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South Indian Tuk-Tuk Challenge: And They Are Off!

Nov 12, 2010

12 November. The group was up and ready to go by 7 am, and in surprisingly good spirits given the prior nights expedition. We were pleased to see a photo of us in the local paper (although we have not translated the accompanying text) and were told we were on the local evening news.

Our tuk tuks were lined up in front the hotel drawing some attention, and this morning some interviews with a different newscaster. A bit of curiosity mixed in with mirth, but the audience seemed genuinely pleased.

The starting flag went down at 9 am. Team AutoBear was first of the line, quickly followed by Ursa Skype, Oracle of Tuk and the rest, with Veri Bear left at the line with engine trouble that was resolved in minutes. Once we were all on the road, traffic, wrong turns and stops split us all up, and we were all on our own.

Teams Oracle of Tuk, Ursa Skype and Osso Bay had started off their day going 50 kilometers in the wrong direction!

The late start put us right in the midst of traffic. We all got a lot of thumbs up from other drivers, and especially other auto-rickshaw drivers. They were taking our pictures as we took theirs. On one stretch of road, we went to overtake a tuk tuk with two passengers. The passengers smiled and cheered on their driver to race along with us. It was all very amusing except we were in the outside lane wanting to get back over. A lot of laughs and cheers as they moved up to beat us.

One of the highlights of the day was a festival at a local temple with what seemed like the whole town in the street in bright and colorful outfits. We had to go through at a very slow and careful crawl. When Team Bare Apple entered into the procession they had the good fortune of running out of gas. I love it. Good planning. They were immediately surrounded by people trying to help.
That was not the only trouble Team Bare Apple had. They lost their brakes and pushed their rickshaw from place to place until someone helpfully fixed the problem.

All the teams had close calls with dodging traffic and poorly performing brakes. And yours truly, Team Symanta Bear, discovered that hot brakes do not work very well…on 3 occasions…for some reason this was not a problem for Guy. The first occasion was not an uncommon experience to all the teams as we came to a close stop behind a stopped bus. The brakes had not heated up that much yet.

Shortly thereafter, the local bus made its usual stop in the middle of the national highway to load and unload passengers. Motorcycles and tuk tuks ahead of me moved to the right (note: they drive on the left here as in the UK) to go around the bus and dodge oncoming traffic in the other lane. I applied the brakes with no effect and continued to move toward the stopped bus and motorcycles at my max speed of 45 kph (about 27 mph). I applied again and nothing. I had the great choices of hitting the bus, unloading passengers on the left, motorcycles on the right, an oncoming truck, pedestrians on the side of the road on the right. My dad always told me if you have the choice of swerving to miss hitting a cat but hitting oncoming traffic, hit the cat. So, as we moved rapidly toward the oncoming truck, I desparetly needed something else to hit. Luckily, there was an opening on the right and we flew into a ditch. As Guy and I banged through the ditch and finally came to a stop we were quite relieved to say the least. Funnily, the folks around us, were all quite blasé about the whole thing.

And only 15 minutes later, again blasting down the highway at an impressive 45 kph, the car on my left swerved to the right and braked, cutting me off. I swerved sharply to the left (going to the right would have put me into oncoming traffic and I learned that lesson) and barely missed hitting the car, but we were now shooting straight for the stopped truck he swerved to miss. The brakes were of course useless. The embankment to the left was too steep. So we lost the right side view mirror to the truck, along with some tears to our canopy. We came to a stop right alongside his window. The driver simply looked over and was not the least bit concerned.

For some reason, Guy let me keep driving. After that, there was a lot of pumping of the brake, as well as letting them cool off. This was particularly helpful once we arrived in the midst of the festival mentioned above.

Our destination was off the beaten track. Guy and I arrived at our “tents” next to a lake, with some mountains as a backdrop, and banana plantations in the distance. Absolutely beautiful.

We arrived at 4:12 pm. Surprised to be first!!! We arrived a full 1-1/2 hours before the next team, Team VeriBear, showed up. Team Ursa Skype brought up the rear at 7 pm.

I am hoping we don't have to give up another piece of our vehicle to win the next leg.