We have made it to the finish line.
There is duct tape holding our spark plug in place and our brake pads gave out thirty minutes ago. We have limped to the finish line, really. But that doesn’t matter because we are here.
We have driven over 3,000 kilometers through the rural villages and roaring cities of India in a rickshaw. And now we have arrived where we intended with all of our limbs still attached to our bodies. We survived! It already seems impossible that we did it. But we did it.
We pull into the grassy lot behind the finish line. There are a few other rickshaw runners loitering about. A man sells chai from the back of his bicycle. We unceremoniously sign the arrivals board. Someone hands us each a certificate to signify our achievement.
I wander the grounds looking for a place to turn in the rickshaw keys. I don’t want this responsibility anymore. I feel like I have just spent two weeks babysitting the worlds worst child and now her parents have returned to fetch her. “TAKE HER BACK,” I want to scream, “I WILL NEVER WATCH THAT BRAT AGAIN!”
Except, I would watch her again. I know this in a heartbeat. Because even when this crazy adventure was bad it was still good. It was frustrating and shocking and exhausting and sad, but it was always also good.
And the best parts were magical. The best parts cracked me open and sprinkled a mystical dust over my life. The best parts reaffirmed for me that people are good, that life is big and beautiful even in its small moments, and that money doesn’t have a thing to do with our capacity to give.
It must be said. The best parts of this journey changed my life.
The Adventurists are throwing a party for the rickshaw runners tonight. There’s a dance floor and a buffet dinner and a bar. There are dozens of round tables with clean, white tablecloths. It’s like a wedding reception filled with hundreds of guests that have black grime caked to their skin and rosy, wind-burned cheeks.
We order Kingfishers and reunite with some of our favorite teams. We see the Cowabunga Dudes, who saved us on day one. It’s like seeing old friends. They were the first in a long line of people who helped us along the way. It’s fun to hear about their journey.
We hear the tales of the crashes and the breakdowns. Some teams haven’t even made it to Cochin yet. One team is in the hospital in Goa with a raging case of Delhi Belly. So, it could have been worse. Still, I haven’t met another team who broke down as much as we did.
We sit around a table under a humid Indian sky. It is 1 a.m. then 2 a.m. and we are drinking Kingfishers and laughing. I feel giddy with happiness and freedom. All of these people completed the same daunting task but we had such different experiences. One thing, though, we shared: India took care of us all.
Back in my “normal” life, before I chucked it all to come explore the world, I rarely left the comfort of my routine. I woke up, ate breakfast, and went to work. I went to the same gym and the same restaurants and took the same bus. I shopped at the same stores. I met the same people for lunch. It’s nice, that kind of life, because it’s predictable and minimizes stress. But it doesn’t leave much room for the unexpected.
Back in my old life if my
rickshaw car broke down I’d call my husband or my friends or AAA. The universe didn’t need to work its magic because I had people to lean on. I sent out a subliminal message: Don’t worry universe, I’ve got this covered.
And so I never let the universe surprise me, and I never let other people surprise me. I’d built my life into a navigable, manageable thing.
But out here in the world, and out there on the Rickshaw Run, I had to trust in the magic of things. I had to hope that the right person would come along at the right time. I had to believe that help would arrive. I had to put my trust in the unexplainable beauty of what? Chance? Coincidence? God? I don’t know what the word is but I know that it is. And so I laid my trust down like an open palm, like an offering. I said, “Take it.” And then I was blown away with kindness.
It is perhaps the biggest lesson that I have learned from traveling and the lesson that I re-learned over and over again during the Rickshaw Run: You have to trust. And you have to give people the room to surprise you.
I agreed to do the Rickshaw Run because it scared me. I agreed to do it because I wasn’t sure that I could do it but I knew that if I did do it the journey would reward me.
And I did it.
And it did reward me.
I was rewarded with a renewed faith in myself and how I handle situations that are hard and stressful and uncertain. I was rewarded with the blessings of the kindness and generosity of the people of India who took us in and welcomed us and helped us when we needed helping. That does something to you, being the receiver of that kind of kindness.
I was rewarded with the sights and sounds of a beautiful, colorful, complicated country that I would not have seen from a plane or a train or a tourist car and that I certainly never would have seen had I never taken a chance on myself and stepped away from the comforts of my home.
I was rewarded by Mother India who held out her arms to me, pulled me to her breast and said “Welcome, child. You are welcomed here.”
And, perhaps best of all, I was rewarded with the chance to do a hard thing: To accept love, to accept kindness, and to say simply, humbly, “thank you.”
And thank you to the 83 wonderful people who donated to FRANK Water in support of Team Namaste Outta My Way. You raised over $4,500 for FRANK Water. Your donations help them continue to set up sustainable, community-owned clean water projects in some of the poorest villages in India.
Read my other posts about the Rickshaw Run here.