Chickshaw Blues blog: The adventure is complete

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Houhora police officer Tracee Knowler (left) and Advocate reporter Kristin Edge celebrate reaching the finish line by spraying their trusty tuktuk with Kingfisher beer.
Houhora police officer Tracee Knowler (left) and Advocate reporter Kristin Edge celebrate reaching the finish line by spraying their trusty tuktuk with Kingfisher beer.

Houhora police officer Tracee Knowler and Advocate reporter Kristin Edge (aka the Chickshaw Blues) are racing the length of India in a tuktuk - that's 3500km in two weeks in a three-wheeled vehicle described as a glorified lawnmower. Their aim, as well as getting to the finish line, is to raise money for the Miriam Centre and Northland sexual abuse survivors.

Day 15: Finish line (Kochi)

There was no fanfare at the finish line. No confetti or cheering crowds to clap us down the final hundred metres of our amazing adventure. But it wasn't needed!

We have completed roughly 3700km and when you look at a map of India that takes you from the north-east to near the bottom on the west coast.

From Shillong to Kochi and 15 days on the road with our faithful little tuktuk. Not even one flat tyre and very few mechanical hitches.

On our last morning the little beast started, no worries at all, after giving us some grief for the last few early morning starts.

At the we celebrated with a bottle each of Kingfisher beer! After splashing our tuktuk with the liquid amber we swilled back the last few drops in celebration.

Officially have finished 8th out of a field of 62 starters, so not a bad effort from the Chickshaw Blues team.

It was a sad moment handing over the keys to the race organisers and saying goodbye to this basic piece of machinery that has carried us safely from start to finish.

Even today as we closed in on the finish and were stopped at traffic lights people were amazed at what we were doing.

The look of disbelieved and then the "all the way in this auto, you drive?". Yep, and all for a good cause.

The hardest part of the trip has probably been travelling for hours at 10km/h across the roughest roads ever. The best part of the trip has been meeting the people.

The people of India have made this a most amazing adventure. Every day we were shown kindness, honesty and hospitality. I only hope we reciprocate this kindness in Northland and New Zealand for our international visitors.

The most memorable moment was seeing our tuktuk heaved up by about eight men and Tracee on to the back of a truck.

What I will miss is the smiling faces and waving and the unique head wobble by the Indian men.

Thanks India for a trip of a lifetime and thanks Tracee for letting me part of the adventure.

Would I do it again? Yes for sure!

* To make a donation, go to the web page www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/chickshawblues or follow the link from their Chickshaw Blues Facebook page. Money raised will go to the Miriam Centre for a full-time counselor in the Far North to help survivors of sexual abuse.


Day 14: Out of the wilderness (Patakkad to Coimbatore)

Well we didn't quite make it as far as we initially wanted today.... ended up staying the night at Coimbatore, leaving us roughly 230km for tomorrow.

The good news is we saw three other teams today, which was great after so long in the wilderness on our own!

So all going to plan should be across the finish line by late afternoon Wednesday (India time)!


Day 13: Finish line in sight (Krishinagiri to Patakkad)

Its just after 6am over here in India.... we had a bit of a sleep in and are just about to load up our little chariot for what should be our second to last day on the road!

Today we are hoping to do roughly 300km from here (Krishinagiri) to Patakkad, leaving us just over 100km to coast into the finish line of the rally at Kochi on Wednesday!

Terrain today seems quite mountainous - to give you an idea the place we stayed last night is called 'The Alps', but the road is still great compared to ones we had to navigate further North.

Wish us luck for today. We have full faith in our little tuktuk that there will be no last minute hiccups!


Day 12: Just 740km to go (Hydrabad to Anatapur)

Big day after a big night we pushed on all day despite being tired and stopped about 5pm.

The countryside is changing again and with all the beautiful volcanic soil there are flourishing crops. The red earth is marked with by rows of green plants. The surrounding area is very rocky.

The houses have also changed to quiet neat concrete square blocks stacked on top of each other. There aren't too many grass huts here.

From here it's about 740km to the finish line and including today we have four days. We are determined to make it to the race finish party on the 21st!


Day 11: The girls strike gold (Seoni to Hydrabad - 12 hours on the back of a truck to travel about 500km!)

After plenty of police attention yesterday we snuck out the gate this morning under the cover of darkness at 5am.

We are definitely in rural India and in some paces it reminds me of New Zealand. Yes a clean, green part of India - something we didn't expect.

We did a couple of hours on the road - which is getting better- and then pulled in at a truck stop to see how to catch a ride south to Hydrabad.

Yet again we struck gold enlisting the help of a local truck driver. He took us to the transport office and got the ball rolling and helped us barter for a cheap ride.

Tracee and Kristin with friend and truck-ride negotiator
Tracee and Kristin with friend and truck-ride negotiator

At one point we were walking out because the price was too high but then our new friend negotiated a better rate. Many chai teas later and a truck was ready and waiting. A team of men lifted our beast up onto the deck and she was secured with rope.

We had to travel on the back of the truck but it was an amazing experience watching everyone's reactions as they passed us!! Managed to catch a bit of sleep before we finally rolled into Hydrabad at 2.30am.

Gave the three truck drivers a NZ cricket hat each - they were stoked. With no time to waste we kept on tuktuking. We are now back on track to finish the race on time.

So lucky to be meeting such honest friendly people! Tried to give the guy who helped us out for about three hours the equivalent of $10 and he refused to take it. Nearly bought me to tears - such a generous man and father of four.


Day 10: Under police escort (Jabalpur to Seoni)

This morning we were up and the chariot was loaded ready to go by 5am, intending on a big day.

However, she had other ideas and wouldn't start. After several attempts, a kick of the tyres and a bit if a prod and pick at the engine, watched on by a bemused security guard, we decided to go back to bed for a couple of hours and then track down a mechanic when the city started to spring into action as not many start work before about 10am. Also considering a breakfast was included with our hotel it meant we could enjoy that.

So on heading for breakfast at 8 we looked out the window and saw the security guard had a mechanic up to his armpits in our little buggy's engine bay!

Problem fixed, breakfast enjoyed and then hit the road headed for Seoni, the next stop.

An easy drive today on the best roads we have seen yet and to top it off we were stopped by police who insisted on escorting us pretty much all the way! Some 125km.

Tracee and Kristin with their police escort
Tracee and Kristin with their police escort

Every so often the police vehicle would drop off only for us to round the next corner and find another one waiting to pick up the cavalcade!

When we stopped for lunch at a roadside stall so did they and about 10 others turned up for the photo opportunity!

Funny as anything but the two officers that were with us as we hit town took us to a hotel and even insisted on coming in and checking our room for us.

I last saw them perched on a couch in the hotel lobby drinking chai, get the feeling they may still be standing guard tomorrow morning!


Day 9: The Chickshaw Blues hitch a ride (Rewa to Jabalpur)

Today we enlisted the help of a friendly truck driver to take us and our tuktuk just over 200km. It still took us five hours in a truck!

It took about eight people to boost our machine onto the back of the truck. We climbed into the cab and away we went.

Our driver didn't speak any English but we did manage to understand he had a mechanic ready for us at the other end of our journey.

We have been treating our tuktuk with aroha but yesterday before hitching a ride she developed a very loud noise - it sounded like a hole in the muffler.

However, when we go to Jabalpur the mechanic was quick to establish a nut had come off and he very quickly solved the problem for 10 rupees - 19 cents!


Day 8: Exposing ourselves to India (Mizapur to Rewa)

The good thing about getting on the road early is we get to see India waking up.

As we zip through the villages people are going about their morning rituals. The smell of smoke drifts on the morning air as fires begin to cook samosas and other Indian breakfast delights.

There are people brushing their teeth with toothbrushes or a special stick. Others are already in the ramshackle huts at the barber having a shave or others choose to do it next to while squatting next to their straw huts.

Kids are walking to school in their pristine uniforms. It's amazing to see them so well presented given the poverty and grime they are coming from.

Cows are being fed in huge concrete troughs while others farmers are already out in their rice paddies preparing the muddy patchwork of fields for planting.

Life in India is very public. As we wend our way through the roads we constantly see people squatting - relieving themselves. Kids can be seen squatting on the roadside going to the toilet everywhere.

The tuktuk has no doors so we are exposing ourselves to the sights, smells, and sounds India has to throw at us.

The temperature is still around 35 degrees so sweat drips off your forehead and runs down your back as you concentrate on negotiating the shoddy roads.

There is the never ending cacophony of bus and truck horns. The chatter of children as they play in the villages is a delight.

When it rains it means you get wet whether you are the driver of the back seat passenger. The other day both Tracee and I were splashed with muddy pothole water as a massive truck passed us!

Today Tracee made a valiant effort to get us on a train from Allahabad South so we can make up some time to get us to the finish line on time.

She managed to get us booked on as passengers but it was touch and go as to whether we could get the tuktuk on same train. We were assured the tuktuk would get to the final destination but it could be five days later. No thanks, so we just kept on tuktuking.

Tracee had to drive an hour in the dark - not a fan of night driving at all - but we made it to Rewa and to a nice hotel.

Tomorrow we will have to get some repairs to tuktuk done and then try and get a ride on a truck. Another amazing day in India.


Day 7: The honesty of strangers (Bahir Gaya to Mizapur)

The honesty and generosity of strangers here in india continues to amaze me.

This morning we left behind our purse by mistake and headed off on our journeys to find a mechanic to help solve a noises rattle that has developed in the steering system.

It wasn't until Tracee went it get some petrol we realised what had happened. We got our mechanic to drive us back to hotel but in the meantime staff had travelled around looking for us and done a 50km round trip.

Houhora police officer Tracee Knowler and Advocate reporter Kristin Edge - alias the Chickshaw Blues - are riding the length of India in a tuktuk to raise money for charity
Houhora police officer Tracee Knowler and Advocate reporter Kristin Edge - alias the Chickshaw Blues - are riding the length of India in a tuktuk to raise money for charity

So you might be asking how is the tuktuk driving going? We'll we are starting early and most mornings are on the road at 5am while it is still nice and cool.

The best way to describe what it's like is driving on quad bike.

On the left there are the clutch and gears, one up and three down. On the right you have the accelerator and the most important piece of tuktuk gear - the horn!!

There is a speedometer - that broke on day five. (We estimate we have done about 1500km.)
To start you turn the ignition key on and there is a lever on the left side that you give a good pull. Fingers crossed the tuktuk zooms into life!!

Our wiper works at about 50 percent in the monsoon rains and the lights are only good for letting others know you are there. There are indicators but we haven't used them yet.

So once you master driving the tuktuk itself there are an array of obstacles to contend with on the roads.

Animals we have seen on motorways and roads so far - buffalo, cows, camel, donkeys, sheep, elephant, goats, dogs, chickens, roosters, ferrets, rats, monkeys, horses. Add to that people, cyclists, trucks, buses, cars, tuktuks and pedal-powered rickshaws. Oh, and how could I forget potholes the size of craters? Sometimes it feels like we are climbing our way out the other side! It's four-wheel driving in a three wheeler.

We are in Bahir Gaya for the night where Buddha found enlightenment. We had a look round the temple and grounds just as a monsoon shower hit.


Day 6: When in Rome...

It will be a late start as our little tuktuk has developed a few extra squeaks and rattles. We are going to get her a bit of a once-over this morning as a treat for looking after us so well.

We have a looong way to go yet so the theory is to look after her and hopefully prevent too many mishaps.

The trip has been amazing so far - have seem some awesome scenery and some, well, not so awesome... I will never get used to or accept the rubbish just thrown everywhere. In fact our little buggy is slowing becoming full of empty drink bottles etc as it just doesn't come naturally to us to just biff it out wherever you may be. We are yet to find a rubbish bin.

We have stayed in some ''interesting'' accommodation. I will also never be a fan of the squat toilet. However, I have done all right, I mean I haven't actually fallen in one yet...no mean feat with my bung knee!

Mind you when you consider we are averaging NZ$8-12 night for lodgings there's nothing to complain about.

I will also never get used to the sight of people ''toileting'' in full view (yes no 1s and no 2s) just wherever they feel the need - not for me I'm afraid, and certainly NOT a case of ''when in Rome.....''

India is a massive country. When we think we have made real progress after driving an 11-day to realise that we have travelled only about 5cm on our map is a reality check when we look at far we have to go. Reckon we could have got to Bluff and back by now.

Today we will head towards Varanasi from Rajgir (Bihar province). It looks so insignificant on the map but will most likely take two days.

India is extremely huge, hot and dusty but the people have been magnificent.

Leaving you with what has become our catch-cry: ''On the road again!''


Day 5: Rubbish, poverty and ominous noises

India is such an amazing country but with a huge rubbish problem and such poverty.

Everywhere you go there is rubbish just thrown on the streets, into waterways and lakes. There are attempts to recycle but only half-hearted.

Today while waiting for our trusty tuktuk to cool down I walked back down the road to a house in the village. I doubt they have seen white people before. I took photos of the kids and then showed them on the back of the camera. They were delighted with the results and then the whole family wanted in on the act.

But they had absolutely nothing. Their biggest and most prized possession would have been the cow that was tethered at the front of the straw house.

It was a big day driving today. We started at 5.15am and finally parked up at a massive resort at 7.45pm. We will have to get some work done on our tuktuk tomorrow as a loud noise is coming from the front.

We have been seeing a few of our fellow tuktuk racers along the way and plenty of people have also experienced mechanical problems.

Day 4: Falakta to Pernia

Never again will I complain about Nothland roads! Today I was behind the wheel when we took a "bypass" round a town called Siliguri.

The fact there were only big trucks and no other small vehicles tackling this road should have been a clue. But in true Northland fashion Tracee and I ploughed on over the bumpy track come road.

It soon turned from bumpy to crater-like with massive potholes covering most of the road. A recent monsoon shower had gone through so the the craters were brimming with muddy water.

I was following behind one of the trucks and when I saw the water go over the back axle. Tracee got out and walked through the water to see just how deep it was. Water in the tuktuk engine is a no-no - they told us during our 101 mechanics course before the race started.

So on we went through the potholes and out the other side about two kilometres later.
Even the Indian truck drivers who had been following gave me the thumbs up sign with a big grin.

Day 3: Kokrajhar to Falakata

The kindness of strangers here in India has blown me away. We made it back to our tuktuk and the mechanic who had been working on our machine had got there early replaced the petrol filter and had the tuktuk running much better than when we started the race. It was a humbling experience to think a stranger would put so much effort into helping us.

So we hit the road again. We were on a "highway" but it didn't really matter which side you drove on and every 15 or so kilometres there was a stretch of unsealed road filled with potholes.

We did a U-turn and went back to an icecream guy on a push bike and got an icecream - never seen one of those guys on the southern motorway in Auckland!

Staying at a motel which served the best chicken tikka masala I have ever had, all for a total of $3.50. Awesome fun.

Houhora police officer Tracee Knowler and Advocate reporter Kristin Edge - alias the Chickshaw Blues - are riding the length of India in a tuktuk to raise money for charity
Houhora police officer Tracee Knowler and Advocate reporter Kristin Edge - alias the Chickshaw Blues - are riding the length of India in a tuktuk to raise money for charity

Some weather facts for the region we are in:
Max temp 35.5C
Min temp 25C
Humidity morning 75%
Humidity evening 95%
Sunrise 4.53am
Sunset 6.06pm

Day 2: Guwahati to Kokrajhar

Wow! What an amazing place and amazing people. We kicked off at 5.545am today and travelled through some amazing country. It's rice planting time and farmers are out preparing and planting in their paddy fields.

The men are knee deep mud directing two ox through the slush. Teams of women are planting out the rice. It's a spectacular scene.

The look on peoples faces as we "speed" by at our top speed of 40km/h is priceless. First it's confusion, then disbelief, then a huge smile appears followed by a wave.

After making good ground today we have had our first break down. We'd stopped to give our mighty beast a rest and when we went to start again she wouldn't.

Tracee convinced a young lad on a bike to pedal the road and find a mechanic. He came back with bad news that he had gone home but we enlisted his help and some of his mates to push us a couple of km up the road to the police check point.

We instantly became entertainment with people gathering around to see what was happening.

Luckily a mechanic who was passing by stopped and discovered the problem was a blown gasket. He then made an hour return trip to get a new one and collect some more tools. He replaced the part but, like a true professional, wasn't happy with the way our tuktuk was idling so then proceeded to pull apart the petrol unit.

It soon became dark and yet he worked on. He got it all back in place and it started but wasn't up to his high standards. It got to 9pm about six hours after break down and we decided to call it quits.

Some of our fellow racers had been caught out in the dark and were under police escort.
We decided to leave out tuktuk at the police post and return the next day. We were taken to a hotel about 30km away.

We knew there would be mechanical problems, just not on day two. We are unsure what state our tuktuk is in or how we are going to fix it. Oh well, tomorrow is another day.

Day 1: Shillong to Guwahati

The Chickshaw Blues team took pole position for the start of the Rickshaw Run 2014.
Tracee and I put the final touches on our trusty stead that will hopefully take us 3500km - from Shillong to Kochi - nearly the length on India.

There are about 63 teams in the race from all round the world including a Spanish guy who plans to carry two rabbits in a cage on the top of his tuktuk for the whole race. Good luck rabbits!

After a colourful cultural performance the engines were started and each team drove up over a ramp and across the start line. Trace was our starting driver today and we were escorted out of Shillong by armed police.

Fortunately a strike meant there were very few people out on the roads which may have been a blessing. As the convoy of colourful tuktuks weaved through the narrow streets locals lined the streets. The looks on their faces was priceless and the kids were all yelling and waving.

Houhora police officer Tracee Knowler and Advocate reporter Kristin Edge - alias the Chickshaw Blues - are riding the length of India in a tuktuk to raise money for charity
Houhora police officer Tracee Knowler and Advocate reporter Kristin Edge - alias the Chickshaw Blues - are riding the length of India in a tuktuk to raise money for charity

We quickly progressed down the steep hills and stopped on the side of the road for a juicy pineapple that cost us about 20c NZ. Absolutely delicious.

Then we swapped drivers. The best way to describe driving a tuktuk is that it's similar to driving a quad bike.

As we got closer to the city it was time to take on the motorway and everything an Indian motorway can throw at you.

Trucks and buses, cows and goats and an endless chorus of horns! Behind the handlebars I manoeuvre in out out of the traffic.

If you had told me three days earlier I would have been driving like this I would have laughed. I have to say it was a buzz. We made it to a "hotel" with another team. An amazing day of sensory overload.

So the odometer on the tuktuk says 5564. Let's see how many more we can clock up over the next 16 days on the road.

* To make a donation, go to the web page www.givealittle.co.nz/cause/chickshawblues or follow the link from their Chickshaw Blues Facebook page. Money raised will go to the Miriam Centre for a full-time counselor in the Far North to help survivors of sexual abuse.

- Northern Advocate

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