The Jostling Roar of Rickshaw and Spirit

Awoken in the jostling roar, I found my face inches from the Trident Thunderbolts’ front wheel.  Our hired berserker driver had been hurtling our beasts and our diesel-sooted selves for 18 hours across Java.  Stifling heat, exhaust, gas fumes, and the constant shaking to the point of launching in the air already resulted in one extended lean over the side to rid my stomach of its fanta and cracker contents.  I crawled out from under Rota and her poking brake cables to find another position to attempt sleep.  The truck from Surabaya being a bit short, the tuk-tuks slammed together the entire 26 hours—adding some cosmetic damage to the interior disorder of cable-tied carburetors, dismantled leaking brake lines, tenuous clutch cables, and falling off mufflers.  A mutual alliance of support with the Aussie team of Bay, Owen, and Buzz [dubbed T.R.A.P. Trans-archipelago Rickshaw Association Pact] resulted in our being the first teams to reach Sumatra and its waiting wonders.  The northside of Java never varied from its trash-strewn shanty-lined highways and decrepit cities of buzzing scooters, though our illegal toll-road highway attempt did end in a noteworthy police escort.

Rain thunder astounds.  We are in the jungle.  The green aliveness closed in on the road as a smothering sound.  The children dance, laugh, wave, and yell their “Hello Mister”‘s everywhere in Sumatra.

My hands are as black as this ink.  Blew a head gasket yesterday—Buzz soon had Rota’s engine flayed open and we roamed Krui for a non-existent new one until a trip to a dump procured us an aluminum scrap, which I fashioned into a new gasket with my leatherman and a hatchet.  Readjusted valves, fixed the carburetor, only to have the stabilizer bar snap in two a few km’s into the hills.  Buzz lashed the axle to the frame with rope and we limped along until the drive shaft disengaged and began thrashing the engine.  Immediately a truck offered a tow and we took it, breaking the T.R.A.P., lashing a huge rope around the cabin for the slow quiet return along the shore to Krui and its drunken fishermen.

Waiting in the rain in the Bajai, in a truck for a driver who inexplicably points to his shirt when questioned on our departure.  Another 27 hours yesterday on a truck, and another head gasket replacement—this one made with real tools.  25 hours to go from Padang to Lake Toba…

Rota gave one of her finest performances on the final day.  At 4:30am I gave her the final tune up in the rain, re-attaching the exhaust pipe with asbestos rope, adding oil, tying back the transmission linkage that had been slipping her into reverse from second or third with ubiquitous baling wire, and deciding to neglect the new but broken and dangling shock absorber.    We had arrived at the aptly named Tuk Tuk on the volcanic crater island in Lake Toba two evenings before via very slow truck through the highland monsoons, unloading just as the ferry was departing.  Waterfalls burst from the cliff edges and the placid lake reflected the clouds.  The locals in this stunning environment turned pleasant tourist village had been warring cannibals until the 1800’s.  A relaxing day scooting up for a beer and a view through the fields and small herds of water buffalo.

Rota had only 170km to do down to the battlefield plains of Medan, which would have been her longest day had she made it.  Gliding down the volcanic slopes, clutch engaged, leaning into curves to avoid tipping over, we felt hopeful.  Things, the world, and most notably the engine began to heat up.  Oil dripped out of, but had stopped circulating in the engine according to the ex-motorcycle racing champion mechanic who had fashioned the third and fateful head gasket.  A wrong turn near an unpronounceable city landed us in a field of scarecrows with a snapped clutch cable.  Buzz and I fixing it in the mud produced the usual 20 to 25 children and gawkers, a few photos and we were off to the main road.  In heavy traffic with about 7km to go we lost compression as the head gasket ruptured, putting an end to finishing under our own power.  Tied to the Thunderbolts, we began our ignominious traffic-choking final push[pull].  At the head of a long stoplight lineup the Trident ran out of gas, we pulled[pushed] her over, siphoned gas from Rota, had a quick soccer match, and continued, high-fiving the buses as we loitered.  We didn’t see the line of eight rickshaws in a corner of a playing field that was the finish line until we were past.  Owen jumped out–slowing the advancing army of scooters long enough to stall halfway though a u-turn.  Amid much honking and weaving we managed the half-block against one-way traffic and into the mud hole to finish at sundown.  It was abandoned, the other eight had been shipped there days before, the organizers had gotten bored and left for the finish party, and the rest were still scattered about Sumatra.

We were the only teams to finish on time wheels to the ground–if not under our own power.  In a technicality sort of way we won, the Mergansers being the only team to finish on time that had stayed with the rickshaw the entire trip, suffering [some would say needlessly, stupidly, or dangerously]  for over 70 hours perched on the back of a truck.   As we left her there in a puddle, I felt a large void open up inside me that had been filled with mechanico-logistic concern for Rota, and it felt good like adventure.

~ by Scott Hamilton Peters on October 24, 2012.

One Response to “The Jostling Roar of Rickshaw and Spirit”

  1. You are my hero Scott… your life! Love it.

    Barry Boyer

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