The One Where "We'll see how it goes"
TV, radio, blogging, twitter .. yeah we've done all that, got the t-shirt, pimped the media-whoreness to a height that can't be beaten, right? Right. Oh hang ... here's something I'd never tried before, I'd never done a tube challenge where I posted Audioboo's on my way round ...
Audioboo let's you record short (up to three minutes) audio clips which you then link to twitter, and post .. so, audible tweets in other words, and as we prepared for attempt nineteen around the network, I set everything up so that I could 'Boo' (as the kids call it) as I went.
So at 7am, on a bright and sunny Wednesday morning, we're all sat in a car outside Chesham station ...
'We' this time is myself and Richard. Chris as Anthony couldn't make it ... so Richard was recrtuited to run with me, and as he has plenty of tube knowledge (possibly more than me!) it makes him almost perfect to take part for the day, alongside the regular team as well of Kate & Matt, and later Vicki in their essential support roles.
It's a very late start - getting the 07.31 train out of Chesham, for the perfect route that we know is pssible if the system would just hold up for once, will get us round in 16 hours and 18 minutes, taking ten minutes off the current record for the ultimate (and arguably unbeatable) time.
The beginning works well when the train leaves Chesham a minute late (fine by us!), and our connection up to Amersham at Chalfont arrives two minutes ealier (even finer by us, thanks!) meaning that we make the Amersham connection just fine. That's my biggest fear over, and I know that as long at we make Moor Park and Watford as we're meant to, then we're going to be off to a cracking start.
It doesn't quite work out though, as heading south out of Rickmansworth (having left bang on time) our train shortly crawls to a halt. We suspect that we've been held to let another train go through first that is early, and should be held, but instead it's us that's held meaning by the time we get to Moor Park, we miss our connecting train up to Watford.
So we're a train down out of Watford, about 9 minutes in total - and although we get that back to being only 4 minutes down, we then hit a part of the network where off peak trains are only once every 8 minutes, and we missed the previous one by a minute - maybe two at most, and so we have to wait for the next one taking us back down to an eight minute wait again. Richard spots a toilet here at this station and it's odd because i've never used the toilets here before at this station, but i do so now.
I'm on the phone to Chris, as he's already working out the best way to go from now on. At the same time we also hear that there is a problem with the Richmond branch, which was one of the places that was on our route in the next couple of hours - it was definitely time to reroute, yet again. I'm trying hard to recall the last time we had a dat when we stuck to our route all day, and it's actually been two years since that happened. Something always goes wrong, and we always end up re-routing.
We give Chris ten minutes on the timetable (it occurs to me later that I have no actual idea where he's sat doing on this) but he calls me back and gives me some instructions of where to go next.
It works out ok, including a last minute "Change NOW! instead of the next station!" instruction which he calls in at the last moment, as we're making a double back and it's a good call - saved ourselves a few minutes by doubling back here rather than the next station up the line.
There's no train out to where we want to go next though - well there is, but we see it pulling out just as we pull into the station, so we instantly run outside and jump onto a bus instead down to the next station where we want to go. It's on the District Line, and by the time we get there we actually have two minutes before the train pulls in. There's a newsagents kiosk here and with no sign of Chris or Kate who we were expecting to be here with supplies, Richard buys some goodies including some essential water whilst I hover by the gateline spotting the train. "It's coming!" I say, as it pulls into view, and there's not enough time for the transaction to be completed. "We have to go!" I shout to Richard, and the guy that's serving him, and rather beatifully he says "Pay me back!" as we still owe him 80p as Richard grabs the good and runs through the barriers to join me. [A week later, I go back and repay the 80p that we owe].
We jump onto the train ... at which point Chris & Kate appears, laden with goodies and now there's plenty of food and drink to share round.
A knock-on effect of the Richmond branch still being out is that trains are being sent to Ealing Broadway instead, so there's double the amount of trains being sent up that way. Doesn't really help us, but you can definetely tell there's more District trains about.
We carry on, on a different line, make another run, hook up to another station and do a run to another line.
On this line, a man gets on who eyes us suspiciously. We're in our full running gear of short, shoes, etc... Richard is even wearing running gloves and after a moment he talks to us. "You guys been running a 10K or summat?" he says, and so we explain what we're doing. "You're doing what .. ALL the stations?" "Yes, all that stations .. in one day, to try and get a world record". "Nah man! That's just NOT possible, you can't do that!". "Uhh, well you can ... actually I had the record for doing it back in 2006". "Really! Well in that case, I'm gonna beat ya! What's your website? I wanna see it!". And within the space of five seconds he went from being genuinely incredulous about our chances to proclaiming that HE was going to do it himself Would he? Did we just inspire a new tube challenger, who may well do it? Who knows. What I do know though, is that for the first time today I need to empty my bladder ...
We carry on and in the middle of Zone 1 we make a couple of changes us usual knocking out some stations, until eventually we head out east on the Central Line ... on a perfectly timed Woodford via Hainault trains. Chris has worked his genius again with the times, and got us the first of hopefully three perfect connections, this makes me happy. "This is good, very good" I turn and say to Richard. "Too early to get excited though" he says wisely, "So we'll just have to see how it goes".
On the circuit around the Hainault loop, a reporter and photographer who got in touch a few weeks ago come out to try and find us to interview me. They miss our loop train though, so I end up up telling them to go to Woodford and look for Kate there - "You can't miss her" I say "She'll be the one wearing a stripy purple top". After all - what are the chances of there being two female wearing stripy purple tops at Woodford station? Quite high, it would seem as Kate watched with amusment as the reporter went up to another girl first who was wearing a more promiment purple stripey told and asked her if she was Kate! Err, no. She found her in the end though, and us - and joined us up on the leg to Epping and back.
When we get there, there's a slight oddity in that there are no other trains waiting for us, and so the same train we go in on we just stay on and take the same one out again. The journalists continue to ask questions and snap our photos, and we work our way down to the right carriage for the transfer over to the Victoria line. The train is completely empty - strange as there's usually always one or two people about, and even odder - no one gets on at Blackhorse Road, so for a few minutes ... we have the whole train to ourselves.
I get that feeling that things are going well again. After the small set back this morning, we've had a decent run since with tight changes and no more missed connections. I think I could have got to Walthamstow two minutes faster, but even if we had one done, we're heading for Mill Hill East next and we'd probably just end up on that same train anyway. So we dig in, I write down times, Richard snaps photos and tick the stations off the map.
Richard in fact has perfeted a technique for getting a non-blurry photo whlst the train is still moving, during the time that it's slowing down just before it stops. This enables him to get a photo from his seat rather than risk losing it by standing up to take the photo from by the doors instead!
Back into the centre of town, we make our usual connected, hit another station, and then head north again .. out on the Piccadilly Line ... or maybe the Northern? No! the Piccadilly, by which I mean .. the Northern ... and make a connection to the other terminal in a fast time, equally my fastest ever.
It's all routie now, we know this bit of the network so well now, it's like a drilled routine And everything is holding up. I give me Chris my 'It's going well now isn't it?' look, and he just have smiles, nods, taps at something on the iPad, and says "It's ok now, we'll see ...".
More changes, more trains, another section or piece of the 'jigsaw' that is the tube map. Halfway down the next stretch of line we've sent Kate ahead to go and get us some drinks. And the Audioboo's start to get a little less serious and a litle more personal, and fun.
With all of the top half (north of Zone 1) done it's time to head south, south of Zone 1, south of the river, and onto the very small number of stations that topologically lie 'below' the Thames.
On the train down to Wimbledon it is packed. Like - shoulder to shoulder, small people's heads tucked under tall people's armpits kind of packed, and there is no room to manouevre! But a KFC order must be placed to Matt who has gone ahead so Kate has got the space to hold the phone up, while Richard uses one digit to type! There is room for nothing else.
We reverse at Morden without losing a beat - in and out in fifteen seconds, Matt is there working point, and clutching the all important bag of greasy chicken dinner. And between mouthfuls, I decide to record an update. Somehow, I manage to combine two audioboo's together, so a bit later in the day when we run between Aldgate and Aldgate East, it gets tagged onto the same audioboo that I recorded at Morden. It's really just 90 seconds of me huffing and puffing, but you get a partial idea of what a run is like between two stations ...
We take a witness statement ... Guinness rules stipulate that you're mean to get one an hour and we've just about been honouring that. It's late in the day, and it's a good sign that we're still making the effort to get witnesses, because you instinctively stop doing it and no longer ask people if you're so far behind that you think you're not going to make it. The girl I choose I fear may not be chatty ... turns out she's uber chatty, and gets more excited about the fact that she's going to tell her dad later that she met us and what we're doing. "He loves the tube, and loves this sort of thing! I can't wait to tell him", and she goes off smiling and all happy.
It's going so well in fact that we then proceed to have a moment where it isn't quite so slick. The one chink in the armour in our route is on the reliance of a Circle line train to take us to Aldgate, and as we're pulling into our connection station - a train passes in the other direction, and the yellow grab poles whizzing by at speed instantly tell me what train it is - a circle.
It's 6 mins until the next train, which of course means that it takes 11 minute to arrive ... ouch. Lots of swift changes all day, and we're now left kicking our heels as Tower Hill waiting for the clunky Circle Line to bother to show up. I take a deep breath. I don't even bother to ask Richard what he thinks, I know what he'll say.
To Upminster and back and Kate passes around the Haribo sweets to perk everyone up. Also perking me up is the appearance of Vicki who had failed to meet us on the Northern Line earlier, but valiantly waited a whole hour for us in case we showed up before conceding and coming above ground to call us to see where we were! Again I try and work ahead and wonder about what our final time might be ... "We'll just have to see how it goes" says Richard again calmly, refusing to get drawn into my excited world of what may - or may not - happen. We're a little bit chalk and cheese like that.
Back into town and it's all standard stuff again. I don't need to check my notes to know where the carriage positions are, i know them without looking. We send two point-people ahead to a connection ahead, but by the time we get there no train has been through since the point that we left them and there was no advtange in them being there.
At nine o'clock, Chris and I come to the closest to an argument that we've had all day. He maintains that something he's worked out is possible, and I'm not convinced. I'm even less convinced when a Bakerloo train that we're waiting to depart on has a green signal and still doesn't move, even though it's two minutes past what it says in the working time table that it should have moved. Eventually, it does go though, and we meet Chris again further up the line .. and his tightly planned connecton that he's calculated DOES work out, and we make it with a minute to spare. A whole 60 second in tube challenge to make a connection? Pah ... easy, and I spare myself a little chuckle.
I want to ask Richard again how he's doing, but i'll fear that he'll misinterperate that for me asking how he thinks how we're doing, to which I'll know he'll just say "Well let's just see how it goes", and so I refrain from speaking. Instead we end up having a conversation about how well the runs have been going. Parkrun has been good to me, and I'll never run a marathon or a four minute mile, but it's nice to be able to do ALL the runs all day, without stopping, and without feeling completely knackered at the end of them. Fitness? Yeah, that works for me.
I check my watch. It's now 9.53pm. I do the maths in my head where I look at the map and try and calulate what our finish time is going to be. Wow, it's going to be ... close..
Except, we still have Kensington Olympia to do.
On the train down the Heathrow branch I speak to Chris who had gone ahead to Hounslow West, and we worked out what was going to happen. We'd left Acton Town at 23:32, but to have a chance of beating the record (same train on better), then we'd needed to have left by 23:16 ... So we were sixteen minutes behind.
Did that mean that we could still complete in a very reasonable time of 16 hours, 45 minutes? Err, no. Because by starting late and ending late (for the optimum perfect time), it meant that any delay at the end of the day, and the PIccadilly service starts to get patchy, and we were worried that we now wouldn't be able to get back up the line from Heathrow should we complete.
As it was, we caught the last T4 train of the day, which was already running 7 minutes late. It made up time by not sitting at T4 for too long, and should have connected us to a T5 train at T123, but going around the 'loop' it crawled to a halt and got to T123 two minutes late, and we missed the T5 train that would have got us in on a completion time of 16 hours and 50 minutes.
There was another T5 train coming down which would have given us a finish time of hours 16 hours and 58 minutes, but then with no train to get back and we'd have had to pay out for a taxi - not worth it when you've not got a record time. So a little reluctantly, we got the last eastbound train instead back up the line towards Acton and home, and I audioboo'd one final time from the train as we went.
Actually, I say that - but when we get to Acton Town really right at the end, I boo one more time.
The next day, when someone emails me asking how it went, they said "I can't believe you haven't done this yet, surely you've got the perfect route worked out by now?", and I had to email back and explain patiently that yes we've always had the perfect route worked out, and have also had a doable target time that is faster than the record time ... but the tube just doesn't play ball.
On previous recent attempts, the system has broken down in a bad way. On this attempt we missed out Moor Park connection and then the Richmond branch went down .. that's just two small bits that broke and in comparison to how badly it's broken before, I'd say that that's actually quite a good day for the tube, and thus I'm not going to classify as a day when everything went wrong.
We winged it on an altered route, and still got round and down to Heathrow in 16 hours, 45 minutes which is great, because we know that a lot of people struggle to get under 17 hours.
Getting under 17 hours for us now is straightforward - we know we can do it. We really do just have to keep going now and hope that one day - one of these days - we just get a day when either the service holds up all day, or it only breaks on the parts that we've already done and we're not going to go to again. Then - and then - the record is going to be ours. Because one way or another, I'm going to keep on doing this until I get there. Plenty of life left in the old legs of mine yet.
Tube 20 will happen sometime this year, but not in the last week of June which is when we know the next exhibition service is. We can't make this date, meaing we're going to come up with a route that doesn't rely on on the exhibition service ...
Tube 19 stats
Stations visited: 269/270
Start time: 07.31 Finish time: 00:16
Total time: 16 hours, 45 minutes
Projected 270 time: 16 hours, 58 minutes
Number of people: 2
Support team: 5
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
Kate's full set of photos are here