The First Ride (was Barely a Ride at All)

Eric Boyd
6 min readAug 31, 2021

For a couple years now I’ve been working on a novel about train hoppers. It’s been a constant project in the sense that it’s the only thing I’m working on, but it’s only been worked on in fits and starts. I have a few chapters. I can say they’re fairly strong based on the reactions of others. Anyone in the publishing world I’ve shown them to has wanted more; I’ve yet to have this project rejected by anyone. You’d think that’d put my ass on a fast-track to finish the thing, but that’s not what’s happened.

Beyond the impostor syndrome associated with creative writing in general, there is also the fact that I am indeed an impostor to the lifestyle of freight hopping. When the idea for this book came to me, I hadn’t hopped a train. Where I live, a number of trains do go by, sometimes so slowly that I’ve had to cross over them to get to the other side of the tracks (say, if I needed to get to work or catch a movie, whatever). So I’ve physically boarded a moving train which, based on the number of people on either side of those trains who would rather wait for twenty more minutes, is something. I do not dilute myself into thinking it’s much, though. The experience of actually hopping on a train to take a ride eluded me until a couple summers ago— and I have still yet to ride for more than a couple minutes at a time — so I am far from an expert in the subject I wish to write about.

There are a number of reasons I haven’t gone full tramp. As I‘ve noted in other pieces, I did a little time over ten years ago. That’ll fry your nerves real quick. I finally landed a decent job about four years ago (meaning I had about 7 of nothing but medical studies, plasma donation, and one stretch at a Goodwill), which put me on my best behavior because I know how hard shit can get. Then of course there’s just general fear. Shit’s dangerous. I’ve seen Paranoid Park and I’m not trying to go down like that. I’ve scoured subreddits, forums, and Facebook groups, but people in the scene are rightly secretive about sharing tips of the trade. I get it.

To chase the feeling I’ve read a few books and zines, visited the Altoona Railroad museum (which I visited by way of Amtrak, riding the famous Horseshoe Curve), and even visited the School of the Alternative at the site of the old Black Mountain college in North Carolina to take a class…

Eric Boyd

Work in Joyland, Guernica, and The Offing. Winner of a PEN Prison Writing Award. Working on a novel. //