Train into the Unknown

Picture of Frederick Dodson

Frederick Dodson

I was 17 years old when I jumped on a slow moving freight train, not knowing where it would go.

My friend jumped on a carriage close by. It was late at night and we had missed the last bus home. Our thinking was to

a) have some fun and
b) get home without having to walk 10 miles.

It was winter and we were hanging on the side of a train. As dangerous and illegal as it was, it was exhilarating. Rare. Memorable. I’d never done it before or after.

The train sped up, our hands were getting cold and we considered jumping. We shouted at each other just to hear. Finally we agreed that jumping at this speed would cause injury.

We should have known that freight trains don’t stop at train stations. They pick up their freight and then head straight to destination – no stops. It rode right past the suburb where we would have gotten off.

It rode on and on and on, for hours.

The first phase I went through was guilt. What would my parents think if I didn’t come home?

The next phase was fear as the train left the town into the wide open country and sped up more. I was holding on for life, both my hands tucked into my jacket. Me and my friend had stopped talking to each other; now it was about retaining energy for survival.

The most terrifying part was in a forest. Sticks and leaves smashing into our face. That lasted for only a few minutes but it felt much longer.

How do I get back home? I only have $10 on me.

Why didn’t I just call for the train driver to stop? Because he was too far away, oblivious. Why not just climb inside or climb to a safer place?

Because real life is unlike Tom Cruise. We were too scared to move.

The next emotional-level was frustration. Will this trip ever end? The trip went to another city, about 5 hours away if I remember correctly.

Finally, once all the layers of resistance were released, a remarkable tranquility befell me.

I was looking at the stars, blissed out. I was enjoying the wind, even the cold. I had stopped pushing against the cold. I had become the cold and made it mine. I had become the trip and made it mine. I hadn’t felt such happiness in years. I stopped caring when we arrive or how I would get back. I no longer sought to arrive anywhere.

THIS was IT. There’s no other place I would have rather been.

Eventually the train slowed down, it was arriving. We jumped off before it came to a complete stop. We crossed a few train tracks, left the train station and walked to a nearby park. There were park benches. For reasons unknown to us, there were potato sacks stacked up nearby.

We looked at the benches, then at the sacks. He said “We could use those sacks as sleeping bags”.

We broke out in laughter. We had no idea where we are, our feet and hands were numb and I was starting to shake and shiver, as if my body was only now just realizing what had happened. But we kept laughing and laughing and laughing.

We took a nap on the benches and then hitchhiked home after sunrise.

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