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Stories >> Klamath Falls Blues

1. Runaway Train

I walked out into the Desert yard on Wednesday night, just as the sun was setting. The plan was to arrive in Canada by Sunday, visit my father, and then travel across to Port Townsend for the skillshare at the Institute For Applied Piracy. Of course, nothing went according to plan.

I've never seen a bull in the Desert yard before, so I was very indiscreetly walking down the access road when a yardcop rolled up to spotlight an incoming BNSF train. I was way out in the open, so when he saw me he sped up to spin around and come at me from the other direction. I started whistling and walked casually until there was a concrete column between me and him, then suddenly leapt over the concrete wall to hide on the other side. He pulled up to where I had been standing, and started frantically spotlighting all the trains in the yard, driving back and forth across that 20ft stretch for at least 10 minutes. Finally he pulled up further, and I sprinted out into the yard to hide between two DS trains. I guess he saw me in there, because he came out to check that train while I was hiding on the other side. He'd climb over to one side and I'd climb over to the other at the same moment, then back, then over again, etc... I've never played cat and mouse like that with a yardcop before, and it was all so ridiculous that I actually had to stifle laughter.

In the end he finally drove off, and I didn't see him again. There were only three trains sitting on the departure tracks, two DS trains and one fully FREDed with three units hooked up - but all of those cars read "Property Of United States Army." Pretty much only GM will go to Portland, so it didn't look like I was going to get a straight ride. Nothing moved all night, and there was no action in the yard until 1pm the next day. I was waiting at the back of the two DS trains, and a worker came up in an ATV to FRED one of them. When I asked what the deal was, he said "this one's going to Roseville."

So I hopped in the well of a 48, planning on riding to Roseville and switching to a northbound train there.

I had 1.5 litres of water and two cliff bars, with plans to survive off wild blackberries along the way. We sided for Amtrak just outside of Sacramento, and I gorged on blackberries there.

drunk on blackberries
i lay in doublestack shade
and listen to birds

We got going again and started into Roseville, but it seemed like we were moving a little quickly. We kept getting closer, and we still hadn't slowed down. Finally we were in the yard and still moving pretty fast, and then before I knew it we'd blown right through Roseville with no crew change!

I couldn't fucking believe it, but then I noticed that we hadn't gone east at the split on the north side of the yard. We were still heading North, and all of a sudden it seemed like this DS train might be going all the way to Portland! I stayed vigilant, watching to see if we took the feather-river pass in Marysville - but we kept on going North. By the time the sun set, we were rolling through the Shasta mountains. I decided that I'd struck unbelievably good luck, and went to sleep thinking that I'd wake up just as we were rolling into Eugene.

Upon waking, I opened my eyes to the blue sky and smiled. I sat up, looked out - and was shocked to see desert instead of green. I was a little worried, but remembered a little desert in southern Oregon. A few hours went by, though, and we were still moving through desert - and now we were headed East. Finally we came up on a town, and I almost threw myself from the train when I read the sign: "Winnemucca, Nevada."

Fucking Winnemucca! Of course we didn't crew-change there, either, and by then I knew were were on the overland route headed for Elko followed by Ogden. So it seemed like my choices were to either get off in Elko and catch a full-day ride back West so that I could try to hit Roseville again, or stay on until Ogden and work up through Pocatello to Hinkle and then Portland. We got to Elko, the first fucking crew-change in the 23hrs that I'd been riding, and I decided that it'd be faster to push on through Ogden. I calculated that it'd be about a 4hr ride until the crew-change there.

Of course, by this time I was out of water - and there are no blackberries in the Nevada desert or Utah salt flats. We hit the flats at the sun's zenith, and I was definitely feeling a little parched. The wind was the only thing that made the heat bearable, but just into the flats we hit a stretch where they were replacing the beams on the track. This meant that for the next 6 hours, we crawled along behind the track-replacing machine at about 3 miles / hr. The dehydration started getting the best of me, and I kept nodding in and out of weird solipsistic hallucinations that seriously had me questioning reality and my very existence. We went over the Salt Lake land bridge, which is usually amazing, but it was difficult for me to enjoy it this time.

By the time we got into Ogden, the sun had set and I got off the runaway train that I'd been riding in the wrong direction for 32hrs. I talked with some workers who told me that the Pocatello train had left about 20 minutes before I pulled in. I was starting to feel a little stressed, although it was hard to feel too bad after those first sips of water on such a warm night. It didn't seem feasible for me to get to Canada in time to visit my father if I'd have to wait another day to catch a north-bound train, and then I remembered that I had a free airplane ticket with no restrictions from a flight I'd been bumped off of long before. I thought it'd probably expired, but I called the airline from a payphone and they told me I could fly to Seattle on Sunday for free.

I took the bus into Salt Lake City with the intention of visiting Susan or Kirsten if they were in town. I'd never been in SLC before, so I asked every hipster kid I saw if they knew where the Boing! infoshop was, until I finally got directions there. I learned that Susan had moved into the squat across the street, and went over to see if anyone was still awake. I looked in the window and saw someone standing in the kitchen, so I knocked on the door. This guy Patrick answered, and I explained that I was a friend of Susan's looking for a place to stay and wondering if she was around. He was telling me that of course I could stay, but that Susan had gone to sleep, etc... when someone else walked up to tell Patrick he was going to sleep. I blinked, and realized that it was Alex (Spaz) from the previoius summer's travels! "Holy Shit!" I exclaimed. He looked at me, blinked, and replied "Holy Shit!"

I came inside, and in talking I learned that he too had been on a runaway train which died in Provo, that he'd ended up in Ogden by accident as well, and that he'd only shown up at the squat an hour before me - almost exactly a year after we last saw each-other. We found Kirsten the next day, and learned that she was supposed to have left on Wednesday, but was also still in town by accident. We kept waiting for Kobalt to randomly show up at the door.

So we had some really good times laughing together about old people and places, sitting on the porch and drinking dumpstered beer on warm nights. It felt really good to see all the Salt Lakers again, and Kirsten borrowed a car to drive me to the airport at 5am Sunday morning.

I'd finally made it to Seattle, by way of Utah.

2. The Institute Of Applied Piracy

Victoria, BC was just like I left it the summer before - blue sky bike rides and more wild fruit than it's possible to eat. I spent a lot of time practicing celestial navigation sights with my sextant on the beach. They're didn't exactly coming out perfectly...

I thought about the train ride there, and wondered why it had affected me so differently than a ride in a car. I had brought a lot of reading along, but hardly read any. 32hr train rides sound long, but I found myself spending hours and hours staring out into the country side from the well of a 48 without even thinking about the passage of time. On the train, I end up feeling very small in the world. Everything around me is so big, and I'm traveling through it with absolutely no control. The train doesn't give a shit about me. It doesn't care if I'm out of water, if I'm starving, or if I'm going in the wrong direction. If it throws me off or cuts me in half, it will just keep moving as if nothing at all has happened. I'm just as helpless, or more, than a bug crawling across the hot metal.

But there's also a feeling of connectedness. I get really bored on car rides, following a carpet of concrete into the horizon - surrounded by others doing the same, but isolated in a box of my own. On the train I'm all alone with parts of the country where no roads exist, and so it feels like I'm really a part of those places when I gasp at the beauty of it all. It's a really crazy feeling to be all alone in the middle of the Utah salt flats, with nothing but cracked salt dissappearing into the horizon. No roads, no cars, just me and the salt.

And when you're driving, you rarely see the towns that you pass. At best, you see the really tall signs sticking up over the highway: "Hardee's", "Chevron". But the train cuts right through the center of towns, and it moves slowly enough for you to feel like you're there. In Marysville I saw three good pitches of the little-league game.

There's just something about that first smell of the desert in the morning, or being surprised by the incredible darkenss of a tunnel, or feeling the splash of small waterfalls that trickle off canyons the train cuts through.

I hitchhiked back across the border for the IAP skillshare, which was a right good time. There were great campfire singalongs, the land was beautiful, and the workshops were interesting.

It rained for my celestial navigation workshop, of course, which was pretty unfortunate. I put together a pamphlet, though, and we talked a lot about celestial navigation instead of pracitcing it.

I met Becky and Aaron in Seattle for the trip home. We rode trains from Seattle to Portland, then walked over to the Brooklyn yard for the ride down to Roseville. It was the middle of the day, and we napped until an IM train pulled out of the Brooklyn yard for a brake check. I jumped up and we ran along the golf course until we found a rideable car. When we went out to hop on, Becky and Aaron hesitated. They wern't comfortable riding it, and so we ended up standing there right next to the train in broad daylight.

Of course, we were seen and chased out of the yard. We went and ate at the Sisters Of The Road Cafe, then made our way to the Arlin yard. This yard has some hardcore security, so we waited until it was completely dark. We ended up reading car numbers off the departure tracks from an overpass above them and doing UP call tracing with Aaron's cell phone. We totally lucked out when a GM train headed to El Paso, TX had two open boxcars directly in front of the trail that leads down to the jungle. We got in one and waited until 2am, when we finally left the yard. Our car was spotlighted and even stopped right on front of the bull on the way out, and I thought we were caught for sure. But we rolled slowly out into the night, and fell asleep on the cold cold floor.

This was a slow train, and it took us a full 24hrs to make it to Eugene. We spent 10hrs sided out next to a country road in the middle of nowhere.

The next day found us rolling through southern Oregon, and I warned everyone about the dangers of Klamath Falls. About 15 miles outside of Klamath, though, the yardcop spotted Aaron and Becky in the doorway. They knew they had been seen, and we plotted to get off before hitting the yard if we could. When the train sided next to highway 97, we jumped off.

Of course, the yardcop had anticipated this, and was waiting for us to do what we did. He found us on highway 97 and didn't hesitate to arrest us. We were taken to the county jail and booked for criminal tresspassing.

We spent the next two days in jail, and the time there was truely horrific. I've never had any real exposure to an actual prison, and what happens in there is absolutely terrifying. I have an incredible compassion for Jeff Leuers or anyone else sentenced to that hell on earth.

When we first showed up, they took everything except our t-shirts and pants. We were made to wait on the cold cement floor of a holding cell with bare feet. After a few hours, someone else was put in with us. This guy looked really sick, and we managed to determine that he'd been sentenced to 6 months for "conspiracy to commit theft," but had been in the hospital because he was having seizures. They had gone and arrested him at the hospital.

After about 20 minutes, he started to have another seizure. He fell from a standing position, and unable to brace himself, fell directly on his forehead with a crack so loud that it will always echo in my mind. He started spasming on the ground.

Aaron and I banged on the door to our cell and started screaming for the guards to come and take this guy to the hospital. We were told to shut the fuck up. We continued pounding and yelled that he'd hit his head. The guards continued to threaten us. Finally they opened the door, pushed Aaron and me against the wall, and started roughing up the guy who was having a seizure. While this was happening, he vomitted. The guards left him face-down in a pool of his own blood and vomit, still convulsing. Prison guards are the scum of the fucking earth. Every one of them was worse than the worst convict in there. Those guards do not care whether you live or die, and at one point later I was seriously scared that they would kill me or seriously hurt me in my cell. I fully believe that they can hurt or kill anyone they want in there and get away with it.

Around 11pm I tried to fall asleep on the cold floor. At 3am the door slid open, and a guard shouted my name. I walked out, confused, and he put me in a room where I was told to take off my clothes and shower. I was given the prison-issue clothing, and told that I was being moved back into the penitentary because they didn't have enough space.

They didn't have enough space in the section for "well-behaved" inmates, either, so I was put in the section with people convicted for violent crimes. At one point two guys got into a fight in the lunch room, which almost turned into a full-on riot. The guards came swooping in and maced everyone, then beat the two guys who were fighting into unconsciousness. I spent a lot of time in my cell with burning eyes.

Meanwhile, Becky had also been transferred to the prison. Multiple women warned her that guards regularly rape women in their cells. There's nothing they can do about it, because any complaints or communication of any kind go through the guards.

And it just got worse and worse...

In truely dystopian fashion, I didn't go to court. Instead, I went to "video court." I stood in a room and talked to a TV. For all I know, it could have been a recording.

It was only two days, but it seemed like two years. I can't even imagine what this is like compared to a state prison like San Quintin, or the absolute horror of a place like Guantanamo.

The guy who had arrested us was an interesting case. He had parked his SUV in tall grass 15 miles outside of Klamath, waiting for trainriders. When he saw us, he radioed the train to stop and watched us get off with high-powered binoculars from five miles away. When we hit the highway, he drove up to meet us.

In no time at all, he had us handcuffed and in the back of his SUV. He read us our rights off a card, and then immediately asked (somewhat excitedly) "So, did you guys get on in Portland or Eugene?" I couldn't believe that he'd ask us that immediately after reading our rights, and replied "I think we'd prefer not to incriminate ourselves." He looked somewhat disappointed, turned around, and resigned himself to driving us towards the jail.

Along the way, he mentioned that he was the replacement for Roger - had we heard of him? Again, we'd prefer to remain silent. He told us that he used to be a city cop in Seattle before he took a job with UP in Klamath. I asked him why he wanted to be a cop, and he said that he wanted to help people, help the community, etc. I sort of chuckled and asked if he'd found that to be fulfilling. He shook his and and said "No, not being a city cop." "But I like my current job!" he continued. "Oh, really?" I asked. "What do you like about it?"

"I like it because I meet a lot of interesting people."

He couldn't mean what I think he means, could he?

"Wait, do you mean... trainriders?"

"Yeah! I meet people from all over the world! I met a couple of kids from France last week."

"And then... you arrested them?"

(Suddenly Defensive) "Oh, well... I'm just doing my job."

"Are you telling me that you seriously find your job fulfilling because you get to meet trainriders? You know, you could quit your job and be a trainrider, then you wouldn't have to arrest all these people you like."

"Oh, well, maybe I would if it would pay the mortgage and the bills."

"Actually, I think it does in a way."

What a walking contradiction.

When we got out of jail, we celebrated our freedom with tacos at a K-Falls taqueria, and then started hitchhiking home. It was a little late to be hitchhiking, but we wanted to get out of that town at all costs. We caught a few good rides and made it all the way back to Berkeley by the next day.