Have you ever wanted to abandon everything and live free, without worrying about rent, or bills, or the pressures of a job? These people did it, and they fell in love with the life — and each other.
Emily Kask, a photojournalism student at Western Kentucky University, spent three months in the fall of 2015 riding the rails and living on the road with a group of self-styled “Dirty Kids.” As she documented their free-spirited and nomadic lifestyle, she also realized that she was accidentally documenting something else: a love story.
“They all came in to this lifestyle for different reasons,” Kask told Refinery29 by phone. One young woman, Bambi, had spent her whole life in a small town in North Carolina, but always wanted something different. One day, she bought a one-way bus ticket to New Mexico to go live in an ashram. There, she met her first group of Dirty Kids, living a nomadic lifestyle. She left with them the same day. Oz, one of the "kids" who traveled with them, had been in and out of foster care his whole life and ended up on the road after he ran away from a foster home. “Some of them are homeless, and some of them are regular kids who grew up in a suburban household. The one thing they all have in common is this attraction to the freedom of it,” Kask said.
That freedom gave Bambi and Oz the chance to fall in love. When Bambi's group was stuck in Mississippi after hopping the wrong train, a plea on social media for help brought Oz and some friends to pick them up. “We hopped in a truck with them, and that’s how Bambi and Oz first met. He fell for her the second he saw her.”
“He had me trying to play wingman for him, too!” Kask laughed. “He would come up to me when she wasn’t around and be like, ‘oh, do you think she likes me?’ He would pick her flowers outside and hide them behind his back and bring them to her. If we were staying inside somewhere, he would get a motel room.” The blossoming romance was captured on film. “It was really incredible to watch that happen, to watch two people meet and fall in love with each other.”
But life on the road, with or without love, is hard. With the Dirty Kids, Kask had to panhandle, sleep on the street, and live without regular showers. “There were times I really enjoyed it, and there were times all I could think about was my bed back in Kentucky,” she said.
But the good parts could be almost indescribable. “There were certain aspects to the freedom that were incomparable to anything I had ever felt before. The first time that we hopped a train, it was open on top. It was full of scrap metal. One of the kids laid down his blanket— it was around midnight — and the three of us huddled in for warmth on top of this blanket. I remember as the train moved forward for the first time, my heart flip-flopped. I thought, This is such a bad idea! What the hell am I doing? It started going faster and faster, and I laid back and I just watched the world going past me faster and faster, and I just started laughing. It was the most incredible adreneline rush I ever had.”