That time I hitch-hiked to Amsterdam

Carley & Ben's Banner for St Andrews Race2Amsterdam 2008

A couple of weeks ago, myself and a couple of the other girls from my office hosted an unofficial ‘hen night’ for our office manager. As she was getting married two weeks later, and had organised a hen night with her bridesmaids abroad, we thought it would be nice to surprise her with a night out here in Edinburgh, as so we got planning. We decorated a corner of the office on Friday afternoon, bought a few bottles of fizz, and I planned a few fun ‘hen night’ games – one of which was an office-wide game of Two Truths and a Lie.

For those of you who haven’t played the game before, each person simply has to state three facts about them; two of which are true, one of which isn’t. The rest of the group then has to guess which is the made-up fact. It’s a great ice-breaker, get-to-know-each-other, have-some-fun game to play. When we played in my office, I managed to blindside most of my colleagues when I told them that back in 2008, I hitch-hiked from Glasgow to Amsterdam.

Carley & Ben's Banner for St Andrews Race2Amsterdam 2008

I’m not lying; it took myself and a mate, Ben, 42 hours to hitch-hike our way from Glasgow Airport right into central Amsterdam – and we paid only £5 each for our journey. 13 lifts, one ferry journey and six kilos of sweets later, we arrived at a hostel in Amsterdam to congratulations and  cheers from the people waiting there – because we’d just completed ‘Race2Amsterdam’ – the charity hitch-hike journey that the University of St Andrews Students’ Association organises each year.

Ben and I had met through an ex-boyfriend of mine, but we bonded over our hours at Tayforth Universities Officer Training Corps.. Ben always wanted to be part of the army, but I joined the OTC because I wanted to meet new people, I wanted to get fit – and also, because they paid you for your weekends away. I never loved the OTC like some people did (hello, girl who doesn’t like taking orders from anyone here!) but Ben and I bonded over ironing uniforms, eating dinner at 5pm on a Wednesday and drill. When he suggested that we were partners for the charity ‘Race2’,  knew we’d get along fine, even if I wasn’t sure at the time where we’d be racing to – as they change the destination each year. (St Andrews students have raced to cities all across Europe, including Paris, Madrid, Berlin and more.)

Carley & Ben's St Andrews Race2Amsterdam 2008 Drop off point

All too quickly the day of the Race rolled around, and the 300 odd St Andrews students all meet up in the quad. In order to Race, you had to pay a £50 entrance fee each (which covered the cost of your hostel in Amsterdam, as well as safety checks on route, a cheap ferry crossing and a Race2Amsterdam t-shirt) and raise at least £50 for the six charities the Charities Campaign were supporting that year. You also had to race in an approved team of at least 2 – and girls had to ensure their race partner was a guy – and you had to check in with the safety team every two hours via text message.

Ben and I were dropped off at Glasgow Airport, where the safety team wrote down the time that we were kicked off the mini-bus and told to make our way to Europe! After we tried to convince a few airlines to let us fly to Amsterdam to no avail, Ben and I stood in the airport car park and started asking people to give us a lift… Which is where we stayed for the next five hours. Trying to get out of the airport was a nightmare, because everyone was just coming back from their holidays and didn’t really want to give two students a lift out of the airport! Eventually, a lovely family took us from Glasgow Airport to a petrol station in the West End of Glasgow, where we waited for about 10 minutes before a lady agreed to give us a lift towards Edinburgh. (She actually said that her daughter was at uni and around our age; she’d hate to think that no one would give her a lift if she was in the same situation as us!)

Carley & Ben's St Andrews Race2Amsterdam 2008 at the petrol station in Glasgow's West End

We were dropped off at a service-station on the M8, where we found another team who had been inside for a little while. Ben and I decided to head towards the petrol filling area, where we spoke to a truck driver who was putting some air in his tires… He immediately agreed to take us a little further, and so we jumped in his lorry cabin and headed down towards Carlisle. This was our first leg in a lorry cabin (first of many!) and as became standard in our travels, Ben sat down and immediately fell asleep! I chatted with the friendly lorry driver, who told me that whilst he was stopping at Carlisle, his lorry was actually going on further with a different driver. He offered to radio on ahead and see if the new driver would be happy to take us on to the next stop – meaning we’d secured a lift all the way down to Manchester!

Carley & Ben's St Andrews Race2Amsterdam 2008 - in one of our many lorry lifts!

The next driver was a little strange. He told Ben and I some stories about how he dug graves in his spare time (creepy) and how sometimes he and his girlfriend would have sex in the graves before they were filled in. It was a long and slightly awkward leg of the trip, but texts to the security team ensured we never felt unsafe – we’d text the license plate number of the truck we were in to the team so someone always knew where we were. By the time we got to Manchester, it was about midnight and I’d been awake for around 18 hours… and we still had a long way to go!

Carley & Ben's St Andrews Race2Amsterdam 2008 - pretty much shattered at this point!

Our next lift took us from Manchester all the way down to Thurrock, Essex – just a few miles away from where my mum lives! When we entered the service station at Thurrock, we were greeted by a whole slew of teams who had been there since about midnight – there were just no cars leaving the station that late at night. Ben and I grabbed some food with the service station vouchers we’d been given by one of the truckers, and then headed outside to wait for the sun to rise and the truck drivers to get ready to leave! At around 5am, we were one of the first teams to leave when a man driving a Jaffa-Cake lorry agreed to take us to a service station at Dover – so close to the ferry crossing!

We got to the Dover ferry crossing courtesy of two ex-army guys who took a shine to Ben and I via our OTC connections, and were heading to France on a booze-cruise. Once at the crossing, we realised that we’d just missed a ferry, and we had to wait two hours for the next one; at this point I’d been awake for 26 hours, and I slept right through the ferry crossing. We arrived in Calais and once again started struggling to get a lift – Calais really is a grey, boring box of a place, and I hated it! Eventually, we managed to get a lift in a bright orange van with three young French boys, who told us they’d take us to Lille. However, it all went wrong when their van just stopped on a motorway hard shoulder – I managed to work out, in my poor, A Level French – that they’d run out of petrol. One of the boys went running across the fields and came back not long after with a full can of fuel, although I have no idea where they got it from!

Carley & Ben's St Andrews Race2Amsterdam 2008 - by the van which ran out of petrol at the side of the road!
By the van which ran out of petrol at the side of the road!

Once in Lille, we managed to get a lift from a guy who took us to the Belgium border, but wouldn’t take us across it… Meaning we felt incredibly close to our target destination. However, it took us about another 8 hours to actually reach Amsterdam! My memory becomes fuzzy at this point – I’d only had 2 hours sleep in over 24 hours. I remember being so tired on one lift, that I started hallucinating; I swear I though I saw an elephant in the middle of the road… Sleep deprivation for the win! We also received a lift from a lady on her birthday who sounded Scottish but was actually Dutch, and a guy who was setting up some outdoor art installations in Amsterdam itself!

Carley & Ben's St Andrews Race2Amsterdam 2008 - with our sign for the last part of our journey!

Eventually, we reached Amsterdam, and jumped out of our last lift… Only to spend the next hour trying to find the hostel! Let’s just say that roaming the streets of Amsterdam at about 2am on only 3 hours sleep is not the best plan! We eventually managed to find the hostel – where we were cheered in, given a drink and then shown to our hostel room… Sleep immediately followed!

Carley & Ben's St Andrews Race2Amsterdam 2008 - Sunset in Amsterdam

For the next two days, more and more St Andrews teams arrived in Amsterdam – meaning that big groups of friends were roaming the city, going to Anne Frank’s house, eating Dutch food and drinking far-too expensive beers! When the next year came around and Ben asked if I’d like to Race to Berlin with him, I decided that once was enough for me; in a way, that was a really good decision – Ben actually ended up coming last in that year’s race – it took him over 80 hours (yep, nearly 4 days!) to get from Scotland to Berlin. However, all things considered, it’s a brilliant story – being able to say;

Oh, remember that time I hitch-hiked to Amsterdam?!



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