A June 2005 trip
to Isle of Wight by 80 Ways Tim
Quote: I am travelling around the world using 80 different methods of transport to raise money for children with autism. Check out www.80ways.co.uk to find out more.
Thom looked scared. It was Sunday morning, we had barely got ourselves out of bed, and we were on Sandown Beach, about to embark on a sailing-boat race. Or at least, Thom was. I was safe with Thom's dad's friend Tony, who was going to take me out for a leisurely cruise.
I know nothing about boats or sailing. My vessel for the morning was a catamaran, which, for those of you with a similar level of knowledge, looks like two kayaks running parallel to one another, with a 5-foot square mesh sheet holding them togeter. My job was to sit at the front of the boat in the middle of the mesh and get hit by waves. I think I did a pretty good job. The boy next to me, Jonny, certainly found it amusing.
I docked back on the beach after half an hour or so, but Thom's race continued for a good 90 minutes. He returned cold and smiling. The wetsuits were a story themselves--if you've never tried putting on a wetsuit, then you may not be aware of the difficulty and frustration involved. My aggravation was only exaggerated by first putting my suit on back-to-front and then realising it had no zipper, forcing me to change a third time. We looked as attractive as anyone ever does in a wetsuit, and Thom had the added amusement factor of a seeming inability to bend any of his limbs. Before we had time to remove our wetsuits, we were hoisted onto the back of a jetski and hurtled around the bay at high speeds.
Showered and lunched, we set about wrangling our way onto some of the island's other attractions. Our first port of call was the local gliding club. The man in charge was not the most cooperative person we had met on our trip and repeatedly asked, "What's in it for me?" Short of a full-page spread advertising his company in the local paper, a feat somewhat above our meagre abilities, he was not going to help us. We did manage a quick ride in his tractor, though.
More luck came at the local pleasure-flight centre. We had quite an entourage by this point. Thom and I in our matching t-shirts, our cameraman (Thom's sister) and our photographer (Thom's dad). We were, I thought, looking quite professional. Evidently our latest targets agreed: No sooner had the Cessna pilot touched down than he was taking us for a ride in the sky. So wrapped up was I with filming the flight and getting photos for our sponsors that it wasn't until we were about to come down that I actually realised we were shooting through the air in a light aircraft and that it was actually quite exciting.
Thom's sister had arranged for us to go for a spin in a Sinclair C5 - a legend in its own right. If you're not familiar with the C5, then take a look at the picture at the top of our website (www.80ways.co.uk) or just type it into Google. It's a miniature white-plastic electric car that was supposed to be the new big thing back when it was invented. It was never a very big thing, but it can certainly kill a couple of hours. Thom hopped into the machine, top hat on head, and proceeded to pull out of the driveway and onto a main road. The hilarity had to be seen to be believed. Tailing a guy in a top hat who is navigating a roundabout at about 8mph in a rickety white toy car really is a sight to behold.
Our day was almost over, and we were about to head for the ferry home when Thom's neighbour offered us a ride first on his sit-on lawnmower and second on his dumper truck. Steering a dumper truck is harder than you might think. I was failing dismally and was completely oblivious to the fact that I was perpendicular to the direction I should be when several cars came hurtling down the road.
We had to get back to the mainland, and we had decided that a hovercraft was the way to go. There was one departure left that evening. The video recording of the event tells it best: first you see me give my speech, the cashier replies, "Not on this one, not tonight," and then you see me walking on board with a big grin.
My friend Lianne and her boyfriend, Scott, were our new hosts for the evening. After taking us out for a nice pub meal and a relaxing pint before bedtime, we kicked Lianne out of her room and then made her get up at the crack of dawn the next morning to drive us to the port (where Scott let us have a go on his unicycle!). Our hosts went above and beyond. In fact, Lianne even made us some nice cheese sandwiches for the journey...
We had thought our well-honed blagging skills would get us another free ride and had run into the ticketing office suitably excited. Our contact in the PR department was not in the office for another hour (a good half-hour after the ferry left), and no one else was willing to let us on for free. We moved onto another ferry company, but the receptionist was not receptive. She asked us not to film her and then refused to let us speak to a manager. She insisted that we pay.
Two pounds. Two pounds is what she insisted we pay. After sapping our enthusiasm with her cold reception, she then revealed that she was actually giving us a special discount rate that would cost us a pound each, that the ferry left in five minutes' time, and that it would actually be going to Le Havre, which is probably the closest major port to Paris!
Our next goal--to get a Tannoy announcement asking for a lift to Paris--was ruined quickly when we were told that it was against company policy. So we found ourselves sitting in the Freight Drivers' Restaurant, hassling truckers to give us a free ride. We soon realised that Le Havre was not the wonder-port that we had hoped for. Lorry drivers whose destination was Paris went to Calais. Those at Le Havre were bound for Normandy. However, there was an upside to our situation: the Freight Drivers' Restaurant came with free food.
And so it was that I then found myself walking through the "tickets-only" Club-Class section of the boat in a top hat, with a sign on my back saying "Give me a lift to Paris for charity" in big black marker. The ferry was filled with schoolchildren who found the spectacle of a guy in a hat with a paper note celo-taped to his back quite amusing and gave helpful comments like "Yeah right, mate!". They did respond well to our colourful 80 Ways stickers, though (we managed to get some money out of them... for charity!!).
I met with little success, but Thom fared better: "I've found some guys going towards Paris in a van."
Brilliant, I thought. Not only are they going in the right direction, but they are using a method of transport other than a car. Why wasn't Thom excited?
"Well, they're the scariest-looking people on the whole ferry. I wasn't even going to speak to them at first... and they're drunk."
As we filed into the loading bay and piled into the back of the van, I was a little concerned about what we were getting ourselves into. But our new friends were great. The driver was sober, and our less-sober company in the back had some great tales to tell, the best of which involved being stuck in a van between Bulgaria and Romania without enough money to get into either country. They were actually driving to Portugal, not Paris, but we had persuaded them to take the A13 in the direction of Paris, where they dropped us off at a service station before heading off south.
So now we were halfway between Le Havre and Paris. It was mid-afternoon, and we needed to get into Paris by hitchhiking, but without using a car or a van. Oh, and without speaking French, because neither of us could.
Thankfully, a kindly young freight driver had translated a sign for us, so we ran around all the big trucks saying, "Vous allez a Paris?" and holding up a sign that explained the rest. The umpteenth person to turn us down mumbled a word I recognised in his reply: "avant" - before. Aha! We ascertained that he was in fact going half the distance to Paris and that he was more than willing to have us sit in.
Minutes later, the two of us were sitting in the surprisingly large booth of a truck, cruising along the A13 to Paris. We were doing it. Whenever people had asked how we were getting across Europe, our reply tended to vary between "hitching" and "dunno". The reality of hitchhiking was not something we were fully aware of, and doing it in a foreign country, without speaking the language, and wanting to be picky about the vehicles we took, made it sound more than a little unfeasible. But we were doing it.
80 Ways Tim
London, United Kingdom