Sunday, 19 January 2014

The final day! Day 82

(Sunday 5th January)

This was it.  We had finally reached the final day of the run across Australia. 23 miles to go.

Day 82 was a 3am alarm call.  Just enough time to dress Mark's feet and get him on the road. There was no room for error, our flight was scheduled later that day.

It was an incredibly dark start to the day and most certainly the earliest of the tour.  Mark was kitted out in his high vis and head torch hoping for light traffic and safe conditions until sunrise.

"The starry sky is incredible this morning. 1st mile done in complete darkness. Sunrise is 90 minutes away. #rgrdownunder"

"Legs feel really good so far. Codeine has foot pain under control. 21 miles to the #Pacific."

"If my timing is decent I should be running down #MacquarriePass just as the sun rises. This is a good script today."

"Thank you to my headline sponsor @drivebenfield for helping to get me across Australia. #enjoythejourney #rgrdownunder"

My current view #rgrdownunder 

The anticipated arrival time at Warilla Beach, Shellharbour, was 11am.  This would make it a very late evening for the UK followers; "I'll try and get this finished at a decent time for UK followers".

"Currently at 2546ft. I think my descent to the #Pacific starts now just a few miles east of #Robertson."

"18 miles to #Shellharbour…."

"Here comes the sun. Right on time. I'm the blue dot. Hello #Macquariepass."

"The view from the top of #macquariepass. That's the #pacific Ocean in the distance. #rgrdownunder"

And so the descent began..I drove ahead to check out the route, the research suggested that this wasn't going to be pleasant. 

After 12 nail biting minutes I reached an area where it was safe to pull over, not quite at the bottom of the pass.  Blind hairpin bends, fierce oncoming traffic and no sign of a hard shoulder became a harsh realisation of what Mark was attempting on foot.  As I waited mid way down the pass I observed the traffic heading towards Mark.  These drivers looked experienced on the pass and were certainly taking no prisoners.  I wonder if they had ever been faced with a pedestrian on the route.

After what seemed like an eternity later I caught a glimpse of Mark heading down the last twist to reach me at my location.  To say it was a relief to see him was a huge understatement.  

"I'm almost at the bottom of #Macquariepass. That was tough. Already battered toes forced into the front of my shoes."

"I'm almost at the bottom of #Macquariepass. That was tough. Already battered toes forced into the front of my shoes."

"12 miles done. 11 to the #Pacific Ocean."

"I was at the top of that pass an hour ago. Stunning part of the route across Australia."

The progress was fantastic and Mark had no intention of making any stops until he hit the Pacific Ocean.  Just as I pulled over with 5 miles to go I noticed that Mark had someone with him.  I presumed that it was someone who had stopped to check that Mark was ok - a common feature of the last 82 days.  How wrong could I be? Just when the glory of the finish line awaited, up pops a Geordie! Pete Smith, a friend of, lives in Sydney and had followed the journey throughout.  As luck had it he was in the area with family and kindly offered to join Mark as support for the final stretch.

With a new friend in tow, my duties were relieved and I was sent to the finish line.  As I approached the finish line of the run across Australia I was blown away by the beauty of the area.  There had been many twists along the route and this was certainly one of the better outcomes.  A perfect setting.

The sun was shining and we had a small group of people to cheer Mark on for the final few metres.  Dani (our contact from Shellharbour) had gathered a few friends and family and my best friend, Caroline, had managed to persuade a friend, Marina, to make the journey down from Sydney.  The anticipation was immense for us waiting there at Warilla Beach, I can only imagine people back in the UK being glued to phones, laptops and PC's in the same manner.  This was really happening.  The run was almost complete.

"4 miles left. Feeling good."

"Now heading directly towards the #Pacific. No more than 1 hour left."

"Impossible to keep up with Twitter. I'm just concentrating on running as fast as I can. 3 miles to go. I can smell the #Pacific"

2 miles to go

In a moment of panic, I could see that Warilla Beach was quite a size.  How would Mark know the exact point where we were waiting for him? His mobile was in airplane mode so I couldn't get a message to him.  This could have been a disaster.  Dani's partner, Greg, set off out on the route to intercept Mark and ensure that he was directed to the correct point. Meanwhile we continued to wait until we got the signal from Greg that Mark was on his way.

We waited and we waited and we waited some more.  Then finally, Dani's phone rang.  He was on his way.

Just minutes before midnight, UK time, 11am local time, Mark made it to the Pacific Ocean.  Relief, excitement, pride and emotion all rolled into one.  He had finally made it.  2384 miles from Perth, Western Australia, to Shellharbour, New South Wales.  The dream was finally a reality.  

Mark made his last few strides down onto Warilla beach and didn't stop until his feet were soaked in the Pacific Ocean.

This was the first picture.  The finish line.  Warilla Beach, New South Wales, Australia. 

There was only a short period of time for Mark to come to terms with what he had achieved, to take some pictures and to record a brief interviewed to be shared with the UK media who were waiting with baited breath to get this footage ready for release.

Here are a few of moments that were captured as Mark had finally completed his mission of running coast to coast across Australia.

Making sure that the GPS watch was stopped.

With lifeguards Chris and Connor from Warilla/Barrack Point Club

With Greg...  

…as if the story of the run across Australia didn't have enough adventure already, we found out that Greg is a former Olympian! He represented Australia in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta! Amazing!

Once the photos etc. had all been taken the next mission was to get back to Sydney, pack, check out of the hotel and get to the airport.  This was going to be tight.  First things first though, the car needed to be unloaded, we were still carrying all of the supplies that we had transferred from the RV.  Porridge, pasta, snacks, water - the list was endless.  Dani kindly offered to take these supplies off our hands, for all of the unopened products she would take these to the local food bank - from one charity to another.  Fantastic!

A quick bite to eat for Mark, obvious choice below, and we were back on the road, this time to Sydney.

We sadly left Warilla Beach, a beautiful area with fresh memories made, and set off on the highway.  After 4 miles the car flashed with a warning; engine overheating, switch off.  This was not good.  We pulled over onto the hard shoulder and frantically searched for roadside assistance details.  With the call logged we were informed that it could take up to an hour for someone to reach us.  This meant an hour less to get back to Sydney and to get to the airport.  

With the engine switched off, we lost the luxury of the air con.  Typically it was a blistering hot day.  There was no way that we could sit and wait in these conditions safely.  Fortunately Caroline and  Marina weren't too far behind in their rental car and raced to reach us.  Mark took shelter in Caroline's car while we frantically tried to think of ways that we could get back to Sydney.  Time was ticking.

The roadside assistance company had sent a text saying that they were 10 minutes away, brilliant.  Only the 10 minutes turned into 40 minutes and counting… Having 2 cars now pulled in on the hard shoulder on a busy highway was a bit of a risk.  One oncoming car making the wrong move could have been fatal.  We needed to think fast about how we could get back to Sydney on time.  The only option would be to unload our bags and transfer them to Caroline's car.  Marina would very kindly wait with our rental car.

Luckily a police officer working on highway patrol had seen us and pulled over to assess the situation.  Cue the 'girl card' and the Run Geordie Run leaflet.  While Mark was inside the other car slowly coming to terms with what he had achieved us girls worked on the sob story.  The Police Officer was very understanding and tried his best to hurry along the roadside recovery (in another mad coincidence, he had family from Newcastle upon Tyne!).

After almost an hour and a half (and 2 angry phone calls later) the tow truck arrived.  While we were waiting we had agreed with the rental company that the car could be returned directly to them and that Caroline and Marina would drive us back to Sydney. A perfect plan.  Only the truck driver was having none of it.  As if it wasn't hot enough to start with, the temperature was definitely rising with this one.  Having the Police Officer with us certainly helped, tempers were starting to flare.  Another 10 minutes later and we had a resolution.  We left the tow truck to return our vehicle and we were now on the road back to Sydney, a journey that would take 90 minutes.  We were cutting it very close to make it to the airport on time.

A mad dash to pack once we made it back to our hotel and we were back on the road.  Destination: Sydney Airport.  We arrived 30 minutes before we were due to board.  Just enough time for Mark to do a couple of telephone interviews and to grab some free wifi.  As we checked the flight details, the harsh realisation of what we were about to embark on hit.  Our first destination was Dubai before travelling onwards to Newcastle.  Although it obviously wouldn't be this straight forward.  Instead of our original flight on 4th January taking us direct to Dubai, our new flight had us heading to Bangkok first.  A 17 hour flight. In economy class.  

Needless to say this was an incredibly uncomfortable flight, even more so for Mark.  His body had no time to recover from the run and his feet were extremely painful.  Add altitude and feet swelling to the equation and we had a huge problem.  Mark was in agony.  The cabin crew were able to offer some pain relief but little else.  The flight was full for the entire journey through to Dubai and there were no seats with extra leg room. 

Luck struck when a very kind lady gave up her seat next to an emergency exit.  This meant that Mark could raise his feet and try to get some sleep for a few hours.  The journey continued through to Dubai but the nightmare didn't end there.  The flight arrived late and left us only 20 minutes to board the next flight back to Newcastle.  Only we had a 10 minute taxi to the next terminal first.  We were faced with a very immobile Mark and 10 minutes to board. The ground staff didn't appear to be too helpful and showed little concern.  We weren't going to make it.  I ran to find a member of airport staff who was driving a passenger transport vehicle to ask for assistance.  They advised that as we were very close to the departure gate they could not assist.  In an Anneka Rice fashion I raced through to our gate with Mark hobbling behind.  They were still expecting a few other passengers and we still had time to board.  Relief!  The bad news was this flight was full too so once again Mark was faced with limited leg room for the next 8 hours back to Newcastle.  I approached a member of cabin crew, Ben, to let him know that Mark would need some pain relief once we took off.  Ben advised that the crew from Sydney had called ahead and updated him of the situation.  If there was anything else that he could do to help Mark just needed to ask.

So, we had just made it in time for take off and home was our final destination.  Mark took advantage of Ben's offer and ended up sitting with his feet up in the crew jump seats while snacking on food from first class.   After 26 hours from departing Sydney we finally made it back to Newcastle.  There was no other way to be greeted than by the typical North East weather!

We made it through to baggage reclaim to be greeted by a member of the airline staff.  We were lucky enough to have made our flight from Dubai but our bags hadn't! Not a massive issue for clothing, coming from summer to winter, only the house keys were in the case.  In the blind panic of packing in Sydney this had completely slipped our minds!  The airline couldn't apologise enough but having raced for the flight ourselves we knew that this would be a likely outcome.

The airline very kindly offered us a driver to take us home, that would have to be with detour first though to pick up our spare keys.  Once we had confirmed all of the necessary details for our baggage, arrivals awaited.  We had been informed that there was a small gathering of friends and media waiting to greet and congratulate Mark.  We made our way through the doors and we were finally home!

It's only appropriate that I now close the laptop and let Mark continue the story.  I'm sure that there are many more tales and pictures to follow, I doubt that I have even scratched the surface with my updates.

Thank you for taking the time to read the blog and share the journey.  It's never been ideal having someone else tell the story but I do hope that you appreciate the reasons why this had to be the case.

It's been an amazing adventure and certainly something that I'm sure none of us will forget too quickly.  A huge huge thank you to everyone who has sent messages of support and of course, the whole reason why we ended up in Australia, for the donations.  The charity fund has surpassed Mark's target of £50,000.  There were times when Mark really didn't think that this was achievable.  As of today it is £52,290.  The kind spirit and generosity of the general public has been mind blowing.  Every single penny will be very wisely spent by the two charities; The Children's Foundation and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.  Please be sure to check out their pages to read more about how this money helps.

That's all for now folks, stay tuned for more updates from Mark and of course, for news of the documentary which we hope will be available later in the year.

Donna x