The Hitchhiker’s Guide To Courage

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Thumb out, cardboard in hand, and a smile. The image of a hitchhiker is renowned. Stereotypically, this notion also includes long wild hair and tie-dye smocks to complete the ‘hippy’ free-travelling ideal. Yet, thinking back to a time when I last saw a hitchhiker, I am hard pressed. In Britain, it has become a rarity. This is largely due to news coverage that leads us to believe every stranger is a psychopath. Envisaging a grand-scale kidnap and waking up in a net, like something out of Saw XI, is not helpful when considering hitchhiking.

Yet, hitchhike I did. Not merely for the thrill but for charity. The annual Race2 event of the University Charities Campaign lured me away from safety and control, into the unknown.
It all began with the best of intentions, until a week beforehand when I suddenly grasped the reality: I had to sit in a stranger’s car. A few weeks ago, the notion of being driven down the Autobahn with a broken back window, no seat-belt, a broken speed-o-meter and a loveably-crazy driver brandishing his documents would have terrified me.

Although these instances were not devoid of fear, never once did I feel unsafe. I became so involved with these new people and new places that any initial anxiety disintegrated.
There are those who live for adrenaline rushes and danger. Conversely, there are the “control freaks” who strive for order and safety. Such a divide adds to the interest of life. As a random wise old woman once said to me (who knows why), “If we were all the same, life would be pretty dull”. By choosing to hitchhike, you are admitting to being in the former category, someone who lives for the moment. Either that or you are rejecting your own label and embracing another form of living. I am part of the latter, and strangely went against my “better” judgement. The rejection of restrictive traits gives you wider scope in life. It allows you to jump out of a plane, to swim with sharks (in a cage, obviously), and to hitchhike across Europe. Without risks, there becomes no challenge in the everyday. Hitchhiking is no exception.

The Charities Campaign knows this, recognises these dangers, and yet provides students with these experiences regardless. The use of a dedicated safety team ensures that any problems can be resolved. Not only do the hitchers require courage, the Campaign and those kind strangers who pick up hitchhikers need it too. Both have faith in others: faith in the drivers and the faith that the hitchhikers are as kind as their smiles suggest.

Hitchhiking is a testament to philanthropy. The feelings of relief when break-lights flash and the driver is miraculously going your way outweigh those moments of hating humanity. It wasn’t that my own faith in humanity needed to be restored; I knew that there were the kind and the cruel. The difference since racing to Munich is that I now have evidence of human compassion. Before such an experience, picking up hitchhikers was never an option. Yet, armed with the reasoning that not everyone is crazy, it has become a real consideration.
The memories of Metros, ferry fury, and “keine angst” prove that my inner worrier should be suppressed more often.

Quashing that voice of doubt is not about ignoring the possibility of danger; it is about accepting the risks, and summoning inner courage. Hitchhiking is not for everyone; but if you want an adventure, this is your chance. I’ll see you on the A1.

Sophie Franklin

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