The Summer Of Train Hopping! Part II

Let me be very direct, if you have an inkling or maybe even a major itch, to ride trains, don’t do it without some help. I don’t follow all that many train riders on Youtube, but two of them, which amounts to about 30% of those I follow, have met with significant accidents.

Jim Stobe, aka Stobe the Hobo, or Hobestobe on Youtube, arguably the most widely known modern hobo, was fatally injured in an accident with an Amtrak train in the Baltimore area. I don’t really know the full details so my knowledge is secondhand at best. Apparently he was on a bridge without a walkway, which isn’t uncommon, especially back east where much of the infrastructure is old or created in narrow right-of-ways. He was supposedly on the bridge when Amtrak came screaming past and his backpack was somehow caught by the passing train. The result was a dragging that resulted in a fatal injury.

RIP Stobe

Another of the people I follow slipped on ice getting off a train, and had his hand crushed between the rail and a train wheel, losing part of his hand and several fingers in the process. He required multiple surgeries and skin grafts to save what was left of his hand. Hobo Shoestring is his name on Youtube.

There have been countless others, people who have been crushed by shifting loads on various types of cars, or people run over trying to hop on or off on the fly, which is much, much more difficult than it appears on film.

There are several types of cars that people do ride, that are inherently dangerous and are referred to as “suicide rides”. Jason Litzner, aka Lil’ Jay was killed when he fell under the suicide container car he was riding. The shock and pain was over quickly for him, but not so much for his wife and a traveling companion. Jay’s accident.

By all accounts, “Railroad Man”, Lil’ Jay was gentle soul living life his way.

So, I don’t take riding lightly, it isn’t safe and it is illegal in most places. It isn’t unusual to be ticketed or jailed for hopping freight trains. Freight yards, especially hump yards, carry an entire list of additional hazards, especially at night, which is when you’re most likely to end up in one. In short, I can’t recommend doing this unless you have some help or significant experience around trains. Being a foamer (railfan) doesn’t hurt since most foamers know the workings and hazards of trains.

I find the anticipation of a ride to be exhilarating to the point I don’t sleep much the night before I plan a hop. For me, riding a freight train is the perfect combination of excitement and anticipation followed by a mostly tranquil, but noisy, ride through backyards, old sections of towns and open countryside. In some ares, the tracks are about the only thing to interrupt the beautiful scenery along the way.

I’m too old, and truth be told, probably never was athletic enough to safely catch out on the fly. So, I’m pretty much limited to getting on and off where the trains are stopped. There are only a few places where that happens regularly, crew change points or places where two competing rail lines cross and less often, along sidings used to allow trains to pass one another are a few such places.

The track crossings are usually referred to as “diamonds” because of the construction of the tracks when they cross on an angle. They still call them diamonds even when the tracks cross at right angles. Usually, only one of the railroads owns and controls the crossing, the one that preceded the other. You can count on the non-owner to get stopped waiting for clearance fairly often, and you can catch out if you’re lucky.

HO Scale Diamond

On the busiest mainlines nowadays, much of the tracks have been changed to “double track” which negates the need for one train to stop to allow another to pass by. The UP (Union Pacific) has one of the longest stretches of double and even triple track in the world from Omaha to Ogden Utah. Known as the Overland Route, it’s probably double tracked all the way to Chicago since the UP acquired the C&NW (Chicago Northwestern) in 1995 to expand eastward.

So, I began getting serious in May about catching out. I figured I needed a decent pack, sleeping bag, tent, self inflating pad, some food and some means of carrying water. I also wanted to bring camera gear and some extra battery storage to charge up all the batteries involved.

To keep expense down, and knowing how rough and dirty trains are, I elected to buy a used 70L pack on Craig’s list. I ordered a self inflating pad, which I ruined on my first hop, and a mummy type sleeping bag good for Spring, Summer or Fall, but not totally suitable for real Winter. The tent is a really slick one man tent.

I had researched a potential catch out spot via Google Maps in satellite view. My target was the BNSF mainline to the Pacific Northwest. So off I went to La Crosse, WI via bus, because there aren’t any mainline railroads in Madison. I knew that BNSF intermodal trains changed crews in La Crosse so, not only would they stop at the diamond the CP (Canadian Pacific) controls, but they’d also change crew there. That would give me a decent ten minute window to make the connection.

The best laid plans…. What could go wrong?

The summer of train hopping! Part I

I’ve been meaning to make blog posts more often, but I’ve just been lacking in motivation. Fortunately, or perhaps, unfortunately, depending on your perspective. I feel more motivated.

I have mentioned in videos, how the key to living a wandering life is to be a wanderer at heart. We are starting our fourth year on the road this August. I follow lots of nomads, and train hoppers on youtube. It’s interesting because people don’t last on the road always, and I’m sure there will be a day down the road that we’ll be pulled from our wandering ways, but if you are a true wanderer at heart, the trials and tribulations of living in an RV are relatively minor, most of the time;). Hopefully, the end of our nomadic existence will be a long time from now, although, at almost 63, there isn’t such a thing as a long time, if there ever was.

So, it’s always more of a struggle for Terri to be away from family. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, their spouses, our grandchildren, etc. It’s fantastic when we spend time together, but I get antsy to be moving within a month or so, that’s just me. It’s my nature, and it’s exactly why I love this lifestyle so much. I’m enjoying a general contentedness that comes from a few glasses of wine or beer and maybe on special occasions a little weed to top things off. The only thing is, I feel that way without the help of intoxicants, it’s my existence and the feeling comes from being in sync with who you are, in my case, a person who thrives on changes. That’s my personal paradox, the constant I need is constant change.

So, last summer I hopped a freight train, for what I figured would be the last time. However, luckily, that hasn’t turned out to be the case;) I think Terri and I have hit upon a pretty good balance. We’ll spend the entire summer in Wisconsin near my daughter’s house in Madison, the last place we had a sticks and bricks dwelling, which will make Terri happy, and I’ll take some time to myself to ride the rails!!! Yay!

Near the appropriately named Wheatland, ND

By staying put, I get to wander! Makes sense, right?

So, I thought I would blog a little bit about my experiences riding the rails this summer. First objective, Glacier National Park by freight train;)

A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear (nfs campgrounds)

We’ve stayed at quite a few National Forest Service campgrounds as we’ve wandered the country. There are several things that make them appealing.

Of course, the biggest one, they tend to be in forests! We’ve taken advantage of them in Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, South Dakota and now Arizona.

They’re rarely crowded. The campgrounds are usually remote enough that they aren’t often full, although, the closer you get to National Parks, the less that is true. They are well maintained and typically, are very clean.

Continue reading A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear (nfs campgrounds)

Our history isn’t what I thought it was:(

I’ve been meaning to blog more often this year. It’s my year three goal, but I have to go back a bit first.

We are back in the Black Hills of South Dakota as we begin our migration away from cold weather. It’s actually still pretty warm here, although, the furnace has been on at night. My perspective of the western US is changing as I learn more about it.

I have become aware of my ignorance of our history as a nation. I haven’t told the story here, but I had a rude awakening that has changed me. I’m not usually emotional, until this event, and it seems to have affected me when it comes to thinking about treatment of all people.

Continue reading Our history isn’t what I thought it was:(

We Moved and Our Philosophy On Campgrounds.

Well, we left what became one of our favorite static spots. We were boondocking (dry camping) on a friend’s farm outside of Waunakee, WI. For nomads, we haven’t been very nomadic lately, since we spent most of May and June here. We are spending the summer in the Madison area of Wisconsin. Usually we spend about two months here in the summer visiting family and catching up on maintenance, etc., but this summer, we had so much going on we are ending up spending almost the entire time here.

Looking back across the pasture to where we spent two months. This was a great spot for us!

Our friend, Tessa, sold her farm and so we packed up and headed off to a new location. It was so beautiful and quiet on the farm that it will take a little getting used to being somewhere else.

View across the road from Tessa’s

One of the things we don’t talk a lot about is what a pain it can be if you want to stay in one area for an extended period of time and you don’t have options like a friend’s farm. For example, in Dane County, Madison’s county, if you haven’t reserved a spot online in one of the four campgrounds that can accommodate RVs, you can plan on moving every few days. Even if you make reservations, assuming you can get a block of dates that long, you are limited to 14 days in any one campground, then you have to move for at least a week.

So, it gets to be a hassle, and we prefer smaller, off the beaten path places. Places like city parks, fairgrounds and smaller country parks have provided us with some of our best stays, and are often free or very inexpensive. I’m sure we aren’t alone when we prefer and search for the campgrounds with fewer amenities, instead of more!

Anyway, the problem I have with bigger, more formal campgrounds like the Dane County parks is that they aren’t anything super special, they are nice, but you end up spending about $30 a night, and still have to move, and some days, you simply aren’t going to have a spot, like over holidays and many weekends. So, we look for the hidden gems and other opportunities. It looks like I found one in Blanchardville, WI. It’s a little city campground, less than $15 a night, and right on a branch of the Pecatonica river. Downtown, well actually, anywhere in town, is within easy walking distance. Plus, we can stay here through August if we like. It’s about 45 minutes from Madison, but that isn’t too restrictive given the cost, the beauty and the fact that we have hookups. (Water and 30 Amp Electric). There is a dump station here too.

I’ll add some pictures and shoot some video, but it looks like a winner!

RV Living and Health Care

We are back in Wisconsin for most of the Summer this year. As you know, we live in our RV full time. One thing that is problematic for many of us who live this lifestyle is health care. I’ll give you a couple of examples.

One of the biggest bugaboos is insurance. Many states do not offer any kind of national plans. Wisconsin, for example, doesn’t have Blue Cross Blue Shield unless you get through your employer and your employer has to be based in a state that offers it!

So, we end up with health insurance through the marketplace, and thank goodness for that, or I wouldn’t be eligible for insurance. The problem is that the network, and in network doctors, are all in Wisconsin. That means, and so far, knock on wood, we haven’t used it outside of Wisconsin, that many things require pre-approval and there is extra expense involved for “out of network” doctors.
Continue reading RV Living and Health Care

Magnolia Beach, TX

We’re hiding from the cold on the Gulf Coast. It was surprisingly chilly as we headed for San Antonio to meet up with my son and his family. We had a great time.

Now we are parked at Magnolia Beach, Texas, on the beach no less along Lavaca Bay.

Looking to the north out the windshield while camping on Magnolia Beach

Tonight, I am sitting in the front seat staring to the north out of our windshield. It’s expected to storm tonight as a cold front moves through. I can see lightning off to the north east.

Same general direction at night. Big refineries and plenty of industry located all over the gulf shores. It is easy to see why hurricanes can impact so much of commerce and life here.

The thing that strikes me is how much the Gulf of Mexico impacts the weather up north. The plains states rely almost entirely on the warm humid air of the gulf to provide the rains to sustain agriculture all the way to North Dakota and beyond.

As a land lubber, completely ignorant of the ways of the sea, and open water. I can’t help but wonder if the sea level will change much as the storms move through? It isn’t like a hurricane or anything, but if the wind blew pretty hard, I can’t help but wonder if it would push the water level up to the RV?

I hooked the car up just in case we need to make a fast getaway, LOL.

 

Laurie, John and Ruby

George’s sister Laurie and her husband, John live on a lake near Wilmot, South Dakota. It is really out in nature with not a lot of people. On our travels from Wisconsin we were able to stop and see them. This was the first time visiting them at their beautiful home they had built and they have lived there six years! This is one of the excellent reasons to have a motor home, it takes us to family we love and that fills us with happiness.

Continue reading Laurie, John and Ruby

Vacationing with the Family in Wisconsin

To end our summer in Madison, we all decided to go to northern Wisconsin and rent a cabin on a lake.  George and I were going to take off after our vacation with the family and head out on the road again. So we drove our RV towing our car and the best part was our grandkids rode along with us. Plus their dog Hotdog.

The first night of traveling we stayed at Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest on Black Lake. Andy, our son-in-law’s favorite lake in Wisconsin. There are no houses on the lake so it makes it very special and the loons were calling in the morning and the evening. I love me a loon!

Continue reading Vacationing with the Family in Wisconsin

Hosting

Just by chance we were asked if we were interested in hosting at Lake Mendota Park in Madison. We decided to give it a shot and we started hosting on July 14th, 2017. Our last day of hosting is August 9th, 2017. Today’s date is the 28th of July, so we have been hosting for 2 weeks. I thought I would give it a couple of weeks before I posted anything about hosting.

The first day of hosting was a Friday. My husband George had plans to out that evening, so I was left to take over. The evening amounted to selling firewood and answering a couple of questions. Didn’t particularly like that I had to answer the door of my RV  in the evening so much. I like my evenings to myself. So when my husband was home the next night, It worked perfectly.He hangs out in the living room in the evening, so he could answer the door all night while I could hang out in the bedroom. He is a night owl and I am not.

We basically wear name tags that read, volunteer camp host. We get our camp site for free for hosting which saves us $27.00 a day with a 50 amp hook-up. Every morning after ten o’clock we take our clip board and pen and walk around recording available camp sites and pick up garbage. Then we call in, with a phone lent to us, the number of available spaces at our campground. In the evening we walk around looking for litter and we also walk Gizzy too. We have a bag that we put the money in for the firewood we sell for the park. The firewood is located at our campsite. There is a little sign on the post at our campsite, where we show open or closed. When you are closed you also set the paper clock to the time you will return. The rangers want you to be around during the weekends to help out especially. All in all so far it has worked for us. We do love it when Monday morning comes around and the park becomes quiet. That is when we get our blow-up kayak out and paddle around Lake Mendota. So cool!

 

 

Chronicling Full Time RV Life