Westminster Academy 2016

Daniel Zhang Baganz, Zakee Ahmed

‘operation vane’, hike from eastbourne to worthing

Their story, in their words….

“The project was an endurance test, through and throughout leaving us breathless and sweating at the end of each day. But that is why at the end of each day it felt so rewarding, to acknowledge that we had achieved so much and even at our breaking points we still carried on.

Every day was a challenge like no other we had ever encountered before and that is what made us feel truly alive and learning to count on each other in the toughest of times.

Also, we would not have managed to cope half as well if it was not for all the friendly people we met really opening our eyes to the attitudes people have outside of London. They are not much different from the people in London and many are not racist at all. For the better as well since we needed all the help we did get.

Before the project

……With all the equipment, we made extensive research to make sure we were prepared before setting off. We practised in the woods around Highams Park testing our navigation and stamina which slowly built up. However, four days in I tripped over a stump and my glasses had broken from the impact! ….. This slowed down our training for a bit but we carried on and soon we could comfortably carry the 20kg we each had in our rucksacks. We even practised in the dark, luckily before my glasses broke by walking laps across a nearby field. This was our chance to test out the camera and we got some cool shots of the moon…..

Day 1
With my new pair of glasses arrived we were all ready. Bags packed, money in hand the taxi greeted us in the early morning. It is important to say that our parents did decide to give us a little more money – you know how moms are – actually we managed to get another £60 from our parents (£30 from each mother) but before you imagine we would be living in luxury you will soon find out we needed all of it.

We planned the taxi to arrive at the station in half an hour but it just so happened that this morning was the same day that the cycling marathon took place so most of the roads were blocked. Things were not looking good …… we realised our train had left.

We had two choices. Go back home and admit the situation to our dismay, letting down our parents, us and the foundation. Or two, use the £60 to get the next train……..an hour later we were in Eastbourne where the hike began. To start, it was a simple route ……After Polegate, we followed the national trails and started heading into the fields with a compass in one hand and the map in the other. Luckily we had practised a lot with the compass and the map so we began well and we even got to see the Walking Man!

But it was soon afterwards that we faced our next challenge. As we went deeper into the fields the pathways completely disappeared, fortunately, we could navigate around this but afterwards, the fields ahead had been riddled with nettles to the point where we had to slide our bags past hedges of thorns…..

However, we carried on ….. and were really put to the test when later on we had to find a bridge and it was hidden within another bush……We continued hiking a little further before the lack of paths started to get us a little disoriented at one point which made us ending up walking in a circle …… We did have some great views during the day……. although we were off schedule so we got to the campsite late…. missing out on the firewood, dinner and setting up the tent at night. Something we really should have practised but we managed none the less and quickly went to sleep. Well, after we hunted all the spiders lurking inside.

Day 2
We thought waking up early in the morning would be the toughest part of today but there were even more challenges to face. It began well though, after packing we set off again in good spirits to Brighton. Not before getting to know some of the people though, we wanted to ask if they had known of any shortcuts as we were a little behind schedule. We were both a little cautious because it was shortly after Brexit and we had heard that the people outside of London could be racist. That is why it was really encouraging and surprising to find out the liberal views of our neighbour campers and this began to broaden our horizons.

The fields were mostly better maintained although there was the occasional thorny bush we had to slide past. At Brighton the Royal Pavilion was stunning and we also made a few sketches. We made sure to also sketch Preston Manor ….We carried on till we reached Hassocks and as we got there on schedule we could put up the tent before it got dark and also get something to eat. The day had gone well ……

Yet this is when we met our greatest challenge. As we undid the straps to remove the tent bag we had noticed there was a large tear in the bag. Oh no. As we felt across the tent itself it too also had developed a few holes and a series of rips that culminated to about a metre in one area. To make the situation tenser it was starting to rain. At that point, our neighbours walked past and we were grateful for them to lend us a towel as a temporary solution – they were extremely helpful to our delight and amusement.

Quickly we made a plan of action. Using the waterproof covers of our rucksacks and the paracord we bought, we would tie down the coverings to the ends of the tent. That backfired though when we realised that the coverings were just not wide enough. We were tempted to cut the elastic to increase the surface area but then miraculously our neighbours came back with a massive waterproof covering. However not only was it getting darker it was also becoming more wet and windy! We threw the waterproof sheet over the covering……..

We started to doubt the effectiveness of our plan and instantly started to wonder if we were going to be able to manage for the night. If perhaps we could even finish the rest of the trip, if we were too ambitious. If we were wrong to move on.

The wind no longer mattered to us, neither did the rain. Within half an hour we were finished and when we finally got into the tent, it was luxury. Only then did we start to feel the tiniest of struggles that the migrants would have to endure day by day, only than did we feel that we were getting close to the wilderness. Needless to say, it was an experience we will not soon forget. And with that, we collapsed.

Day 3

Later start to the morning than we wanted but we already knew that we had to end the trip early…….the waterproof covering would soon have to be returned leaving the tears exposed and it would rain that evening. ………. We had to press onwards and decided to walk around Devil’s Dyke because we needed a break and we made our way to Worthing…..We knew we could not get to Butser hill but Arundel Castle was still an option. We ended up going to Arundel after a quick rest where we made a few more sketches….

…… Finally, we got our bags and had a night hike walking around the border of Worthing. …
Unfortunately, the pictures of the stars were less than spectacular, the moon was really cool though, you can even see the craters…….

After the project
Thinking about locations to go stargazing we found the hill of Hampstead Heath, at a 100 m high it was the tallest point in London. Also to better prepare I bought a stargazing app that explained the different stars we would see in the sky……….

The view was great and with our camera’s zoom, we could get incredibly close to the stars!

….. over half term, we will be going to Butser Hill……. we can also take the telescope and get a really good look at the stars. Our project has not ended yet and we will make sure it is only done when we finally show you the true beauty of the stars ……..

For this project, we raised a £150 for hiking 70 miles………….We understand that it was a large investment that was made in us so I promise that we will continue to donate to the Mark Evison Foundation in the up and coming months. After all, without your involvement, we would have never even made it this far.

And now with our spirits of adventure captured again we are even thinking about next year hiking up Mount Snowdon, a mountain in Wales which will definitely push us further. This usually would seem terrifying but thanks to the Mark Evison Foundation, we no longer feel that way.”

This is an edited version of Daniel’s report.