When many months ago someone commented on Molly Steele’s Instagram “How are you always in the coolest places?” and she answered “Because it is both my priority and my salvation”, my interest was piqued – and I bet yours will be, too.

If you think landscape photography is boring, it’s because you haven’t seen Molly’s work yet. Her outdoor pictures, often taken during long solo hikes, are wildly personal and intimate. They speak of the sheer joy of waking up on top of a mountain and bathing in remote hot springs wearing nothing but your skin and building intricate forts with rotten wood and rolling in mud after drinking a cheap beer or five.

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Molly has travelled extensively through California and the U.S., adventured through the Australian outback, and spent the past few weeks illegally riding freight trains with photographer Kevin Russ through Texas, Kansas and many more states that I won’t list in the name of concision – an enterprise which only got temporarily interrupted by their arrest and subsequent 90-day parole.

Here is what Molly accepted to virtually tell me about freighthopping in 2015, travelling solo as opposed to travelling with others, the few things one can’t live without, and sanity – or the lack of.

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Who are you and what do you do (unless they are the same thing)?

I’m Molly. I’m 26 years old, originally from Melrose, Florida and I am an escape artist.

Why did you start taking photographs? Why do you keep doing it?

I started taking photos during a time when I was traveling solo because it was a way of sharing with people what I was seeing without compromising my alone time. I’m not really sure why I keep doing it, but it’s one of the few things I’ve spent this much time actively engaged in, so I don’t question it.

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Do you alter your travel plans according to where you want to take your photography, or is it the other way around?

I’ve yet to go on a trip strictly for photo purposes. Because my travels have been in the pursuit of happiness, I will likely continue doing things that way, often bringing a camera along with me.

Tell me about your freighthopping adventure. Is riding freight in 2015 different from what you thought it would be?

Riding freight in 2015 is exactly the way I expected it to be, actually, because I grew up around a handful of friends who hopped trains throughout the south, so it’s been in my peripheral for many years. Recently came the time when it felt right for me to do it myself. It’s such an experience of heightened fear and elation that I can’t really compare to anything else I’ve ever done.

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There have been strong reactions — either really envious or really harsh comments — to the photos you’ve been posting during that trip. Why do you reckon people feel so strongly about freighthopping?

Riding freight trains has never been a popular activity or mode of transport due to it’s high risk with safety and legality, in addition to the lifestyle that comes along with it. The subculture that it attracts consists of a largely punk population that in opposition of traditionalism, and it’s important to them that nothing challenges their home in the train world.

Because I’m an outsider and have a sizable following on the internet, broadcasting my pictures of my experience on the train caused quite a disruption and brought a lot of attention to a world perhaps unknown to many of the people viewing my photos. I’ve received intense hate mail, threats, and a whole slew of bashing in the comments on my photos.

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What adventures are you planning after your parole ends?

I plan to get back on some trains as soon as my probationary period ends, if not sooner. In the meantime, I may be spending some time in the Northwest Territories in Canada harvesting morel mushrooms and living in a hut.

You tend to go on adventures with friends and strangers a lot more lately. How is travelling/hiking with other people as opposed to being by yourself in nature?

I spent the majority of the last two years traveling alone until August at which point I began traveling most often with others. I prefer the experience of being alone when I’m in a wilderness setting, but have had a really nice time traveling with others because it adds variation to my usual routine and therefore is always interesting.

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Does travelling make you feel wiser or sillier?

Gosh…as I get older I find that I feel both wiser and sillier and I don’t know if traveling has made me more of either! If anything, traveling has sort of just been like hitting “pause” over and over throughout the year. It’s made me more detached, which perhaps can lead to some wisdom.

How do you stay balanced/sane considering how much you move around?

If you ask anyone that knows me, balanced and sane may not be words used to describe me, though I do have a handle on the workings of my life and am generally very responsible. However, the more I travel, the loftier I am with plans and commitments. It’s really nice to travel and then come back to my home. Should I ever get rid of a permanent residence, I may lose that anchor and as a result, my marbles.

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What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?

Because there’s no real way to answer this, I’d like to submit the following answers: spooning, fruits and veggies, forests, glacier water and good company.

You stand out on Instagram because of your photos, but also because of your witty captions. Do you write?

I journal usually when I’m heartbroken or on an unusual trip that feels worth documenting. I wrote a lot more when I was younger, but things felt more new to me then. Writing is something I’ve always enjoyed and I’d love to get into writing articles. If I had more motivation or cared more, a blog wouldn’t be a bad idea.

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All photos from Molly Steele’s Instagram: @moristeele
Molly’s website: molly-steele.com

mariecolinettravelettesMarie Colinet was part of the Travelettes team from 2013 to 2015. Originally from Toulouse, France, two years lived in Australia left her speaking English with an awkward Fraussie accent. In September 2015, Marie is starting the epic 6-month-or-who-knows-how-long road-trip along the Panamerican Highway that she’s been dreaming of since her teenage years — all the way from the U.S. to the very tip of South-America. You can follow her on Instagram @mariecolinet!