Live Free: Student takes semester off to document the nomadic lifestyle

Matt “Smerph” Johnson, left, yells to wake up “Bambi,” right, passed out from drinking too much, as a train to New Orleans passes by. The duo missed the train and instead hopped to Boligee, Alabama. “Homefree” travelers rely on train hopping, hitchhiking, rubber tramping and traveling by car to journey to destinations. Emily Kask/SPECIAL TO THE HERALD

As students purchased clothes and school supplies for the start of the semester, photojournalism student Emily Kask from Glastonbury, Connecticut, began a transient journey documenting the “Homefree” across America.

Kask, equipped with a camera and a laptop, took the fall semester off to photograph nomadic train hoppers and understand their high-risk lifestyle.

The project is about the millennial rejection and redefinition of the American Dream, Kask said.

“Some of these kids ended up on the streets … to avoid homelessness, others to leave the routine of a small town,” Kask said. “Some ended up there by circumstance, but they all ended up on the road, traveling by choice.”

Train hopping, hitchhiking, rubber tramping and panhandling are just a few ways Kask and her traveling companions were able to journey to New Hampshire, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

“To be free and love and to care for others, to not be suppressed by a government that doesn’t care about me, doing what I want,” said 26-year-old Deverayn Armstrong, who has been traveling for eight years, when asked what this lifestyle means to him. “Living freely. As long as I’m not hurting anybody, who cares?”

Kask plans to conclude her documentation in January and return to WKU this spring.

You can follow Kask’s journey on Instagram by following the account @ek_the_pj.