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The One Where No One Quits

Tube 12 - 29th October 2010

At 03.55, the alarm goes off and I am instantly awake. That's not actually hard considering that it feels like I haven't really been asleep. Vicki is already up, Chris stirs and I can hear Anthony moving too. It is time to go out again, but first I must get ready - be dressed, and utterly prepared for what I am about to face. So I proceed to put my underground coat on again.

Tube 12I start with my left arm, slipping it carefully into the top of the Northern Line at High Barnet, tentatively wiggling my fingers past the junction at Finchley Central - past Highgate, Archway and Tufnell Park until my finger tips hit Camden Town and stop. I insert my right arm next - entering at Heathrow, my thin gangly arm slipping past the loop nicely, the 'wheelchair' blobs - merely a token gesture to the map - bumping me slightly as my elbow fits nicely around the curve just before Acton Town.

Legs next, and Morden takes my left lower appendage first, my heel bumping on the connection at Stockwell as it slides inside. And then to cover my right leg - I insert it into the system at Upminster, aaaaall the way down to Whitechapel, the back curve of my knee fitting nicely around the bend in the map between Plaistow and West Ham.

I zip myself up at the front - From Euston Square in one round circular motion - Zzzzzip, until the central area covers my torso. And then I don my hat at Chesham with Amersham to Watford sticking out either side providing additional ear warmth for my day ahead.

I stand up straight, and check myself in the mirror. I am Geoff : TubeGeek extraordinaire, and I own the tube. Which means I'm ready to go - with the others - it's time to set off.


'We', as I tweet to let everyone know is this time three of us that are doing it. Myself along with Vicki and Anthony who have joined me for the day. Anthony has had two previous attempts to do all the stations but never completed. Vicki has never made an attempt in her life, and has only ever been to about half the of the stations - today, she's going to get round all of them.

Tube 12 Montage 1

Chris and Matt are working support again - Chris in fact has stayed at mine the night before, and I don't want to name names and say that his snoring kept us awake ... but ... well, his snoring is quite loud and it keeps us all awake. All of us have not had a lot of sleep - and as we walk to the bus stop to take us to Wembley where Matt is meeting us, I'm already worried about how tired I'm going to be today and how much energy I'm going to have.

The first part of the day is all pretty standard. Meet Matt, buy travelcards, take a team photo and get the train up to Chesham to start. I note though that there is a Travel Inn just outside Wembley Park station and can't but help think that next time we do this (you know... because there is always going to be a next time) then staying here the night before would avoid future snorage issues, and would let us all have an extra hour in bed too. Not that we're not going to do it this time of course. But just in case.

At Chesham we bump into three other people who are also attempting the challenge. I attempt to strike up a friendly conversation with them to get into the spirit of the day, but they don't want to know. Unfortunately it won't be the first time we bump into them, or the last time that they have poor attitudes towards us, shame.

The train jerks to a start at 06:20.50 - earlier than timetabled which is annoying but it means that we'll almost definitely make the connection at Chalfont without any problems. Another challenger that we know of - Sam - has been here two weeks before and had almost missed the connection at Chalfont and had to bang on the door to plead to get the driver to let her in, and then almost missed the connecting train at Amersham - now starting four minutes earlier due to the leaf fall timetable.

So I've positioned Matt ahead at Amersham in case we needed him there to help us, but instead we - and the other team who I gracefully let run out in front of me - went over the steps and made the train out of Amersham just fine.

The train pulls out of Amersham and I note that there are more morning commuters that I might expect at this time of day. Matt later tells me that one of them is an actress that plays a character in either Casualty or Holby City - he can't remember which. We spotted a 'famous' person on the District Line before down at Chiswick Park, and he we are doing it again! No future tube challenge now will feel complete until we spot a celeb.

So three stations down and less than twenty minutes into the day and Chris looks up from me from his iPad - a familiar sight to see him buried in it, working out times and connections on the fly all day - and tells me some bad news. "The Watford train is running four minutes late", he says dryly. And he doesn't need to say any more than that because we immediately both know what it will mean : We'll wait at Moor Park for it, it'll arrive late, we'll get into Watford late, miss our connection down, be ten minutes late getting the next one out, which will miss our connection further down the line and put us behind and unable to beat the record so early on already.

Yeah. Sixteen minutes into a sixteen hour plus day, and you already know that really, there's no point in you carrying on.

Despair

But we carry on. What else can you do? And what I wrote just there above that I suspected would happen is of course exactly what happens : we miss the Watford train and have to wait eight minutes to take the same one out that we've come in on. By the time we get to North Harrow to make our run to the next station we are eleven minutes down. And by the time we've got to our connecting train and gone deliberately in the opposite direction to the one planned I know that we are about fifteen minutes behind the record time.

I turn to Chris to see him already buried into his iPad working out times and a new way that we could possibly go based on the train that we're not taking, so I leave him to it. I check in with Anthony and particularly Vicki to see how they've managed on the first run back then. I'd walked the last 100 metres, but that's because I knew on the walkie-talkie that we'd just missed a train and there was no point in running for something that we weren't going to make.

The train we are getting does pull in, and moments later we are heading on up to Uxbridge, via an enforced change at Ruislip, where we have our first minor incident of the day - I lose my travelcard.

Actually, it's more than just that - I suddenly realise that I don't have my Oystercard wallet that contains my Oystercard, my all zones paper ticket travelcard that I've bought for the day, alongside my credit card and £20 in cash - all tucked into one little wallet. It happens during the change at Ruislip from a Piccadilly to wait for the Met, where a lovely lady overhears us talking about how we're aiming for West Ruislip (after the Ickenham run). "You know, West Ruislip isn't far from here" she says, trying to be helpful, but I grin back at her and tell her that we're going to go the long way round "Via Uxbridge!", and she looks a little confused. And in that moment (I've been sat on the platform) the train comes in and I gather up my phone, radio, logbook & pen .. and obviously leave my wallet on the platform. I don't realise it until a whole stop later once I've gone past Ickenham! "Oh for Ffffffff's sake!" I exclaim under my breath, and explain what's happened. Chris volunteers to go back and get it, and I'm forced to use my backup ticket.

After the turnaround at Uxbridge, I have one of those annoying moments when an announcement cheerfully tells me that there is a "Good Service" on the Metropolitan Line. "Not on the way up to Watford this morning there wasn't" I say to no one, and we prepare ourselves for the Ickenham Run.

Once again I see a fabled U1 bus ... going in the other direction, and with Anthony and Vicki running ahead, I slow up and walk the last minute, because Chris has sent me a text with the time of the departing Central Line train, and so I know it's not leaving for another six minutes. "Call me!", says his text as well, and it's weird how that one exclamation mark in his eight-character-long text message tells me in my head that in the time that he's turned around to go and get my Oystercard for me (still lying on the platform where no one had touched it!) he's come up with a new route and plan for the day. So when I get down to the others and we settle into the Central Line carriage a couple of minutes before we depart, I call him up and he tells me his thinking.

It's quite simple - we're extremely unlikely to break the record time if we stick to our route. We're already 15 minutes down, and made one change, but we could get back a rough planned route .. "Or..." explains Chris through 2Khz wide mobile audio connection, "We could completely rip up the route and try and do things we've never done before".

We talk it through, quickly - because there isn't much time to decide and I realise that he's right. If we stick to our original plan - it's never going to happen. So why not be a little crazy and adventurous and really go a different way round trying things out and seeing what happens?

Tearing up the Route

Our route is - essentially - chunks of the map, like spokes off of a wheel in the middle that we just do a certain way round, and all we were going to do was swap the order .. a lot. "And also", explained Chris some more "If we change the next bit, I can guarantee you making an Olympia train with a small connection time", and that more or less sold it for me.

Olympia had been the pain-in-the-arse station which had cost us the world record last time out, so to guarantee getting it out of the way would be a nice thing to do. I said we'd do it. Oh - and then explained to Anthony and Vicki that I wanted to do it ... and were they ok with it? And I probably said it in such a way that they realised that they didn't have much choice about the matter!

At Ealing Common, there's an amusing moment where we miss Matt because the sudden change of plan meant that no one had had any time to tell him about tearing up the route, and he was expecting us to roll in on one platform at the station, when actually he was waiting over on the other side! "Matt!" we all call out - scanning down the platform, and he hears us calling from the opposing platform to us and comes running over the steps to join us ... just as the train pulls out!

The Olympia connection and train did work quite beautifully though. We run on foot and experienced the bizarre effect of the radios that we had on us bursting into life with chatter from the nearby conference centre - it seems that the channel we'd tuned into was a popular one, and it wouldn't be the only time today that some stray radio communication would bleed over onto us.

So at 09.30 in the morning we sailed a little jubilantly into Earl's Court with one of the three key tricky stations/sections out of our way already. Although in the back of my mind I knew it was false jubilancy because we still weren't probably going to do it, but it was about this time that we all started to comment that we shouldn't quit ... keep going, and well - see what happens?

Instead of departing straight away at Earls' Court, the Olympia train annoyingly sat there a little too long - and long enough for a train up from Wimbledon bound for Edgware Road to come in on the adjacent platform. Shit .. which was one was going to leave first? We double guarded both trains, and our original Olympia service got the green signal first. I ducked back under Anthony's arm where he was holding the door open ... they slammed shut ... and then they slide opens again. Whoops - had we caused that? No .. the answer came through a few moments later. Someone in another carriage had pulled the Passenger Emergency Alarm, and the driver and a station assistant were now walking down the platform and the length of the train to see where and what was going on. We all cursed silently, but there was nothing we could do about it. Ultimately though, I don't think it cost us our connection at High Street Ken, as we made a circle line train there to take us towards Edgware Road.

Stopwatch

The next few hours seem to work out ok, but I felt discombobulated as we were doing parts of the network that I wasn't used to doing at the times of day we were doing them at. We were also starting to feel tired and I mean really tired - so early on. The lack of sleep the night before (Anthony thinks that he only got about half of hour of actual sleep) was certainly getting to us all, and at 10:25 we went properly underground into a tube tunnel for the first time that day, I noted that we'd only been going four hours, and yet it felt at least double that. "How can it be only half past ten?" I whined. But we plodded on, we had to keep going, as during the week on emails to the team I told them that 'No one would be quitting on my shift!', and so there was no way that I could start quitting myself.

On the busJust before eleven o'clock we emerged out into a boundary Zone 5 station and into daylight again - and again at a point and time that I wasn't use to being at.

We started to run - but then saw a bus, a bus which I'd never got in the direction that we were going before, and noted to both Anthony and Vicki that this was a first for me, it was going to be a day of many firsts like that.

Whilst on the bus, I get a text message that delivered some news that would further mess with our day - The Central Line had had an incident at Woodford station. An incident? We delved for more information and calls and texts were made - there'd been a person under a train [suicide] and a whole section of the line was now closed. This certainly made things interesting ... we'd already radically altered the route once, but now it looked as if we were going to have to steer clear of the eastern end of the Central Line until the afternoon, when hopefully the service got back to normal.

More route re-working then was required and coming south down the Jubilee, Chris seemed to tap away at his iPad with his fingers more than ever. The pixels underneath the glass screen danced at his command forming new windows of information, a constant stream of zeros and ones from the device thru his eyes to his brain - where his synapses toiled to conclude the next move and come up with the next change.

'Totally reworked the route' was certainly one way of putting it. Having a tried and tested 'way' of doing things (with a good amount of flexibility) was one thing, but doing sections of the map three to fours hours 'out' of when I would normally expect to do them was totally throwing me. We made our way around some connections in the central area - again doing them in reverse and running up escalators that I was more familiar with running down. Turning left where on the last two occasions I had turned right, and fought our way back through to the Jubilee Line again by lunchtime.

We headed east, and got out and changed at West Ham. We bundled off the train, up the steps, round to the right, dodging the nice people going about their non-record-breaking-business (slackers), down some more escalators, across the concourse and then up some narrow stairs - Anthony first - to find Chris standing there nonchalantly, and with a casual "Your train sir", made us and other nearby passengers laugh as he pointed like a butler presenting afternoon tea to the C2C train that was rolling into the platform at that exact moment, a nice moment.

FeetAnd so we headed east, and east, and more east, and did the Eastenders part of the tube in the east. Did I mention the eastern slant to it all? And I got more confused. It should be late in the afternoon but it's still only lunchtime .. Mmm, lunchtime, I could do with some lunch but no one had any food, so we amused ourselves by taking some silly photos instead - I lay on the floor and took a self-timered photo of myself revealing ... mainly the soles of my shoes!

If I needed reminding that I was in East London, I couldn't have had a more pertinent reminder when I saw a 'Tox10' tag, sprayed on the side of a train at Bow Road. The Underground's most prolific graffiti tagger is still up to his tricks it would seem, all these years on even though he's been arrested and sentenced in the past for doing it.

At Upminster, we cross platforms and looked up and down to check to see if the train sitting at the platform was the one we wanted out. Suddenly there was a beeping sound, and instinctively all five of us jump on the train thinking it's about to depart. "It's ok! Red signal!", someone chuckled as they peered along the platform and we all realise that the beeping noise had come from somewhere else ... but we liked the fact that our tube reflexes were honed and we'd all reacted by jumping on the train we thought was about to depart at the same time.

We journey back towards the centre of London and there was a brief amount of time for chat and frivolity. Vicki used one of the grab poles in the carriage to lean against, and start to make strange shapes with her body. It looks to me like she was trying to cast puppet-shadows ... only, using her whole body it was more like complete-animal shadows ... oh, and then I realised that she was just stretching her muscles to stay warm from all the running.

"Are you stretching?" someone else asked her. And before she had a chance to reply I got in with "No, she's doing animal impressions .. look .. a penguin!", and Vicki instantly obliged, shaping her body into a penguin-like shape. And thus a game was born, whenever a lull in the action happened during the day, someone would randomly shout a name, and Vicki would duly oblige with the correct pose. Animal magic!

I take a swig of drink ... I'm not sure where it's appeared from. I offer some up to Vicki who looks like she needs a drink too, but she turns to Matt and says "Is that ok?", and I think ... of course it's ok! At the start of the day, I gave the support guys some money to buy us supplies during the day - turns out thought that this drink is Matt's own personal one and not from the collective 'pool', oops! I suddenly feel a bit guilty for swigging down so much of it.

At Earl's Court, I'd arranged for a man that I'd never met before in my life to join us and tag along for a bit. So hello to Michael who joined us for the ride and instantly brought us (or so it seemed) a bit of good luck on connections. We got a Wimbledon train almost straight away and enjoyed a 20 minute journey down the line with our new companion, Vicki happily pointing out the flat where she used to live at Putney, and Anthony's radio (in his bag) rather randomly crackling into life from someone else nearby also using the same channel, and hearing the phrase "He's going to have to get them skips filled by 5 o'clock", but sadly we were soon out of range and didn't get a chance to command the filling of the skips from our passing train.

We get to Wimbledon swiftly, make an almost-instant bus all the way to Morden where Chris is waiting for us with some KFC, and we greedily slurp up the slimy chicken as we ride up the Northern Line taking out the rest of the tube stations south of the river that we hadn't done yet with some swift and fast connections.

"I have never wanted you more", grinned Vicki to me as I let a chewy slimy chicken breast dangle from my lips as I grappled to devour it. But trust me - hot food on a tube challenge .. any hot food on a tube challenge, is welcome food. I got my own back on her though by making her do animal impressions at my command to show to Michael just how serious we were about the whole day. Chicken!

We go in and out of Brixton in 18 seconds - faster than a lot of connections we do today if we just stay on the same train passing through a station. Michael leaves us at Victoria - his local station - and wishes us well for the rest of the day. "Don't quit!" he says, "We won't!" we all yell back, waving goodbye, and I realised then and made a note of it in my log book that what ever happened, what ever time we got, if we had to miss out stations or not ... we were not going to give up. Anthony was going to complete. Vicki was going to be able to say that she'd been to all the stations, and no way in my tube challenge 'career' was I about to start not bothering to finish - as some people do when they know they can't get a record time - THIS ... I decided was going to be the one where nobody quits.

We trundle - a perfectly apt word - along the southern section of the circle line on a busy train. A seat becomes free and I selfishly make a bee-line for it. Anthony is reading a 'Metro' across the way, and Vicki gets chatting to a mother of some small children standing just over from me. "You're doing this for fun?!" I heard the mum exclaim, but her son's reaction was "Cool!" when he hears what we are doing - and I can't but help think that I may just have injected the seed of the idea of tube challenging, that will develop in about ten years time when he's a teenager with money to buy his own travelcard. I'd like to apologise to his mother here in advance if that's the case.

The change of route brings about one extreme annoyance - the Aldgate to Aldgate East connection. This is a run that we shouldn't even be doing today, because the way that we normally tackle this part of the map means that we don't even up waiting for ages for a Circle Line train. Today? We have to change at Tower Hill and wait a whole ten minutes for a Circle Line train. Ten minutes in which any doubt of us taking the record time is removed.

By now it was late enough in the day for the Central Line to have reopened. I'd chatted earlier to a friend of mine who works for LU who told me that the police would have spent at least two hours there this morning, investigating and clearing up the track - and that all the staff at the station would have been sent home, and new staff drafted in to cover. And although the TFL website was still showing Woodford as closed, we'd heard otherwise, and so at Mile End we changed to the Central Line and headed for the top right of the map.

We have a one minute change at Leyton where Anthony uses the toilet. "Bang on the door when the train is coming" he said, and he had literally 20 seconds before it came into view and I duly banged on the door. "Didn't quite managed to empty it all out" he grimaces. "I'll have to finish that off later".

We get a Hainault Loop train first which feels like a small bonus, but I know that really we aren't anywhere close to having a record time. "You could still do it!" lies Chris, trying to raise my hopes, but I know that it isn't going to happen.

I try to work some times ahead in my head from what we've done so far to how much we have left, but it was still to early to call. It would need another couple of hours before I can properly project an estimated finish time.

Chris had let us go round the loop whilst he waited at Woodford to buy us supplies. It was a welcome sight as we made the connection on the footbridge to see him stroll into view, arms laden with chocolate bars, crisps, fruit and drinks. I suddenly have an image of Chris in my head being back at school wearing a smart blue blazer, and raiding the school tuck shop with his entire savings of his piggy bank. I don't mention this out loud, as I figured I'd save it for the write-up later.

At Epping, I nip into the loo and can only squeeze one out standing up despite there being a rumbling in another part of my body that maybe I should sit down instead.. Anthony manages to finish off what he'd started earlier at Leyton, and Vicky happily stays on the platform (she didn't follow us into the gents) snapping away, taking photos in the now fading light.

But she's made it out to Epping - the other extreme from Amersham/Chesham this morning on the tube network, and so I have a small moment to myself where I think that at least we've got to the extremities of the tube map. Whether we'd make it to the finish though, would be another thing.

Logging

Whilst I'd been logging the times all day in the notebook, Vicki has been taking snaps at every station - even getting those tricky ones where she'd stop as we were leaving a station on foot, turn around and get a photo - and then resume her running and catch back up with us - sterling work. I decided that she needed an accolade so lean over to her exposed flesh of her lower leg and draw on an icon of a camera, and label her as 'The Photo Queen'. I'm sweet like that, see?.

But as I lean over to do this, I feel my underwear rub against my arse ... and realise that I need some attention to myself with the vaseline. Foot rub? No .. Nipples? .. not this time, for what I hadn't foreseen was some kind of butt-cheek rash, as for the last hour I could feel a slight discomfort on my lower cheek where it joined my leg. I pull down my jogging trousers in a quiet part of the carriage and liberally apply the vaseline to stickily-smooth my woes away. It feels good.

And on we go ... with it getting darker and us feeling more tired. This was the latest in the year I'd ever done a tube challenge and it disturbed me a bit ... I like my daylight. Give me a nice May to June summer month for doing it - not October again please. The current record holders did it last year in December - rather them than me.

Our spirits were raised though by the continued presence of people that came out to visit and join us. Kate came out to meet up with us on the Victoria Line, only for her to miss us and have to catch up with us on the Northern instead - I'd asked her to come along and take some professional snaps, which she duly obliged.

Vicki's friend Amy also came out to visit on the Piccadilly, and I joked to her that maybe she would bring us good luck with connection times as Michael had done earlier in the day down on the Northern Line - but it wasn't to be, and maybe I tempted fate, as the Piccadilly Line then proceeded to screw us up big time.

The Met at Watford was annoying, waiting for terrible gaps in Circle Line services is a permanent irritant, but my main beef of the day will be with the appalling journey we had up to Cockfosters that night.

Initially we had a good connection onto our train and I felt buoyed, but at Arsenal, the train stopped .. and waited .. and waited .. and did not move for seven minutes. Seven minutes within which the driver did not come on the P.A. system to inform us of why we were not moving. New regulations brought in this year stipulates now that drivers are meant to communicate to passengers any delay of over thirty seconds to reassure them that the driver is present, but for seven minutes ... there was nothing.

We were stuck so long at the red signal during this time, that we confidentially got off and casually wandered up the platform to the front of the train. I was hoping maybe I could look in the platform mirror and catch the drivers eye/attention, but he wasn't having it.

When the train eventually does move, it crawls along then slows to a stop, then it starts again and just seems to take its time getting to the next stop. Eventually - at Arnos Grove - a change over point for Piccadilly Line drivers, we wait for another two minutes - time for the train that had been caught behind us to come into the centre platform and for passengers to run over as our train would be leaving first.

I'd called Chris a while back and given him an ETA of when we'd been at Cockfosters. This - he'd worked out - would put us on a good timed train to make MIll Hill East, but the delay up to Cockfosters now would mean that we'd miss that by five minutes - but with the MHE service as infrequent at it is, it would put us back another whole twenty minutes. I was really not very happy.

Eventually though, Cockfosters. And we were off, outside where the first thing that we noticed was that we were now getting wet - rain! I squash my phone inside the pages of my logbook to shield it, and we start to run on foot - down through the back streets to New Barnet to pick up a bus to take us to High Barnet.

But at New Barnet ... no buses. No buses! This is ridiculous. We just miss a 307 by thirty seconds which might have meant we'd make the train to make a good Mill Hill East connection, but it was not to be. Instead we had to wait a whole eight (eight!) irritating minutes with me cursing and pounding the pavement in the rain demanding for a bus to appear

Eventually a bus pulls in ... a 326. A what? That's not one of my regular buses. We decide to see where it goes to anyway. "High Barnet station?" asks Anthony ahead of me and the driver nods. Really? I decide to double check. "You go to High Barnet station, yes?" I ask, and the driver verbally agrees that he does - and so we get on, and settle in for the short five minute ride.

Five minutes later, and I've got my iPhone out checking the GPS-blue-blob on the Google Maps app to see where we are, and something odd happens ... the bus turns off down a side road! AWAY from High Barnet station! WTF? I "ding" the button, and we all shout at the driver to let us off, and I'm forced to get my phone out in the rain to look at the map to see where we are. I pinch and zoom in .. the precipitation making my fingers slide further than I want, but there we were, and there was a small side road to take us back up to the main road and High Barnet station. It's just that it's uphill, and we have to run.

From nowhere we all found energy to get out legs pounding the inclined pavement. At the top of the hill Anthony shouts at some passing bloke "Where's High Barnet station?", and the guy points "There! there!", and sure enough, around a small bend and across on the other side of the road, the glowing roundel, several metres up in the High Sky glows the sign for High Barnet in the dark, and we dash across somewhat ahead of a crossing, making use of the gaps in slowing traffic and run towards the entrance inbetween the kerb and the traffic beside us on the road.

I cough as a plume of bus diesel engine smoke hits my face and shoots down inside of my lungs, and yet simultaneously feel instantly cleansed by the lighter patter of rain hitting my face. I negotiate the kerb - paranoid about slipping over and hurting myself - and do so skillfully, only to then land my foot in a puddle that was collating by the side - worn down by years of the weight of people stood up at that point waiting to cross the pedestrian crossing that the bus was now blocking.

And for one wonderfully surreal moment the world then went into slow motion for me - like Matrix style slow motion - and as my running shoe sank half an inch deep into a puddle I felt my sock soak up the majority of the moisture - the rain droplets turned into green 1's and 0's, and a bullet-time camera made a 360 degree arc around my freeze-framed frozen right foot, made a 'Whoooosing' noise, before the effect faded and real life kicked back in and I was turning sharply left into the side road sloping gently down to the station.

So sharply in fact that my trajectory near coincided with Vicki's more gentler turn and I had to slightly check myself to one side to avoid bumping into her, and with the glow of the station in sight we ran into the station - through the lesser-used side entrance with the disabled barrier gate that's always open and perfect for fare dodgers and onto the rain soaked and yet brightly lit platform of High Barnet station.

Where was Chris? "Chris .. Chris!!!" I yell at the top of my voice and got the attention of everyone in my immediate vicinity, but not of the person that I wanted to cheerfully point me onto which ever train was leaving first. We all looked up at the departure board ... first train out, Platform 3. This is platform 3, isn't it? I look around some more .. no! It's platform 1, and instead we find ourselves running up and over the footbridge fast - almost too fast - and I'm grabbing onto handrails roughly using my momentum to carry me round the corners, across the bridge, down the steps to the other platform, where I do see Chris - blocking by a door which isn't closing ... yet .. .and we all run on and collapse onto the floor, and have a little moment of relief as I thought we were going to miss it ... and we're finally back on the Northern Line ... despite the longest run of the day, in the rain, in the dark, with a bus driver that lied and us being SO bloody tired .. we've made it, we've done it, we've MADE it and suddenly it feels fantastic and I check my watch to see how long it's taken and get the official time as the doors beep, swish as they close, and we move, we move, we're moving out, moving on, motion and all kinds of moving ... south ... down the track ... squealing as the wheels cross the points, and the moonlight bounces off the rain-soaked rails, and our train finally, finally takes us out of High Barnet ...


"You're bleeding" says Vicki, and I check my hand where she's pointing, and she's right, I am. Somewhere in the rush to clamber over the steps at High Barnet I must have scraped my hand, and there's a not-very-deep but consistent cut about three inches long down from the knuckle towards the tip of the middle finger on my right hand. Some tissues appear and I wrap my hand up - but not before we've taken a photo of it.

Tube 12 Montage 2

With blood seeping through the toilet roll, my energy that I found to make the last bit of run to the station spills out into my conversation and suddenly the whole carriage is alive with talk of the finish. We manage to work out that we can do the whole system in around 17 hours and 50 minutes - but it has to all work from now on. And really it would have helped if we'd managed to make the train before to make the MHE train the one before. Still - the one thing we're all decided upon is that no one ... no one ... is quitting today, and we are going to carry on until the end.

At Finchley Central, my usual immodium dose wears off, and in the eight minutes that we had to wait for the train I used the loo over on Platform 1 next to the original Harry Beck poster design map.

When the shuttle train came out we met the other team who'd just been up on it. They were now going the opposite way to us, and still had the Cockfosters run and bus to do! I liked that we'd done that though, and had no more runs to do.

Any other regular commuter would have said that Mill Hill East was gloomy and damp. To me though it was somehow heartening to be there, I liked it being all lit up in the dark with a slight drizzle coming down out of the sky. The three of us did the comical 'heads only' shot, leaning out of one carriage door whilst Kate took our photo from the other, just as the driver walked along the platform and made a comment under his breath and I first assumed he was being disparaging, but later considered that he was being friendly - just friendly in a very quiet fashion.

It felt like another little world in Mill Hill East. Just for a moment - where anything can can happen. The small tiny one track/one platform branch line that should have been extended but never was. A stop that would make a tube challenge day easier and twenty minutes shorter if it didn't exist - I bet the drivers find it a pain in the arse too, especially if you're the bored driver who gets the rota of driving the shuttle back and forth here all day.

Chris went to look for a toilet, but there was no longer one here. So we all piled back on for the doors to beep and close and we were on our way. And all of a sudden it felt like we were now on the home straight. The third of the three tricky parts of network was done, and I felt like it was evening proper at last.

Even though it really felt like it had been evening many hours ago - the day had extended into a new surreal world of time and space where endless long trains lit up at night - tracks clunking over joints in the track as they go, resonating in time with the ticking clock in your head that is somehow trying to keep up with what hour of the day it is, and completely failing.

We spoke to a woman who politely leaned towards us and asked what we were doing. Kate with her huge camera got chatting to a random guy that was also a photographer. Bananas appeared from somewhere, Anthony sipped on Lucozade, and I dreamed of putting the kettle on at home and having a tea. Torture.

Into the centre of town again, with a change, a run - up an escalator which made my hamstring revolt a little, a concourse, some steps, under a line ... and to a train where the three of us made it, but the support team didn't, and we were back in a central part of London. Along the line, a change, a reverse and then to make things a little surreal onto a line to do tube stations whilst not being on a tube train.

Fellow tube-challengers Sam and Matthew had been following us all day and swapping text messages and came out to meet us for the last few hours. With Kate too and Matt and Chris now tagging along all the time there was a big gang of 8 of us. Some chavvy kid with pierced ears, all-white-tracksuit with ludicrously expensive trainers to match and a haircut so short it was probably on the minus numbers of grades scale, eyed us suspiciously and decided that he probably couldn't take all eight of us on, so he left us alone.

The was one slight scary moment where I found myself looking at the tube map on the wall of the carriage, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up as I found myself saying "Regents Park! Shit! We haven't been to Regent's Park!", and I slid over to where Chris was sitting, to point out to him that amongst all his expert re-routing, he'd taken us on a way that missed out a station.

"We haven't missed it out" replied Chris calmly looking at me like I was quite stupid. We did it just after the Jubilee Line this morning, remember? And suddenly .. it came back to me that we had of course been there. The day is long, and it was starting to get to me, clearly.

Vicki peeled off from the group, and was faithfully still snapping photos of every station. I was lost in my own bizarre world still faithfully logging and writing down times - even though we both knew that a record time was not going to happen. We were now beyond tired, into the phase of your body when it should be asleep, but it's not asleep, so it's somehow awake and you're keeping yourself going and you have no idea how you're still going.

We had one more small run to do though - and in keeping with all the bizarre things to happen that day, we did it backwards to how I would normally expect myself to do it. As it was dark, late, and all tired I got confused as to which road to turn down and Vicki confidently shouted "It's the next one!" and paced past us up the road - how she knew i'll never know, but I was grateful.

We changed on a chilly late night platform and had some silly photos taken, and when the last of the few trains to take that day came in, Chris explained that we might not get to do the Richmond branch. Well we could, but then we might not get to do Heathrow Terminal 4, and that we might have to make a choice.

Rayners Lane

As our Piccadilly Line train train approached Turnham Green (it was after 10.30pm, the time which they start stopping) Chris has yet again got his iPad out and called us all to gather round to show us that the District Line train to Richmond that we really wanted to get was already in the station, and yet we were still 30 seconds out. Shit ... we were going to miss it, weren't we?

We were. As our train braked and slowed dow for the station stop, we all peered across the carriage through the dark window splattered with rain and saw the Richmond train that we'd hoped to make already departing Turnham Green. Dammit.

We sat on the westbound platform at Turnham Green and realised we had to choose. We could either wait for the next Richmond and do that branch, but then we might be too late getting down to Heathrow. Or we could jump on the next Piccadilly train here and now, and guarantee doing the Heathrows.

A Piccadilly Line train heading west started to roll in. It was going to Terminal 4. We all looked at each other all we all simultaneously knew that we were going to miss out the Richmond branch and go directly to Heathrow. Do not pass Richmond. Do not collect a world record.

At Acton Town, Chris's fiancée Charlotte got on to join us for the last leg down to Heathrow, and we also saw the other group of challengers as they got into the same carriage as us. The train was surprisingly busy for this time of night and we all sat on the floor, and someone magically produced a big bag of fun sized chocolate buttons - I ate three packets without really stopping to chew properly. I was aware now of the tube grime that had collated on me for seventeen hours and suspect that I probably smelled. "I think we ALL smell, really bad!" laughed Anthony, and a guy a couple of seats over - a completely stranger to us - smiled and made a sniffing sort of face as if to agree.

And then it was plain sailing all the way to Heathrow. I even allowed myself the luxury of shutting my eyes for a few seconds to rest between stations, but did not fall asleep. Through to terminal four and the mandatory and boring seven minute wait there - and then it was almost a non-event to get the train down to Terminal 5 where we rolled in at ten minutes to midnight.

We hadn't broken the record - we were forty five minutes out, and we'd missed out three stations. We were pleased to finish, but that was all we could be.

Sleepy

I found myself instantly starting to shut down as my body now knew that it could rest - really rest. And I don't really remember much about going home. I honestly don't remember getting back on the train, or choosing where to sit, but I know that I must have done because I do remember briefly waking up from my slumber at Hounslow Central before dozing back off again - Vicki and Anthony were chatting away. We had to run over the bridge at Acton Town again to catch the last train up the Uxbridge branch towards where I live, and somewhere around 1am, we finally stumbled back to my place.

Anthony jumps in the shower, Vicki puts the kettle on, and I stand in the same place in my hallway and slowly remove my tube coat which I had virtually donned all day, the one that I had wrapped around me about twenty-one hours earlier. It falls to the floor and lands in a crumpled heap = the folds in the rippled fabric forming brand new station names ... Ealing Green, Belsize South and Notting Hill East. I smile. Vicki appears, mug of tea in hand, and I know I can finally and properly relax.

That night. I sleep soundly. We all do. It takes a matter of mere seconds to lie horizontal and pass out into a deep underground slumber. The memories of all three challenges from this year all swirling around in my head, and somehow relieved at the fact that I knew I wouldn't be having to do one again anytime shortly.

Winter is here now, which means it's time to hibernate until the clocks go forward and lighter days come around again next year. In the second week of December, LU will have new times and new timetables for the trains, and Chris and I will no doubt meet up, to dissect, discuss and plan new possibilities.

In fact, I've got this really good idea forming in my head right now about a change I've never done before ...


 

Catalogue Shot

 


Tube 12 (X.2) statistics:

Stations visited: 267/270 (Missed Gunnersbury, Kew Gardens and Richmond)
Start time: 06:20.50 Finish time: 23:50.21
Time taken: 17 hours, 29 minutes, 31 seconds
Number of people: 3
Support team: 3, plus 5 others that came out to say hello

Other attempts:

Tube 1 | Tube 2 | Tube 3 | Tube 4 | Tube 5 | Tube 6 | Tube 7 (World Record)
Tube 8 | Tube 9 (Tube Relief) | Tube 10 | Tube 11 | Tube 12 | Tube 13 | Tube 14 | Tube 15 | Tube 16 | Tube 17 | Tube 18 | Tube 19 | Tube 20 | Tube 21 | Tube 22 | Tube 23 | Tube 24 | Tube 25


Epilogue

• The over riding memory for me was (bizarrely) the run between Cockfosters and High Barnet. Despite the misery that was the Piccadilly Line that evening, the dark, cold, rain and buses that went the wrong way, it somehow made us all conjure up a spirit that we would have never of had otherwise. The worst delay of the day conspires to be the most uplifting memory. In face of all adversity, we shall not quit!

• Someone later emailed me referring to Chris & Matt as my 'helpers'. I thought this was quite disparaging as it's nonsense that they should be considered so. They're part of the team. As Anthony wrote in email to me over the weekend afterwards:

"You people are THE team to do Tube Challenges with. Nobody I'd done this or smaller challenges with before has been so relaxed, upbeat, enthusiastic or good-humoured all day long. Of course, we were tired, and this was exacerbated by the half-hour's sleep the night before, but nobody ever really got annoyed with each other during the day, within this team, at least."

And I can't put it better than that ... it does feel like we are an excellent team, with everyone playing their huge part in a most enjoyable day - no matter what the outcome.

• I added up all the delays .. the 12 minutes on the Piccadilly Line going up to Cockfosters. The 10 minutes wait for a Circle Line train at Tower Hill. The 8 minutes at Watford, the 10 minutes at Turnham Green, and 14 minutes waiting for a train at Rayners Lane when it should have only been 4. And those are just the significant ones that add up to 54 minutes, when really it could have been as low as 15 minutes .. 39 minutes wasted, doing nothing, just standing about waiting for trains. Add on to that the smaller times of just missing a train at Stanmore and the 6 minutes at West Ruislip that shouldn't have been because we don't normally go that way, and it's a whole hour. Add in the Richmond branch (15 minutes) and there's your 16:45 time, just waiting to be broken.

• But the "Let's go crazy!" attitude of trying out things and going ways that we hadn't gone before paid their dividends, and we know very much definitely know when we want to do certain things, which way round and at what time to do them. A 'failure' today paths the way to success in the future.

• We found out about the awful Piccadilly delays, and it all comes down to driver change-overs and relief, and also the drivers taking time out to get some personal relief of their own. No bottles or she-wees exist in train cabs, then.

• The driver of the 326 also had not lied - his bus did go to High Barnet station, it just went the long way round and took a route through a local housing estate that I had not been aware of. Twelfth time around the system - and I'm still learning things. I reckon I could do this another twelve times yet, and still encounter things that I'm not aware of about the monster that is the transport system of London. And you gotta love that.

• Thanks to Kate for the excellent photographs. See the Flickr set of all the photos she took here, and visit her website too at www.lightslow.com.

And one last nice touch ... it was after all Halloween weekend, so we bought a pumkin a carved a litte tube friendly message to ourselves. Next time we do it, it'll probably be easter.

Pumpkin