I rose pretty early after getting to bed at a decent time, and began preparing to leave, not really knowing exactly how I was going to do it. I had posted an ad on Craigslist's Rideshare the night before on the outside chance I may be able to catch a ride with a charitable person heading toward Colorado... fat chance, but why not?
I figured that I'd probably end up taking the transit system out toward Troutdale and then start hoofing it down US 30 toward Lewis & Clark State Park to check on the Hike & Bike, then take things from there. I was pretty much all set with my 'planning' (HA!) when I got an email from a guy via my Craigslist ad. He wasn't driving, but was also traveling toward Colorado on a limited budget, and suggested that maybe we try hopping a train out of Portland! He had done some research, and was certain that the trains would run into Grand Junction then Denver after that. I was immediately intrigued. It would be a DEFINITE adventure, get me a great distance, and it's impossible to blow money on a train!
We exchanged about 25 emails over about 2 hours. I wanted to make sure the best I could that I wasn't dealing with some sort of a tool, psycho, or otherwise illicit character... save the train hopping thing! It's funny, but you can tell alot about a person by their spelling. If they can't spell simple, yet uncomplicated multi- syllable words, tend to say 'bro' all the time, and show through words the size of their 'manhood', I tend to avoid them. This guy could spell, use a computer, had a gmail account with his real name (presumably), and wasn't trying to 'man- up' for me. I felt reasonably certain he wasn't too much of a vagrant, and thought it would be pretty cool to travel a ways with another person. Plus, he said if the train thing didn't work, he'd be open to hitching or whatever. Why the hell not?
We set up a time to reconnect, exchanged phone numbers (another good sign... he has a phone!) and I finished of the business at Dave's place. He had been working pretty much all day, so I hadn't seen much of him at all. We said our goodbyes, asked him to say goodbye to Bree for me and thank her for sharing all her training- info, and headed off the bus stop to catch the #17 toward downtown and head to REI for, I thought, just Clif Bars.
When I got to the bus stop, I sat patiently for about 35 minutes with no sign of the bus. The thought occurred to me that, perhaps, there was no Sunday service out that way, but I'd been on the Tri- Met website several times checking schedules and it said NOTHING about "No Sunday Service".
Turns out: No Sunday Service.
The only reason I ever found out was that a VERY nice woman turned around, pulled over and informed me with a smile that I'd be waiting all night if I stayed there. She then proceeded to offer me a ride first to the next stop, then said she'd just take me to REI! Seriously, where are all these assholes everyone kept warning me about?
She saw a friend of hers on the way, picked him and his dog up then got me downtown to the REI. She offered me a couch to sleep on the next time I was in Portland, and gave me her phone number. She was such a terrific person. Treated a complete stranger like she'd known him her whole life. I gave her the link to the journal, said thanks, and hopped out in a great mood and excellent outlook on how the day may turn out.
I went into REI and decided to go check, on the outside chance, if they'd give me any grief if I tried to exchange the North Face pants I was wearing that had begun to split "down there". I felt kind of weird about it because the pants were 2 years old, BUT they have the most liberal return policy EVER. If you're EVER not satisfied, you can exchange or return anything. I weighed the honesty and righteousness of it, then pictured the pants splitting in the middle of the woods! That would pretty much suck, so I gave it a shot. Eventually I found the same pants and had no trouble exchanging them whatsoever, so I walked out of REI with 6 Clif Bars and a new pair of pants after spending about $6.50. Not too shabby.
From there it was on to meet up with my new travel partner, Rich. We'd decided to meet at the largest bookstore I've ever seen, Powell Books, which is 3 stories tall, and takes up an entire city block. He got there about 20 minutes after I did, and we walked to a nearby park to get acquainted and scope each other out to see if the other was perhaps a tad psychotic. He doesn't make much of a first impression. He looks the role of a beat- generation train- hopper, with ripped up raggedy jeans, etc. I was hoping that the conversation would be sustainable and that he was pretty laid back. I wasn't so sure of my own ability to hop with all the weight on my back, and needed him to display some patience if that were the case. It seemed that he was exactly that, so as we set off across the bridge into E. Portland, I was cautiously optimistic.
We walked about 25 blocks, stopping for coffee, soda, and cigs, then went to find the spot he had tried and failed to hop from the night before. We eventually got there, relaxed and continued chatting about various things. Then came the first east- bound train. I figured I'd be shitting myself, running next to it trying to grab hold, but it was really no big deal. This train was moving a bit to fast for either of us, and Rich said it was probably no a very good train for us to be aboard anyhow. He had done this in Pennsylvania a number of times and at least knew, to some extent, what he was doing.
We then walked about a mile up the tracks and found a spot where the train would have to be going a bit slower, thereby making our job a bit easier. Just after we got there, at about 9:00, we spied a train stopped at the other side of the bridge. It was loaded with what looked like ship containers full of something from overseas that had just arrived at the port. It began moving, and was just CREEPING along. We hid from the engineers, waited for a moment after they passed then pounced! We got aboard with ease! We were situated outside, on the car itself, but there was a grate- platform, with a depression in the middle that backed up against the car's frame. It was designed so that with me and my backpack inside, there was NO way we could fall off no matter what. I was ecstatic!
The train had 3 or 4 engines, and was relatively long, so Rich figures this one would be going quite a ways, and with few stops, but he thought we were a bit too far toward the front of the train... easy to see when we pulled into the eventual train yards. We were still creeping along, so we hopped off again, and went further back until we were at least 3/4 of the way to the end and found another car with suitable accommodations. Once there, we were off!
Rich was situated on the back of one car, in HIS Union Pacific Hotel space, while I was on the front of the next car directly facing him. I would learn later that I had made a poor choice of sides. Another thing I learned about trains is that they are VERY unforgiving places to be. Not only for life and limb, but also anything you're carrying. EVERYTHING needs to be stowed someplace, or it will find a hole to fall thru and be lost forever. Thankfully, I realized this immediately and was overly cautious with the camera, cell phone, and water bottle. It also became apparent that you need to be prepared to sustain yourself with water when you get aboard, because you're not going to just be running to the 7-11 when you run out! We made that mistake, or at least Rich did, and that would affect things the next day-- for him.
It took quite a while to get out of Portland, so I called Shalain and Friar Chris to tell them exactly how proud I was of myself, and eventually the train picked up a little speed and I settled in to take in the view.
We followed I-84 most of the night along the Columbia River, and through the Columbia Gorge Scenic area, and scenic it was! There are no lights on any of these cars, no night- vision kicks in after a short time- enough that you can see what you're riding through and it was one of the most spectacular parts of the trip so far. A montage of mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, cities, towns, and the largest dam I've ever seen just north of The Dalles. I was hypnotized.
It began to cool down drastically, and since we were on teh outside of the car, I needed to be bundled up in everything I had including my rain pants and coat to break the wind. It would be a cold night. The rain pants would take the brunt of the abuse of the train because while it wasn't as dirty as I expected, it still was far from clean.
Eventually around 3:00 I dozed off curled up in the fetal position and shivering. I had my sleeping bag available to use, but had visions of having to make a quick escape and first needing to repack the bag into the backpack! I decided to shiver for a couple of hours, drifting in and out of a light sleep. No REAL sleep to speak of.
The night, even with the cold, was great. But this train made frequent unexplained stops, and was obviously low- priority because it would seem to stop for EVERY other train that passed. That was fine at night, and when the experience was new and exciting, but would become maddening in just a few hours...