100 teams from all over the world were selected and had just seven days to travel across Europe using only cans of Red Bull as currency. Teams visited checkpoints and shared photos and videos, whilst gaining support from followers back home. Starting their journeys with just 24 cans of Red Bull, teams had to rely on their bartering skills to trade for everything they needed – food, a place to sleep, and transportation.
It was a journey of wit and strategy that left one question: “Can you make it?” We caught up with Ryan Lovejoy who was representing the University of Surrey and his team ‘What’s the Consolation Prize’, having just returned to the UK from what he describes as the most exciting adventure he’s ever been on!
What was the selection process?
Thousands of students from across the world had to make a 1 minute application video, and I got told about the whole competition by my teammate Rob (and I had only met him twice before). He kinda just messaged me out of the blue on Facebook, explaining about the competition and asking if I was up for it. And I was like “yeah of course”. So I went and stayed with him in Guilford where he lives for a week and in that week we bashed out an application video. I filmed it, edited the lot in a matter of hours and sent it off. I didn’t hear anything back for a few weeks and then all of a sudden we got this email saying we had been chosen so it was certainly a surprise!
What did you do to prepare yourself once you knew you’d been selected?
[Laughs] I probably should have prepared myself a little bit better perhaps, rather than preparing the night before I left! It took a while to hit me. It didn’t really hit me until I was on the plane that it was happening. It all kinda felt like a dream. It was strange like that really.
How did you decide on what to pack?
I was just trying to think that I need to travel light because we are gonna be shifting a lot of weight. We are gonna be carrying a lot of Red Bull cans. It turned out I was the delegated team member to carry all the Red Bull cans every single day. At one point I was carrying all of my luggage, my sleeping bag, my clothes and 70 cans of Red Bull! That was extremely heavy. So when it came to packing, the one thing I regret was not packing enough socks. I had to steal a pair of socks from another team.
Did you have to result in using the old trick to turn your socks inside out then?
Yes I did and it got to the point when they were literally sticking to my feet they were so dirty.
Having travelled Europe in just 7 days can’t have been easy…
There were definitely low points, some really low points and I think this was the same for every team that we’ve spoken to. Every team, at some point in the journey all felt like they absolutely hated each other. But that means when you come out of it at the other side that you are all so much closer. You’ve bonded so much in such a short and intense amount of time. Being on a low point means that when there is a high point, its super high and you just feel amazing! That’s when you realise that it’s all worth it.
What was the highest point for you?
There wasn’t a specific highest point. There were sequences of them. There would be moments where we’d have a day and everything would go wrong and then we’d have a day where everything happened just perfectly! I’d get us all free hot dogs, a kebab, two Dominos pizza’s all just for a few cans of Red Bull. Then we’d get a lift by one person who would take us from one half of Germany to the other. One really cool time was when we were walking around Brussels, looking for a place to sleep for the night and we spotted the university campus, and we thought we would go there and see if we could find a place to sleep. We climbed this fence and immediately smelt BBQ and saw a load of smoke, so common sense said let’s just follow that. We walked around the corner and all of a sudden there was a load of German and French students having a party and a BBQ. So I was like “Helllooo” holding up crates of Red Bull. I said “would you like some Red Bull everyone?” They were like “yeah sure” and we ended up having a BBQ and stayed the night in this amazing student accommodation with 3 lovely German girls so that was really nice. We had a memory foam mattress for the night as apposed to leaves or being on the roof of an airport!
So you did have to sleep rough a few of the nights then?
Yeah! There was this one time when we slept under a load of boats with an American team. They were these 3 American girls we got on with quite well. That was in Frankfurt. There was one night where we tried to get on a plane from Cologne to try and get somewhere but it didn’t work and then we tried to hitchhike out of the airport and we couldn’t actually get out so we ended up having to stay the night on the roof of a building at the airport! So yeah we had to rough it quite a few times. I think we had to rough it on the streets more than any other team in fact. There was only one night where we got to stay in a hostel.
Can you tell us about the teams… Did you all have to start from the same point?
There were 100 teams and 4 starting checkpoints. There was one in Paris (where we started), there was one in London, one in Vienna, and one in Milan.
So you crossed paths with other teams quite often?
Yeah it was really funny whenever we crossed paths, it was brilliant! There was this one time that we were on the corner of this Autobahn in Germany and we had been there for a while trying to catch a lift and it seemed a pretty good spot. Then all of a sudden walking down the road, there was the American team that we had slept under the boats with in Frankfurt! They could’ve been anywhere in Europe and there they were just walking down the road! We ended up trying to hitchhike from the same corner so we had a bit of competition.
Wow, it’s such a small world! Were you ever put in any dangerous situations?
No we weren’t. It seems that outside of the UK and in Europe, that culturally everyone is a lot more laid back and friendlier. For example we were in France on the first or second day after the kick off of the race, and there were obviously 3 of us. And we were all stood there trying to get a lift and we got picked up by an 18 year old girl who was on her own, and we were thinking at the time, this would never happen in the UK.
Did you ever go hungry?
There were moments where we would go hungry but again, for some reason I had this skill that I didn’t know I had for selling Red Bull for food! Everywhere we tried, we managed to get the food so it was ok.
What was your best trade?
Our best trade was probably just a crate of Red Bull (and we tried to get rid of all of it just because I was carrying it all and it was so heavy) for the BBQ and drinks at the party in Brussells where we met all the students and got a place to stay for the night. They gave us breakfast in the morning. They really looked after us!
Brilliant! Are you gonna be staying in touch with those guys?
Yeah yeah! It’s really cool because a lot of the people we even hitched hiked from asked us for our names on Facebook before we left the car so that was really cool.
Can you tell us about the name ‘What’s the Consolation Prize’…
Rob and Tom came up with the name and launched it upon me and I was like “ok so I suppose we’re rolling with that then”. It’s kind of a jokey name really. I think it’s because they didn’t expect to win so they would go for something humorous.
Did you guys win then?
No we didn’t. There is an overall winner. I can’t remember where that team came from or even what their team name was but it all came down to how many checkpoints they covered. They did a ridiculously long route and they all started in Vienna. All the best teams that went up in the Alps and got a private jet and everything seemed to start in Vienna. So that was obviously beneficial in some way but I don’t really quite understand.
Then there was a best trade that one team won and that was again another team that started in Vienna that got the private jet.
What do you mean they got a private jet?
They went to a private airport in Vienna and traded 8 cans of Red Bull to get a ride in a private jet! That’s what motivated us to try the airport in Cologne. But we went to a commercial airport as appose to a private one. At the commercial airport they were like “yeah that’s 700 Euros please”. We were like “eeerr… a crate of Red Bull”? They were like “no”.
I’ve read The Code of Honour – No.9 states that each team must visit a minimum of 6 checkpoints. How many checkpoints did you reach?
I think we did 7. We went from Paris, to Lille, to Gent in Belgium. Then we went into Germany. To Frankfurt, Leipzig, Hamburg, Cologne, and then we tried to get to Prague, so we had just managed to check in across the Czech Republic border and it was late at night plus it was run by this really dodgy guy who didn’t speak a word of English. We got over the border and we were like “Can you take us back possibly to the Autobahn in Germany where you picked us up please”? Because we were desperate to get back. This was one day before the finish line in Berlin. So we really needed to get there for the party. Luckily he was like “yeah sure” and he drove us all the way back. He was happy doing that because he only crossed the border to pick up a load of cheap alcohol and cigarettes. He was like now I’m taking you back over the border again with extra people in the car means I can smuggle more across the border and you can say it’s for you! Then we stayed the night in Dresden, Germany, before heading straight to Berlin the next day.
So on the final day did every team make it back and have a big party?
Not all of the teams. The only team that didn’t make it embarrassingly was from Warwick University. Then there was another team that got disqualified because apparently (and this is all word of mouth) they were in McDonald’s in Berlin. They had made it all the way to Berlin a day before you had to cross the finish line and they were trying to use a credit/debit card in McDonalds and one of the reps spotted them using it and you’re obviously not allowed to pay for things with cards. They got sent straight back on a flight home.
Were there reps overlooking you all of the time?
I think that was just pure bad luck for them. At different checkpoints there were always Red Bull reps, called ‘The Wings Girls’. They were all so hot!
What was the party like at the end?
The party was insane! We got to the hotel in Berlin and that was such a relief to get there after tramping it for the whole week. It was a five star hotel, had an underground swimming pool, and the most amazing bed! Then we were all told to get down by the lobby for 10.30pm for the party. None of us had any idea of where the party was going to be. Red Bull likes to keep secrets and surprises like this. So we all got down and there was a load of coaches outside the hotel waiting for us. Not even the coach driver would tell us where he was taking us. I don’t know the name of the building but it’s basically Berlin’s tallest skyscraper [Fernsehturm Berlin]. He just pulled up outside and we were all crammed into a lift and taken straight to the top floor. We got up there and it was just the most amazing, insane party I have ever experienced in my life. Clubbing will never be the same again! It had the top Red Bull DJs with Red Bull break dancers. It was the most insane party ever. It was such a good atmosphere. Everyone was so happy and relieved to be there. In a normal club if you bump into someone, they might turn around and give you trouble. But if you accidentally bumped into someone at that party they would just turn around and hug you and be like “yeah we made it”. All of the drinks were obviously free. Every single drink was something with Red Bull:-Vodka, whisky, rum, so everyone was really drunk but buzzing at the same time. Then when we got back, we went to the underground swimming pool at the hotel and that was awesome.
The first night in Paris when we had flown out from London Gatwick, before the starting line we went to a 5 star hotel. And we didn’t have any idea as to what to expect. Then he said get down in the lobby for 7.30pm, and we’ll take you to a party. When we got down there he just walked us to a boat, and we had a boat party on the river in Paris underneath the Eiffel Tower. That was incredible. Red Bull really knows how to run events and make you feel like a millionaire and when you’re at their party they really look after you.
It sounds amazing. And to think that all of this took place in just 7 days!…
Yeah, more happened every day than what would usually happen in several months! So even though we were only away for a week, when we got back it was weird, because that was our life. It was a culture shock just to get back to normality. Now I feel like we should just be travelling somewhere. We covered so many miles on foot every day. Every day was an unknown adventure. It was absolutely brilliant. I’m already planning to get the ferry later this year and hitchhike down to Italy. I have no plans. I’m just going to go down there, do it and just live!
On your own or with friends?
Probably on my own, or maybe with my friend Marcus. After the trip we’re all less judgemental towards people, because when you’re hitchhiking you get picked up by such a variety of different people, but every single one of them was so nice and so generous. It changes your attitude towards people in general. It’s inspired us all to get out there more, travel more and experience stuff because there’s so much of the world to see. It really opened our eyes towards that.
Given the opportunity would you do the race again, and if so, would you do anything different?
I don’t think I would do it again. The reason being is because I already feel like I’ve gained everything from it that I could possibly gain. It was so fulfilling and eye opening that now I just wanna make my own adventure using the skills and everything I’ve gained from it. It was an absolutely incredible, once in a lifetime opportunity but I’d like to leave it like that and take everything that I’ve got from it and make my own story next. I wanna do something else, something new and see another part of the world.
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