Entering Europe's largest hitchhiking race with my formerly homeless flat mate
Hi everyone, I am François-Guillaume, a consultant in our Brussels office. This year, I finally managed to combine two of my greatest passions: hitchhiking and making a positive impact on society.
I am a member of Lazare, a charitable organization whose motto is "Simply living together." In shared apartments, they bring together young professionals and formerly homeless individuals. One of my room mates became a partner in my latest hitchhiking adventure – the Mad Jacques, Europe's biggest hitchhiking race. Together, we came in 12th place and raised a decent sum for Lazare Belgium.
Mad Jacques: Europe's largest hitchhiking race
At the Mad Jacques, people from different cities try to reach a small village in France within one day, solely by hitchhiking. This year, around 2,500 participants set out in pairs on what the organizers call an everyday or micro-adventure.
As for Christophe and me, it took us 11 hours instead of the seven and a half you need if you drive yourself to get from Brussels, Belgium, to Cheniers, France. At the end of the day, we joined the other participants for a big festival.
I think it was a very emotional experience for Christophe. He only joined us at our Lazare apartment in Brussels a few weeks ago, but I found that he was open to new challenges and trusted me that this would be a good thing for him to do.
Physically, he wasn't in the best shape, and our 11-hour trip was a challenge for him. But together we did it and had a great time. In Cheniers, Christophe even had the opportunity to go on stage for the first time in his life and deliver a touching testimony. When we returned, he was full of renewed energy and even committed to abstaining from alcohol.
My flat mate doesn't quite look like a smart young consultant. You can see in his face that he's been through many difficult times. So, catching a ride could have been a challenge, but people were surprisingly open to his story. And the fact that we came in 12th place tells you that our temporary hosts accepted us as fellow travelers.
My passion for hitchhiking
I love hitchhiking because it pushes you out of your comfort zone and challenges your judgments. Almost every time I start, I ask myself, "Why do I do this?" but my rewards are the repeated experience of serendipity and the wonderful encounters with people from different walks of life.
As a hitchhiker, you move between different social bubbles in a society that is so divided, with members often not engaging with one another. You tend to have deep conversations with complete strangers in a short amount of time. Hitchhiking also teaches you patience. Making progress towards your destination can be a struggle, but life isn't always about instant gratification. Furthermore, you learn to trust people – after all, you are essentially placing your life in their hands.
Oh, and hitchhiking is great training for your sales skills! You need to persuade people quickly and convincingly, just like in an elevator pitch.
Over the past six years, I've hitchhiked over 20,000 km, and here are two of my favorite stories: one that deeply moved me and one that involves Roland Berger. As for my most touching experience: In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, I hitched a ride with an Italian couple with whom conversation was impossible due to the language barrier. However, they generously gave me an 800-kilometer ride while wearing masks throughout the journey, even though my presence inconvenienced them. Roland Berger entered the picture a few years ago when I received a ride from one of our consultants before I even knew about the company. It was a unique introduction to our firm. One year later, while returning from a recruiting event, I coincidentally caught a ride in the exact same car from the previous year. Some things are meant to be...
For instance, in France, Lazare is currently seeking new roommates for homeless individuals. The organization is also expanding beyond Belgium and France to Switzerland, Spain, the UK, and Mexico. We are always looking for young professionals willing to share their lives with formerly homeless individuals for a period of time.
As for me, I will be leaving my apartment soon, but I'll continue to drive Lazare's expansion as I join the organization's board of directors in early September.