Vellore, right at this moment: The hotel is quiet. There are no honking horns outside, no screaching birds in the branches, and no rattle-hum-rattle of air conditioners. It’s nearly midnight, and I with my droopy eyes, my sunburned face, and a mosquito bite on my foot that’s driving me nuts, am here to tell you that we’ve made it to Vellore! And also, the mechanics are pulling an all-nighter.
Yes, we have indeed arrived. After waking up much earlier than any of us really preferred to, we gathered our luggage, loaded the bus, and returned to Queen Mary’s College Campus, where Driving Orientation took place yesterday. As the mechanics continued to make repairs, the participants gathered about their rickshaws like painters to a canvas. The flags, decals, lights, and stickers were placed on nearly all of the autorickshaws, instantly transforming the flag-off grounds into a crowd-gathering scene. Then the music started, the emcee announced the Mumbai Xpress 2009, and within a few short minutes, the press had arrived. The flag-off event drew quite a crowd, as the participants modeled and posed in costume in front of their autorickshaws. The press was thrilled to see so many non-Indians, and was especially interested in how they enjoyed Indian food. My favorite was when Melanie of Ruby Murray said, “Better in than out!”
By 10:30, teams were lined up beneath the Red Bull arch as prepared as they could be for what was ahead. Driving Orientation only simulated city traffic, so as the intrepid rickshawwallahs revved their engines, I’m sure the thought, “What am I doing?!” crossed some minds as they prepared to drive their rickshaws for only the second time into Chennai traffic. But, with the focus and sense of adventure that only Mumbai Xpress participants possess, they released that brake, pulled that clutch, changed that gear, and turned that throttle. And just like that, they were off on a path that would take them just over 132 kilometers to Vellore!
Of course, there were breakdowns, hiccups, and other moments of “huh?” experienced by the participants along the way. But after everyone completed their challenges, got their engines running again, and made it to the hotel (combined with getting room keys and taking showers!), the sense was that it’s going to be an excellent adventure!
Tomorrow, we travel from Vellore to Bangalore. Here’s to another awesome, challenging, unforgettable day! -CKot