North duo revving up for rickshaw race through India

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Tracee Knowler and Kristin Edge catch up with Patsy Henderson Watt and the team at the Miriam centre to talk about their upcoming trip through India in a rickshaw.
Tracee Knowler and Kristin Edge catch up with Patsy Henderson Watt and the team at the Miriam centre to talk about their upcoming trip through India in a rickshaw.

They've met five times and now Houhora policewoman Tracee Knowler and Northern Advocate reporter Kristin Edge are off on an adventure of a lifetime in just over a week to raise money for a Northland charity. Their mission is to drive 3500km in a seven-horsepower, two-stroke, three-wheeled auto rickshaw from the top to bottom of India in 17 days. Sound like a crazy idea? They explain why they are taking on this great race called the Rickshaw Run.

Travelling 3500km in an unreliable, glorified lawnmower the equivalent distance from Whangarei to Invercargill return is a daunting task.

Especially when you consider India has the world's second largest road network, only half the roads are sealed and only 4 per cent conform to international structural norms.

Throw into the mix incomprehensible road maps, pot holes described as lunar craters and a population of 1.2 billion. Yeap, 1.2 billion -- one out of six people on this planet live in India.

Many people may well ask -- why?

For Houhora policewoman Tracee Knowler and Northern Advocate reporter Kristin Edge the answer is easy.

The duo are raising money for the Whangarei-based Miriam Centre, which supports victims of sexual abuse in Northland and is a non-profit Charitable Trust established in 1988.

The cause is close to Tracee's heart.

Having policed in Kaitaia for 16 years, with 12 years in the CIB, before taking up her role as New Zealand's most northern police officer at Houhora, she was part of a team that investigated and prosecuted paedophile teacher James Parker and businessman Daniel Taylor. But in truth they were only a very small portion of her sexual abuse investigation workload.

Sexual abuse cases would come across her desk every day and more cases involving children continue to be brought to police attention.

Tracee says due to the small size of Northland's communities it often was hard for victims to reach out and seek help.

"The Miriam Centre not only helps at-risk people/families in a prevention role but is one of the very few good agencies that can give ongoing support after the investigation and prosecution."

Tracee, a mother of three, has used the coming adventure as an opportunity to visit schools in the Far North and teach kids about keeping themselves safe and who to ask for help.

"Let's help make speaking out against sexual abuse and offenders normal and focus on the victims and their wellbeing. Why should victims be ashamed of something that an offender has done to them? Let's get it out there and make it harder for offenders to continue to offend."

Kristin, a journalist for 18 years, has reported on many court cases involving sexual abuse.

"The whole court process for victims of abuse is a traumatic experience. They have to be so brave to speak out and quite often there is no support for them after the cases are finished. They and their families are basically left to get on with their lives.

"If we can help those who help these Northland families well it will all be worth it."

All expenses for the trip are paid for by Tracee and Kristin and donations will be spent in Northland by the Miriam Centre.

Rickshaw rulesThe Rickshaw Run is described by those who have done it before as "travel on steroids".

It is intense, unorthodox and most of all takes place in crazy, chaotic, infuriating, intoxicating India.

The Rickshaw Run is the brainchild of The Adventurists, a Bristol-based travel company that tempts thrill-seeking folk to join them in "fighting to make the world less boring".

The race rules are: there are no rules.

After a two-day initiation into rickshaw -- or tuktuk -- driving and the mechanical basics, organisers wave off the participants.

Teams can take any route they want but are expected to return the vehicle at the finish line -- otherwise they pay for it.

The Northland combination will join about 60 other teams at the race start in Shillong in the northeast before heading for Kochi 3500km away in the south.

"We are basically given a start point and a finish point and left to our own devices. There are still all sorts of challenges along the way, including the quite common failure of the mechanics of the rickshaw -- not to mention navigating the rural roads and dodging everything from camels to giant cockroaches," Tracee says.

"Although we expect to enjoy the experience and see it as an opportunity of a lifetime, it will certainly not be spent in luxury. We are both determined to do this on the smell of an oily rag."

Kristin says: "Blowing a gasket after 12 hours of driving with no idea where you will be sleeping may not sound like everyone's idea of a good time, but sometimes you have to step outside your comfort zone."

"Lodging along the way will be minimal as we will be staying in basic roadside guesthouses and food will generally be from traditional roadside stalls."

Each day they will take turns driving the rickshaw and will have to plan their route, find a place to stay and a place to eat. The medical kit is well equipped with supplies to deal with cases of "Delhi belly".

The rickshaw can reach a top speed of about 60km/h but engines have been known to catch on fire. All mechanical breakdowns will have to be sorted by the duo, so they expect to have to charm a few of the locals to help out with repairs.

* If you would like to make a contribution to the cause visit givealittle.co.nz/cause/chickshawblues. To make a cash donation drop it into Houhora police station and leave an email address or contact address so we can get a receipt to you. Follow their adventure on Facebook: Chickshaw Blues and watch out for updates in the Northern Advocate and Northland Age.

- Northern Advocate

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