101.Survival Tip – Hiking along rail road tracks and beds


Dear Friends and Wanderingvets:

Moving about this nation I have tried a lot of various routes in hiking and one that is not often thought of are rail roads. Most rail roads lead into cities or at least the outskirts of them.

Maps of states which are normally free or a low nominal fee at rest stops provide a very decent lay out of the rail road lines going through a state. When the rail barons of centuries past laid out this system, towns sprung up along it. These rail beds, some of which are trackless and unused today, are perfect for commuting.

I have a few times looked at my map and noticed that the rail lines were a faster and more straight line of travel than some of the interstates. They are wide cleared areas with bridges that go over rivers and large gorges. As no one hikes along these rail beds it it relatively secure, and provides plenty of camp sites with wood for fires and plenty of materials for a comfortable camp. Being that they have been cut through a lot of wooded areas there is plenty of shelter available as well. One can also easily hike these beds at night, because with the rails being in cleared lines it is easy to navigate by moon or starlight as well. The gray stone gravel that they use on the rail beds sort of glows in its own light allowing easy night travel. These rail lines have also cut through a lot of tough obstacles of nature and reduces travel time considerably as well.

The rail bridges often have a sidewalk built across for workers to cross over. Now for me those old timber trestle bridges do cause me some discomfort. They often do not have a side walk or pedestrian type crossing on them and that means one must cross the spans rail tie to rail tie. This has caused me some vertigo before. One is able to look down through the cracks in the ties and see the free fall below. This is strictly your mind playing tricks as the gaps between the ties are not that wide to allow one to fall through (a persons whole leg can). One has to be careful though as these ties are highly susceptible to icing, and there have been a few times I have slipped on these and had to crawl some before ragaining balance (it is a bit harder when you have 50 – 60 lbs on your back). The key to crossing these is to maintain a steady measured stride or you will be up there all day crossing tie to tie. I do not recommend crossing these at night, as it is easy still to twist a knee or break a leg or an ankle on these bridges.

As I mentioned, the old robber barons of the rail roads had towns springing up along their rail lines. This insures that there are plenty of supplies along the route as a lot of these towns are inhabited still to this day. The trains needed the same supplies to function as we need to live. I particularly like the rail areas as a preferred camping area just outside of small and medium sized towns since no one goes down and plays along the tracks in this day and age. This allows one a place of medium security in which to hide back packs and other gear so when one goes into town one can be “homeless incognito”. 

A few are maybe wondering about hopping trains. Often you will come across a parked train on a siding. The boxcars do not run around with their doors open so forget them. The only lifts are in open air cargo container carriers, and some of those are not very nice to endure on a brisk day or evening. Also it is easier to hop on than hop off. Not knowing a trains destination is problematical as you might end up going where you had no intention of going, since they do not stop where you want them to at times or go where you are thinking they are going. Trains are dangerous so beware. 

One thing to remember is: If you hear the Choo Choo get off the tracks. The tracks will start humming and have a slight vibration first before you will probably hear the train engine.


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