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Hump Day Train Hops with Jason Robinson

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Jerry of the day. Photo @instagarry

When Jason Robinson isn’t racing down giant mountains in search of epic and endless pow, he craves adventure in other ways. He’s the kind of person who will meet a hobo on the street, befriend him, and end up bringing him to Oregon before taking a freight train (solo) to the Hobo National convention in Iowa. He’s shunned many modern conveniences to live the life he wants, and as managed to rack up some pretty crazy stories in the process. After hearing some of them third hand from Dakine Marketing maniac Scotty the Body, I figured a phone call was in order to get the details from JRob himself. Luckily, he does have a cell phone, despite what you may have heard!

Brooke: I heard a rumor you were train hopping this summer? Is that real?

Jason: Well, I did a little bit of that. I took a trip, yes.

Brooke: Well tell me about your train hopping adventure. Where did you go? What was it like? Do you consider yourself a hobo?

Jason: No, well I think there’s very few actual hobos still. Like most kids traveling by train aren’t really hobos. That’s kind of like an old school thing, where that was people that were traveling for work or traveling to find work.The iconic black and white photos of 50 dudes in a boxcar, those were the original hobos.

Brooke: So it wasn’t like that? Tell me about your trip.

Jason: Well, I’d met a couple train riders in the past, like picked up some kids hitchhiking on my way up to Hood a couple summers ago, and that was the first close encounter I had with any people that had hopped fright trains. I was super interested and had a bunch of questions about it, and then last fall I met a couple people in Whitefish. The freight line of the BNSF railroad company cruises right through Whitefish from Seattle and Portland all the way to Chicago, so I grew up seeing the train yard and freight trains. You’d see the guys with the big backpacks all dirty you’d kinda assumed they’d gotten there via freight train, but never actually saw anyone on one.

How this whole trip really started though, I met this kid Hillbilly. I was just coming home from the gas station on my bike after grabbing a couple beers, probably like beginning of July, and he’s like, hey man, you look like someone that might smoke weed, you got any weed? And I was like oh sorry man, I don’t have any weed. He had a big beard, a big backpack and it looked like he’d been traveling for a while just by himself, and it seemed like something was up. He almost looked like he’d been crying or something. I just was like is everything alright, like you doing okay? And he was just like, oh man not really, I just got diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Brooke: Oh man.

Jason: I was like, holy fuck. I gave him a hug and we talked for a couple minutes and I went on my way, pedaled off on my bike to my friend’s house. I made it like a block and I was like wait. I’m just gonna go meet my friends, I can see them all the time, this guy just got gnarly news, he’s a long way from home, I’m gonna see if he wants someone to talk to. So I turned around, like hey, I just live a couple blocks away if you want someone to talk to. I don’t have any weed, but I have some beers we could bullshit or whatever. So I walk my bike and alongside him over to my house and we’re just bullshittin’, we’re trading stories, he’s telling me about riding freight trains and he started telling me about the Hobo National convention and I was just like what? That’s a thing? It’s in Iowa and he told me about the hobo jungle and hobo stew and the hobo king and queen and this whole like culture that I had no idea really existed and was super fascinated by. Anyway he was like, hey can I sleep under your house tonight? And I was like for sure, no big deal. You can sleep on my floor if you wanted, or in the grass. So I wake up in the morning, and he’s like hey man, I gotta get going, and I don’t see him for like a couple weeks. I just assumed he l went home or traveled on.

Then I’m kayaking down this river with a friend and I see these dudes hanging out on the river bank and there’s Hillbilly right there. I was like, hey man! I pull up on shore and we bullshit and I’m just like man, if you ever make it back to Whitefish, let me know we can hang out or whatever. The next morning I wake up and get a knock on my house, and it’s him. I was actually going to Mt. Hood that day with Leland MacNamara for the Bode Merrill thing, and I was, I’m going to Mt. Hood today I don’t know if you’d wanna come or not… He’s like, oh man I love Oregon, I’ll come! I took him all the way out there and he hiked like all the way up to the quarter pipe and was just super stoked. Erik Leon was his favorite snowboarder, he was so hyped on him, and he was at Charlie’s kicking it with everyone, and he’s just still stoked on the snowboarding. It was his first exposure to snowboard culture, which is really pretty similar to hobo culture. Like everyone is camped out and sleeping in their cars, kinda the same thing, but different.

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Scenes from the road. Photo @j_robble

Brooke: Yeah.

Jason: The whole trip I’m asking more about this Hobo National Convention and all this shit, and he’s like well you shared your whole snowboard world with me, I’ll take you out there if you wanna go. So I’m packed up ready to go, and I have a friend drop me off in Whitefish. I’ve got my backpack and my hobo gear and whatever to train hop – like sleeping bag, and all that shit, and I can’t find him anywhere. He doesn’t have a phone or anything, I went where he hangs out and they’re like, no we haven’t seen him in a few days. I was like shit man, maybe he left without me. I told myself, if I can’t find him, I don’t know if I should go. It’s too risky I don’t know what I’m doing. I put down my sleeping bag and was just gonna sleep along the river by where I last saw him, hoping maybe he’d show up in the morning. Then I hear a freight train rolling in and I was like oh shit, alright. I knew from him that the trains that are stacked two shipping containers high are going from inner Seattle or Portland all the way to Chicago. I knew that was the type of train he would want to catch, cause you don’t just wind up in the middle of nowhere, it’ll take you all the way there. So I ran up and I started getting all excited. I packed my sleeping bag, put my pants and hoodie on and just freakin went. It was a full moon, the super moon actually, so like a huge bright sky. I get on the train, and it’s pretty much like a semi truck trailer on top of a train. I crawled in there lay down so I’m hidden behind these tires, and all the sudden it just starts making a wooshing noise, which are like the brakes airing out. Then it starts cruising, past the train station, past all the employees, and we’re picking up speed and I’m just like all by myself. I got a decent little buzz from when I was looking around for Hillbilly and I ran into some friends and had a few beers and so now I’m just on another planet it feels like. I’m just on a freight train for the first time by myself, no idea where I’m doing or what’s gonna happen. I’m just off into the unknown, you know?

Brooke: Yeah.

Jason: That was super exciting. I was so stoked and but yeah, it was kinda gnarly. The 1st day I woke up right near Glacier National Park, the sun was rising on the right and there was that amazing full moon. Just cruising through Glacier park, you could see the river and the rapids and it was all illuminated and I was just like on this crazy natural high. We’re on this train bridge and I peek out and I see this bald eagle like soaring below me. I’m like 300 feet in the air on this bridge and like a hundred feet below me still, like 200 feet off the ground, this bald eagle just soaring. It was crazy and I can’t really explain it.

Brooke: It sounds magical.

Jason: It really was, everything below the eagle was still in the shade, but from the sunrise it was illuminated. I thought it was an omen, like, okay this is cool, I’m on the right path I guess, whatever that may be. There were some moments everyday, at least one point where I just wanted to give up and turn around. I don’t think I cried, but there were at least moments where I wanted to. I just wanted to give up and turn around and ride a train home or get a greyhound home or something. But I just kept going. There would be little feeling just like you’re fucked, like what am I fucking doing, this is insane. I’m gonna get busted, I’m gonna get in trouble, but then once you kinda get past that little hurdle you just feel so good and it’s all worth it. It took me five days to get to Iowa, but I made it. I did spend like $24 in transportation. I made it all the way to Saint Paul pretty much on a freight train and then I took some local transit and started hitch hiking. At one point I was at a truck stop at like 3am trying to ask truckers for a ride South, and obviously no one took me. Everyone was just like uuhhh, I’m going North dude, and then I would see them merge onto the highway going South. But I couldn’t really blame them, I probably wouldn’t like it if some fucking sketchy kid covered in train grease asking for a fucking ride at 3am at a fucking truck stop in Southern Minnesota either. I slept there that night, that was one of the moments where everyday I was just like oh fuck what am I doing. I’m like asking these truckers for a ride. I slept at the truck stop in the grass and made a conscious effort to sleep on my back for obvious reasons. I didn’t wanna wake up a rape victim, but I didn’t, so that’s good. I don’t know, I could talk about this one question for like 3 hours.

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Snowboarding intermission. Photo courtesy @dakine_snow

Brooke: Did you make it to the hobo convention? What was that like?

Jason: I made it, yeah. There’s probably 200 people there, and the average is people in their 50s, 60s, even 70s. It’s people who actually were hobos, not people who are currently riding freight trains, but they did back in the day, when hobo-ing was a thing. So it’s just a reunion for them. I was the only one that went there intentionally that rode a freight train. There were two other kids that rode freight trains and got kicked off the train like 20 miles from there like a week before the event. They spent the night in jail then they made the cover of the paper in Mason City, Iowa. I guess someone was like you’re a week early, the Hobo national convention is here next week. So they ended up sticking around and I met them, they were super cool. They were the only other two people who arrived there via freight train, even unintentionally, and there were a couple people in their late 20s, early 30s that had recently ridden freight trains.

Brooke: Crazy. Wait – what happened to Hobo Jim, or whatever, the initial dude who started you off on this whole adventure?

Jason: Oh Hillbilly? I don’t know, I didn’t have contact with him. He’s actually here now, it’s kind of funny he’s sleeping about 100 feet away from me in the shed. He just showed up in Montana like a week ago at random, I hadn’t seen him since I went on this hobo trip. He called me a couple times and just checked in and then he just showed up in Montana, like hobo-ing it. It’s almost December, and I was like dude… But he’s ready to settle down, he’s trying to get a job up on the mountain and he’s been traveling for 15 years like this so he’s ready to settle down.

Brooke: What a random story. I love it. You said he slept under your house. You live in a tiny house right, or is it a trailer? What is your setup?

Jason: It’s essentially an aluminum box off an old 1950’s delivery truck. We converted it into a little house. Insulated it, put some big windows in it, and it’s really coming along. I’m almost done actually. I setup 12 poles and some wires for all the lighting and stuff and a little heater out of an old sail boat and I have solar panels on the top that are about 15 feet long and 8 feet wide. I don’t really know exactly what I’m gonna do with it, but it’s my only house. I’ve been living in it for two years, so it’s pretty much paid for itself – I haven’t paid rent in 2 years.

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Fuckin’ Hippie. Photo @lelandmcnamara

Brooke: That’s awesome. Yeah, where do you park it? It is modular or…?

Jason: Yeah, it’s mobile. It’s on a flatbed, like a duel tandem Maxwell flatbed trailer. So it’s mobile. I haven’t driven it anywhere yet. Right now it’s parked.

Brooke: Why did you decide to go the tiny house route?

Jason: I was living in a tent. I found this guy on Craigslist and I was just renting the corner of his farm. I just had a tent and this little tarp place built and a little fire pit and I was out there with the llamas and horses and pigs. I was pretty much one of the farm animals. He called me the villager, that was my nickname, but it was getting really cold. It was almost this time of the year in Montana, and I was still living in a tent.When I’d wake up I could see my breath and I was just like alright 1-2-3 get out of my sleeping bag, run, start my truck, then drive off to the coffee shop or something. I realized that wasn’t really gonna work for much longer, but I didn’t wanna sign a lease or find a house. Winter started in a month and I’m just gonna be gone most the time, it doesn’t make sense to get a house and pay rent, sign a lease, blah blah blah. The guy was so cool who owned the farm, he was like yeah you could drive a school bus out here and build a shack or shed or whatever the fuck you want to do. I was paying $100 a month. No water, no plumbing, no electricity, no anything, just a little space amongst the farm animals. So I called my friend who I knew was a really talented carpenter and had a lot of construction experience, and was gonna build this sort of combo between like a geodesic dome and a yurt – just something I could build on that property, but take it down and move it if I needed. I was gonna live in that for the winter, but I talked to my friend Scott and he was like dude, that’s gonna be so hard to keep dry and insulated, but there’s this aluminum box for sale down the block from my house for $600 bucks. I’ll help you turn it into a cabin. Originally it wasn’t gonna even be on a trailer, I was just gonna have a tow truck take it out there at $100 bucks a month rent, which was pretty reasonable and I have like a little base camp whenever I want, but it all evolved and has changed a lot during the process and now it’s on wheels and I have the truck I got specifically so I can like tow it around a little bit.

Brooke: What’s up the Dakine ad campaign about you not having a cell phone? It clearly isn’t true, because I’m talking to you on your cell phone.

Jason: Yeah, that’s what fucking I said to Scotty! I read the ad then looked at the photo and was like, oh this is sick, then I read the thing and I’m like no phone? I was like well, I have a phone, I could get rid of it for you if you wanted. (laughs) He got a kick out of that. So I don’t know how I feel about that. He explained it like in that moment there’s no phone. You know you’re not like checking your instagram feed in the fucking mountain before he drops down a mountain or something. So that’s really what it meant.

Brooke: Speak for yourself!

Jason: Maybe some people do, I carry a digital camera and some guys actually bring their iPhones and take photos of their lines so that they can reference it from the top.

Brooke: As a professional snowboarder these days, your job is not only to do the tricks now but to tell people that you’re doing the tricks, so you couldn’t really do your job without a phone.

Jason: Weeelll, I mean there was rumor there for a while that Nicolas Muller only had a land line. I know for a fact he has a cell phone now, but…

Brooke: Yeah but he’s Nicolas Muller.

Jason: Those rules only apply to him.

Brooke: Yeah, he’s special for sure. That’s pretty funny. So, you filmed with Absinthe last year? How was that?

Jason: Oh, it was awesome.

Brooke: Who did you film with in the past?

Jason: I filmed with Think Thank, I filmed with People, I filmed with my buddy Leland McNamara for a few years.

Brooke: It seems like the Absinthe movies have a lot more production value and it’s just a bigger production overall than Think Thank or your homeys movie. Which did you prefer? Did you like riding in helicopters?

Jason: I mean I’ve had fun with every project I’ve worked on for sure. The coolest thing about filming with Absinthe is getting to do all the backcountry. I’ve always wanted to do more backcountry and big mountain stuff and with other crews it’s just harder to have that opportunity, especially with the heli ski stuff. So that’s the biggest difference.

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Dropping? Photo: Jesse Paul

Brooke: Yeah, I hate to say it, but I feel like you might have gotten the last gasp of that at least for a season or two while everything kind of shakes out. I don’t feel like there’s gonna be a bunch of big budget movies coming out this season.

Jason: Yeah I don’t know. I mean I know budgets are getting tighter and every year there’s less and less big productions. A company like Think Thank, they’re kind of the model of a lot more sponsorships and a lot more affordable. The trips they’re going on as a crew are a lot more affordable, less snowmobiling, mostly just hiking and doing street stuff. That can be better, more sustainable as budgets tighten. But there’s TGR and what Jeremy Jones is doing. Those are definitely high dollar productions, however way he’s accessing the terrain is a lot more sustainable. And I actually think about that a lot, with my budget after this past season and how that goes. I’ve been thinking a lot about how to keep progressing my riding without spending $20,000-30,000 grand on helicopters.

Brooke: Have you come up with any answers?

Jason: Well, not definitive. I definitely want to focus more mountaineering type stuff, the kind of stuff Jeremy is doing. I got connected with him and got to talk to him for like a half hour about sort of going that direction and he was super excited to hear that I was thinking along those lines. He said, I’m an open door for any resource or if you’re trying to get some sort of camping trip or you’re trying to raise money for a project or anything, give me a call and I can help you, so I thought that really cool of him.

Brooke: Yeah that is awesome. He is great. He’s down to help out and make things happen for people, which is really cool for someone of his stature. You don’t always get that, you know?

Jason: Yeah, yeah. He’s pretty grounded for being the leader of big mountain snowboarding for the last 15-20 years.

Brooke: Are you retired from hitting rails?

Jason: Well I hadn’t for a few years, but I did this past season. It’s fun. I started filming with Absinthe and I just decided I kind of wanted to do it again. I don’t know if I’ll do it again this year. I’m pretty much trying to save all my budget possibly for Alaska, so I’m not gonna spend 2 grand to fly out to Michigan for a few weeks or anything like that.

Brooke: Yeah that makes sense. The level of rail riding is so gnarly that I feel like you just have to like really want to do it to justify it.

Jason: Yeah, and for me, I’ve never really been that excited about it. Some of my urban clips I get pretty stoked on, but for the most part I don’t really. I get super hyped watching the people where that’s their thing and they’re really insane at it, but for myself I don’t really get stoked on – like I’d much rather focus on backcountry and big mountain stuff.

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Rail boarder. Photo: Jesse Paul

Brooke: Yeah definitely. Are you still doing the A-rob Plant a Seed foundation? How’s that going?

Jason: Well it’s had its up and downs. None of my family has much experience with planning something like that, so we had to take last year off because we kind of got behind on paper work and stuff with the state. But yeah, we’re getting it all sorted out and I believe we’ll be back at it this year, so. We didn’t do it to the extent of before last year, but actually we took a group of kids from the Black Feet Indian reservation up snowboarding, which was a super cool opportunity.

Brooke: Oh yeah, you mentioned you lived on an Indian reservation for a little while. Tell me about that a little bit. It must have been crazy. Reservations are really depressing, is the only way that I could describe them. Was that your experience, or…?

Jason: Well, in a sense. I mean it’s real just a crazy contrast, because I was living about 10 miles out of town right on the East Side of the Rocky Mountains in Rocky Mountain park, 2 miles from Glacier National park. I mean it’s the most naturally beautiful place you could ask for really, but it was pretty crazy because 10 miles east from there just full on third world, like people getting killed in the streets,. It’s pretty gnarly. There’s extreme poverty, the average household income is less than $15,000 a year.

Brooke: Jeez.

Jason: That’s per household. I mean it’s crazy, from growing up in Whitefish, Montana. When my parents moved here it was more of a ski bum town, but it’s definitely changed a lot. There’s a lot of money there now and it’s crazy to think that not even 100 miles away there’s full on 3rd world poverty.

Brooke: How did you end up living there?

Jason: I was in Alaska filming and my girlfriend and I at the time, we had broken up on that trip. We lived together and everything here, and so I got back and just kind of wanted to move out of our place. I’d originally gotten a ticket to Nicaragua because I’ve always wanted to learn how to surf, so I was just gonna go down there solo for like a month. I booked a ticket for 3 days from the time I booked it, and the night before I wake up to get on my flight at like 2 am and I couldn’t find my passport. I had it in my pocket the night before but I lost it somewhere somehow, so I had to cancel my ticket. I’m just like, oh shit, now what am I gonna do? So I got on Craigslist and saw like this guy was advertising a house out there and the Blackfeet Indian reservation right on the edge of Glacier National Park and I’ve always wanted to spend more time out there and figured it was a cool opportunity to kind of just kind of be alone with my thoughts and have a totally new experience you know?

Brooke: Yeah.

Jason: So I just talked to the guy on the phone and he was super cool and we talked for a half hour and he was like, I don’t need like an application or a reference or anything just give me a check with the first and last and it’s yours. I went and checked it out and I was like I’ll take it. It was insane, it was like 10 acres, a huge meadow, there was like little Aspen groves, wildflowers everywhere, a creek that ran through the property. There were moose everywhere, saw some grizzly bears a few times.

Brooke: That sounds crazy. You’re such a mountain man. There’s really no other way to describe it.

Jason: Thank you. It’s better than, what Brusti called me on the Absinthe tour. He was like so your quite the nature boy, aren’t you? And I was like yeah, I guess so.

Brooke: I mean I think a mountain man is an appropriate designation for a snowboarder, so it works out.

Jason: I think it’s pretty much the same thing. Yeah mountains, they’re not necessary but they help.

Brooke: They do help. And they sure are fun to slide down.

Jason: Yup.

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Comments (13)

  1. The titans were greater than the gods

     
  2. Yeeeah JRob! You inspire buddy! Hope to see you in Whitefish and shred biggy later this month….

     

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