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South Indian Tuk-Tuk Challenge: Day 3

Nov 15, 2010

14 November. We woke to a stunning view overlooking Salem. Showers were freezing cold, which helped given the fact the coffee was bad. As we had to drive down the mountain in rickshaws that had poor brakes and are somewhat unbalanced, we left in a convoy to the first junction. From there we were entreated to be careful.

Within 5 minutes, Team AutoBear had flipped on its side and skidded 5 meters. Xavier and Karen were banged up and very shaken up. Luckily the support vehicles were on hand, and the two were well taken care of within minutes. Once they were safe and loaded in the air-conditioned chase car, Guy and I started to worry we would not get the prize for the most abused tuktuk. Still, the day was young.
And young it was.

An hour later, Teams Ursa Skype, VeriBear, Osso Bay and Bare Apple got badly lost in the mountain. Rob hit a pothole and broke a rear wheel strut. He picked a lush tropical place to do it with a waterfall as background. However, he and Trang were nowhere near a garage. Aravind and the service team were called for help.

At that moment, Aravind and the service team were with Guy and I, Team Samanta Bear, at the welders. Seems our accident on the first day was continuing to haunt us. Yesterday we had the leaky fuel line. Today the whole rickshaw was folding in on itself. A pretty funny site given Guy is so tall and the handle bars were literally in his lap as he drove. So the service team with Karen in the car left us with the welders to go help Rob and Trang. We were at the welders for 2-1/2 hours and figured we were out of the race for the day. After 2-1/2 hours of cutting and banging metal into shape, and welding it into place, the welder was finally done. Final bill…150 rupees (about US$3.25). We tried not to smile too much.

We were on our way, and the day was indeed still young. Just before we got going, 3 other teams were passing us by. Apparently they had been going around and around in the mountain for 2-1/2 hours horribly lost. We all raced off as we knew Oracle of Tuk was taking no prisoners.

Today’s road had potholes bigger than our rickshaw and we had a heck of a time getting around them. We kept losing site of the folks in front of us when our engine started to cough and sputter. Guy jumped out, jiggled some wires and fuel lines, and accomplished nothing much. We were at this point only 20 kilometers away, and we coughed and sputtered our way to the finish. The service team told us the next morning the air-filter had completely fallen off the carburetor. They looked at us suspiciously wondering how we even got back. I guess Guy’s jiggling was useful after all.

As most of us relaxed at the hotel, the day had not yet ended for Rob, Trang and Karen. We felt bad for Karen, imagining the day she was having after the morning’s crash and still being up in the mountains. It took 4 hours of Aravind shuttling parts back and forth to Osso Bay’s remote location, with Trang and Karen in the car. It rained hard on them for most of the day. The only bright spot was some of the great food they had at the local stands.

At about 8:30 pm, they were finally on their way back. It being very dark outside, Rob was having a hard time maneuvering around the gigantic potholes. With the chase car behind them, Rob and Trang hit one of the craters and flipped their car. Karen and Aravind witnessed the whole thing and were there in minutes. Now, Rob and Trang were just as banged up as Xavier and Karen. At this point, the rickshaw was towed to the hotel, and Rob, Trang and Karen did not make home till 11 pm. Luckily, everyone was okay.

The amazing thing about the auto-rickshaw is that it is an iconic workhorse. They break down all the time, but are repaired within hours if not minutes. And I must say, I am starting to even feel comfortable in mine. But the rickshaw is really meant for shuttling people around congested cities, and not for cross-country mini-rallies. That is what makes it a challenge.

The other amazing thing that becomes apparent is that in spite of the insanity of the traffic and especially the bus drivers, there is a rhythm to driving in India. All of our incidents were really caused by our own faulty brakes, inexperience or hitting standing objects and obstacles. Not by the “insane” Indian drivers. They are extremely good drivers and would put most of us to shame.

But I digress. Although a long and difficult day, we ended up at a hotel / meditation center. A great place I had picked out a long time ago with a bit of a chuckle. We were a bit out of place in our muddy, dirty clothes, and loudly sputtering tuktuk, while the other guests were walking around in pure white pants and robes. That said, it was a really nice place, and quite a few of the challengers took advantage of the full body massage. A bit fuller than most of us are used to.

Today was a day for the Oracle of Tuk as they arrived having had no breakdowns and had not gotten lost. They arrived hours before anyone else. The rest of us straggled in the following order: Oracle of Tuk, Ursa Skype, Bare Apple, Symanta Bear, VeriBear, AutoBear and Osso Bay.

Follow along with the links below:
The Beginning
The "Mini" Challenge
Day One
Day Two
Day Four
Day Five
Final Thoughts