By Elena Butti & Ivo Dimitrov
You did it. Ignored frantic warnings from friends, screaming Skype calls with hyperventilating parents and the snowy weather, and you are set to leave for your first ever hitchhiking competition to Barcelona. But now what? We are more than happy to share 24-hours-of-hitchhiking wisdom.
First, consider that the journey starts long before you physically leave campus. No one warns you about the range of emotions you go through even before you first put your thumb up. There is, of course, the initial enthusiasm of doing something completely crazy and badass –at least in your eyes – a full-on heroic quest for self-realization.
Then there’s the intense bond to your partner(s) that you start feeling. Forever will you be connected through shared memories of enlightening experiences and endless gas station fun. Naturally, you spend hours coming up with team mascots, imagining how you’ll get a lift from Mr. Hollande himself, designing your winning speech, instead of actually doing useful things like planning your route.
Around this time the doubts start creeping in. A day or two before leaving you will notice the below zero temperature. The thought of not having a good backpack might cross your mind, and your mother not packing your stuff. Soon, you will be in a state of frantic self-doubt, thinking of your non-existent experience and youthful foolishness. You may even reach the point of panic attacks over not owning enough sweaters. Plus, your parents will decide now is the time for those stories about missing and dead hitchhikers – bless them.
Fortunately, midterm week is your saviour. You have no choice but to lock those worries in a dark corner of your mind to write your existential philosophy essays. But you will wake up one morning, midterms will be over and the whole world will expect you to set off. Rather than giving you the courage you need, your closest friends will use the minutes before departure to announce their secret bet against you, about whether you will arrive after four days, or not at all. You’ll show them when you return, gloriously victorious.
And then you’re off. Bam! The world is a blur. There are teams everywhere, running to the gas station, jumping in front of cars, shoving their cardboard signs in people’s faces. All you can do is look at your partner, hoping they have some secret master plan. But no – your OCD planning urge didn’t kick in here, unfortunately. So, you are clueless. Where do you go? Sadly, your best bet is following others. Your enemies, you remind yourself. This is like the jungle, like war; all is fair to ensure survival. But keep in mind: the first hours are some of the worst. Especially when you see aforementioned enemies enthusiastically get into cars, while you just got flipped off by an incredibly charming truck driver.
No worries, though. Soon enough you will find yourself in a car too, speeding along the Dutch highway, feeling intense love towards the beautiful, generous souls that decided to take you. You have already entered the hitchhiker’s trance: for the next 24 hours, you will let go of all notions of reality, all values and moral codes, everything you hold dear. Your sole mission in life is to arrive. To arrive first. Slowly, you transform into hyper-competitive, victory-obsessed monsters. No breaks. No sleep. No food. Get those rides!
But please, even if you are leading by 200 km, don’t you dare get arrogant. Don’t start calling your partner “winner” or texting your friends about your imminent success. And don’t even think about boasting on Facebook for all the other teams to see, using phrases like “losers”, “bow down!” and “you never stood a chance”. It will backfire – we’ve lived it. We spent five hours near Toulouse immediately after Ivo’s premature online victory dance.
Also keep in mind the side effects of the hiker’s trance. Stuck and desperate, you will find yourself chasing a car with French students screaming: “They are UCUers! Stop them! STOP THEM!” You will risk your life crossing highways in the dark, beg fourth graders for a ride in their bus, and, at your lowest point, consider hiding in someone’s trunk while they are drinking coffee. Anything, as long as you move forward.
And then at some point, almost unexpectedly, you arrive. That’s it. The sole goal you had for the past 24 hours is accomplished. For one moment, the whole world will make sense to you, as you experience the euphoria of finally reaching your destination, having endured so much hardship. You will have achieved something big, using only your thumbs, an out-dated map and your fantastic French socializing skills.
And when you look back at the pictures, you look like triumphant heroes, you rule the world. Just don’t look too closely: your might find out that you were so high on tiredness that, in your (almost) winners picture, you were holding your “Barcelona” sign upside down. Details.