Sunshine Superman crackles out of the Starbucks stereo system at the Köbenhavn Centrum. I look out the window – gray and drizzly, not quite Donovan’s image, but nonetheless my thoughts emanate warmth leftover from a sunny day on the road. Hitchhiking from Hamburg took less time than I would have expected, not least because I had extraordinary company along the way. Good Vibrations starts to play, the perfect cue for a little reflection:
Craig stands on the curb holding up a sign we proudly pieced together with a strip of cardboard and black sharpie. “Kolding” (pronounced “Cullen”) was scribed out in large block lettering beneath which I placed cursory sketches of the US and UK flags. Dressed in a colorful plaid button down and well-kept jeans, the guy comes straight out of an L.L. Bean catalogue or even a Hollywood set. Blend the facial structures of Liam Neeson and Brad Pit with the added flair of unwavering sincerity and kindness, and there stands Craig Jones, once a banker now a farmer. He speaks modestly, super self-conscious of the sticky stereotypes often associated with his way of living. He farms, hitchhikes, and Couch Surfs. In summary, it sounds unsettling, unrealistic, and perhaps even a little crazy. Spend a moment with Craig and all of that will disappear. Suddenly you will realize that it is you who has been missing the beat all along. You might just become the crazy one.
For the last three years Craig has been WWOOFing around the world. He lives a non-materialistic life unfettered to wealth and possession. He embraces uncertainty because he believes the unknown is a goldmine for adventure, friendship, and intellectual growth. These values shine through in his method of travel. “Hitchhiking and Couch Surfing are all you need to get around,” he says. “It’s the best-kept secret.” He used to depend on planes, trains, and cars. Now he avoids them, especially planes. “The journey is what counts, not the destination.” I’ve heard that platitude many times, but hearing it from Craig made it really stick. (Maybe it was the Brad Pit vibe.) Obviously, he no longer owns a car. In 2013, a farmer in Greece gave Craig a bus for his journey back to Aarhus, but he gave it away. In Denmark biking is the main method of travel. In the streets bikes take priority over cars, and in cities like Aarhus, it is far faster to bike anyways. There is little need for a car, or a bus for that matter.
Craig explains that the good life on and off the road is about embracing the path of least resistance. Like a river, you just have to let it flow. He has learned to apply this principle to nearly all aspects of his life, endowing him with the ability to turn an obstacle into opportunity, disaster into good fortune. His unusually positive attitude proved contagious, and soon enough the both of us were bouncing around bright thoughts all the way to Denmark.
The path of least resistance is a rejection of the self for the sake of another, a direct route to empathic and compassionate modes of thinking. Let’s take veganism for example. The vegan diet is an act of protest, a staunch statement that serves to get people thinking about what they consume. It is a practice we should all respect and attempt to learn from. However, veganism often leads to self-serving behavior that defeats the value of ecological consciousness it claims to uphold. For instance, let’s say you’re a vegan, and not the type with health-related dietary restrictions. You’re traveling on the road with a group of starving friends and suddenly run into an old hotdog vendor. Everyone jumps for joy at the sudden arrival of food. You’ve come to a dilemma. Should you quibble or just eat the hotdog? Your friends are happy to finally have a meal. The vendor is happy to make an earning; after all, it is his vocation. The path of least resistance tells you to keep quiet and eat the dog. Otherwise, your personal interests would complicate an otherwise opportune and jovial moment.
Ecological consciousness demands acute sensitivity to not just food but also the people around you. Sometimes the act of joining in on the camaraderie and helping an old man pay his bills outweighs whatever principles you hold most dear. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t open up to others about your philosophy, for veganism is an admirable practice and deserves recognition. Though if you turn yourself into a living, breathing principle, your presence can become an inconvenience – an obstruction to the path of least resistance. You suddenly stop being human. Just think of what happened to Javert…
I admit; I stole that entirely from Craig. And yea… I’m a big fan. He eats a vegetarian diet 95% of the time, leaving the remainder 5% for moments like the one described above. “It’s a buffer I create for myself to make room for the occasional hotdog or bratwurst. When you’re on the road, you just have to be open minded and receptive to what people have to offer.” He is not a strict vegetarian. He also eats meat from wild animals that had been hunted down in their element. He thinks about every meal, considering not just the food but the social context too. Jones embodies the sustainable life. He just gets it.
At its core, sustainable living is a celebration of basic necessity, placing the greatest value on water, food, shelter, oxygen… and sharing. During the economic downturn of 2008, Craig watched the market value of his house fluctuate. Then the thought occurred to him – the brick and mortar never changed. “It’s a complete illusion,” he laughed. After six years of working in the financial sector, he decided to move on. He abandoned his life in the UK to join World Opportunities in Organic Farming. “There was a moment in Greece last year when I realize I hadn’t a dime to my name, and it felt wonderful.”
The developed market presents a delusion of true value by distancing the consumer from the producer, whereas historical methods like bartering do just the opposite. They bring both parties together. They replace the words “consumer” and “producer” with actual human beings expressing real interests and needs. As a result, both learn to better appreciate the richness of a simple good like a potato or article of clothing. What was once an anonymous transaction becomes a personal exchange. Reveal the face behind an object and suddenly it takes on an entirely different meaning. Value becomes less susceptible to intangible market forces controlled by the selfish elite, redefining itself in tangible terms of time, energy and effort, with stories attached. There are communities all over the world that use local produce as currency, such as those in the Pyrenees where Craig spent several months on a farm rotation. Food is gold. I don’t propose that all modern marketeers drop their careers and start growing gardens in order to support local communities. Though that wouldn’t be such a bad idea…
The “goodness” in life is so incredibly obvious that it appears too simple and silly to be true. We become so wrapped up in our own material possessions, becoming more and more convinced that more is the sole route to prosperity and happiness. “It’s a circle of I and my,” Craig explains. “Everyone thinks that way.” Modern capitalist society, especially in the States, teaches us to be self-centered. If you start filling your life with things like cars, money, and touristy photographs you began to think of value in terms of those possessions. We all do it because we all force it upon one another. What seems like a secure route to “the good life,” is really a queen’s arms race between the people’s market and the laws of nature. The more people think they need, the more people have to produce to satiate that ever-growing appetite. More resources have to be consumed, and eventually the world strikes back in one swell swoop of climate apocalypse. OK, getting a little melodramatic here, but you get the point. There is greater value in the little things, like a shared meal, shared transport, or shared couch. The sustainable life is all about sharing. Sharing cuts back on this self-perpetuating cycle of more. It pops the bubble of “I and my.” If we can learn to share and show a little more empathy towards one another, we can eventually learn to take the path of least resistance with the world.
Craig is going back to school for three years to further his understanding of organic farming. In Denmark education is free. In fact, students get a monthly stipend of roughly 1000 krone to help cover living expenses. That’s why we don’t see many Danish folk studying abroad in the states, and also why Craig has chosen to stay in Aarhus. Once he has completed his degree, he wants to settle down and start his own farm, though he hasn’t yet decided on a location. Perhaps he will stick with Denmark or Norway, where his girlfriend currently works. The social systems are so strong in these countries that it would make little sense for him to move elsewhere. Regardless, through his travels he has become more and more convinced that he has chosen the right path. Poverty does not imply destitution. If one learns to value most those simple necessities of existence, a life of little becomes a life of luxury.
Craig is an anomaly. There is no way to label him. He’s just Craig: a well-dressed, decent looking hitchhiker who has discovered what he wants out of life. I wanted to tag along for a while longer, but I was determined to visit Copenhagen. So I stuck east while Craig split off and continued north. I still haven’t decided if I made the right decision. I guess I’ll never know.