Courtesy of Rickshaw Run reporter in-the-field Candace Rardon files her first update from Shillong, India:
The teams taking part in the Rickshaw Run September 2012 have descended upon the muddy hills of Shillong to kick off their two-week adventure through the Subcontinent. Shillong greeted them with an all-day strike, meaning plans for test driving and rickshaw pimping on Thursday were well and truly scuppered. [for team Tuktanic flying in to Guwahati airport, we arrived to the news that ‘Shillong is closed’… no further explanation].
Total Bandh, Total Shutdown: False Start on the Rickshaw Run
The day before the Rickshaw Run was due to kick off, the North East Students Organisation decided to call a “total bandh,” or 12-hour strike to protest. The result? Pretty much every business, bank, shop, office, you name it closed their doors from 5am to 5pm – not to mention the pimping ground, where the first day of test driving was supposed to be taking place.
So with the entire region on shutdown and the streets as empty as a post-apocalyptic film – apart from kids playing cricket and football to celebrate a day off school – everyone due to arrive in Guwahati on Thursday was forced to wait until after the strike lifted to catch a ride to Shillong. On this Run the hard work started for some before they even got to the launch city…
For other teams, their trouble started well before even arriving in India – in true Rickshaw-Run style, we might add. If the stories filtering around the first Q&A session last night were anything to go by, you get a sense that nothing has managed to go quite right for some teams – which is exactly the way we like it, of course.
Take team The Road to Ganesh, a band of three twenty-something brothers from Sydney. The initial plan had older brothers Ed and Will setting off for Shillong with one of their mates, but when he dropped out at the last minute, they roped in their youngest brother Callum to round out the team – just two weeks before leaving for India.
Not everyone might be so keen to jump into a rickshaw with their family, but these Aussies are taking it in their stride: “You can have an argument with your brother a lot easier than you can have an argument with a friend,” reasons Will, although we’ll check back with him in Jaisalmer to see how his theory held up.
Then there’s Bill of Team Fortius from Washington DC, who had not one but two teammates back out only weeks before the run was due to start. While the thought of steering a rickshaw across India alone might scare off less daring souls, Bill doesn’t seem too bothered by the prospect. “I have good luck,” he says – perhaps a little too confidently, “Like freakishly good luck.” Whether Bill’s luck holds up on the run is yet to be determined, but rumour has it he’s on the hunt for a goat – to serve as a companion or perhaps a good luck charm?
These last-minute adjustments almost feel like the norm, as guys boast of having their visa approved only days before flying out, or shifting teams around like they’re merely rearranging furniture – not getting ready to drive across India together in a tiny, underpowered and unreliable tuk tuk. But it’s team Kon-tuki III, a group of three coal-mining Norwegians who describe themselves as “the northernmost team in the world,” that have come the furthest – literally. Their home in Spitsbergen on the remote icy island of Svalbard is well inside the Arctic Circle. And how exactly does one make it from the North Pole to Shillong? Team member Nick explains, “We flew from Svalbard to Tromsø to Oslo to London to Doha to Mumbai to Delhi to Guwahati, and then one three-hour, kamikaze taxi ride later, we reached Shillong.”
The strike has now ended, and the skies over Shillong last night were clear – no monsoon rains in sight, for once – making it almost seem like the day’s events were finally behind us. But then a midnight earthquake rumbled below the city, letting the teams know there’s never any guarantee they’ll make it to the finish line – let alone the starting point.