On a dark and cold morning on Saturday 9th November 2013 Tom Eaton and myself, along with 90 or so participants, descended upon the Durham Courthouse for a weekend of genuinely spontaneous adventure. Having donned our animal onsies, newly acquired yellow DUCK t-shirts and with our cardboard signs in hand we set off.
Our original plan was to blag our way onto a train to Newcastle, find the airport and charm our way on to a flight to some exotic, far-flung corner of the world. However, the fear of getting no further than the end of the A1(M) led us to abandon this idea as foolish. So, hitched back down south.
Thus, our first morning of our adventure consisted of us spending two hours travelling from Durham to… Durham! At this point, we were wondering what on earth possessed us to attempt this daft adventure.
A further seven lifts, including a lift from a very talkative Romanian truck driver called Alex, some lunch, and a near arrest, for ‘illegally’ hitchhiking on the motorway later, and we were suddenly just outside London! The ride with Alex was particularly entertaining, as we were bombarded with his life story. We were told a vast array of stories, ranging from his childhood in Romania, to his ambitions to own his own trucking company, to some more fantastical ones. Whether they were all true is something that could be debated, but they were certainly entertaining.
Another lengthy lift from an incredibly interesting middle-aged man, who had spent over 30 years as a cameraman, and we were suddenly on the cusp of the fabled M20: the hitchhikers yellow brick road to Dover. Unfortunately, we still had about 20 or so miles to make it to the motorway.
The following four or five hours was a serious test of our resolve, as we were really tested by ‘The Borough Green Debacle’. Having walked for an hour in the rain to find a spot from where we could hitch a lift to Dover, we were disappointed as we spent about two hours there in vain. At this point we thought about calling it a night.
However, a stroke of luck led to us speaking to Chris, a manager at the local Beefeater who was heading toward Maidstone at the end of his shift: a perfect place to launch our advance on Dover in the morning. Not only did Chris offer us a lift, we were also treated to a free pint and plate of chips.
Having made it to Maidstone, we were soon to find that we were not the only ones to have got that far, particularly in the morning when there seemed to be an influx of teams descending upon it. However, Tom and I had gone mad at this point, so were dancing, singing and acting for the passers-by. I think we forgot that we were trying to get a lift rather than entertain people! Luckily one passer-by was taken by our silliness and offered to take us to Dover.
Once at the port it took only a moment of courage to approach a group of men buying tickets for the ferry for us to get our 14th and final lift.
It turned out that they were a group of German entrepreneurs from Dusseldorf who had been at a 3D printing expo in London demonstrating their product. Needless to say, we were baffled by this technology and proceeded to interrogate them for the next couple of hours. Fortunately the conversation drifted away from printing and towards more pressing concerns: getting my flat mates back for pranking me the night before Jailbreak. Luckily these guys were evil, so I now have some incredible pranks lined up for my unsuspecting flat mates! Once in Dusseldorf, we were forced to say an emotional farewell to our new friends, yet a warm hello to the hotel that our sponsors had kindly paid for as a reward for getting so far.
At this point, we thought the adventure was over. How wrong we were. The following morning was tense from the start. It consisted of leaving my phone at the hotel, failed air miles and a security wrangle over Tom’s darts! However, we raced through the airport and made it to the gate just in time for our flight. Sweaty, out of breath and sad that our adventure had come to an end, we were treated to the German tradition of a complimentary beer and sandwich aboard the flight: thank you Lufthansa!
Having had time to reflect on this weekend, I can truly say that I would recommend it to anyone. I feel so lucky to have been able to meet so many interesting people, many of whom I haven’t been able to mention in such a short space. It was an eye-opening experience, as we were touched by so many acts of kindness and generosity. All in all, it was an emotional, rewarding and incredibly fun weekend.
Rowan is a first year student at Josephine Butler College studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics.
Jailbreak is organised by Durham University Charities Kommittee (DUCK) and Challenges Durham University students to gets as far away from Durham without any money within 36 hours to raise money for charity.