We are Les Escargots – Richard Williams and George Gray – two Brits who live in France and decided to tackle the Rickshaw Run at the ripe old ages of 49 and 66.
Young Richard, who lives near Chatillon-sur-Seine in Burgundy, used to fly helicopters for the Royal Navy. He also manages to keep two Land-Rovers on the road, which makes him think he’s pretty handy with engineering; fortunately, this was never put to the test on the run.
A slightly less youthful George took early retirement 11 years ago after a career in journalism, mostly spent in Yorkshire. Since then he’s also lived in Burgundy – in the Morvan, about an hour from Richard – and seems to be busier than ever.
When we decided to do the January 2018 Rickshaw Run, we thought the biggest challenge would be raising enough money for charity to keep the organisers happy, and we set ourselves the surely unachievable target of £1,000. We set up a website (www.tuktukescargots.com), a Facebook page and a Cool Earth campaign page to collect donations and also fired off some emails.
The response was nothing short of amazing. Some of our sponsors were inspired by the craziness of the adventure, others by the value and importance of Cool Earth’s work, and some by both.
As one of our biggest supporters said: “What a great trip and worthy cause! We’ll be sending in our donation today! Have a great time!”
Well, it was, it is, and we did.
Amazingly we had no breakdowns on the whole 3,551km from Jaisalmer to Kochi, just a slow puncture – fixed for 50 rupees (55p) – and a speedometer drive failure. We’d just stopped to investigate that when two grimy mechanics wielding enormous spanners ran across the road to help us. We said it wasn’t really a problem, so they gave our tuk-tuk a free grease service!
Every day on the road was a pleasure because of the wonderful reception we had everywhere. Passing motorcyclists tried to get us to stop for a selfie; there was always a warm welcome when we stopped for breakfast samosas or a cup of chai; children and not a few adults smiled and waved. Perhaps the most amazing reaction was the send-off after an overnight stop at the Royal Palace Hotel, in Jalgoan. It seemed the entire hotel staff had turned out to cheer and clap as the doorman guided us out of our parking space with much whistle-blowing to stop the passing traffic.
Our destination that night was Aurangabad and the cheap but very cheerful Family Inn. The owners, Zamir and Mustafa, were amazingly helpful – even taking our tuk-tuk away to get the speedo repaired!
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. As we headed further south, we were looking for a place to stay along the N52. Unfortunately, road widening meant all the hotels had been demolished! It was beginning to get dark so, we turned off and tried a few hotels, to discover that in this area ‘hotel’ means café and if you want a hotel you need to look for a lodge. With this valuable lesson learned, we groped on through the dark on a badly pot-holed road for about an hour before finding a bed.
Tuk-tuks are pretty flimsy things, but they’re remarkably gutsy, as ours proved towards the end of the trip when we climbed the 2,240 metres from sea-level to the old British hill-station of Ooty. The hairpin bends are numbered (1 to 40), and, although we were in first gear a lot of the way, we arrived in time for a couple of beers in the ‘Cheers’ bar before dinner. It was here that the strain of spending two weeks cooped up in a motorised biscuit tin finally boiled to the surface.
The conversation went something like this:
“Richard, there’s something I need to get off my chest.”
“OK. Fire away.”
“When you said ‘less’ just then, it should be ‘fewer’. Sorry, but it really annoys me.”
“Well, if that’s the worst thing you can say to me after two weeks on the road together, I reckon we’ve done all right!”
Grammar may not be Richard’s strong point, but he was right about that – we got on amazingly considering we hadn’t known each other for very long before the trip. So well, in fact, that we may just have to do it all again…