The Jaws Of Defeat

They say an adventure is a well planned trip gone awry — what the hell is it when a piss-poorly planned trip goes to hell? It seemed so easy in “Into The Wild”: get on the train, and wait for it to take me places. I decided to give it a try with a week of reading period and less than scholarly study habits, and packed my bag for some semblance of a backpacking trip. A little bit of research seemed to show that the westbound tracks led to Chicago, or at least Cleveland, or failing all else Buffalo, and I know people in any of those who would go on an adventure if I got that far. So Saturday night at around 3am, head still spinning from Phi Tau, I started walking toward the train yard, where a collection of corn cars was waiting enticingly. I picked one about two-thirds of the way through the train, climbed in, and waited.

4am passed, and 5, and 6 and the damn thing refused to move. I fell asleep on the heaping pile of corn, out of sight of anyone at track level, and half buried in the soft bed of grain for added protection. At some point in the morning, while I was still sleeping, the train started moving. By the time I woke up, it was backed up into a factory on some side track, getting devoured one car at a time by the jaws of an enormous crane that lifted and upended the cars, dumping the corn into giant hoppers.

FUCK!, I soon realized, my time was about to come! Those were grainers just like my seemingly ideal ride, and there was nothing else on the train. This thing wasn’t going anywhere but in, and one more car length and I’d be inside the factory gate, five more and I’d be buried alive in the silo, or crushed into chicken feed, or whatever happened next. This wasn’t Chicago. It wasn’t Cleveland. It was a grain elevator in the middle of fucking nowhere!

I threw my pack overboard, climbed off the abbreviated stub of a train, left my sleeping bag behind in the chaos, and ran into a marshy field of last year’s hay, hoping no one would bother to chase me. I could have made up something epic about what happened next, but I just walked through the farmer’s field for what seemed like far too long, trying my best to avoid the farmer, in case he was out there somewhere, and eventually made it to the road. Which was just route 31. I’d barely made it out of the county, let alone out of state.

The milepost said it was 41 miles back to Rochester, and about that much forward to Niagara Falls. If I really were Chris, if “Into the Wild” really were my story, I think I would have tried to go farther, hitchhiked or just walked it. But one defeat was it for me. Freight trains were off my bucket list, and pretty well off my to-do list too. Maybe if I had no destination, infinite time, and no fear of my parents wondering what became of me. Not sure what else to do, I called my roommate and had him see how I could get home. He found me a bus home from Albion, so after a cold, rainy walk of shame on 31 and a roundabout trip on city buses, I was back in my dorm about 12 hours after I left, down $8 and a sleeping bag, and more than content to just wait around for finals and get ready for my trip to the 46 peaks. Someday I may try again, but probably not even that… I’ll try anything once, but I think I know better than to do this one again!

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