After six years, I saw the Colorado outlaw known as TTK again in Fort Collins, Colorado. I’d slept behind a maintenance building and gave him a call that morning. Much to my relief, I was able to shower and launder my very tired clothes. We caught up on the years, in which not everything had gone well, and reviewed the railfans’ unwitting advice on how to catch the Pueblo-Alamosa freight in southern Colorado.
It was a good thing that TTK had saved the information on his computer, because upon review, we realized that it would take two days to ride that 127-mile route, including a very long wait in Walsenburg. I ruled out that idea and decided, as a consolation prize, to attempt catching the southbound thru Fort Collins en route to Denver. The problem is that southbounds are rated for 20 mile per hour in town. They run down the middle of Mason Street past the local transit center, but no hobo wants to be seen during the busier daylight hours chasing down and hopping a freight.
TTK drove me to a wooded area between Mason Street and the local yard. I blended in with the river and shaded bike trail. I would have no witnesses here, but the ballast would put me at a severe running disadvantage. The southbound finally roared over the trestle five hours after TTK had dropped me off.
Waiting for the engineer to zoom out of sight, I did the dumbest thing in retrospect: I pulled on a pair of polypro gloves. For some time, I have detested how filthy you get when you climb aboard barehanded and eventually transfer the grime to your face. Remembering earlier, slower trains that I had caught wearing the gloves, I had thoughtlessly reduced my gripping power before tackling a very fast train. A series of unridable cars, including the annoying rust-red BNSF grainers that lack both porches and cubbyholes, hissed past at a legitimate 20 miles per hour. I saw a ridable car and made my move. I couldn’t hold on and went down hard on the ballast.
Some things matter more than pain, and even as I felt flashes of it along my face and arm, I was rolling like a dervish away from the train. I came up on my hands and knees, feeling blood seep into my right eye and willing the double vision there to go away. It did after a few minutes, but the rising welt beside my eye and road rash on my right arm would take a few days to heal. As I languished in the dirt, a fleet-of-foot local punk with 20 years on me and no frame pack impulsively chased down the rear unit, jumped on it, and just as swiftly jumped off. I recuperated in the glorious but uncaring sunshine and then shuffled back to town.
At the bus station, having had Rocky Mountain oysters and a few beers to drown my sorrows, I sat seething, waiting and hoping for another southbound to roll down now-deserted Mason Street. I was determined to show the train what I could do barehanded and with pavement underfoot but never got that second chance. It was just as well, considering my inability to back down from a train that has humiliated me. Several hours later, the bus to Denver arrived. As usual, the other Greyhound passengers soon had me wishing that I had died under that train.
Abdul Rahimov has a Ph.D. in Russian history from Stanford. He studied earlier at Harvard and grew up in Illinois in a railroad-dominated town.Rahimov prefers to use a pen name to avoid attracting unnecessary attention from railroads. He lives on the East Coast when he’s not living in a train.