Hitchhiker with a Fridge: Inspirational Journey Makes Local Pit Stops

refrigeratorBROOKVILLE, Pa. (EYT) – Clarion local David VanDyke was traveling back from vacation with his wife Ashley when he heard about a New Zealand man who was hitchhiking with a refrigerator on Main Street.

VanDyke said he stopped to check on the man and see if he needed a place to stay. The man was looking for a ride, so VanDyke continued home and unpacked his car before deciding to drive back to downtown Clarion and take the man to Brookville.

“He just seemed like an intriguing guy. I figured driving with him for a little bit, he might have some experiences to share,” VanDyke said.

The man turned out to be Rob Cope, a New Zealand native who has been traversing the country with his weathered fridge.

Cope has spent the past five weeks hitchhiking from San Francisco to New York City to promote his second book and has made numerous pit stops along the way. From Las Vegas and Reno to Yosemite and Mount Rushmore, Cope has already traveled 3,500 miles.

He said it can take as little as 2.5 minutes or as long as 2.5 days to get a ride to the next location.

After getting divorced 2 1/2 years ago, Cope wrote a book called Man Wanted for Hazardous Journey. He decided to both publicize the book and reground himself by traveling around New Zealand with his fridge in tow.

Cope got the idea from British comedian Tony Hawks, who made a bet and hitchhiked the circumference of Ireland with a fridge 20 years ago. Hawks later wrote the book, Round Ireland With A Fridge.

Once Cope realized he wanted to hitchhike, he decided to take after Hawks and take his fridge along for the ride.

“When I was going through my divorce two and a half years ago in New Zealand, I’d finished my first book Man Wanted for Hazardous Journey,” Cope said. “I wanted to go out and publicize the book, but I also wanted to go and do something mental – crazy – so that I could get my mental health into a good thing because going through a divorce is really hard. So, I grabbed my fridge and hitchhiked 3,000 miles around New Zealand and had a great old time, and it got me into an amazing headspace.”

A year after his first trip, Cope took the same hitchhiking trip and wrote If Your Wife Kicks You Out, Grab the Fridge and Run.

He decided to publicize his second book by traveling through the United States. Along the way, Cope has also been promoting his cause “Project Wildman,” which he founded in 2011. Cope describes the cause’s purpose on his website, projectwildman.org:

My life goal is to bring real manhood into pop culture. Project Wildman is a massive step in the right direction but serves little purpose if we just keep it to ourselves, it needs to grow, it needs to be ripped off and redeveloped by others, it needs the life of 100,000 men breathed into it, it needs to become normal, only then will the tides turn, only then will my children live in a world that I’m proud to be a part of.

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A large part of Cope’s journey is listening to other people’s life stories and coming to an understanding about the human need for connection.

“What my book’s about is the need for us to talk about what we’re going through,” Cope explained. “There is no right way, there’s no formula to really get your head in a perfect place after you come through a divorce, but the one thing you need to do is talk about it and find people you can talk about it with. That’s what hitchhiking does. When you’re hitchhiking, every car becomes like a confessional booth, and people just tell everything, which is amazing.”

Pictured above, left to right: Rob Cope and David VanDyke prepare to travel from Clarion to Brookville with Cope's fridge stowed in VanDyke's Jeep.

Pictured above, left to right: Rob Cope and David VanDyke prepare to travel from Clarion to Brookville with Cope’s fridge stowed in VanDyke’s Jeep.

VanDyke reaffirmed this statement when he said the 30-minute car ride was an experience he will never forget. He enjoyed hearing about Cope’s travels and discussing shared life experiences.

“I told him when we were riding, ‘It’s kind of neat riding with somebody you don’t know because you’re never going to see them again’…Whatever you tell them, you can be just as personal and open as you want to be because the next person he gets a ride from isn’t going to know who the person that dropped him off was,” explained VanDyke.

VanDyke said he wasn’t even supposed to be out driving today. He had taken the day off work to drive back from vacation, which gave him the opportunity to offer Cope a ride.

Cope said he is amazed by the generosity he has experienced during his travels. Strangers have allowed him to sleep in their homes and have given him gifts to support his cause.

“[The highlight of this trip has been] people’s generosity because I’m staying away from the freeways, I’m doing small-town America – just how gorgeous and generous Americans are, it’s been amazing,” Cope said.

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Once he arrives in New York City, Cope hopes to make it onto The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. Cope said he would like to plug in the fridge on air and see if it still works after having been through lightning storms and similar bad weather conditions.

Cope will fly back to New Zealand on June 28 to reunite with his children after six weeks apart.

He said his travels have opened his eyes to the realization that he is not alone with his experiences, and having conversations with others is the main way to carry on in life.

“It’s that whole understanding that all of us are in this life together, and none of us really have any idea what we’re doing a lot of the time, and if we can talk about it, we can all figure it out together.”

For more information on Cope and his “Project Wildman” cause, visit www.projectwildman.org or the “Project Wildman” Facebook page.


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