It’s Friday morning in Jaisalmer, India, and desert winds are whipping up a downright vicious shitstorm of dust and dirt. Perfect for the eyes, lungs and adventure.
It’s not exactly a warm welcome to the 210 people descending on the city for the January Rickshaw Run, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. While the Run itself throws itself into history on New Year’s Day (quite the way to start the year, isn’t it? Much better than sitting down the pub moaning about how crap January is) there’s a bit of test driving to be had beforehand.
It's a chance to practise, of course, but also allows teams sufficient time to whip themselves into a bit of a panic and consider their intelligence.
For Rickshaw Runners, it’s all about that first test drive, that first moment of stepping inside your mighty steed and realising: bollocks, this vehicle is entirely not suitable for the job. So before we bring you updates from the road next week, here’s a look at the five steps to a cracking first day of test driving on the Rickshaw Run – from getting to grips with the driving to discussing the task ahead with fellow Runners over a few cups of tea:
Step 1: Learn how to drive the beasts
First impressions are everything. And so it goes with meeting your ‘shaw. Before teams can even think about figuring out the way from Jaisalmer to Cochin – which, of course, we hope they don’t – their first job is simply wrapping their mitts round the handlebars of a rickshaw for the first time.
For Fab and Joyce of team Little Tipsy from Singapore, this was far easier said than done. “We had some difficulties starting the engine. Now we have blisters from it. Getting started depends on luck itself – sometimes we get it, sometimes we don’t. But if there’s a local standing behind us, he will help.”
At least they’ve got another couple of days ahead of them for more practice.
Step 2: Realise what exactly you are in for
Many teams have been signed up for the Rickshaw Run for months, if not a year, so to finally arrive in India and meet their ride can come as a bit of shock: that this beast of an adventure is indeed about to start. We call this the moment of realisation – or that holy shit moment.
Not to fear – this is a common reaction that occurs just after your first go at driving. The treatment? Maintain an ‘ignorance is bliss’ mentality of denial and order some medicinal Kingfisher (after driving).
While Manisha from Team Tuk Tuk Totties seems fairly confident – “Driving is fine, no problem with that” – Kim from team Rickshaw Run Diaries is somewhat more apprehensive: “I have this fear that I’m going to kill us. I’m going to need a drink after this.”
Step 3: Get [un]trained in the mechanics
Rickshaws have the cunning knack of seeming like they were designed to break down. Indeed, it’s just about the only thing one can count on during the Rickshaw Run. That and getting the shits if it's your first visit to this marvellous part of the world. That being said, it’s useful to know a bit about how to keep them going.
During the first day of test driving, Mr. Vikash – head of all things mechanical on the Rickshaw Run – gathers teams around a rickshaw like a war general about to send his troops out to the frontline – sporting an outfit to match his role. With the door to the ‘engine’ open, he walks them through what they most need to know. Ideal tyre pressure? Check. Ratio of oil per litre of fuel? Check. Fuel capacity and what to do if your engine falls out? Check and check (ish).
“This is all mentioned in your on-the-road packets,” Vikash says. After a pause, he adds, “If you read them, or haven’t lost them already.”
Step 4: Pimp thy 'shaw
With the initial shock out of the way, teams can breathe a little easier and admire the handiwork of the Indian painters who have been busy pimping their rides with the designs submitted from around the world via the pimping machine. Making one’s rickshaw as loud and as offensively colourful as possible – whether with paint or by adding garlands, lights and a discotheque – is a vital element of the Run, for, as is obvious - adventure must be had in style.
Step 5: Discuss the day over a cold beer or a warming whisky
It’s understandable that most teams need a drink at the end of day one to steady the nerves. Possibly two in fact. Plus, they’re just curious to compare notes and meet the other idiots who were genius enough to sign up for the Run.
Hanging out with other Runners is the perfect antidote to a pant-shitting day of driving a rickshaw. With a cold beer or whisky in hand, teams gather around the palace’s pool or inside the Whiskey Jar to see if everyone else is thinking the same thing… This camaraderie makes any stalling of the rick and issues with the gears and starting lever seem slightly more manageable. Sort of.
Above all, teams seem surprisingly and naively ready for anything the Indian highway is about to throw their way. When Rasmus from Danish team Rio Ganesh hesitates before signing their lives away, teammate Kasper says, “Just sign it. You may die. We talked about this.”
Like we said, they’re ready for anything.