The race began at Potterrow on Edinburgh uni’s campus. Nearly 70 other teams, Alek, and I eagerly awaited the 9am start. We had no money and 48 hours to get ourselves (and a raw egg) all the way from Scotland to Paris, all through the generosity of complete strangers.
The race begins and it sets in that we had absolutely no plan. Do we head to Princes Street and try to beg for some cash? Do we head toward Waverley Station and try to get ourselves on any train heading south? We did none of those things - we just started walking. We ended up heading through Newington and generally south. We’d prepared our first whiteboard sign “Charity Hitch, Going South”, and started flashing it to passerbys and cars.
Our sign attracted Brian, a uni employee that asked what we were up to! We explained, and he gave us some tips on the fastest route toward the motorway. We also got our first donation (~60p) from him!
Our walk took almost an hour and brought us to the Cameron Toll shopping center. We were surprised to see other hitchers had already beaten us there! After only a few minutes, we see a team of girls entering a car stopped at end of a drive-thru Costa. We bolt over, and manage to secure ourselves the last two seats in our first hitch!!
Our first hitch was a younger woman on her morning ritual (getting coffee after dropping off her kid at school). She also was driving with a dog (which got us our first completed challenge!). Everyday she gets that coffee, and kept on telling me “I totally would’ve done this when I was in uni”.
She dropped us at a service station right off the A1, where (no surprise) there were several more teams trying to secure their next hitch as well!
Our next hitch took a bit longer due to all the competition. Alek and I changed the sign to “A1 south” and approached every car we could filling up. A black VW eventually pulled in, and to my surprise I was the only hitcher to approach! I asked the man, and while he wasn’t going along the A1, he WAS going south. He went to pay for his gas and took a moment to “think about it”. When he returned, he agreed! Alek and I quickly hopped in before he changed his mind.
This hitch was a New Zealand expat that was currently a regional salesman (he was traveling south for work). He originally moved to the UK for rugby, and agreed to drive us 50 miles!! This hitch brought us well over the Scottish border into England. He was a blast to talk with, and was the first to ask the question “soooo…what do you think of Trump?” (Awkward question to say the least, but our answers always seemed satisfactory to our drivers.) He brought us to a service station along the A1 in Berwick-upon-Tweed (TD15 2PD).
Only minutes after arriving at the service station we began our pleas to get into another car. Ironically, a car with a FRENCH license plate pulled in almost immediately. Alek and I were ecstatic and ran over as quick as we could. Unfortunately, the car was completing full of people (including two kids).
After about 45 minutes of waving our sign outside the service station door we met our third hitch. They were in a large, silver Mercedes van. The van was carrying a father and son (the son 15 years old). I first spoke with the son, who promptly told me he couldn’t make these decisions. After talking to the father, we had a deal to head to Newcastle! Progress! We hopped in the van and explained ourselves a bit better while doing so. In the end, our hitch agreed to take us (MUCH farther) to Leicester!
This was perhaps our most interesting hitch! The son, named Leon Flint, turned out to be a semi-pro motocross racer. He races all over Europe (sometimes with crowds of 10,000 people!). His dad and him drive to all these races in this van we were passengers in, and have traveled thousands of miles together in it. Strapped in the back of the van was Leon’s motorcross bike, so the story seemed to check out.
We heard all about life on the road, crazy drunk nights that Leon’s dad spent in London, and also answered the Trump question again. We also learned about this crazy previous hitch of theirs where a man left a bag in the van (ask me about it). In the end, I left with the signed photo of Leon and a 2019 calendar of him racing. Totally hanging that up come January.
We made a couple stops along the way (once for dinner - I got amazing Fish and Chips), and in the end were together for an amazing SIX HOURS!
When it was time to be dropped off in Leicester, I was a bit nervous. We had gone all this way and now had to start all over again! Luckily we were dropped off at a giant and wicked crowded service station. We took a bit of time in the food court to formulate a plan, and changed our sign to “heading M25/East”. Our strategy was to get on the ring road surrounding London, but not actually get taken into the city. From here, we could find a traveler heading more east toward the sea port of Dover.
After asking around the food court a bit with no luck, we decided to try our tested strategy of standing in front of the exit, holding the sign to exiting travelers. After about 10 minutes or so, a woman walked up to us smiling. She told us how she had just driven two other Edinburgh uni students, and offered us a ride toward Nottingham (although we quickly realize that’s in the complete wrong direction). Only a minute or so later, we are approached by somebody entering that service station with good news!
The guy that approached us looked to be about our age. He explained that he was heading into London, and we could join him if that worked for us! We said absolutely and headed to his (brand new) car!
Our driver’s name was Callan. He told us that a few minutes prior he walked by, read our sign, but then kept walking. He told us that as he was approaching his car, he felt inspired by a YouTube channel called “YesTheory”, where the members of the channel believe in going out of your comfort zone and taking advantage of opportunities life gives you. Callan then came back inside to offer us the hitch.
Callan had been driving for a few hours and stopped for a coffee at the service station. We kept him company while he drove toward London, where he was going to meet friends at an amusement park the next day. Callan was great and dropped us at a 24/7 service station right where the A1 met the M25.
At this point it was getting a bit late, and I half expected us to end up spending the night sleeping on the couch of this service station. Compared to our last station, this one had almost no people. Nonetheless we edited our sign again to emphasize eastern travel down the M25, and also specified Dover just in case. I got myself another Starbucks to keep me going, and shortly after we again set up post in front of the exit.
A security guard greeted us soon after, but ended up just wanting a chat. We answered questions about Trump, and he explained to us why he voted for Brexit.
Very soon after he left, we met Vicky and Taye! We used the normal pitch,
“are you guys heading East?” “Uhhh…yea” “Great! Where to?”
To our complete surprise, they said Dover!
This hitch took a bit of convincing, but both Alek and I knew this was our best shot at making it out before sunrise. Vicky asked us multiple times if we would stab her (American stereotype I suppose?). We apparently convinced them otherwise, because shortly after they let us into the car!
Vicky loved our accents, and we blasted 2000s/90s hits the whole way toward Dover. The two of them were heading to a friend’s engagement party, and actually invited us! (We declined, we had a race to finish!)
Taye was great and brought us nearly two hours toward exactly where we needed to go. Past hitchers had advised us to not be dropped off right at the Port of Dover, but rather at a service station on the way. With this in mind, I scouted out a McDonald’s/gas station combo right off the main roadway, and just miles from the English Channel.
At this point, and with our luck thus far, Alek and I were optimistic that we’d be able to find a quick hitch over on a ferry, perhaps even that night. We walked into the McDonald’s to quickly regroup, and met another group of hitchers inside. We edited our sign to read “Ferry to France”, and quickly got to work asking for hitches.
As we got later and later into the night, our chances of a hitch slowly disappeared. The night brought nearly no new customers to the station, and that ones that did visit weren’t heading onto ferries that late at night. Up until this point we hadn’t waited more than an hour for a hitch, but in the end we stayed at this McDonald’s for almost 6 hours with no leads.
I decided to try and get a bit of sleep (I’ve learned I cannot sleep in McDonald’s, no matter how exhausted I am). Around 3am a Polish family stopped by the McDonald’s, and the father in the group stopped to speak with us. He was certain that French border control wouldn’t let us onto a ferry if we tagged along in someone’s car. He was so sure he left us with a bit of money to help us get on our way (which turned out to be critical later!).
Around 5am the sun began to rise. We got coffee, a quick McDonald’s breakfast, and then headed outside to begin begging for rides again. Once the sun rose the station got much busier, and within no time we met a Romanian couple heading onto the ferries. They were heading to Belgium, but luckily were willing to drop us at a service station outside the port. The husband was quick to agree, and later told us “If you guys ended up being thugs, I could’ve taken you both”. He also told us he’d paid our way should border control give us any trouble (they didn’t!).
The couple were immigrants from Romania that now lived in the UK. The husband worked as an electrician, the wife a receptionist. The couple also had a daughter back at home. As we waited in line for our car to board the ferry we debunked some American myths, including their question “Does everybody in the US carry a gun with them at all times?” Although living in the UK for over a dozen years, they recently have started applying for British citizenship due to Brexit and the uncertainty of their legal status in Britain. They had an incredibly positive outlook despite the somewhat grim situation they’d been placed in. “If we have to move, we’ll go to Canada” I remember one of them saying.
Boarding the ferry was so exciting! The sun was just finishing rising as we left the port, and we had a beautiful view of the Cliffs of Dover. At this point we were 24 hours in and about to cross into France.
I took some time to explore the ferry and chat a bit more with our Romanian friends. I also tried to get a bit of sleep. The ferry ride took just under 90 minutes, and as we drove off the boat, I saw France for the first time!
10am (French time)
We were told to get dropped off at a service station outside of Calais, as it was illegal (and difficult) to hitch from the port. I had a difficult time finding a service station, and I eventually had our drivers drop us off at a lory refueling station. That was a bad move. We stood there for a bit but there was nearly no traffic. We had definitely not gone far enough onto the motorway, and thus I really was not confident in our ability to get a hitch.
I remembered the money we had raised, and checked online for any sort of transit that would get us close. To my surprise there was a single FlixBus leaving the center of Calais and heading to Paris at 12:50. The station was a 55 minute walk away, and another 40 minute walk to the finish line in Paris once we got off. All things considered if we left right then (and moved quick), we’d just make it.
We started on our way, and funny enough met a man on a bike that had just earlier driven two hitchers a ways! He was so excited to see more hitchhikers and helped me navigate to the town’s bus system. He also told us a story of how he hitchhiked a ton in the USSR back in the day, and how friendly Soviet Russians used to be. We said goodbye and made our way to the supposed bus stop.
We arrived at the bus stop with a good 20 minute buffer, but no bus in sight. I was really concerned at this point, we’d already spent our money on the tickets! We soon met two other groups of hitchers also trying to take the bus in, and sure enough the bus eventually turned up.
A train ride can be done from Calais to Paris in two hours, but our ride on this bus was closer to five. At this point I could finally sleep a bit, we had done it. We were on our way to Paris! In the end, we were used old metro tickets of Alek’s to travel to our final destination and finish line - the Generator Hostel in Paris.
20th place. 32 hours. Egg still intact.