At 11am on Friday 27th February over 150 participants gathered in the Forum to take part in the 2015 RAG Jailbreak. I was there with two friends, red pirate hats perched on our heads, counting down the seconds until we could begin the challenge.
RAG Jailbreak, for those of you who haven’t heard of it, is a popular charity fundraiser in which teams of two or three students have 30 hours to travel as far away from Exeter as possible, spending no money of their own and relying only on the kindness of strangers. That means busking, hitch-hiking, blagging your way onto public transport, and any other sneaky means you can think of to put as many miles between yourself and the university as possible. Teams raise money for RAG’s chosen charities through donations, sponsorship, and money raised during their travels. The charities this year were Exeter Student Volunteers, Exeter Food Bank, and Mind.
Our team, rather ambitiously called ‘No Rest Til Budapest,’ set off immediately for Cullompton Service station, just north of Exeter. When we arrived we were dismayed to find several other teams already set up, trying to hitch-hike up the M5 towards Bristol. We also pulled out our signs and tried our luck, until we were set back after half an hour or so when I remembered I had left my passport in my bedroom. It was another hour before a friend could drop the passport up to us at the service station, during which time we had to resign ourselves to sitting dejectedly in Costa Coffee and looking like the most incapable charity-fundraisers of all time.
Once the passport arrived, and I had been suitably scolded by my disappointed housemate, we managed to sort a lift towards Coventry with a man who never told us his name. We were out of Exeter, but now we had to decide whether to carry on North or head towards London and try to escape the country. Never ones to back down from a challenge we opted to aim for Europe, especially since we had made all the effort getting my passport back. The nice man (probably called Nigel) dropped us just North of Bristol at Michaelwood Services, and we shortly found another nameless man (probably called Chris) who offered to take a slight detour on his route south and drop us to the first services on the M4 eastbound. I don’t think “Chris” realised how far it was to Leigh Delamere, and he probably wouldn’t have done it if he’d know it would add an extra hour onto his journey, but we were very grateful and tried not to draw attention to it.
After only a few minutes at Leigh Delamere we were picked up by Gina, a modern languages student at Cardiff, who dropped us at Membury, and then after a short food break in Membury we were picked up by Louise, possibly the loveliest woman in the world, who offered to drop us on south side of the M25. She told us a very moving story about her son and how charities like Mind had been invaluable to her learning about mental health issues over the last few years. She told us how she’d never thought mental health issues were something that could affect her or her family, but that they can happen to anyone and we all ought to be educated about how to cope with them. The story reminded us all exactly why we were taking part in the event, and we were more determined than ever.
On our route around the M25 Louise offered to drop us at Gatwick Airport instead, which we very happily agreed to. However Gatwick was less productive than we had hoped for, and after an hour or so hanging around departures we used some of the travel money we had been given to get cheap last-minute trains to Ashford International. When we arrived it was almost 11pm, and we had planned to find a 24-hour coffee shop to rest up for the night. That was until we met a Polish man called Lukas. He told us our plan was naive and we were complete idiots: we should be going to Dover to get on a late night ferry. He seemed legit, and he was hitch-hiking to Hamburg overnight himself, so we took his advice. We had a look at the schedule and, after failing to catch a lift onto the ferry at 12:30am, we waved our hats and signs and danced at the roadside in a last ditch attempt to get onto the 2am crossing.
All hope seemed lost at 1:55am, when we were sure no-one else was coming. We waved at one last car and then resigned ourselves to sleeping in the ferry shelter for a few hours. But lo and behold, the very last car to get on the ferry pulled over, and we jumped in quicker than we’ve ever moved before. The two guys in the car were Aneeb and Faz, who had driven down from Dundee the same day and were going all the way to Spain in one journey. It turned out they had booked a holiday for 5 people in San Sebastian but three had dropped out last minute, so they had space for us and were happy to drive us all the way there if we wanted.
We were, of course, absolutely over the moon. It would be almost impossible to find another lift that would drive us continuously for the rest of Jailbreak, and when we drove off the ferry in Calais we realised it would have been completely hopeless trying to get a lift there – the ferry empties straight onto the motorway, with no space to pick up hitch-hikers. So we drove, crammed into the back seats of a tiny Polo, all the way to Paris where we stopped for breakfast on the Champs-Élysées, took selfies with the Eiffel Tower and visited the Arc de Triomphe. In Paris, with the benefit of some McDonalds Wi-Fi, we checked how we were going to get home. San Sebastian was a bit of a nightmare to get home from, so we found cheap flights from Bordeaux to Gatwick and settled for those instead. After another 7 hours driving south through France, hearing all kinds of hilariously weird stories from Aneeb and Faz, we were dropped off in Bordeaux where we stayed until the end of the Jailbreak.
It was an incredible experience, and we were amazed at the kindness of all the people who helped us out along the way. Our total distance travelled was 429 miles as the crow flies from Exeter, which is slightly unrepresentative because of the shape of our journey on a map, but we were happy enough with it. We were one of the most successful teams that didn’t catch a flight, and we got to spend some time in the lovely city of Bordeaux. I would highly recommend it to anyone in Exeter next year. Overcome your fears and go on an adventure – it’s all for a great cause!