India 2016 | Rickshaw Run, Day 8: I Can’t Drive 55 in Bihar — 11 April

Welcome to Zombieland.

As our friend Anthony deadpanned, “Sure like to come into a hotel where they spray fabreze just before you walk into the room. Surely, it’s the hallmark of quality.” The Brits sure have a way of cutting to the core of matters and identify the singular point for us remember when we surely reminisce about it in the future.

Third night in a row where we have literally spent the night in a shithole. And that’s putting our current situation mildly. “Honestly, this must be worst of the hotels we’ve stayed in since coming here.” Ant is on a roll. And the Taj Mahal was a distant memory, though it was only two days ago.

“We have a window that won’t shut entirely, and every time I go over to try to shut it, another bug appears!” Anthony is writing my blog for me. And it reads better with a British accent.

No really — go back to the beginning and read this with a British accent… and now back to our regularly scheduled program…

We reconvened with Paul, Lisa and Anthony at the Taj Mahal. We had finished filming a happy birthday message to my brother. They had just finished filming their commercial for Boots. (In a couple months we would see versions of the finished video. Our tuk-tuk even made one of the clips, driving through a sandstorm. That was a fun moment.) The three of them and the three of us had decided to convoy the rest of the Rickshaw Run together. Knowing that were about to drive through zombieland, strength in numbers would be our strategy. We became fast friends, and in every way, they were simply lovely people. There was much laughter, much singing, and much dancing. I imagine someday in the future the six of us, and other friends we met along the way, would have a reunion and celebrate life, or at least celebrate surviving this adventure.

We drove almost 400 km today, had a tire flatten which quite fortunately was easy to replace. I felt super strong for a bit, tilting our tuk-tuk over, before I realized a thirteen-year-old could do it as well. Yup, this was definitely safe; and we were most certainly daft.

We were trying to beat the night. It was a constant battle, really — for several days now. Just after 4 PM, we still had 83 long km to go. The nighttime was the bitch. We’d mentioned it a lot in our videos, our conversations, and our writings, over and over again. That was the scariest thing because of the unknown the darkness brings and the way these fuckers drive. Being run off the road was commonplace. Having lorries enter into our lane from the opposite direction screaming their high-beams at the last minute heading straight towards us was a constant occurrence.

What was merely just commonplace by this point, and we shouldn’t have let it bother us as much as it did, rules were virtually nonexistent. Lanes were merely suggestions. Oversized cargo were stressing the limits of all the vehicles on the road. People riding bicycles dragging a cart were holding all sorts of unwieldy goods from point A to point B. None of it made sense. Yet all of it seemed to work.

It was Derek and Paul that we felt for the most, as they were usually the ones driving by this point. Our reward for a long day was an almost futile search for a hotel, being led by Google Maps which always decided to not work once we got into town, which always included heated conversations between us when the real culprit was an app that wouldn’t talk back to us. And then when we finally found a hotel, haggling heatedly over prices for the night, would put us over the edge.

Clearly we were tired and we were frustrated and our patience had gone out the window. As close as we were, we were also getting under each other’s skins. We were either mean quiet to each other, or conversations became significantly more elevated and animated than usual. And because we were such good friends, we didn’t pull punches either.

We were warned our journey from Agra to Darjeeling (or to Varanasi as some runners decided to visit) would be a drive through zombieland. What was once a thriving collection of communities central to Indian government which included the birthplace of Buddhism, Bihar had since the 70’s, lagged behind other Indian states in terms of economic output and social development. Perhaps because the seed had been planted with people’s warnings, I found no beauty in Bihar. The days were long and sweltering with temperatures well above 100 degrees. In retrospect and in conversations with Derek and DaveRisner, there was much to appreciate; and when I think really hard, I do remember the beautiful sunflower stalks and mustard fields. Yellow was a beautiful colour dominating our drive across the state. And the sunrises and sunsets were beautiful, the sun hanging in the sky like a big, bright orange ornament.

And this is the environment we’ve been thrust onto, and had been living the previous seven and will be for at least the next four days. We would tempt Becker & Fagan’s famous lyric over and over and over again. “Drink scotch whiskey all night long / And die behind the wheel.” Steely Dan is a lot more fun to listen to in the comforts of my own home; but for the foreseeable future, it was not to be.

Darjeeling could not come fast enough.

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