Race 2 Barcelona: Lessons Learned While Hitch-Hiking
I have just recently returned to St Andrews from a wild couple of weeks that included a hitch-hiking competition. Every year, the University of St Andrews Charities Campaign puts on an event called “Race 2.” The goal of the competition is to get from point A to point B as fast as you can. Only there’s one catch: you can’t spend any money. The destinations change each year and this year 83 teams of 2-3 people raced from St Andrews, Scotland to Barcelona, Spain.
Naturally, the moment I heard about this competition I was thrilled. The prospect of racing nearly 1,500 miles without paying for transportation presented itself as a fun challenge. Growing up in the States I never thought to hitch-hike and now I have a wildly-wonderful experience under my belt. In this post I’d like to briefly note a few of the more uplifting stories from the experience and highlight the main lesson I learned along the way.
Nearly 200 racers gathered at 5 a.m. on Jan 23, 2012 and piled into coach buses. Periodically teams were dropped off here and there without any clue to their location. Our team was dropped off in Stirling, Scotland near a random train station at 8 a.m. Our first positive contact was a woman at a gas station who told us she was traveling to Edinburgh. We hopped in her car and before we got on the motorway she thought we might have a better chance going further south if she dropped us off at the nearest roundabout instead of taking us with her any further. It was a bit of a bummer to have our first contact only take us a minimal distance, but the roundabout was busy and looked promising. She dropped us off and after 15min we had no luck. All of the sudden a random car swiftly pulled over and the driver shouted, “Hey, you guys headed to Barcelona?” Not knowing how he knew this (our sign merely read “Going South For Charity”) we responded affirmatively and jumped in his car. The driver then told us that his wife had called him and told him that she dropped us off and that he should pick us up to take us to Glasgow. The coordination was incredibly touching and set a positive tempo for the rest of the race. What also made me excited is that this guy loves American Football. He played in NFL Europe for a time and even tried out for professional teams in the States but blew out both his knees. We had a great chat and I greatly appreciated both he and his wife.
From outside Glasgow we had 4 additional rides to bring us to Didcot, England to end the first day (one guy was driving a Jaguar and was missing his two front teeth… English priorities). At Didcot we secured a 5 a.m. ride the next morning with a semi-truck driver (or lorry driver here in the UK) named Chaz. Originally, we asked for a ride to Portsmouth in order to take a ferry to France and he agreed to take us somewhere outside Portsmouth but not all the way there since it was out of the way. During this ride I had fallen asleep and when I awoke I saw the port and all the ferries. Our driver Chaz and taken it upon himself to take us all the way to the destination despite the fact that it was out of his way. The ferry to Caen, France was 6hrs long, which provided a great time to nap. Before leaving the ferry we secured a ride with a Bulgarian semi-truck driver named Petyo who took us to Nantes, France. After 3 more rides we made it to Bordeaux, France at 12:20 a.m. Unfortunately, we were stuck at a service-station in Bordeaux for over 5hrs. Yet we saw the greatest glimpse of generosity we had seen the whole trip. A guy named Jordie, featured in the image above, gave us a bunch of salad, breadsticks, hard-boiled eggs, and coffee for free. He even offered us a place to sleep. Throughout the course of our time there he also asked all of the customers if we could catch a ride with them. This was one of my favorite memories from the whole trip.
We eventually got a ride out of Bordeaux after 6 a.m. The guy who picked us up took us on errands to drop off croissants for his co-workers and friends around town. He was such a nice guy: when he dropped us off outside Agen he bought us coffee and wanted to continue chatting with us. The next guy to give us a ride took us outside Toulouse. He was a businessman with a Ph.D. who was on the Washington Bridge when the Twin Towers fell in 2001. From outside Toulouse we drove with an older lady to Carcassonne and then travelled with two businessmen all the way to Barcelona. Yet when we arrived in Barcelona we were dropped off at the airport. That turned out to be a bit of a sticky situation. There was a bus service that would take us to our hostel (the finish line of the race) for 5 Euro. This was pretty tempting. We’re already here! we thought, and yet the race was still on. We decided not to give in to temptation and thankfully a young couple allowed us to hop in their taxi and they dropped us off right at our hostel. We ended up finishing 16th out of 83 teams, arriving at the finish line in under 57 hours (the winning team made it in 48 hours).
Overall, the trip was a great success. After meeting so many interesting people I was impressed with C.S. Lewis’ famous line from the sermon “The Weight of Glory” where Lewis declares, “You have never met a mere mortal” (After this trip I spent some time in Oxford and visited the church where Lewis delivered this sermon). The point Lewis was making is that there is no such thing as an uninteresting person. On this trip I saw some of the best in humanity as many random strangers agreed to help us out along the way (that being said there were also loads of people who rejected and ignored us). Hitch-hiking allowed me to meet many people from different cultures that I wouldn’t have otherwise and provided me with a concrete example of Lewis’ famous words: an example with many faces and many stories.