Photography by Dennis Leupen made with Canon 814 Super 8, Leica Mini, Pentax IQZoom, on Kodak Portra 400, Portra 160, Cinestill 50
When COVID-19 hit, friends Sam Fisher, Dennis Leupen, and Luke Garner lost their jobs. The future was uncertain. During the Great Depression, when life had similarly been completely uprooted, America's vast network of railways offered an escape. Hopping trains was dangerous, and illegal, but free and full of opportunity, offering riders shelter and a ticket nearly anywhere—if they knew what they were doing. And so, the three friends threw caution to the wind, gathered 15 rolls of Super 8 film, and hit the freight yard.
Over the course of two weeks, the trio hopped trains and hitchhiked from their hometown of Los Angeles, eventually making their way to Montana's Glacier National Park, some 1,500 miles later. Though a rough destination was in mind the whole time, little was certain at any given time. Just like the rest of America, they didn’t know what would come next, so they crossed fingers and leaned into the uncertainty.
"Don’t be seen, and learn to enjoy not knowing where you're headed."
Captured in the iconically grainy, jerky style of vintage film and with old-timey voice-over, the resulting 16 minute documentary offers a glimpse at life on the lam.
Open-air hammocks, not a good idea. Face masks to protect against COVID and freight exhaust fumes, a good idea. Hitchhiking with older folks when so little about COVID was known, not a great idea. Finding freedom in changing scenery and solitude, a better one.
Sure, train hopping is illegal, as they knew. But in riding the rails and hitchhiking across the American West, they tapped into that endless spirit and culture of opportunity, grit, self-determination, and free-living that defines much of America. And anyways, sometimes illegal things can be harmless and fun. The world has been completely upended by a pandemic and the rules rewritten: why couldn’t these three knuckleheads go for a wild ride and see what came of it?