‘Make no mistake, it’s quite dangerous,’ says Jeff McMahan. ‘I’ll make sure our life insurance policies are paid up before we head out.’ McMahan is talking about The Adventurists Rickshaw Run, a charity race challenging teams to drive thousands of miles across India in an auto rickshaw. Unlike an ordinary rickshaw, the auto rickshaw is powered by a scooter rather than a pedal bike, but that still only leaves contenders with 150cc of engine power to traverse mountains and jungles – within a two week time limit. Why on earth would anybody agree to do that?
It’s all in the name of a good cause, of course. Or in this case, three. Money raised by participating teams goes to Frank Water Projects, funding cleanwater initiatives across India, and SOS Children’s Villages Bangladesh, which provides a new home and family for orphaned children in specially-built communities. McMahan’s Dubai-based team, Lucknow be 2 Ladies (more of that later), will also donate to their chosen charity, Carolina for Kibera, a US-based organisation giving aid to the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Still, it’s pretty crazy. Starting on April 11 and ending on April 26, challengers set out from Shillong in the far north east of India, practically on the border with Bangladesh, and (hopefully) finish up in Goa in the south west. It’s 5,000km of mountains and dirt tracks, rivers and ravines, stretching from one side of the Subcontinent to the other.
However, Lucknow be 2 Ladies, a team of two rickshaws and four people, have a secret weapon in McMahan. He finished first in the summer 2008 rickshaw run, taking just 10 days to complete the route. Though he won’t be repeating that this year. ‘We were four fraternity guys, pushing it as hard as we could to see what would happen,’ he says. ‘This time it’s not about coming in first, second or sixtieth, it’s about experiencing India.’
Perhaps this less testosterone-fuelled approach results from the fact that half of Lucknow be 2 Ladies is female (hence the name). British nationals Phillippa Daniels and Helen Ahern are more than ready for the challenge. ‘It’s going to really take us out of our comfort zone and that’s something I’m looking for. I want to be scared,’ says Daniels. ‘It’s a great way to see India first-hand, rather than staying in luxury resorts,’ adds Ahern. (The fourth team member, Jason Lewis, is currently in the United States).
But there are no guarantees McMahan’s past expertise will help Lucknow be 2 Ladies. The Adventurists Rickshaw Run – usually a twice yearly event, but happening three times in 2009 – changes route each time to keep things interesting. And, with no fixed directions, and no support team to mend dishevelled rickshaws along the way, it’s not certain everyone will finish. Luckily, this team – which believes itself to be the only one taking part from the Middle East – has yet another secret weapon. West Coast Customs, the company made famous by MTV’s Pimp My Ride, has agreed to pimp their rickshaws.
According to McMahan, getting support from West Coast Customs was no big deal. ‘I just walked in the door and asked,’ he says. ‘They’re a good bunch and they want to help people. I’m excited to see what they come up with.’ Apparently, pimping a rickshaw will be more about comfy seats and a bigger battery than disco balls and fl at-screen TVs. Although McMahan admits he’s hoping for a subwoofer stereo system. Isn’t driving such a souped-up rickshaw cheating? ‘I think it might make us slower actually, what with all the extra weight,’ Daniels points out.
All of this madness aside, let’s not forget that Lucknow be 2 Ladies are risking their lives on this jaunt to help others. They’ve raised Dhs62,500 so far – no mean feat – but have set a rather ambitious target of Dhs368,000. ‘The money we’ve raised so far has been from corporate sponsors, we haven’t actually reached out to friends or family yet,’ says Ahern. And although it’s unlikely friends and family will account for all of the remaining Dhs305,500, the team has two months after the event to raise money, too. In fact, they come up with a cunning fund-raising plan while talking to Time Out. ‘A lot of people waved at us as we were driving last time, and we thought it was because our rickshaws looked so cool,’ says McMahan. ‘Then we realised people were trying to stop us because they thought we were a taxi.’ ‘Ooh,’ chimes in Daniels. ‘We could make money on the way!’
Who are The Adventurists?
• The Adventurists are a UK-based company who raise money by setting adventure challenges around the world.
• The group makes it clear such challenges are dangerous. ‘Your chance of dying can be very high, some past teams have been seriously injured,’ says the website.
• Other adventures include the Mongol Rally and the Mototaxi Junket in Paraguay.