We had an ominous start on Saturday morning after one of our team member’s alarms failed to go off, resulting in a last minute call to a cab company to make sure we’d reach the OUSU headquarters in time to catch the coach. After an embarrassingly short ride and a £5 fee (it doesn’t count – the race hadn’t started yet), we made it there in plenty of time to take in the wonderful array of fancy dress outfits that made my team’s Primark t-shirts, with ‘Lost’, ‘Hitchhike’ ‘Charity’ and ‘Oxford’ scribbled on them look rather pitiful. Not yet deterred, although slightly bashful, we boarded our coach and two hours or so later arrived in a pretty sea-side town called Poole. In a commendable
although ultimately futile effort, my team tried to blag a free ride on a boat, any boat. We tried asking fishermen, who politely told us we had just missed their morning’s run so we enquired at the quay, where the receptionist told us that unfortunately the luxury yachts we had our eyes on wouldn’t be making any trips today. Still feeling pretty confident and enjoying the sunshine, we stopped for fish and chips whilst I enquired at the tourist office for the most unusual form of transport we’d be able to get in the area. “There’s an airport in Bournemouth,’’ the receptionist told me, “and there are shuttle buses there every hour”. With the kind of stupid grin reserved only for the most naïve of people, I told my team and we quickly made tracks into Bournemouth courtesy of the kind bus-conductor who was at first reluctant to take us because he “already had two bunnies at the back”.
Upon arriving, we headed over to the train station but met another team en route, who had already been told that the regional managers had refused to let anyone ride the coaches or trains for free. With no idea of where else to go, we asked a parked taxi driver for advice. He took pity on us and drove us to the best spot to hitch a ride from – a roundabout leading to the motorways that we would need. It took almost an hour of thumbs down, honking horns, the occasional middle finger from passing motorists and several unsuccessful calls to the airport (it turns out the automated machine doesn’t have a ‘press 5 if you’re hitchhiking for charity and would like a free ride to Oxford button’), but eventually a Mercedes pulled up and offered to take us to a service station on the motorway. So began our string of hitchhiking luck. We met a keen festival goer (Reading 16 years in a row), a professional cricket photographer, and, after two hours of waiting in a service station just 30 miles from Oxford, a massively interesting ex-squaddie who dropped us straight home, as well as donating £5 and giving a first-hand account of serving in the Gulf Wars.
Arriving back at 20:30, we didn’t win the race, but we did have the best tasting celebratory Nando’s and the restored faith in humanity that the ‘Lost’ organisers promised. And if you see any lost-looking, onesie-donning students by the side of the road, be kind; they’re lost in the name of charity.