Sharp rays of light tickled my face as I awoke early morning on the incongruent ground with a minefield of walnuts burrowed beneath my back. I sat up; cracked the bones in my vertebrae and neck, giving me only sudden relief from the kinks and knots crawling up my spine, but I still felt rested for the long day of riding ahead of me.
My hand patted the ground scouring it for my pack of smokes and glasses. The air smelled of fresh dew and pollen as smoke entered my lungs igniting the start to a new day where not even a cloud touched the sky. I had a few hours to kill, at least, according to a map drawn by another rider beneath the bridge. It marked the hop out time and direction of northbound Intermodals despite it being mislabeled as eastbound, which Eugene Bean pointed out beside it in a funny, wax rant.
The hours crawled by much like my motivation to pack up my gear, which I did so in a lackadaisical manner as general manifests entered and left the CN Vaughan Yard sporadically. The pleasures of indulging in Pizza Hut ruminated in my brain, but I stood firmly on the hill pushing this deterrent out of my thoughts, afraid my train would stop on the mainline and that it did.
Just before noon, one of the longest hotshots I ever cast my eyes on parked on the mainline for a crew change, pointing northbound for Winnipeg. I hustled down the embankment of overgrowth rustling through the high trackside weeds to ballast. Cars zoomed, bicyclists zinged and pedestrians zipped along the bridge overhead of me as I walked the line looking for a suitable ride.
If I was riding for multiple days I became picky with my ride, not wanting to ride suicide or on the porch of a 40’ with little to no cover. Instead, I strove for mini wells, buckets, wells, something to keep me hidden from roll-by inspections and society, something with comfort, something with hobo luxury. Over the years these rides have become harder and harder to find. In Canada, nearly all rides were suicide 53’s and 48’s or the porches of 40’s. I really needed to search for the right car, looking for ribbed 53’s, 40’s with mini wells or the occasional bucket on a 48’ with a floor, which a simple kerplunk of a rock would tell me when I tossed it inside and it either dinged the steel or thudded against ballast. This sound was more golden than the sound of airing up and departure. Finding the ideal ride involved strenuous hustling along the jagged slopes of track and oftentimes just settling for any ride before air entered her, birthing her of life.
This was one of those instances where I wandered back and forth, searching and searching, until finally I worked my way back the way I came and jumped up on a 40′ mini well with the overpass shining next to me. I lay under the grate waiting for her golden hiss to ignite my journey as the fire in the sky melted away my boredom with anticipation and I hoped no one looked down on my well from the overpass above. Sweat dripped down my skin from the hot steel, but a long, blissful journey lay ahead of me on this cloudless day, so I lay unfazed. I waited patiently. The sound touched my ears like the voice of an angel. We were off!
She sliced around that bend through the urban havoc of downtown Toronto and as I peeped up to the baby blue sky, I saw a burst of skyscrapers trickle on by me. Their glass facades twinkled in the rampant sunlight until the city completely disappeared. Then nothing but green blazes of trees burned by as she slithered through Canadian wilderness. The sound of the train, the smell of diesel exhaust, the gyrating, conical wheels, bouncing and screeching along those endless glinting beams of steel, the complete desolation, it all ran wild on the Canadian Highline. Just me, the train, the wilderness, little streets, towns, and railroad crossings between, it felt all too mystical.
Lakes of blue sprinkled between miles and miles of deep green forest blinded me for the next 2-days and I loved absolutely every fuckin’ minute of it. I loved the fresh breeze tossing my hair. I loved the glacial lakes, the swamps, the vibrant collage of aspens and lodgepole pines whipping by me, the cloudless sky and tormenting sun, the speed of the train rippin’ it, the squeals, screeches, shrieks, the stops, the hissing, the fly-bys, the pure taste of freedom. I felt alive. Mother Nature carved a masterpiece in it landscapes for me to see and what better way to see it all than by train.
That evening she sided for a crew change in Sudbury. I hopped off and wandered up into the woods to cleanse my bowels of canned beans and tuna packets. I listened for air, but she sat silently on the mainline, waiting to re-crew as I squatted, pushing fiber and protein out of my sphincter and covering the loaf with loose dirt, dead leaves, and twigs. I felt lighter and fuller of energy so I walked the line just a few cars and studied the woodland.
The sharp, strong, poignant smell of pine struck my nose with an undertone of bittersweet fruit, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint what mottled beneath it.
My legs brushed through moist clusters of bushes. I stopped. I bent down and ran my fingers along moist, little leaflets, picking up branch after branch and scouring each bush of its wild blueberries. I scavenged the land for hours, plucking one by one, and filling a whole Ziploc with these tasty little zaps of flavorful heaven. Then the sound of air whistled through the foggy silence of wilderness as the cool air of night surrendered to starry sky and the chorus of amphibians and bugs alike. In that moment, I hopped back up on my ride and nestled myself deep into my cocoon. My excitement soon faded as the reverberating thud of steel rocked me to sleep in my cradle of solitude.