Day One: Lost in Shillong
“Welcome to the Rickshaw Run!” Thank heaven. It had taken us four taxis, three planes, and many hours on foot to find our way to the start line in Shillong, India. Never shying away from the opportunity to add spice to the adventure, the event organisers have chosen chaos as the first stop on our 3500 km auto-rickshaw race; The Rickshaw Run.
It isn’t hard to tell that, other than our fellow racers, this small town never receives western visitors. Within minutes of leaving our hotel room, for example, a group of teenagers asked Amy for her autograph and picture. Also, very few people speak English, which made getting directions nearly impossible. I realized that we were truly in the sticks when I saw a giant advertisement: “Introducing Internet with free voice calling”.
Where the hell are we?
There are so many reasons that no one should ever come here. As we searched the town, our senses put forward five compelling arguments to quit while we were ahead, return to an exotic island and working on our tan.
“Smell” was the first sense to get assaulted. The scent of rotting food and feces permeates the air. It wasn’t hard to identify the source of this unholy aroma. Rotting food is strewn all over the place, and stagnant pools of fecal matter fill the streets. Amy’s choice to wear open sandals didn’t go unpunished.
“Sight” was next. The only safe place to look is straight up. As we walked, we observed abandoned buildings, intense traffic, mounds of litter, stray dogs, and open-air butchers selling things that should never be bought. Oh, and did I mention the rotting food and fecal matter?
The other three senses received their fair share of abuse as we desperately sought the start line. It takes a lot to get to me, but my gag reflex was invoked on several occasions. Welcome to the Rickshaw Run, indeed.
What more could I ask for?
Jokes aside, this is exactly what I signed up for. I am beyond excited to begin what promises to be our most extreme adventure yet. I’m also grateful to be sharing it with my wife and sister. We’re all going to have hair on our chests by the time we reach the finish line.
Day Two: Training Begins
We awoke to the sound of snorting in the passageway; Shillong’s equivalent of a crowing rooster. I had been looking forward to this day for ages; the time had finally arrived for us to test drive our rickshaw! We had an ice-cold shower, got dressed, and began the disturbing walk to the start line.
For breakfast, we collected an unhealthy assortment of street food. For the most part, it tasted fantastic. The trick is to eat it with your eyes closed. Going against my advice, Amy decided to inspect every mouthful and found herself picking out human hair, small insects, and a host of other special ingredients.
We reached the start line, collected our rickshaw, and got a 10-minute driving lesson. Having driven a variety of motorbikes, scooters, quads, etc. I found it pretty easy to master the controls. The only real challenge was finding neutral, which ultimately involved summoning the strength of my ancestors.
To start the vehicle, one must manually turn the engine by pulling on a handle; similar to starting an underpowered lawnmower. When cold, turning the engine requires an almighty heave. Unfortunately, Amy lacked the arm strength necessary to do it, and I was assigned the trip long task of starting the rickshaw. I had to chuckle to myself as I walked past an exhausted all-girl team. They have a long walk ahead of them.
When we felt comfortable with our driving ability, we hit the markets to collect supplies. Tomorrow, we’ll be upgrading our steed with everything that we need to survive our 14-day drive to Kochi.