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The Good, Bad and Ugly: Lone Star Rickshaw team returns from India victorious

The Good, Bad and Ugly: Lone Star Rickshaw team returns from India victorious

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The Lone Star Rickshaw team. Courtesy of Lone Star Rickshaw
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Having fun on the Rickshaw Courtesy of Lone Star Rickshaw
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Overturned buss. Courtesy of Lone Star Rickshaw
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Rickshaw teams. Courtesy of Lone Star Rickshaw
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Rickshaw starting line. Courtesy of Lone Star Rickshaw
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Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley Seale_lone star Rickshaw_finishline_jan 2012_hanging off
Austin Photo Set: News_Shelley Seale_lone star Rickshaw_finishline_jan 2012_overturned buss
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By victorious, we should clarify something here. I mean that our hometown conquering heroes of the Rickshaw Run through India — Evan Mallory, Nathan Wyman, Otto Hemmi and Peter Voyvodic — crossed the finish line. On the finishing day.

I'm sitting at Rio Rita on a Thursday night, listening to the four Austinites recount their adventures in the Rickshaw Run, a two-week race for charity across 3,500 kilometers from north to south India with no route and no rules. You can read the Culture Map story that ran in December, just before the team left for India — when their insanity was not yet fully tested. 
 
When I meet with the guys, it's a week after they've returned home and the first time they have seen each other since the race. There are hours of crazy stories as they overlap each other with laughter, memories and accusations. And there are many, many beers.
 
In fact, team Lone Star Rickshaw got off to a very inauspicious beginning at the starting line in Jaisalmer on Jan. 1. The night before, New Year's Eve, was the opening party, and apparently it was quite the soiree. According to the Rickshaw Run website, the parties often "have a tendency to get a little carried away. You shall be fed, entertained and then graciously placed into the gutter when you can no longer stand up."
 
Which is pretty much what happened to Peter as the 70 racing rickshaws and their teams pulled up the next morning to the starting line. "I am vomiting into the dirt while a random Indian guy is rubbing my back," Peter recalls. From the way the guys describe how sick he was, I'm surprised he can recall anything.
 
"We trashed that place," Nathan says of the party. Team Lone Star Rickshaw had two rickshaws to drive (Honey Badger and Sweet Beej), and the remaining two team members from San Francisco, Matt Goodman and Cody Daniel, had not even arrived yet. They were supposed to drive with Peter. So, Otto jumped into Peter's vehicle with him to drive, while Nathan and Evan manned the second team vehicle. 
 The guys took off at the start signal, drove a few hundred yards and made a full circle back into the parking lot. There, they stayed and slept for another 16 hours.
 
"We were the last ones to show up for the starting line, and we started out dead last," Evan says. The guys took off at the start signal, drove a few hundred yards and made a full circle back into the parking lot. There, they stayed and slept for another 16 hours. "We got a whole day's late start."
 
Once they did make it out of the gate, on Jan. 2, the guys experienced a pretty wild ride—and raised £3,795 for FrankWater. Here are some of their highlights (or lowlights, as the case may be):
 
Brokedown
 
Team Lone Star Rickshaw had their first mechanical breakdown on the first full day of driving the three-wheeled tuk-tuks, which are perhaps the slowest, most untrustworthy vehicles on the road. Something about a stuck throttle cable (please excuse the lack of details, I am not very mechanically inclined). Some locals directed the guys to a mechanic, who turned out to be a child. "It's always some 12-year-old kid with a spoon and some part he found on the ground who fixes your rickshaw," Evan says.
 
He also reveals that Otto hit another rickshaw while driving. "Just a little bit," counters Otto.
 "It's always some 12-year-old kid with a spoon and some part he found on the ground who fixes your rickshaw," Evan says.
 
What's That Smell?
 
The team devised a number of games to amuse themselves while driving, to deal with the culture shock, and to take their minds off the potential imminent death that faced them with every oncoming truck, bus and cow. One of these games consisted of trying to pinpoint the pungent aromas wafting into their rickshaws.
 
"It was like the wine tasting from hell," Peter says. "You would smell terrible things you'd never smelled before." 
 
"The notes were complex," adds Nathan. "Like the combination of plastic, oranges and old socks."
 
Is It Killable?
 
Another game evolved from a brake problem. Evan says, "One thing I wish we had known at the beginning was that we only had one working brake on a three-wheel vehicle." Because there was no way to stop or swerve in time for all the things confronting them in the road, the guys devised this game to quickly determine if, in fact, they should swerve or hit whatever was rapidly approaching in front of them.
 
Peacocks were a "yes, it's killable." Buses and cows were a definite "no."
 
"The cardinal sin in a rickshaw is to swerve," Evan adds.
 
The Beatles
 
And of course, our guys attracted attention. In some parts of India that don't get many tourists, any Westerner draws stares. Add to that the fact that these six white dudes were driving two pimped-out rickshaws across India, and you can begin to imagine the entourage.
 
"Just pulling up to get gas, we would get a crowd," Otto says. "It was like being a Beatle," Nathan concurs. "People wanted to take their pictures with us, they invited us to their homes and to parties…it was crazy."
 
The flip side of that was the people who literally did not believe these guys were driving rickshaws across India. "Not possible," they were told time and time again. "Rickshaw too dangerous, you take bus," was another favorite piece of advice. And they often had other drivers offering their services. "You need rickshaw driver? I am rickshaw driver! I will drive you!"
 
"Other rickshaw drivers really do think you're bad-ass," Nathan says. "You're seriously rock stars."
 "Other rickshaw drivers really do think you're bad-ass," Nathan says. "You're seriously rock stars."
 
Rules of the Road
 
After four or five days in the 14-day race, Team Lone Star Rickshaw began to get the hang of driving a three-wheeled tuk-tuk in India. They came up with their driving rules:
  1. You can do anything, as long as you do it slowly and with confidence. For example, when Nathan drove on the wrong side of the highway into oncoming traffic for two kilometers.
  2. Be calm like a Hindu cow. The other team members claim that Evan tried to kill them all by cutting things too close. Once you slow down, everything becomes manageable.
  3. Always respect the buses. They have no rules, and are kings of the road.
  4. Never stop for anything at all. Even police officers, who are usually on foot anyway. "Just wave and keep going," Evan advises. "Nothing good can come of stopping."

 It didn't matter when you arrived, but how you got there.

The Finish Line
 
The entire team agrees that arriving at the finish line was almost anticlimactic. Because it was a two-week race with teams on their own routes and time frames, 64 of the teams arrived during the course of a week. It wasn't like everyone barreling to the finish line at the same time. It didn't matter when you arrived, but how you got there.
 
The Lone Star Rickshaw team stayed the night before finishing day, Jan. 13, in a hotel that turned out to be only 15 meters from the finish line. "It was sort of like the finish line with a pause," Evan says. "There were lots of small towns and we didn't know where we were or how soon we were going to get there." 
 
The Closing Party was awesome, the guys say, on a private island off Cochin in South India. Every team had their own completely separate, unique story to tell. "The coolest part was talking to the other teams," Peter says. "We had our anecdotes and they had theirs. No two people's experiences were the same."
 
And after it was all over? "We were like, let's either turn around and do it all again, or let's go home," Evan says. "I think it ruined me for ever doing the touristy thing in India."
 
"There was nothing new or exciting anymore," Otto adds. "We miss her; we miss our rig."