5:00 on a Friday morning, I rushed frantically to put on as many layers as possible and stuff the remaining warm clothes in my backpack. By the time I was finished my mobility was severely reduced, with sweater upon sweater arming me against the cold I was about to face. 6:00 a.m. We waited for the buses. Students roamed the quad wearing anything from animal onesies to traditional red gowns, carrying variations of signs all pleading for rides. We boarded the buses in three groups, and the journey began.
7:30 a.m. they call our number: “team 62, out!” We grab our packs, maps and signs and head out into the cold along with two other teams. Our location was Alloa, a small town near Stirling. We assessed our surroundings: a train station and petrol station, and opted for the petrol station. Within ten minutes we snagged our first ride with a man heading to work at the University of Stirling. Luck was on our side.
We made our way down through the UK with a whirlwind of characters ranging from a Zimbabwean minister and artist; a national Judo champion (who went on to take Gold in the British Championships); a man who only whispered and his smelly friend who took us on a scenic tour of their hometown; two lorry drivers, one of whom had a truck full of 40,000 pounds of Tesco cakes; a dodgy man who loved frosted flakes cereal, and a lovely elderly couple and their dog who took us in their camper. We met people who you would never get the chance to meet in everyday life, giving us glimpses into every lifestyle imaginable. The most phenomenal aspect of it was the willingness of these people to trust us as two strangers, to go out of their way to help us, and to tell us their life stories, deepest secrets, and hidden aspirations. Conversations ranged from the dream of a truck driver to travel Route 66 in the United States by motorcycle, to the intricate workings of how Tesco products are stocked and delivered, to the future of today’s youth. We spoke of politics, religion, technology, travels, family, morals, and literature. A simple, genuine question -and these people gladly opened up to us, treating us like old friends and speaking as if we had known each other for a lifetime. It seems as if we automatically bypassed the long, painful small talk and cautious questions that gradually build people from acquaintances, to trusted and lifelong friends. We were able to connect and interact with these people on a level so rarely encountered in today’s modern world of technology and social media that often prevents this kind of direct interaction. For some reason or another, the trust that these people granted us by allowing us in their cars enabled them to trust us with much more. People want to see the good in others and they want to see the good in themselves. Despite the cold separation that today’s technology has made possible, the inherent desire for human connection is still there in every person. One question, one calculated decision to trust someone, and people will share their lives and their stories with you, their fears and their dreams.
The journey began to take on a rhythmic cycle: optimistically asking for rides, getting declined, waiting, starting to lose hope, questioning the nature of humanity, and finally finding a kind soul who was willing to take a chance; to trust two strangers, and help them out. Faith in humanity restored. On top of the emotional roller coaster, the recipe for hitchhiking then calls for immense lack of sleep, malnutrition (surviving off of food from petrol stations), constant cold, and prolonged periods of waiting. In addition, you have to coordinate with your partner, picking each other up when one is down, reminding each other that it just takes patience. The physical and emotional toll that it takes on oneself is grueling, but each time a ride is found, all of the misery is forgotten. In that sense it is an amazing journey not only in the literal sense, but personally as well. You learn your own strength to persevere through exhaustion, cold, loss of hope and impatience. You learn how to rebuild your morale when you feel like you absolutely must give up. It takes tremendous effort, but the reward is worth it.
Once on the ferry we managed to find a ride to Belgium, and were dropped off in Antwerp. Europe was blanketed in snow and in blizzard conditions – things were not looking great. Luckily we did not wait long before finding one of our most entertaining rides. Two young guys, bored and looking for something to do decided to take us down the road to a better service station. After being unable to find it, however, they turned around and faced us, saying “tonight is your lucky night, we gonna chill in Germany tonight. We gonna take you to Germany.” Confused but not wanting to argue with a prospective ride to Germany we happily accepted, and settled in for three hours of ear-blasting, car-bumping Snoop Dogg. A night spent in a service station near Aachen then resulted in a ride late morning with two Romanian guys who agreed to drive us across Germany. Exhausted and unable to hold our eyes open one minute longer, we passed out and woke up outside Nuremberg. Little did we know this would be the ‘end’ to our hitchhiking.
Happy, optimistic, and feeling very near to reaching the end of our journey, we waltzed inside only to find three other teams looking very grim, who had been there for hours with no luck. We settled in for a long night -but eventually found a lorry driver who promised to drive us to Prague in the morning! Yet at 4:30 a.m. when we went out to find him, he was nowhere to be seen. He had left us in the middle of the night without a word. Crushed and dejected, we made a group decision with the other teams that if after Monday morning we had not found any sign of a ride, we would collectively take a train to Prague. Unfortunately, Monday morning came and went with not a sliver of hope. One team had been there for 25 hours, and we had been there for 18. At that point we realised we had reached our limit, and it was time to throw in the towel. We hitched our last ride into Nuremberg with a skeptical German man, and met at the train station where all three teams boarded the train to Prague. The relief upon stepping onto the train was overwhelming. We were too exhausted to even be upset that we had not technically hitchhiked the whole way.
Prague awaited us in all its glory, glistening white under a blanket of snow. We covered six countries in four days, traveling roughly 1,300 miles across Europe. It was an experience than can never be replicated. The people we met along the way, the lessons we learned, and the challenges we overcame left us with the story of a lifetime. For anyone looking to break the Bubble next winter break, this is your chance. Race2 does not disappoint: adventure is 100% guaranteed
Image by Haley Scheer