Breaking down on the side of the road in India is a strange feeling – maybe you feel a bit helpless, and yet you know that eventually someone will help you. Instead you worry about how long it will take to fix what ails you, and what it means for your overall travel plans. This is a feeling I’m now well acquainted with.
Day 4: ~283km, ~10 hours on the road
The plan for an early departure foiled by a fantastic free breakfast (a growing trend on this trip), we didn’t get on the road from the small beach town we stayed in until around 9AM. Once we started moving, we headed northwest through the countryside in a bid to avoid Chennai completely – by now our experience told us that driving in cities was to be completely avoided when possible (and this was born out by the conversations we had with other teams that went through Chennai).
Tak drove me in my rickshaw behind Malena & Adam for most of the morning doing an admirable job keeping up through some beautiful countryside and great little towns, as well as some now-typical insane chaos of some medium size towns. We stopped at one point to visit a temple, where the others went in while I napped in the rickshaw to keep an eye on the stuff. On the way out of town, we agreed that if we saw a restaurant we would stop for lunch… and then it all went to pieces.
I was driving and saw a great looking restaurant on the side of the road and pulled over to check it out – Malena & Adam kept going. We figured they would notice we weren’t behind them instantly, but they disappeared off into the horizon. Tak texted them but we had no response and decided to eat lunch anyway. Apparently Malena & Adam didn’t notice we had stopped until over fifteen minutes later!
Our lunch was great, and once finished we headed out to catch up to them (as they had also stopped). Adam texted us that the next town we wanted to visit was “Vellore” and when we got to town we followed signs and directions to Vellore. I noticed we were heading west and the signs said it was 72km away and Adam had implied it was north and 150km+ away, so Tak texted for clarification… and we found out we actually were headed for Nellore. In the opposite direction! What are the chances of that?
We turned around and got on the road to Nellore when we had our first flat! Not a big deal, we have all the tools and a spare… except our spare was bolted on with bolts that were smaller than all our wrenches! The next hour consisted of us flagging down random people asking if they had wrenches… One guy had some and we were able to get one bolt off, but the other was a different size! Eventually a government vehicle stopped and the guy had a full wrench kit and helped us get it all set up, with Tak changing the wheel while I picked the rickshaw up. This paragraph doesn’t at all describe the experience, but it was actually quite awesome.
We then had a thankfully uneventful evening as we eventually connected with a huge divided highway (NH5) up the coast and made it to Nellore an hour or so after dark. Our directions from Adam and Malena said to drive 2km into town and look for a specific hotel, and with Tak navigating and asking random passerby for directions we eventually found it 8km into town (insert crazy night driving in India drama here). All four of us shared a room with two beds on the floor and celebrated our success with some bottles of Kingfisher that Adam and Malena picked up since we are finally out of the dry states!
Day 5: 273km, ~10 hours on the road
After a good night’s sleep in Nellore, we once again woke up with a plan to be on the road by 7AM (a compromise as Tak & I would have preferred earlier) which was once again foiled by breakfast and a chill morning. We were finally moving around 9AM and headed onto NH5 expecting to pull a long day of easy highway miles and maybe break 400+km again.
After stopping for fuel around 10:30AM, my rickshaw suddenly died completely barely a kilometer from the gas station and refused to start. All the usual checks yielded no results and I had no idea what the problem might be. Just as I was about to check the spark plug, a rickshaw driver stopped and went through the entire checklist with me, changed the plug, and agreed a mechanic was needed…. ugh. Luckily his friend was a mechanic and he called him, then said he would be back in 30 minutes and took off to pick him up! Tak jumped into Nacho Mucho’s rickshaw and they went off to try to fix my flat tire while I waited for the mechanic.
Shortly after, the team Get Some India drove by and stopped to say hi, excited to see someone else for the first time in a few days. We chatted for awhile then they went to leave – only to find that their front tire was completely flat! That stretch of road must’ve been like the Bermuda Triangle for rickshaws.
After many people tried to help and no one could figure it out, finally the guy from earlier showed up with his mechanic friend around noon. He stripped the spark plug wire completely and put it all back together and was able to get it to start, and after much fanfare we were on the road again!
We stopped for lunch in the next town grumbling about losing so much time, but this is the reality of the Rickshaw Run and you can’t be serious about it – breaking down is not only part of the experience, but it’s really an amazingly fun part of it as you get to deal with a very different situation than you’d ever normally experience. It can get old though, which it started to do when we broke down yet again an hour or so later and realized the spark plug cap would simply not stay on!
Normally held in place with a friction lock against the plug, it was too loose to stay on for long with all the engine vibrations. We managed to get some electrical tape from a passerby and applied some tape, but it was directly against the engine and we did not have high hopes – and were proven right a few minutes down the road when it popped off again. This time we were able to get some duct tape from Malena and after much wrangling applied a great amount to the engine block which held for the rest of the day.
We ended in Vijayama or something similar (it’s hard to remember some of these names) and Tak & I got up early today (Friday) to get a head start and maybe get some repairs made while the others sleep. Off we go!