A semi-nervous train journey led me into Preston (probably the least pedestrian-friendly place I’ve ever been…). I knew I had a long wait ahead of me before Boots, zx6rlad and the others arrived at the hotel, and so I eventually checked into my hotel room (once the reception staff worked out who I was) before spending a few hours sweating in the room until I noticed the air conditioning machine on the wall…
I got a text telling me that the guys would be there in 10 minutes or so, and the nerves really kicked in. Not only would I be meeting guys I’d chatted to online, but I’d be meeting them all at once! I alternated between sitting on the bed and pacing round the room (not easy if the room is tiny). Eventually, I heard the noise of motorbikes getting closer, and after a few more nervous minutes, I received a message to come and meet them in the reception area. One last look in the mirror, deep breath, and I headed towards the lift. Despite taking only 30 seconds or so, that was one hell of a long lift journey (and my legs decided to shake uncontrollably at this point).
I’d forgotten the reception desk was on the first floor of the hotel, so I had to walk up the stairs from the ground floor. Ahead of me was a group of guys: most in bike gear, some wearing radical speeds (all looking very “nice”). Boots, Gummibike, Jornter, Rubbot, Scubaccs, Tieme and zx6rlad: I couldn’t believe this was the group of guys I’d be spending time with that weekend. Another deep breath, and I sheepishly joined the group, standing on the edge of the gathering and giving a nervous “hello”. Details of what happened next are fuzzy (at this point I was running on auto pilot I think), but I joined a few of the guys to help bring the bags upstairs to the rooms before we headed to the bar.
In the bar were TheStig and leather261 (two more guys I’d chatted to online but never met). I said “hello” to them and had a brief talk before the rest of the guys joined us and we all chatted as a group. Well, they chatted – I took my time to listen carefully and learn how they all acted together as a group. I began to relax in their company (maybe the surprisingly intoxicating cider helped with that), and enjoyed my time with them. They were good guys – matching their online personas perfectly. I was happy to be there with them and was pleased we had those few hours together to get to know each other.
We headed up to our rooms and Gummibike (who I was room-sharing with) and I chatted until the early hours of the morning. If we had’ve known what the next day would bring, we might have had an early night…
Saturday arrived and we all headed to the venue for about 9am for what we assumed would be a little bit of work helping to put posters up etc. However, the owner of the venue had let Boots and zx6rlad down badly – the place was full of furniture and other junk. We were all shocked by the scene in front of us. Everywhere we looked was dirty and messy. I was angry the guys had been let down so badly. I honestly thought that there was no way we could get the place ready in time for GBuk starting at 7pm that day.
We all knew what we had to do – we had to work together to get the place sorted. 15 (or so) of us carried furniture, brushed, cleaned, vacuumed and helped set up the lights in order to make the venue usable. It wasn’t until afterwards that I realised what we’d accomplished. We’d all come together in order to help Boots and zx6rlad to get the venue in order so the event could go ahead. That says a lot about what these guys mean to the community, and also how important GBuk was. 6 hours after we started, the place was looking much better (I wish I had “before” and “after” photos to show just what we did that day: the transformation was amazing). Rubbot and I picked up a close friend from the train station, filling him in on what had happened. It was nice to see him again, it was just a shame he’d arrived in the midst of the chaos.
Before we knew it, it was time to leave the hotel to get to GearBlast UK itself. My stomach began doing cartwheels again as I realised I was going to be wearing rubber in front of guys I’d never met or even chatted to (and also in front of the guys I’d only met the night before). For a brief moment, I thought I can’t do this. We walked to the venue (pleased we hadn’t kept to our plan of walking through Preston in rubber), and on the way we met a group of very nice looking bikers from our group. Unlike us, they were walking through Preston in their gear (I suddenly felt very under dressed), and unfortunately they attracted some comments from the “clever” members of the public as a result.
We arrived at the venue to find others had already arrived and were already in the gear. It’s a very strange feeling to be “out of place” in normal clothes, but I managed to feel that way. Dragging my friend into the changing area with me (as I was too nervous to get changed by myself in there in case someone I didn’t know came in to get geared too), we changed into our rubber. I took one more nervous deep breath, and we stepped out into the now-transformed warehouse area (which only 6 hours or so before had been covered in furniture and broken glass).
Boots locked a collar on me, along with my new dog tag. He probably didn’t notice it as I was wearing my pup hood, but this made me smile a lot – to say that made me happy is an understatement. I wish I could’ve spent more time with him and zx6rlad that weekend, but I understood they’d be very busy sorting everything out. I hugged him and thought I hope everything goes well for them both this weekend.
And to be honest, despite a few further small problems, the weekend did go well. Very well, in fact. I generally stuck with people I knew, and quickly got over my anxiety of being in gear with “strangers” around. It’s amazing how natural being in gear surrounded by others in gear feels. It was nice to socialise with the guys and to watch the more extrovert guys playing on the bondage equipment (I wish I had’ve been “brave” enough, but there’s always next year). The fight demonstrations were very cool, well done to the guys (also well done for making the demonstrations slightly different each night).
However, like all good times, it was over far too quickly. Getting back to the hotel room in the early hours of Monday morning, I realised just how much had happened in such a short space of time. I realised how much I’d enjoyed spending my time with the group of guys I’d come to befriend. They’re decent, honest, fun-loving guys and I can’t thank them enough for making me feel welcome in their group. Leaving them on the Monday morning was horrible. I did my best to not get too emotional, and started my lonely journey back to Newcastle.
Well done to Boots and zx6rlad for organising such a brilliant event, and thanks to them and the other guys who helped make that weekend what it was. I don’t know what the future has in store for me, but I will be attending GBuk 2010. I certainly will never forget GBuk 2009.