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 (2019). 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.
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 Stobie, 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 ended in fatal injuries.
So the June day finally came to actually catch out. I rode the bus over to La Crosse, WI where I was pretty sure that I could catch out undetected. My plan was to hike a mile or two from the bus drop off point on the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse campus to a secluded spot along the BNSF mainline where I would wait for dark and a suitable train.
As luck would have it, it was a rainy day. I had looked at the weather forecast and determined that the front triggering the rain would be past La Crosse by early evening leaving me decent weather to catch out in. I arrived in La Crosse to a moderate and steady rainfall. I was well prepared, I had a rain cover for my giant pack as well as rain gear for myself. I bought a cheep rain suit from Walmart that consisted of waterproof pants and jacket. Continue reading The Summer of Train Hopping! Part III→
As I got used to my hiding spot and the uneasiness of being in the middle of a marsh on a pitch black moonless night became an afterthought, I stretched out and relaxed a bit. The bugs and mosquitoes weren’t too bad, especially considering I was surrounded by water on both sides.
I was actually almost comfortable, at least, on the scale of what’s comfortable at midnight or so in the middle of a marsh next to a railroad bridge laying on mostly ballast that slants fairly steeply to the water. The good news about my situation was that it was a mile back to the bridge I started from and probably a mile into the yard, so nobody was going to accidentally happen on to me. Plus, I was in a much better spot because the trains were stopping right along here, Continue reading THE SUMMER OF TRAIN HOPPING! PART IV→
Freight trains are incredibly loud, at least, while riding on or in freight cars. I’ve occasionally wondered how anything gets where it’s going in one piece after all the banging and clanging that goes on. I’ve come to realize that it depends significantly on what type of car you are riding and whether you are on the mainline or a poorly maintained branch line. Mainlines and intermodal cars tend to be relatively smooth, but still ear numbingly loud.
I knew ahead of time that grainers and other bulk unit trains like coal, potash, sand or rock trains tend to be the lowest priority. Even though this particular train was headed to Portland, it was soon apparent that it wasn’t high priority. We sided out several times to wait on hot shot freights. You now you’re low priority when you side out and get passed from behind!
Even though this hop is not off to the start I had envisioned, it was pretty enjoyable. As the late Spring sun got higher in the sky it began warming up quite nicely. It took much of my chill away, and I just relaxed and watched the Mississippi go by through the trees.
We rolled past locks and dams, a tow boat pushing barges and a variety of small towns and industrial plants along the right-of-way. The tracks run next to a highway and at times the cars weren’t going that much faster than we were. I was afraid I’d be seen, yet I knew most people never bother looking at the rear porch of grain cars rolling by on a train. From the train it’s like you’re watching people through their picture window at home, If they simply look out, they’ll see you, as far as I know, none did.
I beat it across the four lane highway to a park on the other side. People are automatically suspicious of you when you’re wearing a pack and wandering around the city. Since this was a park, and more or less on the very edge of St. Paul, I at least looked like maybe I had a legit reason for being there.
It wasn’t ten minutes after ordering it that an Uber driver picked me up. He was on older gentleman, a retired truck driver, just making some extra cash for something to do. We traded a few truck driving stories, he was more of a line haul local type driver, I had been over the road for a few years at one point.
If you’ve never ridden a long distance intercity passenger train, like Amtrak for example, you owe it to yourself to try it sometime. In this part of Wisconsin, the Empire Builder is the daily Amtrak train that cuts through the state on its way back and forth between Seattle and Chicago.
I’ve never ridden a train outside of the US, and I hear that our trains don’t match up to those in Europe, but I have no complaints about Amtrak. The ride is so smooth and quiet you feel like you’re floating along through the countryside, especially when you ride on the top deck of a Superliner car. The comfort level of the train far exceeds that of airplanes. The leg room is amazing and you can recline without giving a thought about smashing people behind you.
It was already dark as we headed out of LaCrosse. I didn’t realize it, because up until this point I’d never ridden on an intermodal car, but this was a shallow well, barely deep enough to stay mostly out of site.
I was able to watch the yard office as we passed by and, of course, there was a car with its headlights on pointed directly at the train. I ducked back down and hoped for the best. We maintained a steady but slow speed, ten miles an hour I suppose, for a mile or so and then stopped and we sat there. I looked down both sides of the train and couldn’t see anything or anyone approaching, so, I wasn’t too worried, but still, you never know.