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Exclusive excerpt: “I Chose the Rails”

With a boost from Reddit, Bradford Barrington travelled the U.S. by train for two months and lived to tell the tale. 


Michelle Jaworski

Internet Culture

Posted on Aug 16, 2012   Updated on Jun 2, 2021, 12:45 pm CDT

Bradford Barrington took the path less traveled. More specifically, he chose the rails.

The 28-year-old Colorado resident took a two-month trip across the U.S. by train. His Reddit AMA (ask me anything) post about it reached millions and inspired countless people to catch a case of wanderlust and make similar journeys of their own. One reader even worked up the courage to ask for a divorce.

Barrington promised readers that he would write a book about his experiences, and a year later he did what many hope to one day cross off their bucket list: He delivered, with help from fellow redditors, who designed the cover and selected the charity he donates a portion of the proceeds to.

“[Reddit’s] such a good resource,” Barrington told the Daily Dot. “You have such a variety of talent at your fingertips when you’re on the Internet.”

The following is an excerpt from Barrington’s book, I Chose the Rails, a firsthand experience of the author’s two-month journey across the country by train after he decided to quit his job, break up with his longtime girlfriend, and move from California to Colorado.

“Give me your backpack, your wallet, and everything you got.” The man’s eyes were staring into mine with a cold menacing glare, his eyelids twitching violently as if he hadn’t slept in days.

I decided to try and defuse the situation peacefully. “Look man, I…”

“Don’t say a fucking word and just hand me your shit. And do it now!” Though he was whispering the words in a low and raspy tone, his voice was demanding and militant. In his hand was a carefully concealed small red knife, the blade already extended.

Realizing that there was no safe way out of this situation, I looked him over and sized up my chances of escaping my new reality unharmed. He was older, maybe in his late thirties, black, and wearing a baggy St. Louis Cardinals jersey with accompanying sideways baseball hat. I figured due to his age and loose fitting attire, I was likely quite a bit more agile than him, but looking back at that twitch in his eye I knew he was under the control of some powerful drug. No doubt that edge would come to his advantage if I started to run, or worse, tried to confront him.

At that same moment I began to feel the weight of my knife shift within my pocket. The real solution for protecting myself was just inches from my hand, and I could sense it begging me to pull it out in defense. My mind went numb at the thought. The nagging feeling in the back of my head told me that it would be sheer suicide to follow that route. I’d never fought with a knife before. Never really fought or hurt anyone in my life ever, to be honest. But spending fifty straight days alone and surviving in unfamiliar surroundings had called up a feeling inside of me I’d never experienced before. A sort of primal survival instinct buried within. One that was telling me I was more than a match for the man in front of me, and that I’d come too far to give up now.

The man took another step closer, his loose-fit jersey swaying with his movement, and pushed the blade of his knife just inches away from my side. “I’m giving you one last chance. You don’t want to die motherfucker, do you?”

Looking into his eyes while he spoke I tried to draw some sort of humanity out of him, but it was no use; he was refusing to look back into mine. There was no doubt that in the next few moments he was getting ready to attack, and the sudden fear this caused changed my survival instinct from wanting to stand my ground, to wanting to give him everything he was asking for.

But my heart fought back.

He wasn’t just asking for my wallet and some money; he was asking for my entire livelihood. Everything I had was in that backpack. The experiences I’d been through and the goals I’d set out to achieve may as well have been stitched into the seams or woven into the very fabric. To give it up would mean giving everything up. I’d come so far, pushed so hard, and fought through so much to get where I was in that moment, yet here was a man who wanted to end all of that. Here was a man forcing me to make a choice.

Something so simple in concept, yet so complex in outcomes. It was making a choice that got me here in the first place. I had my world in check and my future within reach back then, but then I had to go and do something stupid like making a choice. One with such extreme consequence that it hurled me along the rail lines of America over the past fifty days, into the homes of complete strangers, through unfamiliar cities, and now finally after all this time, it had brought me here to my possible demise.

Staring again into the man’s cold-hearted eyes I saw that they had finally met back with mine, and within his tense glare I knew he was done waiting for an answer.

It was time to make a choice…

I Chose the Rails is available in paperback and on the Kindle.

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*First Published: Aug 16, 2012, 8:00 am CDT