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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St. Andrews chapter.

Last semester, I had the privilege to sit down with Martha Webb and Rebecca (Becca) Leech to discuss their experience doing Race2 to Prague last academic year. As an all-female team and flatmates, their experience hitchhiking differed from many teams, making their experience especially interesting to hear about. They ultimately came second place in last year’s Race2. With this year’s Race2 Copenhagen approaching soon, it was such a treat to have this conversation with them!

Martha Webb (she/her/hers) is a third-year student studying Sustainable Development and Biology from Aberdeen. She did Race2 last year for the first time and is now the Social Secretary for the Race2 committee.

Rebecca (Becca for short) Leech (she/her/hers) is a third-year student studying IR and art history from Edinburgh. She also did Race2 last year for the first time, and is not currently on committee.

How did you find out about Race2, and what got you to sign up for it?

MW: So I found out about Race2 from my temporary academic mum—didn’t stay though—as she did it the year before Covid. I really wanted to do it, so I waited until it was open in the UK again, and then I told Becca about it.

BL: Yeah, that’s how I found out about it. I literally had no idea what it was before, and then Martha told me about it. I was extremely hesitant at first, but I think Martha managed to convince me that it would actually be a fun experience, and it actually was.

What was your favourite story, stories and/or anecdote(s) of your Race2 journey?

MW: I think my favourite stories about Race2 happened on the first day. We had travelled all the way down the UK, and we decided that we would spend the night at a service station just north of the M25. We spent the night and it was terrifying. The lights were on, they were blasting Watermelon Sugar on repeat all night. We woke up at 6:00 am or something—it was freezing as well, we were so cold, we slept on this little bench—and this guy came over to us and was like, “I slept here tonight as well. I came over to see you and you were dead asleep.” That was terrifying, so sleeping in service stations was not cracked up to what I thought it’d be. Becca was still asleep or getting ready, and I had all my layers zipped up and you couldn’t see my Charity T-shirt at all, so you would have thought I was some sort of person begging for a lift. I was asking everyone if they were going south, and everyone was saying “no, no, no.” We then asked this guy whether he was heading down south and he said  “No, I’m not, but are you with Race2?” It turns out he did it when he was at St Andrews, and he raced to Prague too. He was maybe in his late or mid 30s. He said he was going fishing up north, and we exchanged numbers. He said that he could give us a lift a bit further down the M25 if we were still here in a few hours, which would have been pretty useless. So I go up to Becca to tell her about this guy, and I get this phone call that I initially missed. The guy comes running back up and says “Screw it, I’m going to take you to Dover! This is too good of an opportunity.” So it’s a bit like what comes around goes around, which was so nice, and we were switching stories about hitchhiking. He kept trying to buy us McDonalds when we got to the service stations. He was so nice, and was chatting to us about what halls we were in and all that. It was such a nice connection to make. 

On the first day, we struggled to get out of Edinburgh, but then the lifts started coming in. So we went from Dunbar to Berwick, then from Berwick we got to Newcastle. And then these people from Newcastle took us to Leeds. But then when we got to Leeds, we honestly spent about an hour just standing outside—it’s not that bad in the grand scheme of things, some people had it a lot worse—just basically begging people to pick us up. Then you’re obviously looking out for the people who look the most trustworthy—-people with kids or whatever. This guy who had a van—-honestly, he looked like Kenny Rogers, it was insane—he basically came up to me with his sandwich in his hand, looking dishevelled, and said, “ I can give you a lift if you need to, I’m going down to Leicester.” Honestly, we would take anything we could get at this point. As we approached the van, he opened his front door, and the whole place was covered in coins just spilling out. He started raking them up, and put them all in the boot, where there were more coins—masses of coins—-and then we got in his van and he started driving. He really was a very chatty man, which was very comforting to be honest. 

BL: I think he said there was £60,000 worth of coins in the back, or something like that. Or maybe it was more.

MW: It was around 400 kilograms of coins. It was a crazy weight of coins, and they were worth so much, it was ridiculous. It turns out he was a coin re-distributor. He basically told us that before he had done this, he was a manager for music tours, and he had apparently met the likes of Michael Jackson, Oasis and Queen—he was mates with all of them basically. We don’t think that’s true.

BL: No, he gave it all up for the coin life. He was probably the most interesting person, and he got us really far. 

MW: Remember when he told us “Just so you know, if I have to emergency brake and all the coins come forward, we’ll be crushed and die?” He told it in a fun way at least. Those were probably the best stories: the St Andrews guy and the coin guy.

Were you worried about hitchhiking as a woman?

MW: I would say that the advice I’ve given to people who are worried about it is that your gut instinct is so much more valid than you think it is. You know when you don’t want to get in a car with somebody, and we shared that thought process. The only time that we were uncomfortable to accept a ride from somebody was in Edinburgh. Most of the time, you can tell people are just nice people, but your gut feeling says a lot more than you think it will.

BL: Oh, definitely. 

MW: Getting out of the city centre of Edinburgh was the hardest, because everyone was going to the gym or going out for coffee. No one was heading all the way down to Dover. Honestly, the people that were around at 5:00 am to 6:00 am were all drug dealers. This one guy offered us a lift, and I think we knew we didn’t want to get in his car. He said, “I’m going to Glasgow though and I’m picking up three girls, you’d have to sit on each other’s laps.” We had been wondering around Edinburgh for maybe two hours?

BL: It was desperate at this point.

MW: We looked at each other like “Do you want to get in? Do you?” You don’t want to seem the paranoid one, and this is the first lift we would have gotten. We ended up saying no, because Glasgow was not that helpful, we didn’t want to sit on each other’s laps, and we didn’t want to be with a drug dealer to be honest. 

BL: Yeah, since he couldn’t give us a lift, he gave us 50 quid instead. 

MW: He was actually lovely. But we didn’t have a good gut feeling about that, and we wouldn’t have taken a risk like that, I think. After that, I never had a bad feeling.

BL: Throughout the journey, we came up with a strategy. It was either a face or a word we’d say, if we didn’t want to get into a car after that experience, so we wouldn’t be as rude or whatever. Obviously it’s not rude to turn down a lift with a stranger, but we did think of something subtle that could get out of the situation.

MW: I think we brought out our phone or something.

BL: Yeah. You have to put yourself in the shoes of the person that’s picking you. If I was them, I would be just as hesitant and nervous to pick someone up—maybe not two girls—but it does show their character. They’re probably quite a caring person if they’re willing to pick you up, but definitely trust your gut. Your gut is your best friend.

MW: I made a really stupid mistake at the beginning. I don’t know whether I should even say this, but when you get chatting to people and they start asking you about the race, you start telling them about it. They said “Are you being tracked?” I replied, “Yeah, it’s really safe, they’re taking the number plates of the cars, and they check in with us every four hours.” This one guy said, “I love that you’re telling me this, but you definitely shouldn’t be.” He was so right. So I think my advice would be to not share the safety procedures with anyone you’re in the car with. After that, I said I was being tracked the whole time. The silly thing is that I hadn’t even thought about that. You think that when you’re in the car with them, you’re chatting and you’re safe. 

BL: You are safe, but they’re the one in control, which is terrifying but it’s not actually scary when you’re doing it. It’s just trusting your gut. 

MW: There was never really a situation where I felt unsafe throughout anything. 

BL: Definitely not. Race2 has a very good safety team, and they do track you, text you, and even call you if you haven’t updated them.

What kind of connections did you make while hitchhiking, and how do you think that being a woman affected that and your experience more widely?

MW: We both found that a lot more women were willing to pick us up. Our first lift we actually got was from a lady called Eunice, and she took us from Edinburgh to just outside, where there were more cars going through. She had seven daughters or something, and she said “Do your mums know you’re doing this?” We said yes and she said “Are you sure? I can drop you home.” I feel like a lot of women asked if we were sure we wanted to do this, whether our mums knew about this, and always said “I never would have picked up boys, I only picked you up because you were girls. I picked you up because I wouldn’t want anyone else to pick you up, because I know I’m safe.” Do you want to talk about Julie?

BL: Oh, Julie was so cute. Julie was in Newcastle, and she was with her husband. We were kind of at a point where we were already quite drained, but Martha managed to just pluck up the stamina to go and find someone. That’s when Julie came into the picture. Lovely woman. She basically offered us a lift and quickly check with her husband if that was okay, and that’s where we got the lift from Newcastle to Leeds. They had a Jaguar—it was a really nice car. It was a lovely experience and they were so nice. She was asking us so many questions and wanted to make sure that we were safe. We had our Instagram page, and we told everyone about it. 

MW: We printed out flyers with our Instagrams, and we gave them to people who gave us lifts.

BL: We gave her one, and the same day she followed us, and commented on it. I’m pretty sure her sister also followed us, and they both donated to it. Learning that people do really care, that they actually want to help, and they’re willing to support you, was quite nice. 

MW: Sleeping at the back of the Jaguar was the best sleep. It was such a clean car, I felt too dirty to be in it. We were disgusting.

BL: Yeah, we were only six hours in and we were grim. 

MW: We had a few couples in the beginning—which we didn’t have later on—but the couples were so lovely to us. 

Have you faced any challenges during Race2, and if so, how did you overcome it?

MW: As we were saying, energy is a huge thing, especially when you’re getting rejected time and time again for a lift and you’re just standing there with a sign. First of all, you’re bored, second of all, it’s demoralising, and third of all, it’s a bit embarrassing and degrading to go up to people and have them literally ignoring you. I kind of understand what it’s like to be one of those people who hand out leaflets now—people don’t even want to talk to you. After the coin guy left to Leicester, we struggled to get out of Leicester, and it was maybe 10:00pm. We had done a whole day and gotten six lifts already. We were absolutely shattered and not even chatting to one another. Not in an arguing way, but in an exhausted way. We were just standing there, and we eventually got a lift to Reading. One of the tips I would give is that we often took turns. There was a really cool service station in Cologne that we were at, and we would just take 20 minute shifts, where one of us would hold the sign and chat to people, and the other person would sit inside to eat, drink, and rest. You don’t need to be together the whole time—we could see each other through the window—but it was freezing and there was no need for both of us to be there. We’d already chatted enough and you have to do a lot of talking. We also took turns on lifts. In a lift, you mostly want to go to sleep or scroll on your phone, but we found that the person giving a lift is often quite chatty and wants to get to know what we’re doing. So we’d take turns on who got in the front and who led the conversation, because it was quite difficult to speak as a three anyway. I would chat to the guy for that lift while Becca could put in her earphones, and vice versa. 

BL: Yeah, it really helps you get a little bit of sleep and saves your energy. That was probably the biggest challenge. The sleep was terrible. We didn’t sleep anywhere for the second night because we had a lift that took us through the night. It was the one that took us all the way to Prague and was an eight hour drive. 

MW: It was the best lift ever. We were in this tiny petrol station in Cologne. It was probably the worst service station we got dropped off in, but we had one lorry from the ferry to Belgium, one lorry from Belgium to Cologne. We were doing the shifts, and thought we’d just have to stay there for the night. Then Becca got this lift from this guy, who said he was going to Austria but said he might be able to drop us off in the Czech Republic. It was going to be a nine hour drive or something, and he took us the entire way. As we got closer, he said “I’ll just take you to Prague.” And then he said, “Actually, give me the address for your hostel.”

BL: He took us to the door. 

MW: He came in with us, and it was so sweet. I don’t remember anything about him, because I think I slept the entire time, because it was through the night. We got there at 6:00am or 7:00am, and I think we got picked up by him at midnight, so maybe it was only a seven hour drive. 

BL: It was pretty insane. It was the kindest thing on earth. He was really worried, to be fair. He didn’t want to worry about the whole situation. He was saying, “Why on earth are you doing this? What are you doing?” So I think that was what convinced him to bring us all the way to the hostel. 

MW: I think he was worried he was going to get in trouble. He was so lovely. 

BL: He was so nice. He was our knight in shining armour.

MW: The ferry was also a big challenge. We couldn’t get a lift onto the ferry, but luckily we had been given 50 quid by the drug dealer and 20 quid from this other guy. That covered our ferry, so we could go as passengers. But honestly, I think everyone was very worried about taking us on the ferry, because they thought it was illegal.

BL: Yeah. I think you need to be very, very stern about it not being illegal, and as long as you add you to the booking—which is free—then it’s not illegal to go in someone’s car. I think that’s a really important bit of information that people should remember. 

MW: I think that crossing the Channel is the hardest thing. We actually ended up in Dover, and in Dover, people were driving and no one was going to stop. 

What would be your concluding tips for women who are interested in doing Race2?

MW: We trusted our gut instinct. I think it’s very surprising how strong a feeling is when you know you don’t want to get in a lift. As two female racers, we decided that we were going to have a code word or code thing we did. I can’t really remember what it was.

BL: It was something really subtle.

MW: It was something so subtle like touching our eyebrow to say “I’m not comfortable with this.” The rule was that if one person is not comfortable, you’re not getting in that lift. You don’t want to be persuading someone to do something they’re uncomfortable with. If someone offers you a lift, you can say “Can we just have a second to think about this?” and discuss it. What was the other one we did? Was it location?

BL: Oh, yes. Both of us shared our location with Race2, who show everyone your location as part of the race and update it. But I think it’s really important to have your Find My iPhone or whatever on for your family, so that they just know exactly where you are. I think that puts your mind at ease and your parents’ mind at ease, and having the confidence of going where you’re supposed to be going. Just be wary that if you are in a place where you’re quite desperate for a lift, do take a minute to think about whether you’re comfortable with it, and don’t just go with it because you think you need to get into this car. 

MW: Don’t forget the safety procedures either. I think a few times that we forgot the number plate and we asked them. 

BL: Yeah, you need to be hyper aware and look at the number plate as soon as you see the car. It is sometimes hard. 

MW: It is, especially when you’re chatting to them and they say “Right, in you get!” And you have to say, “Two seconds.” I think we took turns and tried to find a system.

BL: It is uncomfortable to ask someone what their number plate is.

MW: Yeah, you feel like you’re accusing people of things, especially when they’ve just offered you a lift. My mum didn’t want my location at the beginning and was so nervous. I think she ended up enjoying it. The biggest tip for racers is that you have to sacrifice all dignity and ask people for lifts. It is quite embarrassing when you get rejection after rejection and you’re interrupting people’s conversations. You feel like a beggar, but it’s what you have to do.

Taasia Thong

St. Andrews '25

I'm a third-year Malaysian-Singaporean studying Modern History and IR (I use she/her/hers pronouns). I've lived in six countries, so I'm passionate about multiculturalism and diversity, and love meeting and interacting with new people and cultures! My other interests include legal affairs, East Asian history, global politics, literature, journalism and fashion. You can often find me drinking unreasonable amounts of green tea, (struggling) to solve the NYT crossword and trying to make the perfect chicken katsu.