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South Indian Tuk-Tuk Challenge: Day 5 The Finale

Nov 18, 2010

16 November. We were looking forward to today our last day. Oracle of Tuk had been giving everyone a run for their money, closely followed by Bare Apple, Ursa Skype and Osso Bear. We were to have an easy day going from Pondicherry to a rendezvous point just before the finish line in Chennai. Our destination was Moon Raker Restuarant in Mamallapujam. We were told it was just 65 kms to Mamallapuram and then another 40 kms to the finish line at the eBay / PayPal building. Easy!

As Oracle of Tuk was in the lead and they had hidden our tuk tuk the day prior, Guy and I woke up at the crack of dawn and removed their rear tires, and propped the tuk tuk on the tires. We figured it would take them an hour to get going. Proving too clever once again, they had their tires back on in minutes, having paid the service staff to put them back in record time.

It was drizzling a little when we got started and expected a little rain, but given we were only going 65 kms to the rendezvous point, we were not too bothered. Off we went.

We easily made it through Pondicherry. About the time we covered 45 kms and started counting down the last 20 kms, it started to pour rain. The rain became a fantastic thunderstorm. Miraculously the road emptied of other drivers, and the drive was easier than ever on a well paved road. A relaxing ride for our last day.

We came upon, VeriBear who was running low on fuel, so while in motion we passed over one of our two-liter bottles. We figured we had our second bottle as spare and it would be plenty for the final leg. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter we sputtered to a stop having run out of fuel. We then discovered the other bottle was gone. VeriBear saw us in distress and we drained a liter from their tank and were both on our way. We discovered that as the rain was hitting hard, Oracle of Tuk had also shown some mercy for one of the other teams.

65 kms came and went, and no way point. 80 kms and nothing. By now the thunderstorm had turned into a full blown cyclone, and we were completely alone on the road. As useless as the manual windshield wiper normally is, it was all we had, and we used it. Imagine driving in a cyclone with one hand on the wiper handle. A bit stressful.

After 100 kms, we were completely confused as to how we could have missed the turn. We were all soaked and cold. We kept asking directions, and were continuously told it was ahead! At this point we noticed a petrol station, and pulled in. Osso Bay and AutoBear were there as we pulled in with VeriBear. A few minutes later Oracle of Tuk showed up. We all stood in the deluge soaked to the bone. The petrol station attendants refused to come out in the rain as we frantically waved them over. They finally came out after 10 minutes.

I must admit, Guy and I thought of dashing off on fumes, leaving the four others there to wait. However, while we debated this Ed of Oracle of Tuk suggested we all stick together for safety reasons. I suspected a trick. But he and the others were serious, so we agreed to convoy on from the petrol station and share the winning points. As it seemed we only had the infamous two kms to go, we moved on carefully with my head out of the rickshaw peering through the downpour looking for signs. Luckily, the chase car caught up with us and took the lead, letting us follow them to the meeting point.

You can imagine our surprise when we finally arrived, and saw that Ursa Skype and Bare Apple had already made it there on their own. They deserved full credit and won the day!

We staggered into the restaurant dripping with many apologies, but the staff could not have been nicer. After another wonderful Indian meal, we set off to the finish line at eBay. The other teams "allowed" Guy and I to take the lead in honor of our hosting the event. As we blissfully led the way, the other six tuk tuks were frantically jockeying for position behind us. I heard later they were madly zipping around each other and having a blast until a motorcycle officer pulled alongside and reprimanded them. Obviously they were misbehaving to a ridiculous degree for the jaded police to even notice the chaos of our teams within the chaos of the general traffic.

Around 4 pm, we all zoomed through the finish line onto the eBay site to be graciously welcomed by our good friends Col. Raj Kumar and Srinath, and their staff. They braved the weather and attended our award ceremony.

For those of you who may not know, the whole idea of Northland sponsoring a tuk tuk challenge came from Stephen Lovas learning to drive a tuk tuk and driving it to the eBay site while it was under construction. It was our working together with the local provider that showed us the first glimpse of how working in a difficult environment alongside the local community could have excellent results. I often tell people, in spite of what you see on the surface when arriving in India and working there, we have seen much higher standards of workmanship than in many western countries.

But back to the award ceremony. We all received certificates congratulating us for our shining example of daring and courage. A fitting tribute given how much more challenging the event turned out to be. In addition, there were three more prizes to be given out. One for the "Survivor" or the person who truly embraced India and the people the most. One for the "Bonker" or what I call the "Mad Max" prize for the team that went all out. And one for the overall winner of the challenge based on points.

*The Survivor. *
Paul Pacitto clearly deserved the Survivor award. After very long days in the autorickshaw, he would cheerfully set out from the hotel to the village to hang out with the locals, have his head and chin shaved with a straight edge at the barber for 20 rupees, and do a bit of shopping and haggling. And shortly after they hit the police officer and scraped up the entire side of their autorickshaw on the officer's bumper, Paul had the officer smiling for the camera with his arm around him. It was a pleasure to see Paul fully embrace his environment and thrive within it.

*The Bonkers. *
The team that went all out every day was Roger and Ed of Oracle of Tuk. After a first day of intense bickering, backseat driving and distrust of each other's ability to handle the autorickshaw, fear for their lives, they survived. I think they realized that they could do this and their differences were a strength. From that point on they took first place twice and a second place. They were extraordinarily well together, rarely got lost, went all out, and simply had a blast. If it were a pure race and did not have points allocated for other "challenges", they would have won the event.

*The Winners. *
The winners were almost as Bonkers as Roger and Ed, and are well deserving of the grand prize. They only took a first place on the second day, but they gained so many points in other categories such as thoroughly thrashing their vehicle and their bodies and still making it every day. As this was a challenge, points were given for anyone who actually finished by 5 oclock each day. Surprisingly, Rob and Trang of Osso Bay had significantly more points than the rest of us, and took first prize by a landslide. They worked extremely well together from the start. They encouraged, maybe even egged each other on to stretch the limits. One of my favorite video clips is Rob recording the traffic and scenery as Trang drove. All of a sudden you see Trang about to pass a car while "threading the needle" of oncoming traffic. Rob's camera suddenly drops its view to his shoes as he grips on for dear life and Trang blasts through the traffic. They never slowed down, which explains the condition of their tuk tuk by the end.

The Tortoise.
A prize not given, but I loved how well Eddie and Mark got along and simply took eveything in. They are the only team that did not have a breakdown and finished everyday. They even took first place on the last day in the most difficult conditions. They sped along, but they also took their time to take pictures, talk to people and have lunch. They got it done each and everyday, were safe and probably the most sane of the bunch. Perversely, the fact they did not have breakdowns or bash up their vehicle counted against them in the points system. They were the proverbial Tortoise to our Hares.