Escape And Evade

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

So I blogged a few weeks ago and told you about this Escape and Evade charity event that I was taking part in. SO much has changed since then. For one, Emily, Olivia, Alex and I completed the event over the weekend - but I'll get to that bit later. There were many obstacles along the way before the journey even began, so let me start with these.

It was compulsory to have a boy in your team for 'safety precautions', how insulting. The first boy dropped out so we found a replacement, then two days before the event the replacement boy dropped out! WHAT THE HELL. Luckily we found a third replacement but he hadn't raised enough money and nor had one of the girls in my team. With one day to go we had only raised £305 out of the £400 target, so the relaxing evening and early night before the morning of the event didn't quite go to plan.

Against all odds we managed to pass the fundraising page around Facebook and pestered anyone we possibly could. Somehow we and managed to meet the target which was such a relief. A 50 litre backpack full of snacks, blankets and paracetamol's later...we were ready to go.

Friday 1st March - 11am

Ready...steady...GO. The trip started with a laugh as when we finished the 10 second countdown until we could all set off, we were the only team who didn't leg it towards the train station. Instead we walked past the arboretum and towards Radford trying to find an industrial estate. Our plan was to find the DHL industrial park and ask to hitch a ride in the back of their lorry. We had previously discussed the intended route and agreed on heading down south towards Dover and getting the ferry over to Calais. Oh how wrong we were. 

Friday 1st March - 1.30pm

After 2 and a half hours of walking we still hadn't found this elusive industrial estate that everyone assured we would find if we 'kept on walking'. It must have been one hell of a road because 3 and a half miles later we were pretty much on the M1 with no industrial estate in sight. We took a well deserved sandwich break after being rejected multiple times by van companies and resorted to hitch hiking, which let's just say didn't quite go to plan. 

After an hour of jumping around enthusiastically waving charity signs and our meerkat mascot Derek at passers by in cars we were still stood in the same place. It's amazing how many people laughed, bibbed, put their thumbs up...but did any of them actually stop and help us out? No. By this point we were insanely desperate for luck because we were convinced that we weren't getting out of Nottingham. After another ten minutes a lovely lady pulled up and offered to take us to Manchester with her. It was pretty much the complete opposite of what we had planned but desperate times call for desperate measures, so we caved in and were on our way to Manchester.

Friday 1st March - 3.30pm

2 hours later we were in Manchester! Our driver was super friendly and the journey was pleasant, who knew a trip up north could be so picturesque. We got dropped off at the National Express coach station and decided to try and get to Liverpool and get the ferry over to Belfast. Again - how wrong could we be? After waiting a good half an hour for the coach, the coach driver profusely refused to let us travel because it was 'against company policy'. The amount of times I heard that over the weekend is unreal. We admitted defeat and followed directions to Manchester Picadilly train station which was laden with security guards. Even though we explained our mission politely they also refused us travel. We then spent another 2 hours wandering around an industrial estate we found asking Parcel Force and Royal Mail whether they could take us. I'll leave you to guess the answer.

Feeling deflated we were convinced that we wouldn't get out of Manchester but decided to try our luck with the Manchester Oxford Road train station. The guy at the ticket office told us to ask the people at the barriers who allowed us through the barriers to talk to the guy at the information office. He told us that he had no authority to permit free travel so suggested just getting on the train and speaking to the conductor. This was like music to our ears because we put 2 and 2 together and realised that once we were on the train, despite whether we got kicked off at the next stop, we would still be getting out of Manchester.

We looked at the departures board and were set on Liverpool until I noticed a train to Edinburgh. Cheeky. After debating whether to play it safe or take a risk, our inner dare devils escaped and before we knew it we were on the 18.19 train to Edinburgh. Our tactic was to stay quiet for as long as possible until the conductor came round for a ticket check and then sweetly explain ourselves in hope he would think we were brilliant charitable people and let us stay on. LUCKILY, we met the nicest train conductor called Matthew who had only been in the job 6 months therefore had no desire to stick to the rules and let us stay on the 3 and a half hour train. Result!

Matthew spent quite a bit of the journey just chatting and joking around with us about our plans to get way up in Scotland. Emily managed to get his number incase we got completely stuck and got to Glasgow (where he lived) and needed a lift. Well that was her 'excuse' anyway! He gave us a few sandwiches and bottles of water and we realised that maybe this was easier than we thought. After a pleasant journey we arrived in Edinburgh at 21.40.

Friday 1st March - 10pm

When we were on the train to Edinburgh, Emily had a brainwave and suggested we travel up to Dundee as her brother goes to uni there. This was a perfect idea as it meant we had somewhere to crash for a couple of hours. The next train was at 10.20 so we didn't have to wait around too long and even though the conductor looked like a moody so and so going through a mid-life crisis - she let us on.We were convinced that she was going to kick us off when the train got insanely packed at the next stop and people were huddling like penguins for a good 15 minutes while we were just chilling on a four seat table. Talk about luxury.

We arrived in Dundee at around quarter to midnight and walked to Emily's brothers friends house where we were staying. We couldn't stay at her brothers as he was going out but luckily his friend stepped in and allowed us her sofas for the night. We got there about 1am-ish and after meeting everyone we fed our bellies which were growling with hunger. I can't say a greasy burger and chips was the most settling of foods after not eating for most of the day, but it did the job. We had decided to get up early and head to Dundee train station to ensure the barriers would be up so we got some sleep at around half 2 and woke up at 5. My eyes were ridiculously bloodshot and I attempted to put my make up on while half asleep so it comes as no surprise why I looked horrific. 

Saturday 2nd March - 6am

The 6.25am trip from Dundee to Inverurie went smoothly and as it was so early there were no ticket conductors in sight. I managed to stomach a chicken salad roll at about 7am because that was the only food we had, don't ask me how. When we reached Inverurie we had a half an hour wait and then caught the 8.40 train up to Inverness. This was one of the most exiting journeys because we had decided that Inverness would be our final destination. We had seen on Twitter that other teams were in Edinburgh and Paris etc but managed to work out that we would still beat them if we went to Inverness. We did toy with the idea of going further north but played it safe and decided to turn straight back around after touching down at our final destination at about 10.30

There was about a 10 minute turnaround period between getting off the train and having to get back on the train that went back to Edinburgh but we made it. This ticket conductor was okay and let us stay on but was getting off in the middle of the journey at Perth which was slightly worrying. As soon as we hit Perth we all 'fell asleep' in hope of the conductor being polite and not waking us. Due to the 2 hours sleep the night before we all crashed as soon as we shut our eyes but was rudely awaken by a moody conductor. Great. He said he didn't mind us being there but we should have gone the right way about it and phoned up in advance. Bit hard when we had no idea where we'd be heading. After showing him our charity pack he reluctantly let us stay on and we enjoyed a sleepy journey back to Edinburgh. 

Saturday 2nd March - 2.30pm

We arrived in Edinburgh at around half 2 and decided that whatever happened, we couldn't exit the barriers. We knew how strict Edinburgh were with tickets and allowing people through the barriers so made a pact to wait it out until we could find a train down south. A platform assistant informed us that no trains on the platforms we were on were going south. Oops. We had no choice but to exit the barriers which was slightly worrying as we didn't know if we'd be able to get a coach or hitch hike back to Notts. However, it seemed our luck was in because as we exited the barrier we saw all the other platforms which we could access without tickets.

We hopped on a train at about 3pm which was direct to Newcastle and raced down to the end of the train to speak to the conductor. After rushing down a good seven carriages we were met by the trolley lady serving food with the conductor nowhere to be seen. We had gone to the wrong end of the train. Yup. In the split second of turning around to make our way up the other end, the train started moving. We all instantly started laughing at the fact we couldn't possibly get kicked off until we hit Newcastle because it was a direct train. This was until the conductor told us that what we were doing was illegal and that he'd have to fine us £50 each.

Our persuasive tactics didn't quite work on this one and he persisted to be grumpy and inform us of the rules and regulations. East Coast trains must have had floods of students attempting to get on as they'd all received an email that morning telling them not to allow the charity students in green tops on the trains. What colour tops were we wearing? Green. After pleading with him he said he'd ring his team and come and talk to us - at this point we thought that he felt guilty for being so harsh and would let us off so long as we didn't do it again. Let's just say we didn't quite anticipate what was to come.

Saturday 2nd March - 4.30pm

We arrived in Newcastle and the minute we stepped off the train we were greeted by the British Transport Police. That's right - the police. We had the 'do you know this is illegal' lecture before giving over our details for a police check. It was kind of surreal because they were genuinely nice and laughed at what we were being encouraged to do, but it was still insane that the police had got involved after we were trying to do something charitable. Somehow I think trains won't have the same problem in the future as the train conductor said he was going to ring around all the uni's and put a stop to this event as we should find a better way to raise money for charity. Hahahahaha. You can only laugh. To top it off - we were banned from all Newcastle train stations and informed that if we attempted to get on another train we would be arrested. Priceless.

We agreed we would completely rule out the train option as we didn't want to get a criminal record in the process of raising money for charity. National Express yet again refused us travel and gave us the company policy bollocks for the second time running. We had a brainstorming session over a cheap greasy pizza and decided to hitch hike. At this point I think I should mention that when we came out of Newcastle station at 5pm, there were floods of people who were blind drunk. I thought that Geordie Shore exaggerated their love of drinking and partying - but they really are complete nutters.

It was getting dark so with more signs in tow we started walking towards the M1. It wasn't until we were nearly there that I recalled reading somewhere online that to get down south from Newcastle we infact needed the A1. Redirected by club bouncers we proceeded to a road near the A1 where we started our second attempt at hitch hiking. After about 10 minutes we were about to move locations because the road was completely dead when a taxi pulled in and offered to take us to Durham!

Saturday 2nd March - 7pm

The kind taxi driver dropped us off at a petrol station in Durham which we thought would be the best location to hitch hike from. This way people had to get out of their cars to fill up so would be forced to talk to us. As soon we got there we saw a van so ran over and explained ourselves - again. These two guys were going to Manchester but agreed to veer off slightly and drop us in Leeds.

Emily sat in the front to see what was going on and make sure everything okay while the rest of us sat in the back of the van. I know - sounds like we were being smuggled! Luckily I had a torch because it was pitch black and there were tools and hard hats hanging above us. After an uncomfortable hour and a half journey of entertaining ourselves by playing the A-Z categories game and seeing what animal shapes we could make out of loose wood chippings, we arrived at a petrol station in Manchester. We were meant to be getting dropped in Leeds but after seeing the map, Emily agreed that Manchester would be better as we could get a lift to Stoke, Derby and then finally to Nottingham.

At the next petrol station in Manchester we spent about half an hour going back and forth over the foot bridge because different people told us we needed to be on different sides of the road. This kind of worked in our favour as the petrol station attendant on one side gave us a free Costa hot chocolate, and the attendant on the other side gave us a free creme egg. Win win situation! After more signs and more waiting we finally found a guy who agreed to take us on the M6. He kindly went out of his way (primarily because there wasn't a petrol station for miles) and dropped us in a place called Lymm which was a great help.

We looked through a couple of maps and perfected our route in the petrol station before patiently waiting outside for more kind people who would help us out. 2 cars pulled in and one guy offered to take us to Stoke because that's where he was heading. He was with his friend who was driving his car as he had just gone and picked up a car for his daughter that he bought on eBay. He probably had no tax or insurance but we were desperate okay!

For the first ten minutes of the journey I was convinced we were part of some viscous plot. His friend in the car infront kept flicking on his hazard lights and the guy driving the car we were in kept responding by flashing his headlights. It didn't help that both drivers were swerving in their lanes as if they were either high or drunk - or both. My mind soon settled and he turned out to be a very charitable and spiritual person. He loved us for being 'magical' people and doing such a great thing and told us about his interesting and talented family. He again went out of his way and drove straight through Stoke, straight through Derby and ended up driving us a good 40 miles dropping us at a petrol station just 16 miles away from Nottingham! Yes!

Sunday 3rd March 12.30pm

It has just passed midnight and we were so close to being back. After panicking in Newcastle that we would never make it back for free, let alone on time, we were within reaching distance of our end goal. Sadly the high didn't continue for long. The attendant inside said that the petrol station was probably the quietest one ever in the history of petrol stations with approximately 1 car showing up every 3 hours. We sat and waited and against all odds, a car pulled in. Although he was travelling to Leicester, he agreed to take us to Nottingham after we explained we were on the last leg of our journey.

This man was reserved and had the squeakiest voice I had ever come across. He came full circle round the back of the petrol station and through the car park as he thought it was the exit and Emily and I had to literally gag each other to stop ourselves from insulting him by laughing so hard. When we finally got out of the car park and onto the M1 the driver said he would drop us into the city centre of Nottingham and not just in the outskirts. It  just so happened that the place he stopped was about a 2 minute walk from our accommodation  That was it - we had managed to blag our way to Inverness and back.

The End Result

Overall, we walked for about 6 six hours, blagged 6 car journeys and got on 6 trains which got us to Inverness and back within 38 hours. Considering we had 52 to do this in we were chuffed that we actually made it back - and with 14 hours to go. In our minds, getting a shower and being able to sleep in our own beds before the results meeting at 3pm was equal to winning, so we didn't really care if we had been beaten.

We heard another team had got to Brussels but hadn't managed to make it back. Only 4 out of the 16 teams got back within the 52 hours including 2 teams that made it to Edinburgh and to Paris. Luckily we'd worked strategically by seeing how far ahead we were in Inverness but there was still a team that was unaccounted for, so we didn't know if we had actually won.

HOWEVER, to our absolute amazement...we won!!! Everything was against us, from having two boys drop out, not raising the money, getting kicked out of a train station and having no other options to get back apart from hitch hiking all the way back from Newcastle - we won. It was just the icing on the cake that we managed to achieve this as well as getting to sleep in our own beds for the last night!!

I didn't quite know what to expect from the adventure and didn't anticipate that it would be as hard as it was but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. There were ups, where we were absolutely buzzing with ourselves, and downs where we had to work hard to lift each others spirits when things didn't go to plan, but I wouldn't have changed the experience at all. We spent most of it laughing, came back with some cracking stories and in the process raised a load of money for charity. Apologies for using the same phrase... but to top it off we won a free trip to Alton Towers for winning which is pretty cool.

I want to say a massive thank you to my group who were amazing. We worked incredibly well as a team and couldn't have done it without each other. This will definitely be a weekend that I'll always remember!

Now I need to go and catch up on my sleep - goodbye.

MANCHESTER... our first stop out of Nottingham

Waiting for a coach... sadly no luck :(

Early morning... hence the CamWow

Manchester coach station

Dundee train station with Emily's brother

Feeling very deflated... still in Nottingham

Edinburgh train station with the ticket conductor Matthew

Such enthusiasm

Before we left

Journey snaps #1

Journey snaps #2

Persuasive... right?

Our new friend Matthew leading the way

Dundee train station when we arrived

Dundee train station - 6am

Nottingham - Inverness

My team at our final destination

Celebratory drinks!

Celebratory cocktails anyone?
YAY we won
So proud of us!

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