THANK YOU ALL SUPPORTERS

Thanks to all our supporters, both corporate sponsors & individuals.

With your help over $87,000 Cdn was raised for water projects in India.

Having access to clean water is truly life changing.

To read more about our charity FrankWater please visit their site at www.frankwater.com

& for a quick read of Jess’s personal thoughts on why clean water is so important check out this blog

ElRulio aka “One Hot Mess” Wrap’s it up!

Elly Thirsty on beach

ElRulio at sunrise with Lil Jigg

In the beginning, it was an idea, a plan, a thought and it all began in Ulanbataar Mongolia a couple of years ago.  The 3 of us were travelling around Mongolia and when we arrived at our hostel we spotted the banner that would eventually lead us to a decision to enter the Rickshaw Run in India 2013.  At the time this banner was the Finish Line for the gruelling Mongol rally (16000 kms from the UK to Mongolia).  The 3 of us thought WOW what a cool idea!  Then after some serious thinking, we decided to try something a little less dangerous, less costly and lesstime.   The Rickshaw Run…Little did we know about “less dangerous”.

My first response when I was asked to join the Offtrax team was “YEAH, but give me a week to think about it! “  During that week I told some close friends about the Rickshaw Run.  A few thought I was INSANE and others said “Go for It!”  My husband did some reading on the event and offered his support as long as HE didn’t have to enter it.  A week later, Jess and Corker called me and asked for my decision.  I said YES.  I hung up the phone and then asked myself  “Am I nuts?”

This decision was made in October 2012 and Team Offtrax embarked on a massive fundraising project to help out Frank Water in India.  I had been to India in 2004 assisting in a water project with 100 schools north of Mumbai and I had realized how important fresh, pure water was to India.  I was excited to be able to once again help out with a water project in a different part of India.

And then on April 7, 2013 the Rickshaw Run began.  70 pimped up rickshaws left Cochi and within 3 hours our rickshaw was run off the road by a massive bus!  This nearly did me in.  I was ready to hop on a plane back to Canada or put the rickshaw on a train, along with us and get to the finish line that way.  And then the next day, after I was talked into continuing the adventure over numerous rums and superb Indian cuisine, we drove at night which was one of, if not the scariest things I have ever done in my life!  The Indians either drive with full beams or no beams at all.  I am pretty blind at night, but I still could make out numerous vehicles, bicycles and animals with no lights…Again I was a blubbery mess, which is not me.

Our adventure continued for another 14 days with a couple of scary night drives thrown in for fun.  When we did our final climb to Shillong, it was magical and most beautiful as Shillong is known as the Scotland of India.  The air was crisp and clean.  And we did it – 4,130 kms in a Rickshaw that did 35 kms/hr average speed.

ER sippin tea

Sipping tea in Darjeeling

When I returned home, this journey seemed surreal.  I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.  I have never felt so vulnerable yet so safe and fulfilled.
I had survived this journey with my daughter Jess and her girlfriend Corker.  Travelling with 2 thirty something’s and me being a 60 something was definitely a trip to heaven and hell and back!   Tempers reached some pretty high peaks!  And yet we all looked forward to each day when we finished up and chilled with some Kingfisher beers and delicious Indian food. Some of the small towns we ended up in, I swear no tourist has been to.

I do not regret a minute of the Rickshaw Run, well, maybe the first 2 nights.

Would I do it again?  No way!  But bring on the Mongol Rally, because I am ready!

Major FADWAD in the mud!

Major FADWAD in the mud!

How was it? “I still can’t get my head around it” – Corker tells us her view on the Rickshaw Run

Corker coromandelSince I’ve been back I’ve been asked a lot of questions from friends and colleagues. I won’t lie : being back sucks! Spending my 9 to 5 day in front of a computer working: sucks! The Rickshaw Run has changed me. It has changed the way I look at life; the way I look at my water consumption; the way I bike around the city.

One thing is for sure: it is a life changing experience and I’d do it all over again.

So, to answer a few questions:

How was it? It was the most grueling, exhausting, nerve wrecking, adrenaline packed adventure I have ever been on. To better express this and quote a fellow rickshaw runner : I had some of the best times of my life and some of the worst, often within moments of one another. To say “ we survived”, it’s an understatement. There were moments were death by a truck came too close for comfort and where driving into a ditch became the only option.

And although this happened, we also had the most amazing moments : like playing an impromptu game of Simon says with the village kids; dipping our feet in the Gange; watching the sun rise above the Bay of Bengal;  spot elephants in the wild or sipping tea in Darjeeling.

We met amazing people that helped us get out of trouble, and made friends for life. We managed to get lost even with a GPS ( a free downloaded version). We got stock in mud (GPS said: “turn left”); drove on a one way street going against the traffic (GPS said: “turn right”); we broke down in the middle of nowhere; drove without brakes; drove at night with barely any lights. We laughed hysterically and cried too. We had moments where we just wanted to put that piece of metal on the back of a truck, and moments  where we were on a beach watching the sun go down on the Coromandel Coast.

How was it, you ask? I still can’t get my head around it.  4,130km of adrenaline pumped days, are still hard to assimilate.

How did you guys plan where to stay? Did you book hotels? This is one question that makes me laugh….  If there is one thing we learned quickly, is that ALL plans get shattered at the lightning speed of 35km/h (the average speed we we’re driving, with a recorded peak 57 km/h downhill!).

Like Elly said and reminded me every couple of hours: This is an hour by hour adventure. Its about the journey, not the destination (Although, we did have to make it to the finish line!)

There is no such thing as planning, as there is no way to predict what’s ahead of you. Things can change so quickly along the way, that your dream of “We’ll have beers on the beach tonight” will likely resolve into you sleeping in the crappiest minus 5 non-star hotel you never even though existed. That’s why, you don’t plan. You wish, but you don’t plan!

So no, we didn’t book a thing. We ended up in random “hotels”, in villages that I cannot even pronounce the name of.

How were the roads? How fast were you guys going? The following are a guarantee on  Indian roads:

1: awful roads or  ‘Highways’ (calling them highways is sometimes a real over statement). Indian roads are known to be some of the ‘shittiest’ (pardon my language) roads in the world. Potholes so big they could swallow a truck, and dust so thick it would make a foggy London day look like its a clear day. Put the following with the most daring and devilish drivers in the world and you start getting the picture.

Yes, this is # 2 : Indian drivers. They are fearless. They drive like maniacs at full speed, carrying loads so big you start wondering how they even packed their trucks! They love to play chicken, and they love to win at this game too. The problem is , when you are driving a rickshaw, size matters. Their size, not yours. In India this is how the  road order  goes:  cows ( they are holy, therefore can do anything that pleases them); buses (especially the pink one, blaring its horn that’s drove us in a ditch on day one); trucks (colorful, dreadful, loaded beasts); SUV’s; tractors or any agricultural related vehicle; cars; rickshaws; motorcycles; self-made vehicles; bicycles;  pedestrians and animals.

Now put all these together and you get number #3: Traffic.  To get the picture put all of # 1 and # 2 together, jam them into a 1.2 billion population country and see what happens. Yes, you got it: a symphony of loud horns, vehicles, animals, humans all coming and going in every sense and direction feasibly possible and all trying to either get there first, or avoid potholes. To this day, I’m still surprised that a motorbike didn’t drive on top of our rickshaw. We came really close to losing our rearview mirrors and my only road kill was a toad and a cactus ( this last one was just sitting there, having a peaceful day in the sun when I decided to maneuver the rickshaw back and forth on it…. Long story. If you ask I might tell!)

And no, we weren’t going “fast”.

Would you do it again? No. Yes.  Maybe. Ya, I would!

Any words of wisdom? Yes:  don’t do it!  This is NOT a vacation by any means. So if you’re  ideal is to sit down, relax, sip a drink and enjoy life passing by, this is not for you. If your ideal is to see India (like the Taj Mahal): don’t do it. You will have no time for anything you want to and you’ll be at the mercy of a “glorified lawnmower” that will dictate every minute of your day .  Remember : it’s about the journey, not the destination.

Oh, and if you’re going to do it: get driving gloves and extra lights.

Yours,

Corker

Hello Shillong!

finish line

Left Barpeta at 630am with just 232 kms to go to the finish line in Shillong!

Arriving in the largest city in north-eastern India, Guwahati, the traffic was awful. It took 45minutes just to cross a bridge.  With just another 87 kms to Shillong, we felt we could make a stop at the Kamakhya Mandir Hindu Temple. To our surprise there was sign for it and so Lil Jigg’  jiggled all the way up the steep hill to the temple.  We walked up the twisted road with the masses, most of them in their bare feet.  We had to remove our shoes to enter the grounds.  Oh my, what a sight!  There were lots of goats, a few water buffalo and tons of pigeons wandering around the grounds. As we’re trying to make sense of the place two men came out of an area with a freshly slaughtered water buffalo, head removed, with a trail of blood. We followed the trail, our feet now covered in blood, around the corner where we saw the sacrificial area.  A goat was pinned down, screaming and a man heaved a giant sword through its neck. As the head rolled onto the floor, the body twitched for at least another minute. This is not for the faint at heart.  A lineup of families gathered waiting with their goats for their sacrifice and blessing. The lineup to actually get into the temple was massive, with cages, yes cages, of people waiting for their chance to get inside. Because we didn’t have the time, we passed on joining the lineup and going inside, feeling we had seen quite a bit already. This is something we’ll have to look up online to better understand. That said, it was unforgettable and something I don’t regret seeing. Jess took many, many photos….

cages As we continued our journey up to Shillong a huge storm was brewing.  GPS led us onto a one way street going in the wrong direction.  OMG! What a shit-show this was: four lanes of traffic coming at us and the rain was pelting down, another mini monsoon!  We finally got off that street and waited the storm out at a gas station.  80 kms to go…

The road was pretty good and pretty damn steep.  Lil Jigg’ had a few exhausting moments and then we would reach a plateau and she would collect herself and carry on.  Approaching Shillong was an experience.  It is reputed to be the Scotland of India – beautiful lush green hills, a huge lake and reservoir and large pine trees.

The temperature dropped significantly and we were chilled to the bone.  One last little fillup with petrol and we finally found the Pinewood Hotel / Finish Line at 5:45 pm.  OMG! The thrill of finishing the Rickshaw Run was overwhelming and very emotional!  To our surprise, we were the final team to arrive and thus were rewarded with the huge finish line banner.  Massive celebrations were in order for this evening.  And we did just that!  Had a blast exchanging stories with other teams. Out of the 70 teams that started, 66 finished.

I still find it hard to believe that we did 4130 kms in a rickshaw with the average speed of 35 km/hr

But we DID IT!!!!!   YAHOO!!!!!!!

Wild Elephant Spotting!

elephant

Left Siliguri at 6:30 am with Jess driving.  She is feeling great and now its Cork who is not well. We had some super roads and then…the road to hell. It was absolutely the worst road, ever. To make it even worse, the map listed it as a main highway!   We still had at least 100 kilometres to go and there was no way on this road of mud and massive holes we thought Lil Jigg’ would make it.  At one enormous mud hole, she almost got swallowed up! We pulled over to ask a man about the road and he said the road got better in 4 kms…He was right!!!  Onto smooth roads again.

As we were driving along we saw a few signs that warned of “elephant crossings”.  To our surprise and within 100m of the sign we spotted 2 elephants not far off the road.  Jess slammed on the brakes, did a 360 and we went back to get some pics.  This was easiest,  the highlight of our day.

It was getting late in the day and there was nothing to be found for overnight.  Alongside some of the Aussie teams we looked for rooms and debated which town to try. Thankfully one of the guys fixed one of our headlights and we decided to backtrack 17kms to a tiny town called Barpeta. Arriving into the town, in the dark, we noticed the street was full of only men, all of them eyeballing us. We stopped at the first ‘hotel’ we found. It was a grimy room, that we had to ask to be cleaned of other peoples clothing & bedding. At this point it didn’t matter to us, we just wanted a room with a lock.  We took a wee venture out to find some food and then back to our room to call it a night. This was an extremely long and stressful day. However, we covered 448 kms!

Sipping Tea & Getting High

cork tea

What an awesome day in Darjeeling!  We were up at 3:30 am and ready for our 4am pickup to TIger Hill for  sunrise. Unfortunately it was overcast with drizzle. Yet another fail at sunrises… However, through the clouds we could see some amazing views of the Himalayas and perhaps Everest?

We then visited monastery and a park we named ‘Celebrity Park’. Everyone wanted to take pictures with the two blonds, Jess & Elly.  We headed to an expat favourite restaurant, Glenarys, for breakfast and Internet catchup.  They served great Americanos and vanilla cake.

bear babes

Our guide Bikku picked us up again and we went to the Darjeeling Zoological Park. This zoo was very well done and when we got our first look at the Black Asian Bear. To our surprise he was not in a cage – just a deep moat separating us from him.  The snow leopard was very handsome and he did a few sneezes for us.  The zoo has a breeding program for the snow leopards and when the cubs are at a certain age they are transferred to a wildlife sanctuary. We saw for the first time red pandas. They were nothing like what we imagined- very small, almost raccoon-like. We saw many different cats including the magnificent Bengal Tiger.  All the animals were very active and well cared for.  We checked out The Himilayan Mountaineering Institute as it was on the same property. It showcased all the different expeditions over the years to Mt. Everest. It acted also as a shrine to homegrown mountaineer, Tenzing Norgay, with a massive statue of the man in front of the institute.

Our next stop was the Tibetan Refugee Self Help Centre where we saw many different crafts from woodworking to weaving to artwork. Then it was tea time!  Drove up into the hills and OMG! the views were stunning – team farms for as far as the eye could see.  We sampled the first flush which is the spring tea.  There are 3 harvests and the first flush is reputed to be the best.  From 100 kilos of fresh picked tea, it reduces to 22 kilos after drying, etc.  Price per kilo was 1000 rupees.  After sampling at  two tea gardens we headed back down to Siliguri and prepared for tomorrow’s drive.  Jess wasn’t feeling well and called an early night. Cork and I went to the pharmacy to stock up on electrolytes and questioned Jess’s symptoms.

It was great to have a day off from driving and Darjeeling should be on everyone’s list. I know I’ll be back.

Darjeeling Bound

IMG_0666

We left at 6am, praying for better roads….We got them! A four-lane, smooth highway nearly all the way to Siliguri.  We arrived by 1:30pm.  We found a little hotel and dumped our big backpacks  and packed each an overnight bag. Our Incase camera/laptop bags were the perfect size for our gear and a change of clothes.  Knowing the road to Darjeeling would be steep, we decided to leave Lil Jigg’ in Siliguri and hire a car for the long climb up. Besides    Lil Jigg’ needed a rest!  Our driver, Bikku was  excellent.  It was such a treat to be driven, in an SUV, not feeling any bumps and no diesel fumes to breath in, as we actually had windows! OMG! This was such a treat. It took 3 hours to climb up to 7460 feet and the views were awesome!  The temperature dropped and we went through a really choice storm with thunder, lightening and hail!  Saw some crazy monkeys on the way.  Bikku acted as both our driver and guide.  Half way up to Darjeeling we stopped for chai and some fresh hot samosas.  Bikku took us to a friend’s hotel called Magnolia in Darjeeling. It was pouring rain when he dropped us off and really, really COLD!

Thankfully we were smart, knowing it would be chilly and wore our trusty & toasty Blundstone boots and Aether Apparel water resistant hoodies. Darjeeling reminds me so much of Kathmandu. Its a hub of small restaurants and shops selling everything needed for trekking, all built in the lesser Himalayan hills. We went out for some drinks and food and then straight to bed as we were getting up at 3:30 am to visit the Tiger Path for sunrise- one of the most beautiful sites in India, or so we’ve been told.

Today we covered 252 kms.

Highway to Hell

Mechanic KidsLeft at 6 am hoping together to Siliguri.  There was no frickin way!  The roads were treacherous and there were so many trucks and black smoke and just everything was bad.  Our gas mileage was down to 7 km per litre which means we are filling up every 50 kms and then it went down to 28 kms for the whole tank!  We knew it was time to get this looked into or we would be broke!  Went to Bajaj dealer in the city of Maldah who did not work on rickshaws, but he directed us to a mechanic who did.  The carb had to be worked on and then new brake linings, and finally new hydraulics – shocks.  This all took over 4 hours and 3500 rupees.  Cork entertained the local kids with a game of “Simon Says”.  We also enjoyed fresh, squash filled samosas! 6 for 13rupees (a quarter!) We stayed at the Kalinga Hotel where we had to sneak our in our Limca soda and vodka up to the restaurant as the bar was in the basement  and  no booze was allowed in restaurant.  Another different good Indian Bengali meal was gobbled down.

Only 136 kms today

Dreads, Diesel & Dust

Dreaded

We left at 6 am and it was beautiful highway driving.  Jess drove while Cork and I did laundry drying in the back of Lil Jigg’.  We managed to do somewhat of a bypass of Kolkata and the traffic was crazy-just as we’d been warned…  After stopping to dip our feet in the Ganges, we stopped at the side of the road cool off Lil Jigg’. This dude with the longest dreadlocks ever came by and was chatting us up.  His dreads/hair went down to the ground, then curled back up his body and came around his neck. To add to the spectacle, the end of it hair was shaped like a cobra’s head!   Jess got blessed by the ‘God of Dread’ and we took some cool shots with him, as we wondered what was living in the dread…

From there it was diesel dusty holes forever!  The road was horrible: dirt = dust + trucks = diesel. Add to the equation the constant horn blaring. ARGH!!!!!  We were breathing so much black smoke and our skin was disgustingly filthy. Our Buff’s came in handy, but really nothing could prevent us from getting ‘dust lung’. Found a place just off the road in Baharampur at 5:30pm. Boy, were we glad to get off the road before dark!  We had beers and some mutton, an onion dish, chapati, and prawns.  It was all good!  310 kms travelled today.

 

Broken by 7am

Brolen by 7am

On the road early, and by 7 am we are broken down .  The clutch plate is cracked and a new clutch cable is needed.  We waited for new plate which took 4 hours and then another 3 hours to get It right. Jess had to go Indian style…if you know what I mean…
While waiting for Lil Jigg’  to get fixed at Baba motors, we had some chai tea, watched many chickens being slaughtered, sampled some of the local cuisine, and learned about the bettal nut which is what the locals chew on and their mouths look like they are bleeding.  Then they pound back a litre of water and spit out all this red juice.  Their teeth eventually turn red and rot.  This nut is put onto a leaf with lime paste and some other spices, rolled and popped into the mouth.  It gives them a bit of a “high”.
The mechanic had to bicycle 5 kms to pick up the new clutchplate which cost 500 rupees ($10 Cdn.).  Labour was another $8 Cdn.  He did a test run and all was good until Cork tried it out and the clutch was way too tight and she was unable to get it into 1st gear.  He worked on it more and finally we were on the road at 2 pm.
No sooner had we been on the highway when a mini-monsoon came down on us.  The wind, lightening, thunder and pelting rain was too much for us.  We felt like we were going to be flipped over so we pulled into a gas station along with trucks and motorcycles to weather it out.  It was a very crazy storm and once again we were soaked!
Back on the road again we ran into the American team who had broken down.  They were waiting for a mechanic so we continued on our way.
We were heading for Kharagpur, but found a hotel right off the highway, before the city, so we stayed there. It was a treat, as we had clean beds, bathroom, and were able to have beers and dinner in their back garden. We even concocted our own margaritas!   We had the best mutton and the best plain basmati rice ever!

A mere 153 kms today.

Note to future Rickshaw Runners: bring a couple MasterLocks to secure your jerry can of gas and other bags in your rickshaw overnight. Saves you from hauling everything into your room  each night. AND prevents you from spilling your jerry can in your room, like The Austrian boys did!