Last April I participated in Red Bull Can You Make It? Myself and 2 other uOttawa Students (Tav & Kendra) traveled across Europe with no money just cans of Red Bull to get us to each check point. When I get asked about my experience it's really hard to fully explain exactly how it was. I never knew being terrified, excited, tired and relaxed could be experienced all at once.
Our start was in Berlin Germany. This was my first time in Germany and I absolutely loved the city of Berlin. We got there a day early to explore so Kendra and I biked the streets. First off the city has the most bike accessible streets I have ever seen. LOVE. Second off I loved how modern the city looked yet at almost every park they had very artistic farmers markets and local performers.
It was finally the day before the competition started and the excitement/nerves started to kick in. All the teams were beginning to check into the hotel. At around 3pm the JakPak went for our team photo. Nika Kramer a photographer known for her amazing shots of Red Bull BC One was the one running the shoot. After our photos she approached us and told us she loved our energy and high spirits and would love to use us for the promotional content for the show. We were stoked!
After the shoot all the teams met in the lobby of the hotel. We were all unaware where we were going for dinner. We were lead through Berlin on foot like a giant parade. We eventually made it to the outside of a warehouse. As we walked in I was so amazed! It had coolest looking interior ever. When we arrived to the dinning area we were informed that it was open bar. Uh Oh. Everyone in this contest was selected for a reason. Even though we may come from different countries we all were so similar in the fact that we were outgoing and very social. In a matter of minutes we were all chugging our beers and chanting.. After dinner things got serious for about a half hour where we were given the rules and general information of the contest. After the briefing most of us ended up roaming the streets till 3 am even though we had to be at the hotel lobby for 7:30 am....
The Competition in a Nutshell
7 days to reach six check points prior to arriving at the finish line in Paris
No communication with friends and family
No illegal activity
(note: everything written below was written in my travel journal whilst we were on the adventure!)
We made it to Leipzig!
After packing our things from the Cosmo Hotel we went to the CYMI starting point! We received a cell phone that only had the camera function, access to the contest app and the ability to call Red Bull Central Command and 911. We then received our check point map and all the supplies necessary for the event. We were asked to stick around for a photoshoot with the Mexican Team. This ended up being an advantage for us because we were given tips from some of the Red Bull locals on how to get out of Berlin.
We snuck on a metro to get out of Berlin. We then waited off the highway trying to hitch hike for about 30 minutes before a man named Andreas picked us up! He told us we reminded him of his daughters and that he had to help us. He dropped us on the outskirts of Leipzig where we then realized the check point we had to arrive at was 14km away...
A friendly lady overheard our dilemma and bought us tram tickets which got us 2 minutes from the check point! At this point I was so hungry and slightly hungover that the 2 minute run felt like a marathon. When we arrived at the check point we were surprised with chicken curry and of course a new case of Red Bull. Great...more weight to add to my bag. Unfortunately we arrived too late to do the check point challenge at the Red Bull Soccer Stadium so we would have to wait till the morning.
I was very tired from the night before so I was not ok with finding an uncomfortable place to sleep. I decided to use my business minded skills and get us a hotel. My strategy was showing the hotel what great promotional content it would be for them. Tav & Kendra waited outside with our bags so that we didn't look like complete bums...I even slicked back my hair in a nice pony tail to look really proper. After a few rejections from hotels I finally sealed the deal at the fourth hotel. The manager was thrilled and provided us with a SUITE for the night! Not only was the room amazing they also gave us free breakfast and doggy bags to bring food on the road.
Leipzig -------------------> Innsbruck Austria
After our challenge at the Soccer Stadium , we hoped on a train. The attendant laughed about the contest we were in and then informed us that we were headed in the wrong direction. The only benefit to our problem is that she wrote us a note to give to the other trains explaining the contest in German. We returned back to Leipzig and got on the right train. That attendant also was also very nice! About 4 hours later she exited the train and new employees came on. The new attendant was extremely rude and told us we had to get off immediately. He said we were stealing from the company and that the staff who previously had helped us should be fired. So we got off the train. We were feeling a little discouraged but we were still ready to get on the next train.
We made it to Munich Germany where we exchanged 6 cans of RB for 3 bus tickets to Austria. We started talking about our game plan while we waited for the bus. It was becoming late and we had no idea where we were going to sleep in Innsbruck. When we entered the bus a student named Carmen began to talk to us. Within minutes of talking to her she offered us a place to sleep!
On the bus I started telling her how I absolutely needed to go skiing in the Alps. Next thing I know we are walking to her friends house to pick up all their gear to borrow. This was such a high moment for me because I could not believe how willing these students were to lend complete strangers all their ski gear. Carmen really wanted us to go party with her and even though we were extremely tired we had to suck it up because she did after all completely save us from being stuck on the streets. After a couple beers at her house we hit the main street of Innsbruck. We convinced the bouncer to let us in the club without cover and when we got inside we went a little savage on the dance floor. The Innsbruck football team was at the club partying and most of them were American. They thought what we were doing was cool so they bought us bottle service. Our night turned from a couple beers to a near black out experience.
Checkpoint: Climb a mountain and milk a plastic cow
Turns out in Innsbruck if you are in ski gear you can take the bus for free. So we hoped on and headed to Kuhtai Ski Resort. The bus driver informed us that the bus no longer goes right to the hill since the season was near ending. We decided to take the risk of getting dropped off literally in the middle of no where hoping to catch a ride the rest of the way. We began to walk and saw a house in the distance. I went and knocked on the door. It was a younger guy who barely spoke english but as soon as he saw us all sitting with our gear he took the hint and grabbed his key to drive us to the hill.
When we arrived at the hill we exchanged 2 Red Bulls for Free Skiing!! The snow was very heavy so the skiing wasn't the best...BUT hey we ski'd in the friggen Alps!! We met a couple skiers who drove us back down to the bus stop. The schedule for the bus said that the bus wasn't coming for another 1.5hrs...great. It was already becoming late afternoon and we had no idea where on earth we were going next. A lady came out of her house and invited us for coffee while we waited. She was a very strange lady, she did not speak she just stared at us while we laughed at ourselves.
When we returned to Carmen's we packed our things while she prepared us pasta. On our way out of town we tried to get on any bus and none would let us on. SOO we resorted back to taking trains. The train attendant kicked us off immediately which only got us 3 stops out of Innsbruck. We ended up in a VERY small ski town. There were no hostels/hotels open since the ski season was over. Our plan was to rather sleep at the train stop which was very sketchy looking or in a creepy little church. Fortunately a man noticed us and after a bit of a language barrier conversation he understood that we had no money and no where to sleep. He called his wife to see if we could sleep in their living room and she was yelling at him on the phone. From the wife's perspective I completely understand. She had not met us and probably didn't fully get that we were innocent Canadians. The man felt terrible leaving us on the streets so he said we could sleep in his Ski Shop. He trusted us enough to leave us in his store and even told us how to lock up when we left in the AM. The store was filled with beautiful merchandise and he had total faith that we were truly there just to sleep. It was amazing! I ended up sleeping on a boot fitting bench but still slept like a baby because I was so so tired.
What an awesome day! I got to ski and sleep in a ski shop in the most random town.
Austria--------> Milan Italy
We hopped on a train around 8:30am and got kicked off at almost every stop. We tried to hitch hike but no one was leaving town. 2 guys around my age bought us espresso and showed us how to get to the train station. We got on a train and hid in the bike storage area. The conductor found us and laughed at our situation and luckily let us stay on. Over the past few days it has been so stressful trying to get around. Every time we are on a train I sit nervously waiting for the attendant to get to us to see what they say. As much as I have enjoyed every moment of the trip their has been plenty of times where I felt uncomfortable and scared as to what was going to happen next. So when we were allowed to stay on this train which was 4 hours long I got such a feeling of relief. For the next 4 hours I could sit and look out the window and just relax, I was exactly where I was supposed to be. The train ride was beautiful, we passed through some small wine towns that had the most insane castles.
All good things must come to an end. As soon as we arrived at the station the stress rolled back on through my body. The train station was packed and very intimidating. We have established that most Italians care very little about Red Bull and did not want to help us with the contest. We really wanted to get out of the station but also just wanted to get closer to our next check point. We decided to hop on an express train to Milan since it was a large city which would have lots of hostels for us to try and stay in. Our game plan was to get on the train and instead of explaining the contest to the attendant to say we had no money and were trying to get to the airport. Luckily the attendant was a mother and was very sympathetic to our situation. However, there happened to be military sitting next to us and they were not having our story. We told the attendant that our parents were in Milan with money for us since we got robbed. One of the men said that they would escort us to our parents so that our parents could then pay for our train tickets since he did not want us stealing. At this point we were so tired and were so frustrated that this man was ruining our plans. Luckily Kendra had some good tears to shed to divert the situation. The female attendant said don't worry about it and moved on.
After about 30 minutes of roaming the streets of Milan we began to realize that it was going to be a lot harder to find accommodations then we thought. We opened our Map to see if we could find any hostels or hotels in the area. An older man approached us and asked if we needed directions. We said we were looking for a place to stay and he then told us that their was a huge furniture convention in town and that almost every hotel was booked. We got into more detail as to what we were doing and he immediately became more interested in helping us. It was about 10 pm and he told us to join him and his friends for dinner. We went to this really authentic Italian Restaurant and were greeted by the man and all his friends. They were all so very excited about us and even began offering us wine and free food! We each got a pizza to ourselves and a bottle of VINO! They were absolutely hilarious. After our dinner we received an invitation from everyone at the table to stay at their place. We ended up staying at the mans house we previously met. He lived in a flat just down the road and had extra bedrooms. All of his kids were older and moved out of the house so we got to stay in their rooms. In the morning he offered us fresh juice and coffee!
Next check point GENOA
We hoped on a train to GENOA where we spent the afternoon cruising the streets. Our checkpoint challenge was to watch a quick tutorial on how to make Pesto and then we had 5 minutes to find the ingredients and prepare it ourselves. We obviously nailed it haha. After our chill morning we decided to giver to the next checkpoint. We needed to make it to 6 before we got to Paris so we were starting to get in a tight time frame. We got to Torino Italy and ran into another team who was trying to catch the very last train out. From talking to other teams we learn't that if more than one team tries to get on a train for free the chances that everyone stays on is very very low. We did not want to ruin all of our chances. We really wanted to keep moving so we decided to head to the airport to see if we could get on a flight. The airport took us 45 minutes to get to by bus which costed us 2 Red Bulls. What we should have done is researched the flight times before making the trek because when we got their the airport was closed. Their were a couple employees hanging around the airport and we convinced one of them to give us a ride back into town.
Tav lived in Italy when she was younger and actually went to school in Torino. This ended up being very fortunate for us because we met ended up meeting up with old family friends! They offered us a place to crash for the night and even packed us food for the next day. We spent quite sometime brainstorming or move for the next day. We had to make it to 3 more checkpoints and we really only had 1 day to do it. The pressure was on
3 Countries , 3 Girls and 1 Day
we got up at the crack of dawn and snuck onto a train yet again. We got as close as we could by train to Chamonix before we had to take a bus. We traded 4 cans of Red Bull for 3 bus tickets. The bus took us to a really small town really close to the France border. In order for us to get into France we had to hitch hike. The road was through a 10km tunnel and there was no walking path + it was pouring rain. An Italian Couple drove us right to the border but unfortunately did not feel comfortable driving us into a different country which is totally fair. We tried for about an hour to hitch hike but no one stopped. We decided to walk right to the gate where we were asked by security what we were doing. After we explained the situation the security guard got up and was stopping traffic asking everyone if they were going to Chamonix in about 10 minutes we had a taker and we were off to Chamonix. That experience was actually hilarious. AS if a border security guard was helping us hitch a ride. PEOPLE ARE AWESOME. When we arrived to the Checkpoint in the pouring rain we were so excited for the free meal that is provided to us...however this checkpoint was different. WE GOT FREE BEER! Lets just say when you barely eat for 6 days one beer gets you pretty buzzed. Tav and I had 4. Next thing I know I have checkpoint stamps all over my face and we are out the door headed to the train station to make it to Switzerland!
Kendra was 100% in charge of navigation. She was basically my mom for the week...it was awesome. We found out that we had to switch trains 5 times and if we were kicked off one we would not make it to Lauterbrunnen. Not only was this a challenge but Tav and I were quite intoxicated. Since this was our 6th day of sneaking on trains we became quite good at explaining ourselves and sneaky ways to move back on the train carts to get further away from the attendant. We only once had to explain our situation and the girl was super excited about the contest and loved Canadians. She actually grabbed Tav's contact info so that she could reach out to her while she was on her Canadian Trip. We got to Lauterbrunnen very late at night so we were unable to see the beautiful waterfalls that fall on either side of the tiny town. We were surprised with a free hut at a Camp Site compliments of Red Bull and Contiki Tours. This was also another moment when I felt the stress lift off of me. I was able to have a few hours of sleep without any worries.
As I sat in my bunk I reflected on such a crazy day.
1 more checkpoint!
IT was our final day to get to a checkpoint before having to be in Paris tomorrow morning by 9 am. The closest one to Paris from where we were was Basel Switzerland. A couple teams informed us that they had been stuck in Lauterbrunen for 2 days. The police were not letting anyone from the competition onto the train and their was only one road out of town so it was hard to hitch hike when 10 other teams were also trying to.
We got up before most teams and we noticed a Contiki Tour Bus departing the camp grounds. One of the adventure challenges was to get on a bus. So we begged the tour guide to let us on. Unfortunately their was no more room for us since they promised the ride already to a few other groups. Fortunately for us one of the teams didn't show so we got on! The bus dropped us off at a pit stop just outside of town. We then had a bit of trouble hitch hiking into town.
Our checkpoint challenge was archery which was pretty sweet. Afterwards we were on a solid mission to get to Paris. There was one train leaving Basel but it was an express train which are quite pricey so the chances of us staying on were slim to none. If the attendant were to not be okay with us getting on for free their would be no opportunity to kick us off but could give us a huge fine. We ended up running into the New York team who told us that someone bought them bus tickets to Paris that were leaving this evening. We were pretty jealous of that situation because they had the whole day to explore and would get to sleep on the 8 hour bus ride to Paris. We decided we were going to try and get a similar deal going. I'd say after about 1 hour of trying we had found multiple people to buy us bus tickets. YAY.
For the remainder of the day we cruised around Basel on a food mission. At an Irish Pub we were all given a pint of beer but no food. We decided to hit up Burger King since that seemed to be the cheapest place in this town. We started talking to the manager about maybe providing us with a couple free burgers to share but instead he let us choose anything on the menu. We each got a combo meal and donuts. I was literally crying of happiness. Never have I been so excited to get fast food.
After our feast we headed to the bus station to wait for our late night bus. There was noo way I was missing it. At this point in the trip we were all feeling and looking pretty awful. Our clothes were all damp and we for sure did not leave room for a hairbrush in our bags. A man and women came up to us asking why 6 girls were sitting in the grass late at night when it was probably only 5 degrees outside. We tried to explain the best we could about the contest but he definitely didn't catch on. All he took from our story was that we had no money. He then began to hand out his business card and informed us that we could make great money at his establishment. He owned a brothel. Let's just say we told him to get lost pretty fast.
Once we hopped on the bus I was so pumped. In 8 hours we would be in Paris and running through the finish line!
The bus ride went quick since I passed out immediately and woke up as we were rolling into Paris. We had a few hours to kill before the finish line location was released so we decided to go see the Eiffel Tour. We walked about 6km to get there but wow was it worth it. Pictures truly don't do it justice. All the teams were starting to show up around the tower. It was a sunny day and everyone was laughing about their most epic moments on the trip. Even though we didn't run into all the teams it felt like we knew everyone. We all just experienced a week that not very many words can explain and the only people who will truly understand the feelings I experienced were the ones around me.
Once the finish line was open we all grabbed our bags and ran! Tav, Kendra and I convinced a guy with a 3 wheel bike to let us drive it into the finish line. When we made it across that line a flash of memories went through me. For the past week I traveled to 5 countries covered 2500+km and received help from the most incredible people. This experience will never be forgotten and probably the most unique week of my life.
Once all our belongings were returned we hopped on the bus to the coolest hostel. After a nice and warm shower we grabbed our visas and had a carb feast at the coffee shop across the street. We also grabbed some beer to drink in our hostel with the other Canadian teams. We knew we were going to a party later that night but no one was telling us any information. At around 9:00pm we hoped on a bus where a Red Bull employee started talking to us about the party. We were all pretty rowdy so we weren't paying much attention until we heard "you will all get 4 drink tickets for the night".... we all looked like deer in headlights. Despite the bad news we kept our spirits up by turning the coach bus into a party bus.
The venue was so awesome. It looked like an abandon theatre with spray paint on all the walls and floor. Everyone in the room was fired up and ready to have an epic night. Just when we thought things couldn't get better a DJ came on that played with a live orchestra. Right after that Red Bull athletes on BMX's started doing tricks in the middle of the dance floor. Oh and then right after that a guy came on the stage and said "haaaaaaa just kidding it's an open bar till 4 am".
I got back to the hotel around 6 am and was catching a shuttle at 8 am to the airport. That's when reality really hit me. Ok so I just had the most epic week of my life and now I have to go home and study my ass off for 2 days to write my last 2 exams. I also missed two exams while I was away and I was still not even sure if my teachers were going to pass me. Prior to the trip I had battled with the faculty to get them deferred but they were not approving it. Despite my head ache and rude awakening of the week ahead I was still experiencing a high from the trip.
This will be a week I will never forget