The Rickshaw Run – Getting to Cochin – The Final Chapter

Leaving Goa was hard but that’s mostly because we were on a private beach and lets be honest, who wants to leave a private beach?  But alas we had 2 days to bring the Rickshaws to Fort Cochin and were excited to swap travel tales with the 80+ other teams and enjoy the after party.  We certainly had plenty of breakdown stories to share and by this point I’d won photo’s of the day (which really means 4 free beers).

Morning Glory was infamous throughout the teams of the Rickshaw Run and rumor had it everyone was jealous of our teams photos.  Pardon the humble brag there but it felt pretty damn good to have everyone love my photos, stay tuned for a travel photography guide specific to the Rickshaw Run!

With a few hundred kilometers to go we were hoping to cut that in half today.  There was no specific destination other than as far as possible but we did give ourselves a little challenge just for fun.  You see, Joe had this beautiful compass that he was given as a family heirloom and he’d been itching to use it all trip.  When he asked if we wanted to do a “compass only day” everyone originally was all for it.  But now we knew what no maps or GPS really meant and surprisingly everyone was excited by the idea!

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The rule was at every turn whoever held the compass decided which way to turn.  We were mostly heading South with a little eastward direction roughly following the Indian coastal highways.  It started out pretty easy since the highway mostly went the way we wanted to go.  I challenged the WhatsApp group to follow a similar no maps/GPS day but no one was up for it.  One group did point out that that was too easy when its just one road and coincidentally Tristan navigated us off the highway shortly afterwards.

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We drove through villages and were hoping to find a bridge but all that we got were those all too familiar curious stares.  Locals had no idea what the hell we were doing (and to be honest neither did we.)  The roads wound in and out of small towns as the afternoon grew hotter and we grew hungrier when a local driver signaled us saying something about our tires.  Sure enough the tire we replaced yesterday was on backwards!  It was an easy fix but meant propping her up on the side of the road yet again.

Eventually we arrived at the river but sadly all we could find was a shipping port and definitely no bridge.  There were no boats that would take us across so Joe (who had taken the compass from Tristan earlier) conceded defeat and told us it was our turn to navigate since they “got us lost.”

The truth is no one really cared about being lost.  That was part of the point of this journey; we enjoyed getting lost and seeing a side of India that foreigners never experienced.  Nonetheless Ben and I took the compass as Sarah drove.  We backtracked a bit and turned down a back alley to find a bunch of chickens crossing the street.  Goats were close behind along with the laughter of some school children gawking at our brightly colored rickshaws.

A few more random turns and we managed to find what looked like a main road.  Eventually we crossed that river and found the highway but no one is really sure how it all happened.  The lack of GPS wasn’t so bad but not being allowed to look at a map throws everything out the window.  Thankfully this ended up being the highway we wanted and the rest of the ride was relatively smooth.

The sun hung near the horizon and I convinced everyone to stay at a nearby city called Kannur.  It was big enough that we’d be able to find a hotel or something on booking.com.  With a little bit of luck (and perhaps cheating on the map) we made it to rental apartment with a gorgeous view of the city and the nearby beach.  It even had a rooftop pool to soak in the scenery of this jungle filled city!

The apartment was the type of place we would have stayed a week if possible but sadly we arrived just before sunset and left just after sunrise.  The last day of driving meant 270 km to Cochin.  If we made it tonight we’d be there a day ahead of schedule and could have a leisurely morning drive to the finish line the next day.

Unfortunately Morning Glory had a sluggish start and would barely drive about 10 km/h.  With Tristan at the helm we crawled up hills and my Afternoon Delight passengers had to jump out regularly to push Morning Glory the rest of the way.  We stopped a few times hoping to find a mechanic but today was Vishu, the new year in Kerala, which meant 99% of locals were taking the day off.

Stopping on the side of the road to figure out the issues we thought it could be the spark plug or maybe air filter.  That was supposed to be cleaned every 1500km and we hadn’t’ done it yet.  Cleaning the air filter meant waiting for it to dry so Joe took Afternoon Delight down the road to grab some snacks and water.  The rest of us stared bewildered at Morning Glory’s engine when a tuktuk driver pulled up and offered to help.

He changed the spark plug and an ignition cord before proclaiming it working again with a bright smile.  The thing is that wasn’t our problem.  The rickshaw was still under-powered and needed to be pushed up the next hill.

We found a few locals who knew mechanics but every time we contacted them they said to come by tomorrow.  After asking a half dozen tuktuk drivers and calling another 3 or 4 mechanics our hopes were dashed at finding someone to fix Morning Glory today.  We decided to try and another roadside fix roadside but had no luck and continued driving a measly 10 km/h.

At the next hill Tristan pulled into a gas station and exited in frustration.  She had no power and we’d only gone about 20 km in the first 2 hours of our day!  We NEEDED a mechanic or wouldn’t make it to Cochin tonight and seeing as how he flew out of India in 2 days he really wanted to have a day to explore Cochin and maybe even get on one of the famous houseboats.

Ben and Tristan tried to solve the engine issues and I got out my notebook from the mechanic talk 2 weeks earlier.  Our spark plugs kept turning black which could have to do with the oil or the piston.  It was a sooty black no oily so we predicted that there was a piston problem; the same issue we’d had a few days back near Mumbai.

With Ben and Tristan working on the engine I went in search of a mechanic.  The gas station told me no way because of Vishu but gave me a phone number anyway.  A local man answered and was interested until I told him we needed help today.  He said no and hung up even as I offered a few thousand rupees  ($20-40).  I walked down the street a block and found another gas station but was met with similar dismay.  The attendant suggested I ask at the office but now I was asking for a truck OR a mechanic.

The office was of no help but a local man filling his car followed me and told me he could fix it!  We hurried back to the rickshaws to find them half dismantled with Tristan and Ben unsure how to proceed.  At this point she wouldn’t even turn on, let alone drive 10km/h.

The local jumped right in and put her all back together.  He was about to attach the spark plug but it wouldn’t stay in; pulling it back out he asked for string and wrapped it around precariously before shoving it into the slot.

Everyone held there breath as he started the engine!  A cheer went out and he sauntered off.  Tristan jumped in the driver’s seat to give her a test drive but before he could give any gas a loud BANG sounded as the spark plug shot into the rear door and clattered on the ground.  We resigned to find a truck to take us somewhere as a caravan of other rickshaws showed up.

A dance party and a mix of emotions ensued while we tried to solve our Morning Glory Morning and another 6 or 7 teams were enjoying a caravan.  To lighten spirits we stopped and chatted for a bit but as soon as they left we knew we were stuck.  Joe jumped din Afternoon Delight and went in search of a mechanic or a truck while I tried flagging down trucks on the highway.

A few passed me by and a few more stopped but told me they wouldn’t or couldn’t take us but eventually one pulled in for gas and happened to be heading to Cochin with an empty load.  He agreed to drive us there for 20INR/km ($.30/km).  We happily agreed but had no idea how difficult it would be to load the rickshaws onto the truck.

Without a ramp we had to dead lift each vehicle 5 or 6 feet onto the top of the truck!  Luckily another team had just arrived and a few locals joined our 6 man team to hoist the 2 tuktuks onto the flatbed.  I passed my camera off to Sarah who happily snapped photos while I lifted with all my might.  Sweaty, greasy and exhausted we piled into the truck and drove the last 250km to Cochin.

A mixture of joy and defeat filled our team with this final leg of the journey.  We’d driven well over 2000km but now as we neared the finish line Morning Glory couldn’t get there on her own accord.  Without many options on this holiday we simply paid for the ride and decided to enjoy a night of luxury at 5 star resort – The Trident Cochin to ease our sorrow.  A little luck joined us as the Ice Road Tukr’s pulled in and said they would take a look at the engine.

With some “bush mechanics” and even more luck Mike from Ice Road Tukr’s got Morning Glory moving but warned that she’d likely blow the sparkplug after warming up.  We opted to tow her near the finish line and our tow rope snapped at the perfect moment 1 km from the end.  Tristan was determined not only to drive across the finish line but to beat Afternoon Delight there too!

Ben “surf-towing” with Afternoon Delight

He floored it around the next bend and we nearly sideswiped them passing through the narrow doorway to our destination.  With dozens of other teams waiting in line for the photo finish stage Tristan barreled his way through as locals jumped out of the way.  Chris expertly dodged him in Afternoon Delight but that meant we were the first to finish!

The rest is history I guess.  Our journey was epic, insane, amazing and more.  Its hard to describe exactly what its like on the Rickshaw Run but I’ve gotta thank my amazing team and of course the Adventurists for putting this together!

 They threw one hell of an after party and this is something I will cherish forever.  If you ever get the chance to join the Rickshaw Run I highly recommend it!  Comment below if you’ve done any other crazy adventures or have suggestions for what I should do next!  Until then please share this post with the buttons on the left or you can always pin the image below on Pinterest too!

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Mike Still
Mike is a travel enthusiast, photographer and teacher. He loves adventure travel, meeting the locals and exploring new culture. As an outdoor enthusiast you can often find him hiking mountains or exploring forests trying to capture the beauty of mother nature. In 2013 he founded www.LiveTravelTeach.com as he left his home in America and has been teaching or traveling around the world ever since!

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