It has been on my bucket list for a really long time to jump on a train. This is my story about this.
This morning, I awoke in treehouse on a farm in Central Massachussets.
I put on my trail running shoes to go for a morning run. I ran on a gravel trail around a forested hillside. Not more than a few minutes into the run, I came upon some train tracks. I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.
Oh well, I thought. I’ll just run along the train tracks (and keep an eye out for a train). The tracks were lined by a beautiful forest on the left, and a river on the right. It wasn’t more than a minute of running before I saw a train coming up behind me, far in the distance.
I stopped and pulled myself off the tracks and stood out of the way, among some trees. The train was going very slowly, and as it went by, I waved at the conductor. To my surprise, the conductor was not even aware that I was there.
It has been on my bucket list for a really long time to jump on a train. I like to do adventurous things, sometimes dangerous things. And I felt like I’m kind of at a time in my life that that sort of adrenaline rush would be good to help me think in new ways.
If there was ever a time I was going to jump on one, it seems like it would be now. The train is going at a slow enough to catch (at a fast running speed), the conductor doesn’t know I’m here, the engine has just turned a bend (out of my sight), and I’m wearing running shoes. Everything added up to the fact that I should do this.
I looked at the ladders of each passing train car. They looked easy enough to run and jump onto. This should be easy enough, I thought. As I built up my emotional courage to do this, I looked through one of the ladders I was going to potential jump on. Right behind this ladder, I saw these giant, turning, steel wheels of death. If I missed the jump, I would lose my leg, and most likely my life… of blood loss. Scary.
I watched each passing car for a potential ladder that was less risky—one that if I jumped and missed, I would be fall to the ground, or grab ahold of platform and still climb on. Ten cars went by. Not a ladder was looking any less risky.
Twenty cars. Thirty. Forty. Fifty. As each passing car went by, my level for “it-would-be-this-awesome-if-did-this” was extremely high, but it was still below the threshold for “this-is-a-horrible-idea”.
Sixty cars. Seventy. Eighty. No ladder looked easier.
Ninety cars. As the probably 100th and last car went by, I looked at the train begin disappearing past me down the tracks. I felt a let-down of disappointment that it didn’t work out. That such an amazing opportunity to do something crazy and feel a rush of life doing something on my bucket list had passed. That I didn’t do it.
And then I saw the ladder on the back of the last car in the distance.
I ran as fast as I could. At my top speed, I closed in on the ladder of the last car. This ladder was safe enough: if I fell, there was no steel wheels of death behind me. Sprinting vigorously, I was now just within a long reach of the ladder.
From this point, the decision was easy. I can do this. I reached out, grabbed ahold of the ladder with my right hand, then my left. My legs spun fervently beneath me. I jumped up, pulled up my legs, and aha! my feet and shins awkardly landed (with a scrape or two) on the last rung of the ladder.
OMG!!! I’m now riding a train!!!! I’m fully on the ladder! The world is speeding below me!! A rush of joy! Exuberance! Holy crap!!! I did it!!! I’m riding a train!!!!
As the joy swept over me, I climbed a rung or two of the ladder, then looked around to take it all in. With an eye-to-eye smile.
Trees were whizzing passed me on the left. Train tracks where whirling below me. The river was flying by to my right. Fresh natural, free air flew into my face and lungs. “This was the best decision in the world!” Kudos to overcoming my fears and doing adventurous things!
For about a minute or two, I took it all in. I looked around in wonder, wide-eyed like a baby seeing the world for the first time. I inhaled every smell of country air, took in every whisp of breeze and every passing tree. This was AMAZING.
I figured I could take this all in for a couple minutes, and then run back to where I started. If it were only a couple miles, it’d be fine.
After a couple minutes of enjoying the ride, it seemed about time I should get off, I figured I was probably a couple miles from “home”. I worked my way down the rungs, and then stopped. I looked up. This ladder went to the top of the car. I can’t get off without first climbing to look over the top of this car.
I climbed up to the top rung of the ladder, and poked my head and shoulders over the top of the car. It was like a movie.
I see several dozen cars ahead of me, each turning every so slightly to bend with the turning tracks. I watched their motion, I watched the trees above, I felt the cool breeze. This is where those cool movie fight scenes take place. And I was right there. In real-life. Watching an imaginary fight scene play in the cinema of my mind. It was unreal.
I spent another minute or two up here. It was that good. I couldn’t leave it. The exhuberance was magnetic.
When I was finally able to pull myself from the scene, it had probably been a few minutes on the train in total, and I was probably a few miles from where I got on (which, was, precisely in the middle of nowhere to begin with). It would be wise for me to get off, now so I can manage to run back. I had no wallet or phone on me, simply running shorts and a tank top.
It’s time I get off. I climbed downward to the last rung of the ladder. I began to look around, and looked at the ground passing beneath me.
Something was wrong. What was previously a blur of rocks whizzing beneath me, was now a blur of fast gray. What was earlier a sound of a slow moving train was now loud decibles of speeding movement. The reality sunk in: the train I’m on is now going twice as fast as it was when I got on.
I could now feel, and hear, the massive train picking up major speed. Each second that went by, felt like a minute. Another mile-per-hour felt like was being added with every thought that went through my head. I could feel the train accelerate, and my body subtley, but noticably, yanked aft, requiring me to increasingly pull tight my arms to stay on the ladder. The train was already going much much faster than when I got on, and it was greatly speeding up.
“I have to get off NOW.” That was the only thing that was going through my head. I have no idea where this train is going, I’m wearing nothing but running gear, and I am already in the middle of nowhere. I have no phone, no wallet. The unknown of what it means to be stuck on a train going 60 mph to an unknown city over an unkown time, through an unknown series of tunnels, to an unknown trainyard, through unknown weather, air, was too overwhelming. I must get off. NOW.
There is no way I can move my feet fast enough to dismount from this train safely, on running feet. Any way off this train right now is going to require eating it, and eating it hard. I reached my neck and peered left around the car to see if I could spot a soft landing. Maybe some dirt, maybe some grass, maybe a row of bushes.
There was nothing but trees and sharp rocks. I looked behind me (to learn what it was that I couldn’t see through the gray blur below). The same terrain I ran on to get into this mess: sharp fist-sized rocks, topped with hard steel train rail. I could dive off to left of the train, and roll on hard rock, and possibly hit trees. Or I could drop myself off the back of the train and try to run as fast I could (and certainly eat it). I could feel the train add another mile-per-hour, then another. It was time to act.
I lowered myself down the last rung of the ladder, held my legs freely beneath me, hovering over the blur of rocks. I stared at the gray whizzing by below me. I knew this was going to hurt. My feet inches above the rocks, I forced myself to pretend I was running at full speed, and I put my legs into a fury of “air running”. And then came the moment. My fingers slowly released from the rung. And first contact with my foot to the ground.
My body slammed into the rocks like a surfer slammed into a reef. My body bashed against the stones headlong. Hard impact hit my knee, shoulder, hip, elbow. Sharp rocks lacerated and scraped my skin. My head clunked into stones. My body tripped, rolled, and skidded.
I popped up to my feet, my heart racing widly. I looked around. The train disappeared into the forest ahead. The track was empty behind. I looked down at my body. I was dripping in blood.
“I’m Alive,” I said out loud to myself, as I looked down at my red, dripping body. My body was beat up, skin red with irritation or blood, but pulsing adrenaline made the pain minimal.
I couldn’t stop repeating it.
I walked myself to some logs beside the train track and sat down. I assessed my wounds. My shoulder was black with a criss cross of scraps and cuts. My elbow was cut with a wide, gaping laceration, pulsing blood. My right knee was ripped up and bleeding. My face was scuffed and bleeding.
No punctures. No broken bones. I could feel a small bump on my head, but my skull was not broken or concussed.
I must have had landed only a single foot when dismounting from the train, before my knee touched ground and I rolled over my left shoulder. I looked again at my bleeding body.
I said it a few more times. The last time I shout it loudly. I picked up my body, negotiated it through the bush to the river. On the sand, I took off my shoes, waded across the shallow, wide river, and then sat on a rock and washed the dirt and rock out of my wounds In my head I pretended that I was part of a scene from the wild west, and a beautiful frontier broad was washing out her cowboy’s wounds as he bravely held in the pain.
I put on my shoes, picked myself up, and walked across a grassy field and emerged onto the backcountry highway along the river. I spent the next couple hours jogging and walking back “home”, to the farmside treehouse in which I was staying via AirBnB. And thought about my life. And the risks I take for fun. And the stories that come out of those.
And how I’m happy that the existing scar on my elbow is now replaced by a new scar from falling off a train, and how the story from this scar is so much more epic than the story of the previous.