Sunday, March 02, 2008

Kuttalam to Kanyakumari

Check out today's video! Be sure to click the "watch in high quality" link at the bottom right! The final day opens with a sheet full of challenges and Aravind’s briefing “you can not complete them all. Choose wisely.” The instructions are on both sides of the sheet, and quite chaotic even by ARC standards. There is no official flag off or flag down – we are free to leave anytime. Inspired, we decide to end on a high note and resolve to complete all the tasks – just to prove that we can complete them all. We figure out our first destination and are the second team on the road. When we stop to ask directions, we are pointed on our way. Giamp did not trust the directions we were given, so asked again. And then again. Every 100 meters or so. Always the same answer. After the third time I was getting annoyed at stopping all the time but Giamp said he still didn’t trust the directions. Stops four and five confirmed our direction was correct yet again. And again. Our sixth stop was shortly later when the clutch stopped working right next to a giant trash heap and a lot of flies.

When the mechanics show up we find out we are of course, on the wrong road and the clutch repair (2nd in as many days) would take about 45 minutes. All was not lost because this gave us 45 minutes to decipher the day’s instructions, complete with eight GPS waypoints. But were they accurate? Were the challenges in chronological order? The repair finished just as we completed our driving plan for the day: even with the 45 minute handicap, we’re going to attempt every challenge unless we can’t get to the waterfall by 3:30, in which case we’ll skip the waterfall – the one “must see” item according to Arivind. A classic “see India” vs. “win race” tradeoff, though there is also a “survival” tradeoff as anyone who has driven at night without a headlight on potholed streets can tell you.

As it turns out, the GPS waypoints are accurate but interpreting them is problematic. At one point the road goes left or right, and the next waypoint is 5km to the left. We decide to turn left and in 1km come to a parking lot for a temple. The waypoint does indeed signify a temple, and there is a path going in the correct direction. Just a short 4km hike up the hill?

I decide to run the path for a bit to see if anything makes sense. I run into another team which provides very cryptic answers to my questions about whether there is a temple ahead. Finally, I decide to turn around but a local says: “temple, up around the corner”. OK. I’ll keep running. About ½ km later I finally come to a temple but there is no Shiva. Wrong temple! Giamp is having a field day telling me how useless the GPS, and all technology is. I keep trying to explain the problem is not the technology, but the interpretation of the information, and it is in fact me that is useless. I guess reading the sheet, and asking locals can work better than a GPS.

We take the road the other direction and sure enough, exactly as described, we find the correct temple. Then it’s a question of whether we go up the hill another 18km to get to a dam, or whether we continue. We run into the Hanumaniacs Team and they decide to skip the dam. We decide to go for it. Fortunately, the 18km was exaggerated – it was about 5km more. The directions out are the same as the directions in, and we are surprised by how few teams we encounter. In the 56km round trip, we should pretty much run into every team, but we saw only four. Maybe they all skipped this detour and went straight to the waterfall?

When we have to make our waterfall go-nogo decision, it’s right at 3:30, our cutoff time. We decide to go for it, and are treated to an awesome sight complete with a monkey that tried to hijack our rickshaw when we were at the falls. Two tasks left, and they’re both on the main path, and we are done! It’s beginning to look like a triumphal march into town.

Of course, with 50km to go, and a straight shot to Kanyakumari, our clutch goes again. We break down in a very rural area, and one of the homeowners comes out and invites us in for food and drink. We are too flustered and decide to wait roadside for the mechanics. 45 minutes later, we’re on the road again but it’s getting dark. The mechanics van is following us, and when we pull into a petrol station, they tune up the engine a bit. After that little tune-up, our top speed when from 50km to over 56km. If we ever do this again, I’m going to learn to tune an engine!

We arrive in Kanyakumari about 6:45, just after the 6:30 time when the judges start to calculate the results and the winner. We figure we’re in fine shape since we did all the challenges, and being just 15 minutes late should be well within any reasonable grace period.

At night there is an awards ceremony, complete with radio, newspaper, and TV reporters. Each team gives a 3 minute speech and then the organizers give awards to the top 8 teams. After 7 days, over 1400km, 3 clutches, two tires, a gear box, two muffler repairs, 28 teams from 12 countries, and over 65 participants, we’re proud to say Team Namascar was awarded the hotly contested and highly prized 2007-2008 Indian Autorickshaw Challenge World Championship. WORLD championship. J