A year ago today I made this AMA about my chaotic adventure across the US by train, and spent the following weeks talking with redditors about what happened during my journey. The response was...unexpected. Psychologists, newspapers, magazines, college professors, and screenwriters approached me afterward trying to interview me, or write out my story. I answered question after question, and wrote email after email for weeks after my initial post, but when it came time to actually sell my story...I knew I couldn't. I'd made a promise to you all, and I have every intention of keeping it.

After a full year of writing and editing, I am finally able to say that I have completed the story of my travels. All of it, written out in detail from start to finish in the vein of an adventure book. Every chapter takes places in a different city, with different situations, and with different people. It's fair to say that each chapter is a mini-story in-and-of itself, and the whole trip ties it together. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to debate a US diplomat on Wikileaks, or to fall in love in Seattle, or maybe cross two state-lines following a fever-induced dream, getting sloshed on tequila with an overly aggressive 40yr old cougar and then wake up scared and alone, live on a train, or perhaps what it would be like finding yourself at knife-point in a dark and dingy train station near midnight...all of this is written in here, and more. This was the craziest period of my life (especially being introverted), and I'm more than happy to be able to share what happened, and what invaluable lessons I've learned because of it.

Here is my prologue if you're interested (note:this is a true story, and so it contains some profanity), and below is the actual book if you want to read more...

  • I Chose the Rails (Kindle) - I left the file open so you can convert and share with any/all devices.
  • I Chose the Rails (Paperback) - This link points to the Amazon copy of the book. If you ordered with me on the day of the AMA or a couple after, the books are all shipped!!! :)

Giving Back - Though eating ramen is getting old, I can't in good conscience do something like this without finding a way to give back. 20% of any profit I make will go to the charity of your combined choice. Just vote here and choose/add as many charities as you like. The winner will get a check made out to them - and I promise to follow up with a picture of it and report back.

Thanks to redditor mcdevimm for spending countless hours editing this for me over the past year, and a very special thanks to redditor must_draw_cats (alt account) for the unexpectedly amazing cover art she made. Her other stuff is awesome too. Thanks to their help, this book is 100% created by, and for, reddit. I think that's pretty cool ;P (Oh and ... they are definitely available for work /shameless plug)

If you guys have any questions about my trip, what it was like to going back to society, what it was like learning to become an author, self-publishing, writing a true story from memory and journals, or anything else... AMA!!

EDIT - This post, besides being dedicated to reddit, the IAMA community, and the [two] [redditors] who traveled solo around the country because of reading my post, is dedicated to a person who I've never met, and yet, whose life I have somehow dramatically impacted. I received a message from him about three months after my OP, telling me that because of my AMA - he divorced his wife.

I didn't really know how to respond, but I tried.

Every day since then I've thought about that message, and tried to wrap my head around the fact that something I did/wrote could have had such an impact as to separate the bond of marriage within the lives of people I didn't even know. Wherever you are man, I hope you found the happiness you were looking for, and if it means anything, just know that your message has kept me going for the months that followed. The completion of this book, it's for you. If you could do something like that because of me, then I sure as hell could do something like this.

EDIT - Holy crap it actually happened

EDIT - Thanks to Indolence for this link http://www.charitynavigator.org/ . Before voting for the charity you can see what they do with the money. Doctors without Borders looks like it's going to win, and National Space Society is a semi-close second. (In case you're wondering)

EDIT - Okay I've extended the paperback purchasing for 5 days total. To be honest, I can't wait for my brief moment in the spotlight to fade, it's unnerving and awkward. I made a promise to myself that I would write the book and then post about it. I've done that, I fulfilled what I was meant to do. Now, I need to start getting these orders processed, and then return to my quiet life. :) Thank you everyone for your support. If you have any more posts/questions I'll still answer them when I can.

EDIT - Paperback is pulled (Amazon has their own link now) and the books are shipped! Phew!

Comments: 2776 • Responses: 38  • Date: 

Massa1337904 karma

isthisadream272 karma

Oh man... I don't even...

banana_buddy428 karma

How many chicks did you nail on your cross country adventure?

isthisadream595 karma

yes ;P

And I possibly got raped...

ThePoonHunter74 karma


isthisadream236 karma

It relates to a cougar and some tequila...

Antijawa407 karma

Alright, getting the ball rolling here....craziest story/encounter? Most memorable moment?

isthisadream1041 karma

By far the craziest encounter was when I had a knife pulled on me in a St. Louis train station. I was waiting for a shuttle to take me to Carbondale, IL to catch a train to New Orleans. I was standing there in the station with my cell phone charging in some wall socket and a dude approached me to ask the time. Immediately I knew what was up (I could sense it) and started to walk away with my stuff and he flipped out some swiss army knife and held it in attack mode while demanding I give him my backpack.

Now at this point I had been almost 50 days traveling and had an extensive journal with thousands of pics and vids I had taken - not to mention all my tickets, rail passes, and netbook/camera/ipod. Fortunately I had been getting a really uneasy feeling earlier at the station when 'thug nation' came in and started looking at my bags with keen interest and so I popped my giant smith & wesson knife in my pocket (pretty much this) It was a stupid move, I know this, but it felt cool to mutter "You won't be taking shit." as I flicked the blade out from the grip. The guy just backed off and then security came running over freaking out on me and took my knife. Luckily I was able to get it back when I described the situation and they looked over the camera footage.

In hindsight I was an idiot and could have been killed, I've never seriously hurt someone or let alone stabbed somebody, and I'm not sure I would have been ok if that situation had gone differently. But I was confident as hell at that moment in time and I think that, more than the knife, really made the guy back off.

[deleted]812 karma


isthisadream559 karma

Man ... sketchiest area I've been to in a long while.

Bugseye538 karma

Having accidentally ended up in East St. Louis, I can confirm this. Fuck that place just LOOKS like rape alley.

isthisadream316 karma

I was so dumb.

princemyshkin86474 karma

I see you've played knifey-spoony before.

isthisadream152 karma

Haha aye. I can now say I have ;D

Antijawa118 karma

Awesome, good to hear you didn't lose your stuff! Most guys who pull out the knife first usually arn't expecting the other guy to pull one out as well, for the most people I dont think anyone wants to be involved in a knife fight.

isthisadream154 karma

Yeah he definitely wasn't expecting it. The look in his eye gave off that 'oh shit' feeling heh.

Doughb0y90 karma

I've been in a situation like this. No idea what I'd do if they were like "alright come on." I'd suck at knife fighting I'm slow as shit..

isthisadream170 karma

I'm glad I didn't have to find out if I sucked at knife fighting too...

chimerar118 karma

I never knew train stations could be sketchy, but once I asked a cab driver (elderly gentleman) to take me to the Amtrak station in San Francisco and he refused on the grounds that it was too dangerous for me (smaller female)

EDIT: Lots of people saying Amtrak doesn't service SF. I wanted to take a bus from San Francisco to LA, which Amtrak did offer and I believe still does, although perhaps my mistake in calling it a train station. I never did make it there so I'll never know haha. This was a number of years ago so things could be totally different now. I remember thinking cynically at the time that the cab driver was probably getting kickbacks from other bus companies for diverting business from Amtrak, but he was probably just being helpful.

isthisadream50 karma

Yeah, a lot of oddlings come out and hang there. I think it's also because that's where the buses board also.

I_am_a_Swede97 karma

My old English teacher told me that he got robbed twice and stabbed once during his backpacking trip in the US.

isthisadream91 karma

That is ... horrible.

push15276 karma

Funny you should mention that knife, mine saved my butt a handful of times during and after military life. http://imgur.com/Gbdet

isthisadream38 karma

Yep! It's a great knife!

Dojobra340 karma

Would you want to do the same thing in europe? If so take me and we can spread our seed on all the ladies of the world.

isthisadream453 karma

You and I, we will be kings.

Gentleman-like kings though...

LookInTheDog297 karma

Huh. Last year I quit my job, broke up with my girlfriend, and rode my motorcycle around the U.S. staying with random strangers I met on the internet a few days before. Hello, kindred spirit!

Who was the craziest person you met on the trip?

isthisadream281 karma

A shirtless old man in Atlanta...really. He kept telling me I was gay because I had a guy picking me up.

And your trip sounds sweet. I'd love to do it on a bike.

RobbieGeneva249 karma

What was the most remarkable random act of kindness you received?

isthisadream556 karma

Definitely when I was coming into New Orleans and had nowhere to stay. A complete stranger decided to take me in, and saved me from staying in a hostel.

Also a man on the train from Denver gave an elderly woman his coat, and never asked for it back. I was pretty much in awe when I saw that.

[deleted]42 karma

you never learned about couch surfing?

isthisadream97 karma

I was denied by all the couch surfers in the area. She took me in.

legendofpasta218 karma

Why did you break up with your gf? I'm sorry if this was answered in your last AMA.

isthisadream727 karma

She was expecting me to cover 80k in debt for her school. She had no job, took advantage of my money, and just didn't try. Eventually I just said screw it. What matters more? Having someone just to have someone, or having someone that makes you happy?

I chose the latter.

ad54me214 karma

I wasn't around on Reddit yet when you made your first post, but HOLY SHIT do you have balls!

isthisadream364 karma

You know what's crazy? The first time I posted this - IAMA had 600k subscribers. A year later and it's at 1.6 mil. A million people in 1 year! This site has exploded.

ad54me149 karma

I think I'm gonna buy your book!

isthisadream131 karma

Awesome, thanks :)

hobofats209 karma

alternate title: 1 year ago today I pitched a book idea to reddit through the guise of an AMA as a brainstorming activity. Here I am 1 year later to plug my book.

I would like to point out that I'm just kidding and wouldn't be upset even if it were true.

isthisadream179 karma

If only I was that devious...I could have saved a lot of money...

Speculater54 karma

You said it wasn't about the money... man.

isthisadream170 karma

It really isn't. Besides charity, paying my rent for my shoebox sized apartment, any money I make is going to go to my parents. They are 70yrs old and still working, struggling, to keep their home. If I can help them in any way - I am going to.

soprattutto109 karma

Do you or don't you know anything about Jack Kerouac?

isthisadream81 karma

Not until very recently actually. Why?

Patchshifter107 karma

He wrote a book, On the Road, which was a sort of autobiography about him hitchhiking all over the US (one a little bit in Mexico) during the 40s. (I think it was the forties, could be wrong though).

In fact, when I read your post I was like "oh this is a modern On the Road!," so I'm gonna pick it up when I get paid next :)

isthisadream79 karma

Oh yeah! I haven't read the book, but I know about it. I definitely want to check it out.

And thanks for checking out the book. To be honest I'm waiting for a paperback sale so I can play a certain song loudly throughout my apartment.

iGunsmith99 karma

Okay. So. What all did you take with you? Down to every last little thing, please. Also, describe the average day for you during and the upkeep of things like hygiene. Thanks!

isthisadream195 karma

A towel, deoderant, an electric shaver, five shirts, one shorts, one pants, socks, underwear.

My cell phone, my netbook, my camera, and ipod. Oh and a book. Earth Abides

java82167 karma

how did you afford the tickets to travel so much? or did you just train hop some of the time?

isthisadream125 karma

You can buy cheap tickets through Amtrak rail passes. When I went the price was $750 for 45 days of travel, or $350 for 15 days. I just bought a couple of those and went wherever I wanted.

java82161 karma

what about the essentials(food, water, shelter, alcohol)?

isthisadream88 karma

I bought pretty much everything, which got kind of pricey.

I stayed with random strangers from the internet and lived in their homes free of charge.

ajmac32249 karma

What was your favorite area of the country?

isthisadream137 karma

I loved Seattle, New Orleans, and Massachusetts. But my favorite was definitely Santa Fe, New Mexico. I had a dream about going there, and the only reason I followed through was because of it.

If I hadn't done that... my life would be completely different.

ajmac32237 karma

What's so special about Santa Fe? I've never been there, so I wouldn't know.

isthisadream135 karma

Besides being beautiful? I don't really know, maybe the fact that it feels lived in. You can really feel all the people who lived there hundreds of years before.

For me, it was all about this dream I had about meeting an old man on a plateau in the desert. It felt real, and important. By coincidence one of my parents friends showed up a couple days later (guy in his 70's) and turned out to be a nuclear physicist working in Los Alamos. He took me to that same plateau from my dream, and there, looking over the vast desert landscape, I learned a lesson which has kept with me today.

ajmac32233 karma

Wow, that sounds incredible. Good for you for actually going on a life adventure. A lot of people are too afraid to do the same.

isthisadream52 karma

I was terrified in the beginning. The hardest part was getting on that train the first time. After that, it's all adventure...

Cerealkillr9530 karma

May I ask what that lesson was?

isthisadream139 karma

Make the most of every moment. Live life without expectation.

Cliche? This is how I see it.

You get one moment in your life, and you get to live it over and over again repeatedly. One day, your moment will be gone, and you will cease to be. Embrace what you have, and the time you have within it. You only get one - make it count.

Smithy02115 karma

as a fellow new mexican i find this strange... Most people see the south west as desolet and boring. But damn if you love your browns pale greens and bluffs/mtns this place is beautiful.. But if you come expecting dark green and "normal" trees your looking in the wrong place!

isthisadream24 karma

Well it was Santa Fe, and not say - Albuquerque. I walked around Albuquerque for a while and didn't like it at all. Hot, brown, not fun.

katelyne32 karma

I read the prologue and had to buy it. I've been on a study abroad with my university for the past 2 months, traveling only by train, and I feel like I'm the only one here that doesn't want to go back when the semester is over. Your desire to leave it all behind really spoke to me, I completely understand where you are coming from.

isthisadream25 karma

Thanks. I feel you, I still wish I could go back...

But without going through what I went through I wouldn't be the person I am today. Make the most of it while you're there, and try to learn from it while you can.

Illadelphian26 karma

Fuck I really, really want to do this. How much money do you think it would take for me to do this for maybe 3 to 6 months? How easy was it for you to find places to stay without using hotels and such? Does that couchsurfing place actually work well? Not really creepy people or anything?

isthisadream35 karma

Depends on how you do it. You can save a lot of money by couchsurfing, and yes it totally works. I never had a creepy person really, except one who wanted to do me after a few drinks.

I spent about 2000 bucks, but I barely ate some days. If you have 2000 plus buy the rail passes, you should be fine.

nwahsadude26 karma

What do you plan to do now that you are back? I have always wanted to do this, maybe someday.

isthisadream123 karma

When I got back, I did the original AMA, and from there immediately started writing this book. I haven't focused on anything else for the past year. I took a job that allowed me to continue writing from home, all at the sacrifice of good pay. But money isn't important to me anymore, at least, not like it was. My priorities are in order, and to say to myself one day that "I wrote a book" ... man - that's worth it.

Solipsize23 karma

Did you feel there was a significant break in period to feel comfortable in both lifestyles (i.e living on the road, and coming home respectively)?.

I went for a 2 month trip to Europe last summer, and despite having alot of fun, I always felt a little anxious and uncomfortable. I'm wondering if I just didn't travel for long enough to get used to it.

isthisadream28 karma

Yeah there was definitely a break in period. For the first couple months I had trouble adjusting to sitting around the house. Luckily I was able to begin writing, and so that took up most of my time. And yeah, sometimes I got uncomfortable too, but I got out over that about halfway through my trip. I guess after the experiences I had early on, I almost got mugged in Seattle, I stopped being so afraid and felt confident with myself.

Delta104x14 karma

How many states did you visit?

isthisadream18 karma

About 16. I passed through about 37. My book is 15 chapters and each one is a different state.

Generique10 karma

What'd you do to entertain yourself on long train rides?

How often were you able to stay with people (opposed to hostels/hotels)?

How'd you decide on what to do in each you visited?

isthisadream28 karma

I made friends with people on the trains and talked with them. (which is very much unlike me since I'm an introvert) Also I played games on my cellphone, or read from my book Earth Abides

I stayed with people in every single stop. Every one.

I just winged everything. I had no plans and no expectations. Everything worked out better this way.

mkvgtired10 karma

That sounds awesome man. I would order the Kindle edition but mine got stolen (while traveling too!) by a Thai bus driver while I slept. Very cool that you wrote everything down!

Now for the question. Do you have any photos?

isthisadream21 karma

Yeah tons. And tons of videos.

I'll try to post some in a bit actually.