Crowd-funded epic journey across America by train

Last Monday, I spoke to the Boston Skeptics about energy, infrastructure, and my new book, Before the Lights Go Out. After that talk, I met Erik "Skippy" Sund, a guy who is about to embark on an amazing adventure that he's hoping to crowd-source.

Erik is planning on traveling across the United States by train. His itinerary starts in Boston, heads south to Florida, west to Texas, up to Colorado and west to California, north to Washington, and the back East, through Illinois and and Ohio. It's not a commuter trip. It's not even like my recent train experience—where I chose to choo-choo directly home from a conference in Vancouver. Instead, Erik is trying to recreate the American travel epic, a story as old as the founding of this country.

The impetus behind this trip consists of some assumptions about the way we have come to travel the world around us.

1. Traveling is simply the utilitarian process of getting from point A to point B and is not regarded significantly as an event in itself. I hope to flip this assumption by showing the benefits of choosing a transportation method that encourages a greater interconnectedness with fellow passengers and the environment.
2. We accept that in the United States we have freedom of movement. As a developed country this implies access to a well organized, affordable and user-friendly transportation infrastructure. I intend to explore the infrastructure and see how it affects the lives of travelers. In particular I will be traveling frugally and in a minimalist nature, taking only 2 carry on bags and riding coach.
3. American cultural identity is forever in flux and can only be defined by its point of observation in time through sharing personal stories.

Along the way I will be interviewing people, recording observations and conversations. I hope to collect, curate, circulate, and communicate every detail of this trip. Once the trip is finished I will start process for editing the blog as a book. As soon as that is ready I will post the books as a .pdf available under creative commons licensing to the blog. After that I will be doing a print-on-demand run of the book for interested parties.

A side project on this trip will to be create a series of fictitious travel stories a Crowd Sourced Narrative. This will either be compiled as a novel, a series of short stories, or as a compilation of ideas available for public use.

It's an interesting and ambitious project. Erik thinks he needs about $5000 to make it happen. If you're interested, you can donate to the project through Indiegogo. One of the best rewards comes with a $50 donation: A piece of random, weird, wonderful Americana mailed to you from a whistlestop, somewhere during Erik's travels. Awesome!

Get details about the project and donate at Indiegogo.

Read more on Erik's Posterous, where he's blogging his plans for the trip.


        1.  I completely agree with you.  More power to you both!

          Although personally I will continue to donate any money I can spare to the Heifer Project.

  1. Except for the train part, this sort of thing has been already done by famed writer JACK KEROUAC back in the late 1940s and 1950s, accompanied by (“the fastest man alive”) Neal Cassady, who would later in 1964 accompany Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters in a wild, psychedelic bus trip around and across America – all the while making movies and making audio tapes of their journey

    I’ve made a few cross country journeys by car, train and bus and they’ve always been full of fun and interesting people. I fully support “Skippy” in his exploration of America’s “infrastructure” (I think the actual infrastructure of the USA is located somewhere in Denver, Colorado) but also would like to warn him not to take the trip all that seriously. After all, it is a trip – and trips should be fun

    I’d like to add that though it’s an heroic idea to gather “every detail of this trip” this can really only be done from the traveler’s viewpoint. In other words, all informational input is filtered through the observer, in this case “Skippy” – even the greatest writers and documentarians have trouble delineating various human aspects of Time and Place

  2. Years ago, I traveled on the train with a school teacher from Louisiana who was traveling around the outside of the US on the train.  Sounds great to me.  We have been fighting for the return of the southern route in Montana because trains are efficient and fun!

  3. I made the same journey twelve years ago. I watched the country turn from marshy bayous to stubble plain to rocky desert from the observation car over the course of three days of nonstop travel. I slept in the seats. The canteen car gave out free hot water which I used to make cup noodles. As we passed through Texas a local Native American cultural organisation got on board and spent a day with the passengers presenting and demonstrating old tools and artefacts they let us handle.

    At the time a thirty day ticket cost about three hundred dollars. The cup noodles cost nothing and the seats were gratis. It was a great journey I would recommend anyone to make. There weren’t many lines left then, only one going from New Orleans to LA as far as I remember. It’s a pity trains aren’t used much there anymore. They built the country after all.

    1. Try looking up AMTRAK or VIA (Canadian Rail) websites.  You might be pleasantly surprised at what’s available.  A sadness: AMTRAK used to operate a run from LA to Orlando via New Orleans, but Katrina destroyed the tracks past New Orleans, and they show no signs of restoring the route.

  4. Tangentially related: Anyone know how one might charter a train car? I’ve tried a few sites dedicated to train charters but none are here in North America AFAICT.

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