heels on fire: 05/02/06

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Start, The Stops and The (In)Sights In Between

Day 1 Running (May 1st, 2006)
Bekal Fort to Kanhangad - 14kms

As we drove out to Bekal Fort the starting point of our run, the street was unexpectedly lined with rows of police in helmets and Dhandas (sticks) in hand. Maybe a precaution against the thousands of women who were expected to be lining the streets trying to catch the eye of their future husband. I had thought Robin was joking when he said he was going to create a matrimonial section on the heels on fire website, offering Steve and Pete up for marriage. Or maybe it had something to do with the previous day’s Times of India headline warning of "An explosion of some incidents of minor violence" in North Kerala. Whatever the reason, there was an electricity and emotion in the air that seemed fitting for the start of our adventure.

We had been properly blessed to run. Warming up in our sparkling New Balance running shoes, Reebok Shirts, North Face Camel pack filled with Gatorade, a couple of Go Gel's high energy protein gel's and a Walkie Talkie clipped on to the bag, we felt ready. All that was needed to top it off was for the big seagull, circling overhead to unload its bowels directly onto my head… How could one hope for a more auspicious start?

Bekal Fort the start of our journey had an almost spiritual feeling to it. The sun low in the sky, the fort built into the wide Arabian Sea behind and the golden beaches lined with coconut trees stretching away into the distance north and southwards. Pete said he felt humbled beginning to run and it was true it was very humbling to be here. For Dez, Sudeep and Steve too, it was a place of pilgrimage as they noted that one of Bollywood’s biggest hits were filmed at this very location. Another good omen.

So as we looked up at the fort and as we began to run two steps in, Director Dez already set the tone of things to come with his "No no go back, we were not ready!". So back we went a few moments more to savour and then off we set again.

The Sights…

Along the shore and up the large steps of the fort, into the main grounds, round the big defence walls and out onto the road. The last six weeks have felt like years but now we were finally on the road and although our bodies were not too happy about it, it was great to be running.

Two minutes in and a rickshaw driver pulled up beside us and asked if we wanted a lift. Did we look that bad? I hoped that this was an example of the friendliness of the Keralites and not an indication that we appeared to need assistance so soon.

On we ran, struggling to get air into our lungs and quickly realising that our initial relief at the conditions were short-lived. It was hot. Really hot and humid. A railway crossing halted our progress after 5 minutes. And we took this opportunity to dump our sunglasses, sun hats, water bottle; it was too much to be carrying in the heat. We ran under great Banyan trees famous for giving Buddha his seat to enlightenment, and sought brief moments of refuge under its shady branches. We ran over bridges with wide rivers flowing underneath, past women pulling water from a well, men playing cards and dogs eyeing up Pete's juicy ankles.

As we ran Dez, Sundeep and Steve would pop up on the roadside like the great Cayote stalking roadrunner. At one point we could see up ahead, Dez behind the camera, with 60 people on the roadside. We ran by, flattered that so many people had gathered to watch us. Only when we ran past did we realise, with not one pair of eyes flickering in our direction, that it was the three filmmakers and the camera that everyone was there to see.

At the next stop, Sudeep was standing on the roof of the jeep. Again surrounded by crowds of perplexed admirers.

As we ran, on came a crackle on our walkie-talkie. It was Steve, "Could we please cross over and run on the other side of the road"….it was easier a good ‘filming angle’. We were now also expected to run with our backs to the kamakazi like bus drivers. But in our minds, we were dedicated athletes…did they have no respect?!

The In Betweens…

The going continued to be tough till Pete offered me some wise advice. Don't count up in terms of distance... count down instead as it makes it feel like you are getting somewhere. So 600km, 599km 598km.... I was not convinced of the motivational use this trick of the mind. Drink before you are thirsty, look people in the eye and feed off their emotions. Keep your feet close to the ground. His words seemed to do the trick and our bodies started to get into the groove. Being the subject of such interest from everyone as we ran, I was struck by something. The way in which Pete relates to people as he runs. He engages the world around him and in particular the people.
I, in contrast, found myself feeling a sense of embarrassment and perhaps even a bit ashamed. Looking people in the eye and people looking at me I felt exposed and open for all to see. It was hard work and I was struggling. I almost felt there was something fraudulent about being there. In order to escape both the physical and mental discomfort of the situation and distract myself from the world around me, I tried to daydream. But day-dreaming while running is hard. Soon, I found myself starting to appreciate the feelings I was having and the fact that I couldn’t get away from them. And I began to feel more and more like I was part of the run, the landscape the people. Instead of trying to drift off, I focused on my own pain, not as an attempt to get rid of it but to face it. And I really liked it. Once on the road there is nowhere to run. Running had already taught me a very important lesson.

As we pulled into the town centre, the final stretch, the prayer calls were ringing from the mosque and the sun was bidding us farewell with just a few rays breaking through the Banyan trees. It had been a very special day and one that I was pleased to say had come to an end. And I thought to myself maybe it was not just shade that the big, wise old trees banyan trees had provided.
Photocredit: Gaya, Kerala 2005

India awaits

Day 1 (28th April 2006) - Leaving London

The Awakening
After frantic weeks of intense running; run preparation; sleepless nights, and growing trepidation, the day of departure arrived with a surreal sense of calm. I woke up and lay in bed for a while thinking that the next time
I sleep in my own bed, things could be very different.

Meandering through my flat, between washing machine, kettle, & computer was all rosy, until I hit the mountain of luggage that had piled up. The creeping bits and pieces had mutated to box loads of running kit, protein powders, electrolyte mixes, supplements and the Mother of All First Aid Kits (courtesy of Getting all this equipment, a guitar, and luggage onto the flight, was not going contribute to a joyous departure.

The Great Luggage Fiasco
At the airport, the great luggage fiasco unfolded. The details of the palaver would bring tears to the eyes of an undertaker. To add to the drama there were rumours of flight changes to contend with. In the end we confidently explained that the boxes were full of medicines (we only implied that they would be for projects we would come across). We were very lucky; some sweet talking charm opened the luggage carrier.

Ninja's in the Night
On the flight, the ordeal of getting on board was all forgotten. At about 1am, like ninja's in the dead of night, Rahul and I crept through the snoring masses to join Stevie Young in the luxury of the premier section of Virgin Airlines. We eventually found him in a crevice of his seat (the
seats were that big!), and managed to win the flight attendants over with our fluttering eyelashes; they, in return, pampered us rotten. Rahul's mother told me that Rahul is a man of many talents - winning hearts and minds of flight attendants is definitely one.

Introducing Young Stevie
So who is Stevie Young? Young Stevie (24 years old) is a cinema photographer and filmmaker. Well, he will be by the time he finishes this trip. I have known Stevie since he was a wee whippersnapper of a kid growing up in Northern Ireland. We moved mountains to gain Stevie's
'mad-adventure-of-a-life-time visa'. He has never been to India before -so you are going to enjoy the freshness of a new pair of eyes to an amazing country.

Sweet Landing
We have blank canvas in front of us, with luggage loads of potential to paint with! We're aiming for a masterpiece 'Picasso' guys! We are seeking to make the best of what we have; to find a balance between you around the world, the run itself, and to the people we are about to meet.

Speaking on behalf of Stevie and Rahul (who are currently drooling into their tea bag sized pillows) I know that we are nervous, but extremely
excited about the potential for this canvas.
We land into rush hour Delhi and a press conference in a couple of hours.

My pillow back in London is now thousands of miles behind me. New
adventures and a large of amount of pain wait ahead.

Writing to you from Virgin Atlantic Flight, London to Delhi

Photo credit: Lindsey Block

Launch Party Update

26th April 2006
Well in case you've forgotton the face of the 'heels on fire frontrunner' already, here's a picture from the launch party that took place on the eve of the team's departure. Throughout the night, there was a lot of mingling between the many 'like minds' and the room was buzzing with interest and enthusiam (and yes that was before the sambucas were bought!). Congratulations to all who helped arrange the event and many thanks of course to those who came to show their support. The room was packed with friends and family of Pete and Rahul as well as many others from all the wider networks made, all there to hear about the big adventure. Though Dez couldn't be there, rest assured that he was impressively represented in spirit, with his photos projected as a slideshow forming the backdrop of the evening.
Most importantly, the night also provided the opportunity for Rahul and Pete's mums, 'the original intrepid travellers' to meet each other and compare stories of their own travel adventures in the sixties, when they both drove overland to India from Europe in their Morris Minors.

All round, a great kick off!


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