This book has the distinction of being a selection for Best American Travel Writing 2012 and it’s easy to see why with its vivid descriptions of the rail system and outlying towns and beautiful sets from Oregon to Northern Northern California. It’s hard to identify a “plot” to these travelogue style pieces, so I’ll just rattle off some of my favorite bits. Dactyl opens with an impromptu history lesson on the Deschutes River Canyon, with the deserted beauty of seasonal cabins, purifying his own water, and environmentally conscious riffs on how even relatively green cities like Portland generate up to 9,000 tons of landfill daily. Dactyl has an authentic bead on various pockets of culture in the Pacific Northwest, from the camps full of old hippies and beer enthusiasts in Eugene, to the decaying train cars covered in graffiti winding through secret lakes and towns full of the “last blue collar bars in town.” I enjoyed all of the maps and interesting photographic catalogues of graffiti, tickling my interest where it intersects with street art. I felt like I was there, with Dactyl’s crisp and forthright descriptions of the wasteland of Northern California, from captivating Israeli girls met while hitchhiking, to visiting the communal “Jackson Demonstration State Forest” near Fort Bragg. It just all comes to life, making you feel like you have some of the knowledge without having to endure the hard-earned journey necessary to attain it. It’s a cheat for the reader, but I’m sure Dactyl could spot us as pretenders in a heartbeat if we tried to front our way through a conversation with him. That’s a perfect segue to my favorite aspect of the project, the sociology behind it all. I was most fascinated with the way Dactyl sized up riders, like C.A., with their travel stories and encounters with the Bulls, those they know in common, and their idiosyncratic memory of various lines. He’s also able to weave in some commentary of the larger culture at large too, in the process of measuring cues to spot active hobo culture (or not, as is the case near Roseville), he encounters the oppressive suburban sprawl of cookie cutter strip malls. You’ve got to have immense street smarts to enter this world, pretending to be an oblivious photographer, claiming to have a boat, or running Dactyl’s sometimes-works pizza scheme, always a chameleon to avoid arousing suspicion and just plain surviving. Grade A.