Gridskipping across India

Getting back on the road around 6:30 to a empty highway really made us catch up time this morning. Again, the faces greeted us with smiles, laughter and warm welcomes. We drove for about 2 hours and then we all decided that we needed a cup of coffee. Now that brings us to another topic…. Coffee.. So, coffee, as a westerner understands it, is hot water being pushed through coffee beans one way or another to produce the aroma and taste of the flavor of the cooked coffee bean. “Coffee" in India basically is a sweet milky substance that is called Chai. This Chai is being served at truck stops and side vendors when you drive by. Since there is no electricity for most of these vendors, they are cooking by fire.

As we headed north up the mountain, the climate absolutely began to get cooler. We started making our way up the winding highway over the Western Ghat mountains. It was a hairpin road to the top of these mountains.  Actually we stopped at hairpin 4 of 27 to take pictures and look over the edge.

Continuing our way up to the top was a slow and a bit nauseating experience. At hairpin 23, Joanna realized that she no longer had her cell phone. This created a bit of panic as we all quickly ransacked “Lady Karma” looking for her phone… no luck! We sighed and made the agreement to begin the long process of going back down the mountain to hairpin 4 (this was the last time we saw it). Because the trucks that were traveling this highway with us were enormous, I was sure that by the time we found it, the iPhone was going to be pulverized to powder.

After we got to hairpin 4 (without any sign of the cell), we made one last attempt to look under the seats but no phone. Hmph.  Once again, we went back up the mountain, where team “Fire it Up” was waiting patiently for us….

At the top of the mountain, we were greeted by a family peering out of their roadside home. There were really no lights or electricity to speak of, but they were all looking out the door and windows curious as to what we may be doing there. I took out my camera and began taking pics of a small monkey close to their home. The children did not see what was so peculiar about a monkey and why we found them interesting. I tried to explain that in the USA we did not have such animals running wild and we thought it was great! The next thing we knew, the largest and most brave of this monkey clan stole a bag of our chips and scurried up to the top of the mountain to eat our snack in peace!

We continued on our journey to Mysore, where we had planned to spend the evening for the night. A driver pulled up to us and motioned for us to pull over. As we pulled over he explained that he saw our race in his local paper and wanted to meet us. We introduced ourselves and talked a bit of what we did back home. He gave us his number and told us to call him if we needed help of any kind… And we continued on….

Next stop was with the local police force: Entering into and exiting every minor and major city you go through, there are metal gate structures that slow you down to the town's traffic speed and also enable the police to pull you over and talk to you. Each time we go through these, we wave and keep on going. This time we were stopped and about 8 policemen circled us asking all types of questions from where we are going, why we are doing this, to where we are from….. Finally they ask, as most do, if they can take our pictures with them…

When we finally reached Mysore it was getting dark. All the hotels and motels were booked - even the ones we did not want to stay at. When we asked what was going on they explained the President of India was in town so people were there to greet him. We went with a local taxi driver to see a few other hotels that he promised would have availability and again they were also booked. Although one didn’t even have their lights on until we pulled up to check, so I am really not sure what was going on….

Since everything was booked and it was now dark we made the only real decision we could which was to keep on going to the next city. Danny hooked up his LED lights that he brought from home and we continued onward. Night driving is as horrific as it sounds. Everyone is driving with their brights on and they are shining right into your eyes.  They are also traveling in these massive trucks and "Buses of Death" as we later coined them basically because they're driving at very high speeds with no regard to what lane or direction they are going in.

The other issue we were having is we realized that hotel does not mean lodging - it means restaurant. Now, some hotels may have lodging, but unless it specifically specifies lodging or beds, it does not.

After a couple of tries we finally found lodging about 15 minutes out of the city. It did not have hot water or a shower but it was a roof and bed. So we are down for the night using our mosquito netting as a cover since the room is full of the dive-bombing creatures… I guess this is what $18.00 room will get you with a $1.50 dinner.

Oh! and one last thing - Danny is beginning to not feel well… Dehli Belly... Yes, Dehli Belly! It is appropriately named. Or it could be named the worst belly and digestive issues you can ever have without being admitted to a hospital. It starts with just a feeling of not being well, then after a few hours your stomach feels like you need a few Tums… After you have depleted your antacid supply trying to remedy the situation with no relief, then the other end starts acting up…. For the next 24 - 36 hours you are out of commission. You do not feel well and even the  thought of food makes you ill. It also doesn’t make you a very good teammate as you try to get yourself back in the race.

Ok. I was told I must go back and expand just a bit on how bad the lodging scenario was. Yes, there was one other hotel that we let's say “perused” before finding our final goal. So the story goes a bit like this… As we are driving in the dark wondering when we are going to meet our demise, all of us are frantically looking for the words lodging or bed on any sign that we may come across. With the “Fire it Up” group behind us, we pushed on... Finally a sign with a flickering strobe light detailing they had beds appeared in the dark. Quickly pulling in and stopping & making sure that the “Fire it up” team wasn't slamming into the back of us, we pulled into the dark and a bit scary path up to the hotel building. Myself and the two members of the “Fire it Up” team, Bryan and Roel decided to make our way to the hotel to ask about occupancy as Joanna and Danny stayed back to keep an eye on our rickshaws….

The closer we got to the hotel the gloomier things appeared. Finally, a man appeared on the balcony of this two story building. Shouting up to him if he had rooms, he bobbled his head a bit then made his way down towards us. The three of us kept telling each other that at least staying here was better then driving at night so we should absolutely make a try for it. We asked the man if he could show us a room.  He agreed and we made our way back up the same steps he came down. The smell of urine and other things was almost too much to bear. I could tell by the faces of Bryan and Roel, even this was too much for them…. We passed one room with the door open.  You could see other men inside lounging on the two beds and on the floor. One of them knew a bit of English, so he joined us to assist. "You have women with you?" he asked. We all said “yes”. “You should not stay here", he began explaining to us as we were looking at a horrific room that was available for our use. Wooden beds with really no mattress to speak of, just a sheet. The bathroom… Let’s just minimize the description and say just a very unclean porcelain hole in the floor. It was right about this time that the man that knew English told us of another “Family luxury” hotel about 6 kilometers further…. It was at that time things got a bit blurry for me.  I just remember walking back, no, running back to the rickshaws and getting out of there as fast as we could. Later, the other team members asked us what was wrong with the first hotel.  Not really wanting to relive the experience, I believe we just paraphrased… It was not for us.

"Lady Karma” is absolutely on our side as we trek north. She has been running smooth and kept us out of all trouble. So far so good! Other racers on the other hand have not been so fortunate. I think on the first day, the rickshaw run had 7 accidents. From losing the clutch, to blowing a piston, to going head to head with a bus of terror. All the accidents thusfar have not been life threatening and the team that was hit by the bus were fortunately released from a local hospital the next day and even given a new rickshaw to continue their race north!

Please do not stop your messages and well wishes on Facebook and texting - they are absolutely giving us the energy and enthusiasm we need to keep moving forward! Also, thank you again for all your patronage to our charities. It is amazing the amount of money we all are raising for these very important causes!

Michael & Joanna Droege