened along the way.  Quickly closing the last few containers I ran to my room and packed up my backpack, grabbed some tubes, and a jug of water.  Then I put my bike in his trunk.  He gave me a lift to Geneseo where I followed 63 South until I noticed signs for Letchworth State Park.  Hitchhiking to Geneseo shaved off much allowing me to arrive in the park well before dark, however, the entrance deceived me, much like last year.  14 miles to Letchworth Falls put a damper on my mood, but I pedaled the small grades, while walking up the steep ones, as the sun slowly snuck away beneath the horizon.  The mileage did not seem like much, after all, just years prior I pedaled 2,600+ miles from Delaware to Colorado, but my body took adjusting to long distance bicycle touring.  My knees ached, quads spasmed, and legs locked from lack of potassium.  Much of the hills I waddled up like a penguin, leaning on the handle bars as I pushed Virginia Red along, with her little bell and cheap frame glimmering in the light.

Hitchhiking Letchworth State Park

Hitchhiking Letchworth State Park

For 34 miles of cycling, I took fucking forever and I felt disheartened knowing I arrived just in time for sunset at the facade of the upper falls.  I wanted more time to bask in its beauty with the sunlight simmering down across it.  My ignorance did not know about the stadium lights projecting their rays out towards the falls.  The mist peeping up from the undertow tickled my brow as I savored the  gleaming radiance from the water cascading over the rocks.  It’s soothing sound felt like a lullaby slowly phasing me to sleep, but first I sought shelter under the nearest tree.  The tall brush full of skunk cabbage left a pungent aroma in my olfactory glands.  I chopped down a small, circular section of brush and dug a tiny pit into the ground, throwing stray twigs, dead leaves and branches into a tepee for a hobo fire.  Reaching into my pockets I pulled out aluminum foil and two potatoes for a festive dinner by the falls, full of carbs and energy for the next day’s journey homeward bound to Albion.

I awoke early to a raccoon rustling through my campsite and enjoyed the breeze on my downhill journey to the Mount Morris entrance of the park.  My tires spun freely without movement from my legs as I sped down hill after hill meandering turns along the gorge with beautiful overlooks of the Grand Canyon of the East.  St. Helena, Wolf Creek, Gardeau Overlook, and Inspiration Point all offered scenic views of the breathtaking canyon walls lining the Genesee River, but the most satisfying moment of the day happened so suddenly that I basked in its presence afterwards.

Rounding a bend, with my fingers gently touching the brakes I peered out down the road to an animal amongst the path.  Its tan fur shimmered in the sunlight as it swayed its hips gracefully in its own world.  Its tail wiggled back and forth until I inched closer unsure of the creature before me.  It turned around ready to pounce its massive paws any which way and I caught a glimpse of its whiskers, a mountain lion stood before me and whilst fumbling for my camera it jumped into the woods, plastering a huge smile across my face which stayed for the rest of the day.

I hitched a small 8-mile ride into Batavia after helping a man gather his tools from the road, falling from the bed of his pickup truck.  All 57 miles home was worth every drop of sweat and ounce of pain to see wildlife in its true form, the wild.  I even made it back in time to jump and pack some rigs.  I find myself happiest when I’m goin’ with the wind.

Once my wife gets into town from her cross-country road trip I want to get some hiking in at Letchworth State Park.  Check out all the trails the park offers that traverse the gorge and more!

Happy

Happy

Tillman Village Inn

My beautiful girlfriend and I at the Tillman Village Inn in WNY.

It’s almost the end of July, and despite exploring most of WNY on my bicycle, I have not done much other than pack parachutes and skydive. This type of lifestyle lacks a consistent schedule. Some weeks I pack 80 tandems and barely sleep. Other weeks I sit inside sheltered from the stormy cumulonimbus clouds watching Playbox or Netflix on my phone with a backdrop of the gloomy sky peeking in through the hangar windows.  The Great Lakes affect the weather in Albion immensely and make it difficult to skydive, but I always find something to do if I can’t get my fix for the day jumping.

Cozy little Fair Haven Inn

Recently my boss and his wife made an impromptu trip to Europe for ten days. The slow work week that lied ahead felt like another June. Déjàvu of dragging on the days of rain and the small anticipation of working each weekend with a questionable forecast of low-ceiling clouds and rain.

Mr. Gazebo

But then something changed making the smile on my face even bigger than before. Fate brought me back to a special person in my life. A sweet, beautiful, spontaneously adventurous, woman with a vibrant smile whom I dated years ago ended up back in my life forever.

Kelly being her goofy self outside the Tillman’s Village Inn. She looks just as happy as I remember her 🙂

The three days she spent here in my arms made time stop and I felt immobilized. I found it hard to leave the bed cuddled up next to her gazing into her eyes. With all the time that passed everything picked back up right where we left off and my love for her immediately restored.  The Tillman Village Inn made for a great getaway with the love of my life. I love you Kelly and can’t wait to see you again.

Three of her drinks entered the National Bartending Competition in Las Vegas!

With all my adventures in the past five years I feel like this completed the last chapter of what I searched for by finding myself, my passions and with you to share it. Everything brought us back together and now I have someone to share all my stories and experience the views under the stars, the sunrises, sunsets and beauty of the world with my special someone beside me. Loving me for me with nothing other than unconditional love.

Cheap champagne to celebrate all the good times we will share together in our future

Abandoned Growers Cold Storage Co.

Waterport Urbex – Abandoned Growers Cold Storage Co.

Waterport Urbex

Exploring an old factory off of 279 – Waterport Urbex

Alright, so I’ll be the first to honestly admit that Western New York sucks, but the country has it’s pluses, Waterport Urbex. I have no idea why anyone would want to live here and raise a family. The brutally cold winters, rain and scattered clouds make it a miserable place to live, but that’s just my opinion. I am only here for a few months each season to work packing parachutes. This season we moved to Pine Hill Airport in Albion, NY. Technically it’s an 8-mile drive from the city of Albion, but needless to say I am in the Town of Barre, which is full of abandoned barns, buildings, and quarries, both vacant and occupied by active heavy equipment.  Here is a recent adventure towards Lake Ontario in a small town called Waterport.

I set out yesterday towards Lake Ontario, specifically Lakeside Beach State Park. There and back is exactly 34 miles. Most of the grades are relatively flat, but some of the narrow, one-way, draw bridges have steep grades where I walked up them, pushing my bicycle beside me as I looked out over Eagle Harbor and Waterport Pond.

The complete desolation and lack of cars made the ride peaceful and relaxing. I pedaled by multiple fruit orchards, farmland and abandoned barns, but the building that stuck out the most in my mind was right off Waterport Road on Route 279 where I dipped into Waterport Urbex. Next to a field of semis and a government building, stood a crooked, dilapidated, vacant factory…or so I thought…

Waterport Urbex

Stairway to Heaven…I wanted to check out the basement but without a flashlight this place sketched me out.

I literally walked around back and pulled my bicycle in through the faded brown back door. The musty aroma of mold, moist dirt and freshly sprouted ivy tickled my nose. I propped my bike up against the window and locked it tightly. Not that anyone was going to steal it, but you never know what you’ll find in these places or who you’ll find “dead or alive!”

I shuffled away from the door and my eyes stuck on the opened lockers in the corner of the room. I pressed my finger against the gray door whisking away the dust in a single stroke until gently hearing a creak whistle at the hinges. I approached the next room to see electrical panels dismantled, cords dangling from the ceiling, old, rusted gears, steel beams, flakes of asbestos, broken filing cabinets and metal piping scattered across the floor. I just stood there and pondered why this place shut down and how long it remained abandoned? I walked up the steps into the next room to see a few old tires piled up next to the wall. An old elevator dangled by steel cables sat crooked on the ground floor, inoperable, full of random debris.

I tiptoed towards the red spiral staircase and stopped, noticing it twisted up two more stories and down into a pitch black basement. The other rooms on the interior remained dark and the only spawn of light came from holes in the shell or walls of the decaying building. I grabbed onto the spiral staircase, my fingers clasping rough rusted metal, pieces flaking off with each move up to the next floor. My eyes wandered around the room, first at the graffiti sprayed across the walls, and then at the exposed re-bar dangling from the corners of the concrete ceiling.

A door perched open with the letter “G” printed in big, bold, black lettering followed by a scribble of “UNIT” in red spray paint. To the left of it someone outlined a stick figure with Afro hair dancing and to the right of the door depicted a tall wine glass that was half full or empty. I looked inside and all the rooms remained completely black, with only tiny pinholes of light shining in from cracks in the building. I decided to walk of the rickety set of stairs and climb a ladder that barely hung on the wall to the roof the building.

Waterport Urbex

Rooftop Waterport Urbex

Now the roof made for a nice view over most of the road. The first room I climbed into held some sort of heavy, green, gear next to an old electrical panel. The weight alone of this made me confident that the wood flooring would not buckle beneath me sending me 40 feet to my death.

Western New York is a haven of much urban blight through areas like Rochester with the RTA Subway System, to the myriad historical silos of Buffalo, with abandoned squats, homes and barns in between.  Some of my favorite parts of Abandoned New York include Dansville:  Castle on the Hill and JN Adam Memorial Hospital to name a few.  Explore. Wander.  Live Free!

Waterport Urbex

Abandoned Grower’s Cold Storage Co. in Waterport, NY

Kanyoo Swallow?

Albion NY

More urbex in Albion, NY. I’ll get a story going later on, but here are pictures from my recent exploration around the airport.

So basically I purchased a whip from Walmart for $125.00 like I stated before in my previous blog post and ended up taking her for a spin to Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. If you haven’t been there and are in the area I would recommend checking out Kanyoo Trail and Swallow Hollow. Yes, if you combine the names Kanyoo Swallow Hollow it sounds like a porno, but the scenery is pretty epic. There are an endangered species of warblers there among Canadian Geese, and snapping turtles. I actually ran into a snapping turtle on my way back from the park. Those guys may be slow, but if you tap them to see if they’re alive they move like lightning and go into ninja attack mode. Fucker almost bit the toe of my shoe.

Aside from that there are a few marshes to check out in the preservation area. I preferred Ringneck marsh out of all of them. It’s definitely a great spot to chill, relax and go fishing. You can walk around most of the marsh as well. The water is pristine dark blue and filled with fish.

       

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