Have you ever sat there watching people, wondering who they are, where they’re going and what they do? When you jump into somebody’s car you effectively jump into their lives 20km at a time.
It was coming up to 8am and we, along with 100 others, were stood in Lenton Park wondering what the next day and a half would throw at us. We were taking part in Nottingham University’s “Great Escape” – 36 hours to get as far away from Nottingham as possible. No Money. No plan.
One group we spoke to insisted they would make Australia, another group were putting the finishing touches to a “just married” look in the hope it would bring them good fortune. Us? We were armed with multiple layers, some raisins and two sombreros we purchased for reasons unknown the night before.
We were going to hitchhike. We had convinced ourselves that trying to blag a flight was cheating (it wasn’t) and that we’d enjoy this “jailbreak” far more if we tried a bit of hitching. Initially our decision seemed vindicated – after a few ours hours we’d made it to the Dartford Crossing via an off duty taxi, a grandmother-to- be Andrea, and a man who ran a second hand CD website.
Things slowed down after this point and it was a few hours of loitering outside Dartford services before a man named Brian, who upholstered cars, offered to take us to Maidstone. This was excellent news, even if it did involve waiting an hour in the middle of nowhere for somebody he knew to turn up and take part in some kind of business transaction. I don’t know if upholstery has a black market, but if it does these two are definitely involved.
We then spent a good three hours at Maidstone services attempting to reach Dover to board a ferry, where we received looks ranging from pity and amusement to general distaste. Eventually a man with a great many tattoos – everywhere but his face – approached us and offered us a lift. Naturally he drove a Hummer. The Hummer happened to be full of children’s toys because he and his wife (who also had a great many tattoos, including her face) were going to collect their kids from Belgium. And the best thing about it all? We were going with them.
We’re not even sure ourselves what happened in the next five hours. All we know is that it started with a few beers at Dover Port and ended with us watching Despicable Me in a hummer that was roaring through Belgium, whilst our hosts – who were absolutely lovely – discussed how best to avoid a petrol station because there were “too many police” there. Eventually they dropped us off at a petrol station outside of Leuven, where they said we would be able to hop on a lorry going as far as Berlin. Sadly, we were now in the early hours of Sunday morning and the petrol station was deserted, but we were determined not to give up.
Six hours later we gave up.
We were sleep deprived and the shop attendant’s insistence that ‘nobody comes here on a Sunday’ was hardly inspirational. It didn’t matter – we’d got as far as we could have hoped.
For some reason we decided to hitch back. It took three days and involved a man who makes his own energy drink, playing Pictionary with a metro-carriage full of French people in Lille, and a lift back to Calais with a woman who had an alarming amount of hay in the back of her car (and an even more alarming amount of flammable liquid).
One team got to Turkey, but we wouldn’t swap our hitching adventure for any destination.