Rickshaw Run Thrills and Agony

June 3, 2014 10 Comments »

rickshaw lightening

Caught in a monsoon with another 50km to go to reach a town. Sometimes you don’t have a choice – you just have to go.

“The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

I can still see the poor skier loose his balance and slide down the mountain with skis criss-crossed and pointed every direction. He seemed to bounce across the ground as the well-known words are spoken to kick of the Wide World of Sports every Saturday when I was a kid. It’s been a month since I finished the Rickshaw Run and I needed some time to reflect on it and let it sink in a bit – but I keep coming back to that statement – thrill of victory and agony of defeat. For me it was a combination of each yet I’m sure as time goes by the thrill part will win out – in fact it already has started to gain momentum. After all I figure that’s why people normally decide to have a 2nd kid, human beings tend to forget the agony and focus on the thrill.

I could sit here and gush about the race and what we accomplished – but I can’t really gush – I can sort of gush. I wish I could give you gush – but I can’t – not yet. Since I attempted to do live updates every few days there’s no need to walk you through the daily details (you can see Rickshaw Run Daily Updates here), instead I wanted to take time to reflect on the experience overall and how I felt about it – the victory and the defeat.

The Lure of Challenge

As I sat in the hot rickshaw with a headache that nagged me constantly going on the 6th day, I of course had to question – why was I doing this? I’m not exactly sure why I choose this challenging travel at times except for that I simply like a challenge – it makes me feel alive. Apparently alive with a never-ending headache. It makes me feel younger, it pushes me into the dark corners of self doubt and fear and forces me to deal with them, but it also reminds me of the importance of simplicity and the core needs that we need to really worry about as human beings. Health, sleep, and food – that about sums it up. And of course it provides great stories to tell and it satiates that ‘unique addiction’ that I must feed. I do it for my own personal self-exploration. And sometimes when you explore – you don’t always like what you find.

I had a Facebook reader actually send me a note during the Rickshaw Run telling me there was too much negativity in my updates and it wasn’t inspiring.  I set it aside and didn’t feel like addressing it, I was too exhausted from trying not to die (a bit melodramatic…but also some truth in it!). If people don’t like the way I write about my experiences and feeling – then that’s fine, they don’t have to follow along. However I think that sometimes it’s easy as a reader to not understand just how hard it is to do independent travel – and the Rickshaw Run was a whole new level of independent travel! Yes – I do some sponsored trips where life is pretty easy and fun so maybe I’ve lulled you all into thinking that my travels are easy breezy. But I also do my share of trips where I’m budget traveling independently. It’s not all lollipops and puppies when you enter foreign cultures. It’s full of ups and downs.

And the honest truth is the Rickshaw Run was hard for me. About 50 % of the time I didn’t like India. I couldn’t really sugar coat my feelings all the time when after 12 hours of hot, intense driving and mishaps, I finally got an internet connection at 9:30pm at night after dinner and sat and tried to write an update of the day and do my blogging work. I was tired – physically and mentally exhausted by the day, stressed about what the next day held, feeling nauseous from the constant smell of petrol, and never ending noise. However, each day it would start out as the thrill of victory and everything was great – the temperatures were cool, the traffic was light, and the rickshaws were running like fine tuned machines. But then, SOMETHING would happen. And that something would derail that whole day. Eight hours later when we pulled into the town miles before the one we had hoped to make it to, it was hard to be positive all the time. So I’m sure that came out in my updates. But it was a good reminder that when things go wrong you have to keep going, adjust, deal with it, and move forward. And that’s what we did every day, and it was an immense challenge which was just what I was looking for. Some days I just didn’t have the energy for lollipops and puppies.

Agony of Defeat

I felt sick the entire time. The heat was unbearable in the afternoons to me. I’m sure I would have gotten used to it eventually, but it sapped every bit of energy out of me. I just had to deal with it the best I could. It’s not fun to feel nauseous, have a constant headache, when you are in uncomfortable surroundings – and the rickshaw was anything but comfortable. It was loud, there was no protection from the pollution, the noise was deafening, and the seats were uncomfortable. The first week I had a weird allergic reaction to something and my ankles swelled up the size of fence posts. They looked as if they were the ankles of a 70 year old. I took allergy medicine but it didn’t seem to help much. Then my asthma started acting up due to the pollution and I developed a hacking cough the 2nd week which ended up turning into a bad case of bronchitis. My body was rebelling in all sorts of ways – yet strangely not the normal Indian intestine way- so I should be thankful about that at least!

pollution india

The pollution police ironically the worst polluter on the road!

I hated the food. Yes – all of you Indian food lovers be mad, but it’s the truth. I couldn’t even look at another Indian dish with soft boiled veggies and spicy gravies without wanting to gag. All I craved was fresh fuit and salads – which the latter was impossible to find. We were doing fast travel through little villages – the food was pretty standard – the flavors all seemed to be the same. But that was all we really had to choose from – and I had to eat so I ate it. However as side note (and this probably belongs on the victory side) I lost a lot of weight between the heat and the lack of appetite for Indian food.

I felt old. Sure – if you look at the numbers I was the oldest in our convoy of twenty-somethings by far, but it wasn’t the age number that made me feel old. I was the cautious, logical one and felt like when we all had group decisions to make – I took the safe road. Now I realize that it’s sort of ironic to beat myself up about being cautious doing an event that about 1% of the people out there would have the guts to do. I felt like Debbie Downer lots of the times, but I couldn’t help the fact that even though I love stupid adventure and throwing caution to the wind – I didn’t want to put myself or others in dangerous positions that we didn’t have to just for the sake of adventure. I tried to compromise and did many times – but in general I was the fuddy duddy of the group. I didn’t want to drive at night. I didn’t want to particularly go out of my way and then have to drive further another day if it wasn’t necessary. I didn’t want to stay at $200 a night hotels. I felt like I was always saying no….and nothing makes you feel older than saying no.

This was the hardest driving I’ve done. Even more difficult than the Mongol Rally. Rickshaws aren’t the easiest to learn how to drive in 3 days and then cross the country. They have personalities – and our 2nd gear hated us. I found myself constantly worrying that we were trashing the engine, and we probably were. The rickshaw was bare bones and uncomfortable to sit and drive in that position for 8 to 12 hours a day. My whole body hurt including my throttle hand! And of course there was the Indian traffic and lack of any rules. However, it was harder to be a passenger than the driver when it came to dealing with the traffic. I found an old blog post I wrote from India 7 years ago, and this is the comment that stuck with me, “My best advice to you is NEVER, and I mean NEVER try to drive yourself in India…it’s suicide”

One of the lessons from the Mongol Rally was that people relations are the hardest part of these types of adventures. Charlie and I had our moments and two pretty serious disagreements – however on the plus side of this – we worked through them well. I was actually really proud of us and our ability to handle the conditions together as a team and friends. At the moment the disagreements were heated, stubborn, silly, and frustrating – but this too shall pass. The amount of decisions that need to be made in a day are way beyond what any normal day in would hold. With decisions come disagreements and different points of view. But more than anything when you spend 24/7 with people in stressful situations, are not sleeping or eating enough…you loose a lot of your ability to use common sense and patience. As a convoy of 7 people we had annoyances and disagreements – but once again – we were able to work them out – compromise is probably one of the best skills you gain from adventures like this.

rickshaw run

Charlie and I managed to weather any storms…

Enough about the bad…what about the good…

Thrill of Victory

By far one of the biggest and most astonishing victories for me was that we raised $17,000 for charity: water and Cool Earth. This is more than I make in a year blogging and freelancing – so a number like this to me is ridiculously impressive! And it’s all thanks to generous readers and businesses I’ve worked with. I was humbled by all of the giving. So much so that it still chokes me up thinking about it. However the biggest thrill for me was to be in India and see the people every day walking for clean water and filling up their jugs at the one community well. It made it all very real to me. I wish all of you could see it and feel it too.

Water India

A woman gathering water for the day.

I’m normally not a morning person – in fact I hate mornings and don’t really want to talk to anyone. However mornings were my favorite time on the Rickshaw Run. They were bliss – quiet, non-polluted, cool, ethereal, and the best I knew I’d get all day. The mornings were the time when I’d look around my surroundings outside the rickshaw and be bursting with thankfulness that I had orchestrated my life so that I could do and see things like this. I loved India in the mornings more than ever.

India morning

Peaceful mornings!

They say laughter is the best medicine and as adults we don’t laugh enough. I was watching through some of the massive amounts of video we took and I was surprised to see just how much fun we had. It’s easy to forget about the fun sometimes and fixate on the bad. Not only did our convoy teammates make me double over in laughter each day with stories about bowel movements, hotel bugs, and the time they had to bribe their way OUT of a tiger reserve when they were lost – but it was also the absurdity of some of the interactions with the locals that were the most fun. We had two men pull up on a motorbike and match our speed to stare at us for a while (which was perfectly normal), but when they got out a piece of paper and pen and handed it over as we were both going about 40 km /hr I was baffled. He looked at me sitting in the back of the rickshaw and said “autograph?” and handed it over. Charlie and I laughed and I took the paper, signed our names sloppily, and handed it back. They smiled and sped off. I love this interaction as it’s completely unpredictable and ridiculous – but it’s India and two women driving a rickshaw were rock stars there.

The people of India were really a highlight of the race. For all of the absurdity of people wanting to take our photos and shake our hands or get our autographs to the boys who helped us push the rickshaw up the mountain to the mechanics, and random people who invited us for chai – it was lovely. I’ve never waved so much in my life – I felt like a queen on a parade float at times while I sat in the back of the rickshaw. Their eagerness to help was beautiful and humbling – and at times a bit frustrating too. I loved that we drove through the lesser touristed (or more aptly never touristed) villages. You felt as if you were at the red hot core of traveling when you stopped in a town where they never see tourists.

india wave

Roadside waves

Adrenaline is an addictive drug – and I still remember the first adrenaline rush I had while driving. It happened the 2nd day as we were trying to make out way through a city. Vehicles and people were everywhere and it felt surreal as if I was driving in a video game. I was completely hyped up on the adrenaline rush of the chaos around me and trying to make my way through that chaos. At that moment I had that beautiful blissful Mongol Rally feeling come back to me and it became crystal clear to me why I said yes to this adventure. It is FUN!

The biggest contribution though to the thrill of victory was just the sense of accomplishment that we made it alive. There were more than a few times before and during the race that I thought a fatal accident was a very real possibility on this trip. I went into this knowing that I might not make it as I knew this was a bit riskier than the other stuff I do. The complete feeling of finishing, raising money for charity, of conquering my fears and the highways of India is overwhelmingly powerful. Forget NYC – if you can make it driving in India in a rickshaw – you can make it anywhere.

Shillong Rickshaw Run

We made it!

If you want to get a first hand view of the ups and downs of the driving a rickshaw in touch conditions – check out my Rickshaw Run video!

People talk a lot about living in the moment, and I must admit I’m not that great at it normally. But for those 2 weeks every fiber of my being down to my toes knew I was there – present in India. For me, the Rickshaw Run was the ultimate living in the moment – the good and the bad moments.

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