On Saturday the 19th June 2010, some friends of mine and some friends of theirs, were setting off on a 10km walk across the Poole coastline to raise money for JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) and DUK (Diabetes UK) and to raise awareness for Diabetes and its associated conditions and challenges.
Since finding out about the event, I have been eagerly awaiting it. I got my friend Lauren on board as she has always been a rock when it came to my diabetes and my sometimes unusual ways of handing it (mostly swearing at my pancreas!). I will write a proper post about the event in the next couple of days, because the people who took the people who took part in the challenge and the challenge itself well and truly deserve a post of their own.
This post however, will describe the challenge we (Lauren and I) also took part in that day - the immensely difficult and sometimes downright ridiculous 'challenge' we took part in trying to get there. Our challenge has since been aptly named - the "Where the hell are we?" challenge.
I am a bit of a dreamer, a fantasist and an optimist. It's very rare for me to get excited about an upcoming event without first fantasising how it will be and the way it will feel. This was no different. I had imagined meeting everyone, being there for the start, seeing everyone complete the challenge and seeing the faces of passers being educated and taking joy in the event. I mean I had even practically written my post before even getting there. I had imagined what my post would say, the kind of pictures which would appear on my blog and had even thought out the name of the post!
So we set off in the morning after I basically forced everyone out the front door while still getting dressed, keen to set off and hit the road to get to Poole. I was armed with a navigator (Lauren), instructions (hand written but copied from RAC routefinder), GPS (Lauren's iPhone) and a positive 'can do' attitude.
The first problem was that I had no petrol and that little git of a light was already flashing at me, meaning I couldn't ignore it and would have to feed my car. So we stopped for petrol and set off again. After dropping the slightly hung over fiance in town we were now running about ten minutes late. This wasn't really a problem, as I had catered for a one and a quarter hour journey by leaving about two hours of travel time - just in case something went wrong. Turns out four hours would have been a better guess!
There were no real problems until we had to start navigating the smaller roads on the way. As I saw the sign for the turning I thought we needed, I hit the indicator and came off. It wasn't long before we started seeing signs for Salisbury. Now, I am no expert at geogrpahy (as you will see), but I don't ever remember Salisbury being on the coastline. In fact, I'm pretty sure it is land-locked.....
After detouring about 8 miles through country roads, we got the GPS out. Yup, we were heading completely in the wrong direction and quickly at that. We pulled over, looked at the map and turned the car around. Right, we're now about 20 minutes behind and 10 miles off course, but it's fine, we left enough time so we may just not get as much time at the start to chat to everyone.
Eventually we managed to get into Poole (can I get a "Yay"?). But it turns out this is when the fun really started. We drove around for about 20 minutes along the seafront looking for the Jazz Cafe (the starting point), with no luck. We found lots of other cafes, but not the one we needed. We had all been asked to wear blue t-shirts so we would all look like the big group and catch people's attention. It turns out that everyone in Poole had the same idea. Everywhere, and I mean EVERYWHERE, there were people clad in blue t-shirts, tops, jumpers, cardigans and even hats. But somehow we knew that they were not there for the Challenge.
We must have parked up about 3 times, looking at our map and instructions with complete confusion on our faces. Now, I hate to perpetuate any stereotypes - but if a bunch of guys were to create a sketch about two girls trying to get from a to b using a map and instructions - I suspect our little escapade would be very much how it turned out!
Eventually Lauren managed to figure out that there was a side road which broke off from the main road we had been traversing for quite some time. We took the turning and low and behold, the cafe was right in front of us! We parked the car, put a 3 hour ticket on it and hit the seafront. We decided to grab a cold drink and start looking for the smurf crowd. I'm not sure why, but I had thought that the start and finish line would be at the same place, so figured that some of the people not doing the challenge may be hanging around and waiting for the victorious crowd to return. Again, there seemed to be a LOT of people donning blue tops, but none who looked likely to be part of the group we were searching for. We asked at the Jazz Cafe whether they had seen a group of blue people heading off. Turns out they had and we were advised they left about 20 minutes to half an hour ago. Elated at the fact we had finally found the right place, we headed off in search of the group. We walked for about 20 minutes with no sign of the group, so approached a couple of people walking in the opposite direction, in the hope they could tell us where they were heading.
"Excuse me, I don't suppose you've seen a big group of people dressed in blue, in aid of Diabetes?"
"Oh yes, we saw them about 45 minutes ago."
Right, so somehow even though they were a great big group, we hadn't gained on them at all. In fact, since we headed off the group had managed to put another 20 minutes in between us!
Undeterred, we carried on marching along the seafront convinced that any second now we would catch them up.
After about another 20 minutes, we were started to think something was amiss. We had no drinks on us now and being the genius I am, I was starting to get a sore on my foot because I had worn totally inappropriate shoes (a diabetic no-no). Starting to become a little disheartened, we asked another couple travelling from the direction our group would have been going in.
"Excuse me, have you seen a big group of people wearing blue and walking in aid of diabetes?"
"Oh yes, about an hour ago."
What?? How are these people walking so quickly???
At this point I should let you know that we had also been following the beach huts, because Lee had managed to secure a beach hut for the day. Number 2719. We had been following the numbers (which started at number 1), and just as we found out the group had gained another 20 minutes on us, we looked at the numbers and realised the numbers had gone from 150, back to number one! Bearing in mind we were trying to get to 2719, and the huts appeared to go back to number one every couple of hundred, we were intimidated by just how many beach huts we had to get through to get to the end!
So we took 5, grabbed a drink and decided detective work would be the way to go. Lauren whipped out her iPhone ad did a bit of FB stalking. I had remembered that on one of Lee's photos, he had a mobile number and details of the event. We trawled through the photos,and finally found the photo I remembered!
Hail the Lord - there's a mobile number!
I dialled the number and prayed someone would answer. Hurrah! A male voice came on the phone.
It was Lee, and I soon became acutely aware he was mid way through the challenge answering his phone thanks to me being lost and confused (it really doesn't take much!).
We had a quick chat and figured out that by the time we would catch up with them, the car ticket would have run out and we'd be miles from where we needed o get.
It was decided we'd meet the ramblers in Boscombe where they would be arriving shortly. So, after a bit of a disastrous start to our challenge, we doubled back and headed for the car.
On finding the car, we whipped out the GPS as between us we drew a complete blank about just where Boscombe actually was! We managed to find it and hit the road. After having to carry out a pit-stop because of some troubling sounding 'clunking' noises came from the car, we realised it was the motor on the windscreen wipers and set off again with hopes that the car wasn't about to conk out on us all together. It didn't, which at this point was greatly appreciated!
We managed to find the right exit to come off for Boscombe and were starting to feel almost hopeful that we might at some point today, find what we'd been looking for. We came off the motorway and lined up in some traffic. Turns out, the 'some traffic' we got into didn't move for about another 10-15 minutes. That's because the weekend we decided to visit Boscombe, most of the main road into the damned place was being dug up. Broadband issues no doubt! I don't care HOW slow your Internet is, I NEED TO GET TO THE BEACH.
Slowly we made our way through the main road, stopping reluctantly every few meters for another 10 minute stop at the lights. By this point we were realising that the folks in blue would probably already have made it to Boscombe and if (and it felt like a big 'if') we made it there, we would once again be about half an hour behind them.
OK, time for an executive decision. If we EVER want to catch up with ANYONE, we need to head straight to Southbourne, the finale. Right, traffic started easing up and Lauren well and truly had her eyes affixed on the sat nav. How she didn't bleed from her eyeballs from reading directions, road signs and GPS I'm still not sure.
Luckily she didn't need to much longer. The GPS died. More precisely, her entire phone did. Her phone being the one with the Internet, the map, the email about where to head and where the finale was.
This was just about the last straw, and with absolutely no clue how to get to Southbourne, one of us finally said it.
"Shall we just head home? We're never going to find it."
I'm not sure who said it first, but we were both thinking it and probably had been for a while.
I felt my heart sink a little as I had been looking forward to this since first hearing about it, and had cancelled a conference to go to this because I knew I would gain so much more from this experience. Selfish but true.
With a grumpy look on my face and a completely exhausted friend at my side, I admitted defeat.
"Yeah, we'll get out the city and I will just have to explain. We'll plan it better next time."
I carried on going straight on the road we were on for fear of getting lost again. And there, winking at me from a bright white sign, the word;
"Lauren, LOOK! There's a bloody sign for Southbourne!"
After all that we were headed in the right direction anyway!
We took the turning and it wasn't long before we saw the signs for Southbourne and Beaches!
Eventually we found our way and parked up, overlooking the Beachfront Bistro.
I had to call Lee again because in all honesty, even though we'd hit Southbourne beach, having had so many foul-ups in one day we weren't about to walk to the beach and go off in any old direction. I'm not sure either of us could have handled it!
Lee advised that we needed to turn back because we were about 20-25 minutes walk away from where they would finish. We figured we would drive it, because my foot couldn't take it and I think Lauren wasn't far off punching me, because rather than enjoying her Saturday by soaking up rays on a beach, she was navigating for a crazed blue crowd seeking maniac, intent on tracking people down who she probably wouldn't even recognize if they walked right past her!
We managed to find a little spot with free parking and headed down onto the beach.
Now, we managed to find the numbers of some beach huts which claimed to be 1150. Bearing in mind they started at one, we were a hell of a lot closer to our target. We started following the beach huts once more and made our way alone the coast.
It wasn't long before the big white building we were starting to approach began to look a little too familiar.
"Lauren, I'm pretty sure that's the Bistro. Lee definitely said we needed to head away from the Bistro back towards the Pier."
We just stopped and looked at each other. I don't think either of us at this point could muster the strength to make a joke or laugh about it.
We found a step and sat down. Or slumped down would probably be closer to the truth.
"Well we tried really really hard to find it." Lauren reassured me.
"I know, but I feel really gutted. I'd hate it if we went home and found out they were all just round the corner."
Three people walked past us and being on the same wavelength, Lauren and I looked right at each other.
"Excuse me!" I shouted, "I couldn't help but notice you are all wearing blue. I don't suppose your here for a diabetes event are you?"
Blank faces stared back.
I guess not then.
We decided that as we had an hour left, we would head back the way we came and walk just a bit further in the other direction, in the hope we might see something.
We kep a close eye on the huts, noting that rather than getting closer to the 2719 we were looking for, we seemed for sure to be heading in the wrong direction.
1150, 1149, 1148.
We carried on walking regardless until out of the blue, the numbers went from 1116 to 2729!
We carried on walking, total disbelief and confusion painted across our faces like war paint.
We counted down, 2722, 2721, 2720.....almost there.....1115?
"I think these huts were numbered before counting was invented." I scoffed.
By this time we were both ready to just get on the floor and throw our hands and feet around in a fit more suited to a two year-old. And believe me, I was close.
At that moment Lauren turned to me and pointed out that there was a whole group of people about 100 metres away, with balloons lining the handrails in front of one of the beach huts.
Even if that wasn't the right hut, I was prepared to befriend WHOMEVER was there and at least meet one new person that day!
As we drew closer, the blue began to emerge. Painted blue faces, t-shirts, jumpers. And in bold letters on the side of the hut, the letters J...D...R...F.
WE MADE IT! AT LAST, WE MADE IT!
We sort of launched ourselves into the middle of the group. Completely ecstatic that we had finally, FINALLY got where we needed to go.
Over the next hour, I got to meet all the people I had been hoping to meet for weeks. People who had become my friends before even meeting them face to face. Being able to put a face to a name is a bizarre thing, especially when we had been tracking this group of people for about 3 hours!
We swapped diabetes stories and tales from the day. We laughed at the children playing in the sea, and marvelled at how much energy they had left, bearing in mind that many were under the age of ten and had just completed a 10K walk! I could see the amount of passion this group had for what they had achieved that day and I could tell it was probably just the beginning. I'm glad that we went that extra mile in our goal to find them. The challenge they completed that day was far greater than ours, although while sat on that step admitting defeat, it felt like we'd just lost the World Cup!
I'm sad that we weren't there for the whole thing like we'd hoped, and in fact didn't even make it to the finish line on time, but our own ridiculous carry on at least led us to the finish, where we were able to finally meet the people I'd been imagining meeting.
I will write my other promised post soon. I just thought our little escapade might make you laugh.
Carry-on Diabetes Challenge. What a film that would make :)