Hitchhiking to Paris
The student associated at my university was organizing a hitchhiking race to Paris. Participants were supposed to reach the Eiffel tower as fast as possible without spending any money. That seemed like a nice challenge, so Bart and I joined. At 7:15 in the morning I picked up Bart and we cycled to Eindhoven. Just before arriving at my University Bart got a punctured tire. That didn't promise any good. Each team was assigned a specific starting location in the area. We got the worst one, on the north side of the ring road, while we were supposed to go south.
We were dropped off at a gas station. There were two other participants as well. I drew a sign saying 'Antwerp' and we started trying to catch a ride. It was a Saturday morning and only 5 people stopped to buy gas in half an hour. None of them were going toward Antwerp. After half an hour a car stopped. It turned out to be a fellow student who had confused us for his friends who he was trying to give a ride. He did offer us a ride to a nearby intersection, but we thought it would be even harder there, as there was no gas station where people would stop. Fifteen minutes later someone else offered us a ride to the same place. He he had hitchhiked a lot when he was younger and convinced us it would be a better spot. Five minutes later we were dropped off there.
The team, who had started at this intersection (the Floraplein), were already gone. That was a good sign. We stood there for an hour holding our 'Antwerp' sign. During that period we saw all possible gestures. "Thumbs up" people trying to encourage us. "Thumbs down" people thought they were being funny. "The finger" that guy was just an a**hole. Then there were the "point to our backs" people who tried to indicate their car was already full. The most common one was "I can't help it" to show they weren't going in the direction of Antwerp. It was mostly women doing that one. It involved showing both palms and looking pitiful. There were also at least four people that pretended to stop but then drove off as soon as we started walking toward them. We were joking about how the blow job sign was the only handgesture we knew that we hadn't seen yet.
As we weren't making any progress by just holding a sign and standing by the side of the road, Bart walked toward a nearby gas station to beg for a ride there. Everyone was just there to get gas. While Bart was there I saw someone making the remaining gesture. By now it was 10 o'clock. The organization had told us to call them if by 11 we still hadn't reached France. We were clearly behind schedule. It was also cold, especially when standing still for two hours holding a cardboard sign. After Bart returned from the gas station finally someone stopped. It was a long haired hippy, as we predicted.
He offered to bring us to Antwerp. He was a laid back guy who said he had survived by playing poker for four years. Now he was going to work in IT. We initially thought his speedometer was off. However, by looking out of the window we could confirm we were really going 165 km/h. At Turnhout he took a brief stop to buy breakfast. There we saw two other participants of the race trying to catch a ride. They didn't want to join us because they feared we would be dropped off in the center of Antwerp. With a sandwich in one hand and a soda in the other the hippie driver told us he could also drop us off near the highway leading to Brussels. He did all this while still driving 165 km/h and steering using his knees. We continued at Mach 3, missed the right exit, turned around, and then were kindly dropped off at a gas station outside of Antwerp.
It was a large gas station with a store. First we tried asking random people for a ride. That didn't work, most people were hard to understand because of the sound of the highway. After 10 minutes we found the right technique. We went inside the store and ask everyone "Can I ask you something, where are you going?". That worked much better. After 10 people who couldn't help us we found a man willing to drop us off at Brussel's ring road. That wasn't very far, but better than nothing. This was the third guy who said had hitchhiked when he was younger. He would take a small detour to drop us off at a good spot. It started raining when we were dropped off at a tiny gas station.
We could already image ourselves standing outside in the rain for another hour, near Brussel. The first car stopped within a few minutes, but wasn't going in the right direction. The nearby traffic lights seemed a good place to ask for rides, as people would stop there anyway. However, it was raining like crazy. A few minutes later another car stopped. The driver got gas and we started talking to him. He immediately said he didn't had time. I asked where he was going, he was going south. Only then he realized we were trying to catch a ride and not sell him something. He offered to drop us off 30 kilometer further south. Before we could get into his car he first needed to clear the passenger seats. His entire car was filled with garbage. Bart found a small empty spot in the rear and I was asked to sit on a pile of paper in the front. The man driving us was clown Alfonso. He also worked as a living statue and mime. He joked that it would be a real clown's joke if he would drive us back to the Netherlands instead of Paris. He clearly was a funny guy. He dropped us of near Bergen. Before saying goodby he searched his car and emerged with two crumbled papers, which turned out to be flyers for clown Alfsonso.
The gas station we were at was similar to the one of the third ride. It was pretty large and crowded and included a store. The difficulty was that most people there only spoke French. At first we weren't sure who to talk to. After a while we started speaking to people standing outside. That didn't seem to go well. One man was smoking and didn't seem very interested. When we asked if they were going toward Valenciënnes they confirmed and said we were allowed to join. The man turned out to be much kinder than he looked. Ten kilometers later he had to drop us off, as he needed to go in a different direction.
As soon as we left the car, Bart started talking to someone getting gas. The man said he was driving in the direction of Valenciënnes, but was doubting about something. We made it clear we were going to Paris. That was were he was going, together with his wife who was waiting in the car. They were willing to take us, but would make a stop to get food along the way. The wife didn't seem happy we were joining. It was a small car that barely fit the four of us. The man and women didn't talk to us at all during the entire ride, not even about why we were hitchhiking. They were talking with each other though. The man's wife was speaking English with a French accent, while the man was speaking French. That seemed odd. Soon we arrived at the toll road. Fortunately they didn't ask us to contribute as we weren't allowed to spend any money. After an hour we stopped near a restaurant. Suddenly the man very friendly said that we were welcome to join them all the way to Paris, but that they would first get something to eat. We told them we would try to catch a different ride, but if we wouldn't succeed until they were done we would be happy to join them again.
We were in a bad place to hitchhike. Thus far, nearly all our rides had been with single men. As we were next to a restaurant there were only families with children, so their cars would already be filled and we also looked way too sketchy to put next to children. One man said he didn't want to take hitchhikers and all the other people said their car was already full. One man was just sitting in his car but pretended not to hear us. Then his wife got out and asked what we wanted. She agreed to drive us to Paris. The man didn't really like it but went along. During the ride the wife used a book to show us where they were going to spend the night, while speaking nearly unintelligible quietly. It was around 17:00. At 19:00 we had planned to have dinner with everyone participating in the race. Around 17:30 we were dropped off in the center of Paris. From there it was about 4 kilometers to the Eiffel tower. Using Bart's GPS we tried to walk there as fast as possible. At 18:30 the organizers of the race called, asking us to come to the hotel because otherwise we would miss the dinner. After spending the entire day trying to reach the Eiffel tower we didn't want to give up now. We quickly walked to the Eiffel tower to take some photos and then took the subway to the hostel.
Me at the Eiffel tower
Bart at the Eiffel tower
We still arrived in time to join the dinner. The first group had arrived just after 15:30, two hours faster than us. Another group had arrived even sooner, but they had taken the subway for the last few kilometers so were disqualified. Two other groups had given up because they ran out out of time. We ate a nice dinner and then went out, the next day we would have a day off in Paris before taking a bus back home.
The route we followed, the red dots indicate where we caught rides.