Looking out at Whitefish, Montana, from the railroad yard
The train screeched and jerked to a stop. I awoke in an unknown yard in pitch darkness. I hopped on this train back in Everett, Washington, where the day before I was napping in a park and eating wild blackberries.
I’d been riding for 24 hours. I fell asleep during the early night after the train crossed a railroad bridge over a lake in Idaho. I could see dark water from both sides of the train; road lights lit up the highway and nearby town. It got cold as we entered the mountains, and I tucked into my sleeping bag for warmth.
I didn’t where I was, but I knew I was in Montana. I’d reached my destination.
I looked for an exit, spotting foliage and a tree line. I hastily packed belongings into my duffel bag, threw it on my back, and jumped off the train. Walking down the bushy hill toward the fields on the horizon, I slipped and fell on my butt. Brambles clung to me from my hat to my shoes. I looked down and saw the creek and bushes impeding my access to the fields.
I walked back up the hill, deciding to traverse the yard. As I walked up to the railroad tracks, headlights flashed. I ran back into bushes.
After the vehicle and a train passed, I ran across the yard and exited. Walking along an unlit country road, the only lights I could see were from the yard and some sort of agricultural structure.
I didn’t know how long I would have to walk until I hit a town, but I thought I’d keep moving till I found a place to hitch or unroll my pack. When I saw a paved walking path by the tracks I became heartened. In the boondocks, walking paths aren’t typical.
I walked until I came to a road bridge crossing over the tracks. I turned right. This wasn’t Podunk County: I passed a gourmet American-style restaurant lounge, condo developments, a quaint doughnut shop facing a barbeque joint. There was money in this community. It could’ve been a veritable Montana 90210.
I spotted an office complex across the street from a drive-thru espresso stand. I was looking for a place to get out of the rain. I posted myself in a hidden corner of the complex, next to a dentist’s office, and opened a can of corned beef hash. After polishing off the contents, I unrolled my sleeping bag and nodded off.
At daylight, I awoke and headed back towards the train yard. A sign for the ski slope pointed to the opposite direction. I discovered I was in Whitefish. Everything was revealed in the truth of day.
I walked over the track into the town. It reminded me of Boulder, Colorado. I’ve never been to Boulder, but I can only imagine it being similar. The main street had been redeveloped and populated by boutiques and shops. It no longer felt dirty or untamed like the Old West, but sanitized and clean like Aliso Viejo.
I was hungry and wanted to grab a decent American breakfast like biscuits and gravy. I looked around town and spotted the Buffalo Café.
It was 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning and the restaurant was heavily patronized. I entered, sat myself at the bar, and spotted the special – huckleberry pancakes for about $8. It was a little bit more than I wanted to spend, but huckleberries were a regional specialty. I was served two pancakes, sausage and eggs. I thought the pancakes were good, but nothing special. It filled me up, and after spending two days eating canned food and dried fruit, this was a decent meal. I paid, and walked to the other side of town to retrieve my pack. It was hidden in some bushes by a dumpster.
While walking, I noticed the VFW advertising breakfast. I wished I had eaten here. I walked back here after grabbing my pack and checking in at the train station.
I entered and ordered a Pabst. It was cheap, a little over a dollar. They offered a garbage plate for $8, but for what you got you could fill a waste bin. They also served bacon, eggs and pancakes, and I would have saved 3 dollars for pretty much the same meal at the Buffalo Café. The patrons were a mixture of rough and elderly. I liked this place.
I drank two pints and went to the train station to wait. I napped on a bench across the street from a gazebo. They were hosting Oktoberfest. I saw a couple girls roll into the picketed area with Bavarian dresses and a guy grilling bratwurst. I wouldn’t be able to partake in the festivities – by the afternoon, I was on my way to Missoula.