Hiding from the bull’s eye and catching a little freight train ride

Every time I flexed my right arm, the triceps ached. Yep, the train I had just jumped had probably been going too fast.

Not that the effort paid off. I was marooned in the UP yard in Stockton, trying mightily to stay out of the bull’s sight. Instead of a routine crew change, the units had been taken off the train. Switching from one yard corridor to another, I dodged the two widely spaced control towers until an unfenced construction site beckoned.

I reached the Amtrak station, expecting to take a bus back to San Jose and steeling myself for a  three hour wait. To my delight, a BNSF Richmond-bound freight appeared. It was running quite slowly, so I jumped onto a load of rebar, NOT in front of it, and settled in for wetlands and fields.

All went well until we pulled into an Antioch siding, halfway to Richmond. After an hour and a half, I bailed in disgust. Murphy’s Law held: five minutes later, the train took off like a comet. Having only 15 cars to haul, it vanished from sight.

A local teenager showed me where to catch the last Amtrak to San Francisco. We strode past several gatherings of suburban middle-class kids who were trying to look tough. They were a world apart from the curious black and brown children who had peppered me with questions under Stockton’s UP viaduct.

Thus my trip from Stockton back to Stanford employed a freight, Amtrak, BART, and Caltrain. Oddly, the Amtrak and Caltrain conductors let me ride for free, through no effort of my own. I appreciated the good luck, a pleasing end to an arduous day of rediscovering the sweat and grime of train-chasing and the unpredictable delays that freights force on riders. It won’t be another  six months before I ride again.

 (Read more Rail Rides and True Adventures)