Why I hitchhike and dumpster dive

It’s summer 2012, I’m sitting with a woman in the sand watching out over a mining zone close to Weeze, Germany. I’m poring out my heart over its destruction and why I have to take on this adventure. This will be our last stop before we drive to the airport where we say goodbye for an unknown period of time. We talk about how beautiful nature and how destructive technology is. She is listening carefully but doesn’t want me to go. We stand up for our last drive. We say our goodbye’s at the airport. She drives away and I walk to the gate. I get on the plane two hours later, and the airplane launches. I now realize that I’m doing it. I’m flying to an unknown country, on a two-way ticket, without money. I’m flying to Sweden, where the only safe-zone I have is a friend’s apartment in Nynashamn, 114 kilometers from the airport.

I lived the past ten years in a big town with more than 12.000 inhabitants. I lived a lifestyle that gave me the impression that living without money wouldn’t be possible, let alone traveling without it and never thought about hitchhiking. For the past six months I have prepared myself physically and mentally for this journey. A journey that would turn out to be completely different and last for five months, with a too heavy backpack. I’m walking down the road with the intention of reaching Nynashamn within five days, after which I want live somewhere in a Swedish forests for the remaining time. It is 9:30 P.M. and I have only covered five kilometers when it starts to rain. I take the poncho from my backpack and immediately a van stops next to me “hey, you need a ride?” and I get in. They offer me a ride covering 70 kilometers. After a horrible night on a wet forest floor and poor sleep I walk back to the road. A car approaches me and is probably heading in the direction I want to go so I raise my thumb. The man stops. I get in and the man drives me further south where I will get two more rides. I will reach Nynashamn within two hours.

Summer, 2017. It’s eight P.M., and my last snack was more than 12 hours ago. I’m starting to get hungry and I’m in the middle of a city not allowed to fish or make a campfire and no money in my pocket. I see a gas station with a store. I walk inside the store with a medium-sized backpack and a large wool sweater hanging on my left arm as if a woman is resting her arm on mine and a smartphone in my right hand, acting busy while scouting the room for staff and cameras. There are no cameras and the only available staff stands behind the counter, helping customers. I walk straight to the shelf with sandwiches. I take a burrito roll and shove it in my left hand covering it with my large wool sweater. I walk to the counter and I ask the guy behind the counter if I can use the toilet. I walk to the toilet, lock the door and hide the burrito roll in my backpack, refill the water bottles and walk out the store. I walk to the ramp of the highway, sit down and eat my burrito. Phew! That was exciting! Unfortunately this is just a small meal and I probably can’t keep doing it over and over again.

I finish my roll and raise my thumb while sitting on my backpack. A car stops and drives me to the next city. I get out and walk around the grocery store to find myself a suitable place to sleep. I’m half way around the store when I see a bridge, close to the backside of the store and nothing but a hill on the other side. I decide to sleep here tonight. I turn around and see a few dumpsters next to the backdoor of the store. I wipe away all shame and open one of the dumpsters: woha! full of raisin- and chocolate bread, apples, oranges, bananas, strawberries, and blueberries. I quickly, not believing what I just found, grab a hand of bananas with five fingers, a bag of chocolate bread, two apples, a box of strawberries and two oranges, my hands are full but I want to take more.  The next morning I bind a bag of raising- and chocolate bread, a bag of apples, and two oranges onto my backpack and head towards the ramp of the highway.

Half a week later I walk into a store where a woman seems to be selling wool. I ask her if she’s an expert in wool and ask her a few questions. She asks me what I’m doing. “I’m homeless because I need wildness,” I reply with full pride. Her eyes open in full awe and shoves her hand forward “I’m Anita.” Anita and her husband, Yngve, later invite me to stay in their cabin, halfway up the mountains on their land, for as long as I like. We drive back from Sweden into Norway towards their farm. I ask them if it’s possible to stop at a grocery store so I can check a few dumpsters for food. I check a few dumpsters and jump back in the car with two bags of bread, six peaches and two hands of bananas both with four or five fingers, all stuffed in a basket. We drive to their farm and they guide me to their cabin halfway up the mountain. I jump into bed as they move down the mountain back to their house. The next morning I scout around and find myself a lake and start fishing. Not more than an hour later I catch two fish and walk back to the cabin. I prepare a coal bed in the stove and boil my fish and add a banana for its flavor and start roasting the bread on the fire. Now this is life, I tell myself…

Obviously my journey would be completely different if I had money on me. When life becomes a little tougher, we, at least I, tend to choose the easy way out. Traveling without money forces you to hitchhike and puts you in a position that you have to be patient, you have to choose the right spot to raise your thumb, you cannot just chicken out and take the plane ‘home’ when it’s getting colder or when you haven’t had a meal for 24 hours. You have to dumpster dive or to steal when necessary. You will also get used to the outdoors, to sleep under bridges or a roof that only sticks out one feet, to take a shit wherever is possible and to wipe your ass with water, or sticks, whatever you prefer. You learn how to be without all these modern technologies. You learn how to dumpster dive. You can also use public transport (if you want to risk getting caught), but, most, if not all, public means of transport is not able to get you in places where it is easier to walk into the wilderness. Beside hitchhiking, because it’s only temporary, one can use a mule, horse, a bike or cart.

Dumpster diving for me is not just fun, it’s freedom and a tool I can use to learn to be out in the wild for longer periods of time. The first five days I was in the cabin I still ate quite a lot from the the food I got from dumpsters, but the second week I ate less from my dumpster food because I became more sufficient in my ability to obtain food from the mountain forest, I became more sufficient in catching fish. At first I was fishing at one spot I thought that would always catch fish, later I learned that fish change spots all the time. If you look at the water, you will see where some fish are eating. Of course you can read about it in articles, but for me I have to learn it first-person.

One Saturday morning I drove with Anita and her son to the city to dumpster dive, and when I got back in the forest I had been walking past week I felt familiar with its surroundings, I knew what certain trees could be used for and how long it would take for a big tree to let rain pass through, I knew the difference between an animal and a human trail, and I started to learn the origin of a certain sounds. For me it became more like ‘home.’ The place you feel comfortable and familiar with, but in freedom. I started to lay out a few more fishing lines and cleaning fish became a routine for me. Eventually late evening I laid out a main line with a hook attached to each of the five shorter lines. The next morning I would have breakfast and time to scout around the area, in search of squirrels, berries and worms. Dumpster diving helped me to be out in the wild for longer periods without the use of money. I can now go to a dumpster, get the necessary amount of food for a week or two and go into the wilderness to start learning plant identification, trapping, fishing and other necessary skills to thrive in the wild.

And since a nomadic and autonomous lifestyle is an innate need for most of us, at least for me, we need a bigger area then just a small patch of green. I do not feel satisfied with just a small area of green. I need to be able to roam around, in freedom, walk for a few days and to setup camp wherever I feel necessary. A lifestyle in utter wildness free from artificial systems is the need. Wildness is my focus and rewilding is therefore a must.

For those who are interested in rewilding keep in mind the question Jacobi asked us in his article ‘Taking Rewilding Seriously‘: are we trying to rewild — to increase our autonomy from artificial systems — or are we trying to look interesting? I believe the two are essentially different from one another and to rewild successfully we have to focus to increase our autonomy from artificial systems. We can still look cool on social media in one hectare of forest and act like we are free from the shackles of civilization, while behind the camera we buy the food in stores and use GPS supported phones to find our way out the one hectare forest, thus in reality we are not focused on autonomy from artificial systems but how interesting we look to others, on social media.

3 Comments

  • Robert McGuinn says:

    Dear Jeremy Grolman,

    That was a well written and interesting piece of writing, although I find some flaw in the logic. With all respect, dumpster diving and hitchhiking are not means to “increase our autonomy from artificial systems”. It is, in fact, a form of parasitism with total reliance on, and subjugation to, that “artificial system” (host). It also admits a lack of the basic will or intelligence to master the simplistic forms of survival that are offered up by society (basic education -> specialized job role -> money -> shelter/food). It is a system that is easy to master, at least at a very a basic level, for most people. Dumpster diving is not a rejection or repudiation of that system, but an admission of failure to meet the system’s minimum requirements for participation. I’m not arguing for either re-wilding or participation in society’s survival plan, but rather, intellectual honesty. I also argue that no system created by human society is artificial. It is all a natural outgrowth of human groups surviving within a landscape. That is not so say that it is sustainable in the long term, but it is not artificial in any way.

    With respect,

    Robert McGuinn

    • Jacobi says:

      Hey, Robert, thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’d like to give my perspective on this issue as well.

      Dumpster diving and hitchhiking are not an end, they are a means to autonomy. Which means that, like a job, they tie you down to the system in certain ways. The question is, What ways?

      If I dumpster dive, I am not on a schedule like I am if I have a job. If I hitchhike, I do not have to get insurance, pay for gas, etc. etc. etc. This COULD lead to absolute laziness. But I think for the self-motivated person it is obviously a faster path toward autonomy from “the system.” So much time lost trying to pay bills goes instead toward identifying plants, learning to hunt, and focusing on the social skills necessary to live nomadically.

      That’s where I stand on this issue, and I think Jeremy might have been saying the same thing.

    • That is correct Jacobi. I have nothing to add to your comment. Thanks!

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