21 Photos Of A Love Story That Will Make You Want To Run Away From Home

Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
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.”
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Bambi at a rest stop in Texas. Bambi, who is 20 years old, left her home in small town North Carolina during the early summer of 2015. She had taken a semester at college and worked at a local restaurant. She opted out of her routine to search for something different, and a greater sense of freedom and exploration.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
After the train they were riding broke up near Boligee, AL, Smerph and Bambi resort to walking down the highway to try to hitchhike out of the small town. "I think we're too dirty now for anyone to want us in their car," Smerph said.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Bambi bought a one-way bus ticket from her home in North Carolina to New Mexico, to go live in an ashram. She met the Dirty Kids there and asked if she could go with them when they left the ashram.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Bambi, Dillon, and Portugal wait to see if a fast-moving train is going to slow down or stop, so they can get on.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Dillon jumps on the ladder of a slow-moving auto carrier while Portugal watches. The two were joking around, laughing about how fast they could hop "on the fly," which means hopping on to a moving train. Dillon didn't actually ride this train, as auto-carriers are unrideable cars.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Smerph rests his feet on the knuckles between train cars while riding through Alabama.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Bambi rides a flatbed car northeast from Jackson, MS, back to Meridian, where she had just hitchhiked out from earlier that day. Trying to go south to New Orleans, the pair mapped out the route and predicted this train would be going south, but an unforeseen switch in the tracks sent them back in the wrong direction.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
"Wake up, you're going to miss the train!" Smerph yelled to Bambi, who had passed out from drinking too much beer while waiting on their ride.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Bambi and Smerph wait for a train to start moving during a side-off in Alabama. Smerph taught Bambi how to ride freight trains, taking her on her first several trains. "You're the best train-rider I've ever taught. You're a natural." he said to her proudly.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Dillon, Portugal, Smerph, and Bambi cook noodles over a fire they made at their camp spot under a bridge near Birmingham, AL. They met up with Dillon and Portugal in Nashville, and traveled with them through Tennessee and Alabama before parting ways.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Bambi lies outside the train tracks with Buddy, her friend Travis' dog, in Kentucky. Bambi had been looking after and taking care of Buddy while Travis was in jail for an unpaid citation he received while panhandling. He was caught by police while trying to hitchhike and sent to jail for over a week.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Bambi fixes the sign that Smerph wrote to hold up at a street corner. The sign read "Traeling broke god bless," and she added a missing "V" for him.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Bambi takes a sip of fortified wine while waiting for a train in Alabama. Cheap wine, beer, and dice games are some of the most common ways for freight-train riders to pass the time while waiting for a ride to come.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Oz puts his arm around Bambi while riding through New Mexico in the back of his friend Nate's truck.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Oz brings Bambi flowers that he picked for her outside of the San Angelo, TX Motel 6 they had spent the night in. The two had just begun dating, and he frequently brought her little tokens of his affection.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
In Houston, a young girl stops to look at Bambi taking a nap in the sunshine.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Oz left a trail of flower petals to a Motel 6 mattress that he and Bambi spent the night on in El Paso, TX.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Oz and Bambi rest in their motel bed with Oz's dog, Junior Space Cadet.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Smerph helps Bambi rip apart her newly forming dreads. When showers are scarce, and hygiene is a luxury, many travelers dreadlock their hair to keep it from turning into one big matte.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Nate leads Tiffany and Bambi down the boardwalk in Venice Beach, CA. Venice Beach was their goal travel destination for many weeks.
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Photos and captions by Emily Kask.
Bambi watches the sunset out the back of Nate's pickup truck while driving through backroads of Carlsbad, TX, where they explored a ghost town earlier that day.
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