There is just something about trains. The deep resonant sound of the whistle triggers a primordial instinct deep inside my soul and I am, in an instant, sent riding along the rails within my mind. I imagine the high-pitched sound of the steel wheels as they spark and race along the tracks, the abstract blur of the landscape as it whizzes past and the wind that kisses my face as I stare out from an open boxcar that heads towards destinations unknown.
I have had the great pleasure in my life to know many who call themselves modern-day “Hobos.” Some turned to the rails out of necessity with no money and no way to get to where they needed to go. Some hopped trains to travel as far away as possible from the ugly pieces of their past. While others simply followed the stirrings of their hearts in order to fulfill their desire for excitement and adventure.
Whenever I have the opportunity to do so, I catch a ride on a train. Though I am not in the open boxcar of a freight and am now seated in a comfortable chair in coach, I find myself giddy with that sense of adventure as we move along the rails towards our next stop. It’s in the rhythmic movement as the train cars snake along. It’s the clickety-clack sound of the tracks below. The deep, guttural hum of the engine as it pulls us along. The excitement I feel when the whistle gives its curt and persistent warning blow. I transform into that overall-clad hobo with all my earthly belongings on my back, not a care in the world, ready to abandon the comforts of this train and clamber aboard the next passing freight.
Several years back I had the opportunity to ride the White Pass & Yukon Railroad from Carcross in the Yukon down to Skagway, Alaska. Several of the enclosed cars had an open porch where you could stand outside and take photographs of the breathtaking surroundings. I chose to stand on the open porch for the whole two plus hour duration of the trip. The train hugged the mountain with a steep cliff off the opposite side and I found myself hanging over the rail and the edge of the cliff, mesmerized by the feeling that I was flying. For me it was the experience of a lifetime. The cold wind on my cheeks, the smell of the steam engine in the air, the mournful echo of the whistle as we rounded the curves; it all felt so hauntingly familiar to me.
Whether it is something embedded in my DNA or a flashback from some karmic past life, it feels as if I have done this somewhere, sometime, a million times before. So if the day comes when you do not hear from me for a while, take a pause from your busy lives when you hear a train whistle blowing in the distance and imagine me with destiny fulfilled, a pack on my back and a wide smile on my face as I set out on a long journey to destinations unknown.