Saturday, March 14, 2009

Red Nose Day Tube Challenge 2009

So, as I've been plugging for the last month, yesterday was Red Nose Day - the day we'd picked to attempt to visit all 270 stations on the London Underground. Read on to see how we fared...

The day started with a gentle half mile walk from the Travelodge round to Hatton Cross station. It wasn't cold, very mild, but there was nowhere around to get a bacon sandwich. Sadly, this was to carry on throughout the day. After meeting up and mucking about confusing early morning commuters, we got the train to Heathrow Terminal 4, and started our stopwatches when the doors closed there. The train left 6 minutes later than scheduled which was to our advantage, as we had a long wait at the next change and this cut the time down significantly. When we came into daylight at Hounslow West I shifted in my seat to see the sun rise and twisted my back awkwardly - the twinge that had me walking gingerly for a week in February returned, and I started to worry that my day was over before it had begun.

On the train to Barons Court Anthony was distributing Red Noses and we had a bit of fun throwing them to/at each other. At Barons Court we changed to a District train to West Kensington, and the first run of the day. I was dreading this, as if my gym sessions weren't enough this would kill me, and it wasn't even half 7! This was much easier than I thought due to taking a run through back streets which broke up the monotony of a long street, and I jogged in to Kensington Olympia feeling much better than I expected. A quick change and we were off to Wimbledon to somehow make it to Morden in time for a Mill Hill East train.

(Sidebar: If these station names are like Vienna - they mean nothing to you - there's a map here to refer to)

At Wimbledon the train we'd planned to get to South Merton wasn't in, so we took a tram instead. This was quite fun, despite people studiously ignoring my attempts to make eye contact and let me explain what we were doing. We jumped off at Merton Park and sprinted up to the road to hopefully get a bus and it was at that point that we saw the bus stop nearest was out of order. Bugger. To compound our misery we spotted a Morden bus coming, too. Completely ignoring the Green Cross Code we ran across a very busy A road to try and flag it down on the off-chance that it would stop for a dozen superheroes. Luckily, it did! Garion, dressed as Superman, wasn't expecting this much running on an attempt and collapsed on the floor of the bus for a rest. The driver dropped us off right outside the station then stopped traffic so we could cross the road in front of him, and such won the Best Bus Driver of the day award.

This bit of good fortune meant we could get the train before the Mill Hill East train that we intended to get, and gave us a few minutes at Finchley Central for a breather/toilet break. I nipped over to the southbound platform to take a picture of Harry Beck's original Tube map and gave a spare Red Nose to a gateline guard who kept looking over at us and giggling. At Mill Hill East we were accosted by a strange ginger haired fella - who was possibly on a comedown and freaked out by us - who wanted lots of pictures. A trip up to High Barnet and a few buses followed by a run saw us reach Cockfosters in time, and a bit of luck with the next few connections meant we knocked out Covent Garden earlier than planned, before heading off to Essex.

Had a bit of time at Hainault so I checked to see if it had improved since the end of August (it hadn't) and then to Woodford, where I replenished my drinks supply, got a ham and cheese roll that was disappointingly missing the cheese, and had a quick wee. Not all at the same time, I should point out. A nice trip back into London and out the other side, and then a run to Ickenham. This was slightly downhill but went past eight pubs! As this was about two in the afternoon there were lots of people about and we got a fair number of toots from car/van/motorbike horns. At the next station, Hillingdon, we reached the halfway point in terms of stations visited, but a few minutes delay here meant I couldn't chance a lovely bacon and brie sandwich from the Cafe at Uxbridge. Back at Rayners Lane I was annoyed that the platform kiosk that was open ten minutes before had shut for afternoon tea - fortunately there was a shop just outside the entrance where I finally got some wine gums.

Down the Piccadilly line to North Ealing and we had a bit of interest from the British Transport Police. Apparently the radios we were using happened to be on the same frequency as their radios - by all accounts, Control were wetting themselves listening to discussions of the superheroes running between stations! As we left at North Ealing I had the first piece of misfortune of the day. Coming off the train to the stairs I clipped my foot on the lip of the platform and went tumbling - the momentum of my backpack carried forward and I made a half hearted attempt at a forward roll to try and cover up my clumsiness. By the time I'd left the station one of our number had already reached West Acton and radioed back that there was no train for nine minutes and to take our time. I did, and nipped into the off licence to get a can of Magners for the end of the day.

A quick change at Ealing Broadway (which still smells of curry) and down to Turnham Green for a doubleback to Richmond. I actually cannot remember a single thing about this bit up until Hammersmith - it's possible I hit my head on the platform at North Ealing too - and at Hammersmith we completely screwed up the door positions, so what was meant to be a leisurely jog turned into a full on pelt through a shopping centre to the Hammersmith and City line station (across 5 lanes of traffic) and we got a tannoy announcement to a certain extent - "can the superheroes stop holding open the doors or this train will be taken out of service!".

By this time I was feeling the effects of a long day, and as we hit rush hour I was starting to look forward to a McDonalds for a sugar boost. It didn't help that Sam and Matt dropped out at South Kensington as they were the only two I really talked to. After some rapid changes I ended up in the carriage behind everyone else, tuning in to three teenage girls who didn't realise that they weren't black - despite attempts to dress/talk/act like stereotypical black girls. Given my tiredness it took a few minutes to realise that they were actually discussing the various trains from the Thomas the Tank Engine stories and what number/colour each engine was! At Stockwell we pulled up into the Northern line platform to see a Victoria line train waiting across the platform with its doors open. Sprinting across we heard the beeps to signify the doors were about to close - Iron Man threw himself into the rapidly diminishing gap and managed to force the doors back open! By the time we'd got back to Sloane Square my back was in agony and I was having to hyperventilate every few minutes to stop it locking up.

However, after a change at Tower Hill for an Upminster train I had taken enough Ibuprofen to paralyse a small horse and was able to continue. The District train to Upminster dragged and I took the opportunity to have a bit of a doze. Past East Ham the train emptied and I found out I'd raised £288 so far - sent out a begging Tweet for the final £12 to take me over double my original target, and my Tennessee friend Amanda duly coughed up. This, coupled with the ice cold bottle of Coke at Upminster, gave me the impetus to continue at least until the Burger King at Harrow. Coming back down to London on a very lovely C2C train we hared out of Fenchurch Street station, up Jewry Street (passing more pubs - I swear the easiest way to find a pub in London is to walk between two geographically close Underground stations) and across to Aldgate. Running across Aldgate High Street I crucially forgot the Green Cross Code and nearly got mown down by a double decker. Apparently the high pitched squeal I heard wasn't the bus's brakes and was in fact me.

Sitting at Aldgate we waited for five minutes for the train to depart - we had a green signal, but no driver. I was all for taking over and joyriding it to Baker Street (it can't be that difficult to drive, surely?) but quite sensibly I was shouted down. Passing through the stations on the northern bit of the Circle line we saw crowds five deep at the platform - not to see me, sadly, but because there hadn't been a train through in a good 15 minutes before. At Baker Street we ran down and found a Jubilee line train waiting for us in the platform so hoped on and nipped out to Zone 5, on the world's slowest Jubilee line train. At Wembley Park I started noting things down for the Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend in May, when I'll be back to cheer on Gillingham in the playoff final. I realised two things on this leg - it was suddenly blinking cold, and that next time I do an all stations attempt, I'll bring a pen so I can attempt the sudokus in the freebie papers strewn across the carriage. A double back at Stanmore to Canons Park and then a bus to Edgware to go back into town.

As we'd knocked out Leicester Square and Covent Garden earlier on in the day, we could take a shorter route across Zone 1 for this bit. Unfortunately this meant a change at Tottenham Court Road, which has never been my favourite station (the Central line platforms, Northern line platforms and surface entrance are all about three miles away from each other) and today didn't help as it was roastingly hot. A full pelt run through the station was pointless as we had a five minute wait for a train; waiting for others to arrive I noticed my vision greying out and everything at a 30 degree angle to where it should be. I propped myself against a wall to avoid collapsing and hindering the attempt, as after the next change at Oxford Circus I'd be sat down for 40 minutes so I could recover. I nodded off several times on the way out to Queens Park, which was a source of amusement for everyone else! At Queens Park our train terminated so we hopped across to get on the Overground train (apart from the DLR and the River boats, we managed to use every single London Transport method on the day) up to Harrow and Wealdstone. We had a long old wait here and saw two Virgin Pendolinos go screaming past - my joking suggestion to Garion that he race them was met with a stare best described as "withering".

Back at Kenton we shot off the train, up the stairs and through the sleep village to Northwick Park station, annoyed that we wouldn't make it back to Preston Road in time to catch the Watford train. However a bit of luck meant that the Watford train was running four minutes late and we easily caught it at Preston Road. Nipping through Harrow on the Hill I pressed my face against the glass peering intently for the support team, who left us at Baker Street (the second time) to get a job lot of Bacon double cheeseburger meals from Burger King in Harrow. Unfortunately they didn't get back to us in time and so were going to meet us at Moor Park after we'd been up to Watford.

Given that the Met line is so vast and sprawling, with four branches up at this end, the Amersham trains run fast from Chesham to Moor Park, whereas the Watford trains visit the four stations in between. As we left Northwood Hills a fast train rattled past - this was carrying our support team (and more crucially, my dinner) and so they met us at Moor Park. My food didn't make it to Croxley. This was exactly what I needed and kept me going until the end. Back at Moor Park we had a 19 minute wait for an Amersham train (well, one that stopped here anyway - several Chiltern Railways trains whooshed past onomatopoeically) as we'd changed our plans and would now finish at Chesham (then revisit Amersham for the cars). At this point I was running on autopilot and don't remember much about the stations, except that Amersham and Chesham seem to be populated exclusively by 17 year old temptresses. Either that or I imagined them - I'm still not entirely sure which is more likely! Back at Chalfont we crossed the platform to the Chesham shuttle and Garion, the hero that he is, had a quick chat with the driver. Coming back to us he confessed he'd managed to convince the driver to give it some welly - hearing this, everyone who was standing up made a dash for the safety of the seats! I cracked open my can of Magners for the final countdown (and I wish I'd put that song on my phone to play for the final bit) and nearly fell over again as the train accelerated further into Buckinghamshire. Shortly after midnight, a mere 17 hours, 36 minutes and 57 seconds after the doors closed at Heathrow Terminal 4, we tumbled out onto the platform at our 270th station, stopping our watches and waking up most of Chesham with our raucous yells of delight.

We dragged our weary bodies back to Amersham via Chalfont, and I got a lift back to the travelodge I had left 20 hours before. I don't remember anything at all from leaving Amersham until 9:51 on Saturday morning, when a text from Mel woke me up and I found I was face down on the bed, still wearing everything from the day before - even my backpack! As a mildly amusing coda, once I'd replied to Mel and got the kettle on, I stripped off my now rather pungent clothes, opened the window and inadvertently exposed myself to anyone driving down the A4 at that particular moment.

2 comments:

James Ether said...

This is the most epic thing I've ever read. I got very confused and lost in some sections but it must've been an amazing day.

scrxisi said...

A thoroughly good day, of which I am now reminded of the good parts! Sorry we had to duck out, really wanted to go on but I'd have only ended up worse :(