Rallye des Gazelles Maroc – The Gazelle Rally


Can’t believe it’s over! Gillian and I had the adventure of a lifetime; corny but true. We didn’t kill each other and when we got home, she did all the laundry, so I take it that she still loves me. We slept in the desert; we slept in an airport; we peed in the great outdoors. These are all things Gilly raised an eyebrow at just two weeks ago. Now, she is badass.

You can go to the official Rally page for tons of info, but I’m posting our words and pics here because we’re the ones who hauled you along for this ride. We met some of the most amazing women who made this so much more than the sum of its parts. For people who wondered what the hell we were doing some days as we wandered far from the course, well, we wondered too. I cannot begin to explain how difficult this is for first timers to understand: what it looks like on a map or in a classroom just doesn’t translate.

Once you find a way to finally start interpreting what you’re seeing, you have to drive across everything. Everything. I prefer not to drive over big mountains. Call me weird. We had an array of mechanical issues, with tires becoming the bane of my existence. A broken compressor meant coming out of sand dunes on basically flat tires and facing an endless sea of jagged volcanic rock. We ended up stranded on the edge of a gnarly rock ledge, desperately trying to pick our way down before sunset – on those sand level tires. I do not recommend this.

We got stranded another night, and the headlights we finally saw didn’t signal that the highway was near. It was an organization truck telling us to camp for the night. You can’t get from here to there, we were told. Like the stubborn Sommerfeld women we are, we drove a few more kilometres before finally packing it in. Our babysitters – the four men in that truck – were over the ridge keeping a watchful eye. Nobody is really alone out here, they keep you very safe. I will admit now that I had an evil plan: I know they set up camp just out of sight. I proposed to Gilly that we wait an hour, then pull up stakes and head out in the dark again. That would mean 4 men would have to decamp and follow us, after they were all comfy and drinking beers. I imagine.

Instead we ripped open all our ration boxes to make a buffet. We had a little bottle of champagne from a sponsor; I hate champagne but Gilly loves it, so I let her have it. She wouldn’t let me eat anything in the boxes that was stinky (like tuna) or that could make me stinky (like chili con carne). I pouted and we ate the candies and crackers, but I had to admit, the chick pea battle that had ensued in the pup tent another night had really produced no winners.

We learned so much doing this rally. We learned to follow donkey poop when you could, because donkeys take the easiest route. We learned that pistes – little road-like things – can lead somewhere, or nowhere, and you can be on the right one, or one of the thousand wrong ones. You can follow all the tracks you like, but you have no idea whose they are, or if they’re as lost as you are.

Our first night, we met the amazing Susanne Riel and her partner Sandrine Lang who have done the rally multiple times. “Just ask me anything you like,” said this angel. She’s an engineer with Mercedes in Germany, and speaks French and English and no doubt other languages. She saved us. Sandrine speaks no English, but every time we saw her, she would just yell, “je t’aime!” and catch us in a bear hug. I love Team 131. They finished 6th. This is infreakingcredible.

Team 121 – the two Saras from Morocco. Great competitors and wonderful smiles, and again, so much kindness from people who quickly stopped being strangers.

In the pictures, you’ll see a fellow Canadian who lives in Paris, Francine Abgrall, on the hood of our truck with us. She and partner Suzie Wadsworth, an Aussie who kept us in stitches, made up Team 170 and had an outstanding first time out. I was in awe of their capabilities, but even more taken with Suzie thinking the bivouac was pronounced “beaverwhack”. Never change, Suzie.

Pascale and Nathalie – you rock.

Most of the headlines this year were surrounding Princess Jazmin Grimaldi (of the Monaco Grimaldis) and Kiera Chaplin (of the Charlies). Lovely women, both, and Jazmin is a little strip of a thing who sat at our table her first night at the hotel and proceeded to polish off two plates of food. I loved her immediately. She would remain a highlight of the event for Gilly and I, her Canadian mamas. They drove the frustrating electric class, yet persevered and never gave up.

The driving was the most demanding of my life. The topography changes in the blink of an eye, from sand to rock to other rock to more rock to sand to plants to prickle bushes to rock. Did I mention the rock? Wind storms were fierce, whipping sand hard enough to do a little Sahara dermabrasion. We were cleaning and blowing sand out of places that surprised both of us.

We shared our little tent, which Gilly kept immaculately maintained until I crawled in and promptly lost or broke everything. I kept losing flashlights. And my toothbrush. And my flipflops. And my brush. And my shoes. And my socks. And my pills. And the first aid kit. She found it all. Over and over. Though one night she was tutting over the fact I’d lost a flashlight again (it’s very difficult to go into a crapper that’s about a foot square, holding your own toilet paper, grapple with your pants and remember to take the flashlight you hung on the little hook with you. Seriously. You try it) and I was apologizing for losing it. As we walked along, I realized she’d stopped talking. “You found it, didn’t you?” I accused her. She had. She’d had both all along but enjoyed watching me beat myself up.

Language is a barrier at this event. If you don’t speak French, you are at a disadvantage. We made fast friends with the Americans, Martine Capalbo and Elena Sorre. We told Martine we thought she spoke French with that name. She howled her gravelly infectious laugh, and said no. She was as lost as we were without our translator, the eternally patient Heather Meeks. I worried we’d let our nav trainer, Louise Bergeron, down with our chronic getting lostness. All you can do is get up at 4am and try again. So we kept doing that.

I was supposed to have an English mechanic, but our little dude spoke not a word of English. It was a challenge, especially when things mucked up. Our transmission was stuck in low one day, as we traipsed home on the highway for over 2 hours. If you were watching from home, THAT IS WHAT WE WERE DOING. The good news is in this part of the world, everybody shares the roads because there are so few of them, so you can go 20 km/hr and someone is always going slower.

We couldn’t have done this without our sponsors. #Gamma Powersports in Orillia, Ontario, came through like a champ. The #GMAX helmets with their pink butterflies that we had to wear all day long (yes, Gilly, you have to keep your helmet on) were awesome. The #FLY Racing shirts were so light we could wear them in the shower to clean them up and they’d dry on the tent in five minutes. I tore open my hand the first morning and had to have it bandaged each day; it was a FLY glove that kept it together and let me still drive and dig sand. Everything we carried would have been everywhere if it weren’t for a huge selection of #RokStraps – we even got them in pink! #Dragon Goggles saved us from the sand storms. At first you worry about looking dorky wearing them with a baseball cap. You do look dorky. And then you cease to care. #Coleman, thanks for the headlamps and sleeping bags! To the editors at #driving.ca – Neil and Nick – thanks for being so patient with me. I stamped on every last nerve, I’m quite certain.

Gilly and I stickered the truck, our first time. I will be eternally grateful to NRGgraphics who not only made all the stickers for everybody at the last minute, but also laid out a plan so we could get them on right. Yes, that is bird poop on the roof. If you think it looks gross, you should try stickering around it.

I’ll be posting more articles as they appear but thank you so much to everybody who sent messages of support and love, to anyone who has checked in here to see if we’re still alive, and to our families who now have to listen to endless stories. You are truly the best.

Rainey and Gilly

More articles if you’re interested: Okay, none of these links are working properly because blogger is dumb. Or something. If you can’t find them, email and I’ll send them! Or, hit the Googler ;)
Driving.ca – blog I kept during the rally
Motherlode – column while we were away
Facebook recap – it’s public, if you’re on Facebook; this is where there are far more pictures.

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Lemon-Aid is back!

And, I can finally link! After it runs each weekend on CHCH and Bloomberg, I can post entire shows!

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The Lemon Aid Car Show is back for a 6th season, but we’re off cable and onto a network! Starting September 9th, the show will be debuting on CHCH TV and Bloomberg TV Canada. That’s pretty cool, and I’m happy about it. We started taping yesterday at a spanky new studio, the show will have a slightly different format so there will be some growing pains, but it was a great day.

If you still have TV, I hope you’ll tune in. Not sure what time it’s on yet.

Started the show off with the perfect car. If you ask me. Which you didn’t.21055280_10155511005464693_378127952161849563_o

Oh, and Pammy is my wardrobe stylist (pay, credit and everything!) and she LET ME WEAR CAMO! I still can’t believe it. I’m gonna go buy more camo. Sorry, Pamster.

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Meet Paco

We have a new addition to the family. This is Paco. Pammy and Christer got him from a rescue in Georgia. He is a year old, and a total baby. Sooooo darling. Alfie was aloof and a little bewildered at first (“why would you need another one?”) but has settled in nicely. They are buds. I babysat today. Within a few minutes, both were up on my lap as I sat on my hammock swing thing. So much for getting some work done. They are both rat terrier chihuahuas, which means some gene pools can do some crazy things when you get going.

I’ve renamed them A-Pacolypse and Alfiegeddon.

alfie and paco

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My back deck

Had an extra planter.


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Rediscovering the lost art of asking for directions

Modern GPS may be handy, but it can’t match the experience of meeting the locals

Originally published June 26, 2017

It was once just the stereotypical domain of men to never, ever ask for directions. I know this is at least anecdotally true because I had a stubborn father; I know there might be some kind of gender thing at its root because I have a son who can figure out where he is in the middle of a jungle or a desert without a map. I get hopelessly lost in malls.

Google Maps and navigation systems have solved many, many problems. They’ve become incredibly good at saving lost travellers and helping us weave around obstructions and chaos in unfamiliar places. But I was recently reminded of the very real limitations of technology by experiencing the pricelessness of human connection.

I was in a strange place en route to an even stranger concert when I found myself parked in a bar with an hour to kill. Small towns offer up amiable places, where even if you’re new there are always people around who like to bring you up to speed on the locals as you sit in their local. As we sat at the bar pondering the specials, we mentioned we weren’t far away from our final destination. The bartender raised an eyebrow.

“Maybe not in miles, but it’s gonna be crazy trying to get there,” he said. He paused, and I watched him do a calculation in his head. “Okay, when you leave here, head to Erie Street,” he began. By the time he’d reached the third turn and the second traffic circle, he’d lost me. I smiled and asked him to start again. I also realized that Steve, the bartender, was doing what I do at home: telling people to follow the river or look for a famous local marker – in this case, a blue barn – makes perfect sense. If you’re a local. His earnestness at the traffic we would be heading into made me stick with him, though.

The navigation system in the Nissan I was driving had been perfect, I told him, even snaking us precisely down myriad old streets in a town established in the 1600s, when navigation meant looking up at the sky instead of poking buttons on the dashboard. Alternate systems could be consulted should I need to do my usual rock, paper, scissors when faced with competing instructions. We’ve gone from not enough information to way too much. A paper foldout map was tucked somewhere in my bag, though it’s occurred to me the only people likely to still consult them are the ones whose eyesight is too terrible to read them. Like me.

Conversation turned to the locally made beers as the bartender headed to his side of the bench, and I fiddled with my phone contemplating the next best moves. I hoped we’d at least stumble on the blue barn.

Ten minutes later, Steve was back.

“Here,” he said. He handed me two slips of paper, old school bar tabs. On them, he’d written explicit directions to get us out of town and to our destination. Placing them on the bar, he proceeded to run down each line, noting where there was construction.

I don’t need much of a reason to take a road trip to anywhere, at any time. I like to ramble and poke about, and discover instead of fly past. The reason we’d even landed at this bar was because we’d asked the owner of the funky little hotel we’d stayed at where we could grab an early dinner. I looked at the instructions before me, and smiled to myself. This is where the road should lead, I thought. Those cars that make these road trips so easy are simultaneously taking away the very essence of what those trips used to be, and still should be. If I never have to leave my car, if I can order food by shouting into a speaker, dial up directions by scrolling through screens and rarely have to stop for fuel, I am driving a technological marvel but losing out on the human experience.

I’m the first one to tout the significance of how safe I now feel when I travel, especial when I’m alone. But if my parents lamented a generation lost to knowing how to read a paper map, I’m wondering if mine will note the loss of one who doesn’t need the people of the places it passes through.

The scribbled directions spit us out near the entrance to the venue, saving us a lot of time, as promised. Returning that night was a straight shot back, the one all our systems had proposed earlier.

And the blue barn was right where Steve said it would be.

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Wanna read something cool?

Read this.

You’re welcome. Oh, and hi.

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I love this

Some days are just a little tougher to get through than others…I loooove this ten hour ambient noise video from my editor (who is suffering along with me; last week he sent me kitten videos because commenters were being so stoopid, and sometimes, only a kitten video will cure that).

Anyway, I’m finding this mesmerizing. My very favourite thing is to be stranded by a winter storm, and this sounds like that.

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…and back!


It was amazing. I overwork that word a lot, but it truly was. I’m grateful for all the encouragement I got – even Roz managed to keep her “oh, geez, why is she doing this?” under control, and the offers to post bail. I still have my friend’s phone number Sharpied on my arm, in case we got separated or arrested because a bunch of women wearing pink hats poses a huge threat to national security, right? Instead, well, you’ve seen the reports. Around 4 million people peacefully gather for the largest protest in American history. I had friends at the marches in L.A., Atlanta, Austin, Toronto and with me in Boston.

And this morning, Trump has signed orders cancelling any international funding on abortion, which is actually a dagger to women’s healthcare and we all know it. Harper did in 2010. Wait for Roe v Wade to be reopened; this menace has to be stopped, and watch the crowds get bigger to make sure it happens.

Oh, and if you consistently can’t get a comment on my blog approved? It’s because you’re a troll and I know who you are and though I could report you to my newspaper editors at the time when you came at me there (and I did), I don’t have to allow you on my blog. Move along.

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Boston bound…

…to march.

I wanted to go to Washington, but by the time I realized it, it was too late to secure a bus pass and get close to the heart of the action. So instead, I’m cruising through New Hampshire tomorrow, grabbing three friends and we’re going to the Boston march. I am going to make a sign. I had a Twitter follower offer to make me a pink hat – she actually went and bought the wool and knitted the hat in a day. I’m on my way to pick it up. I mistakenly referred to it as a kitten hat before someone corrected me. The whole point, of course, is to parody Rude Donald’s pussy comment. I will wear a pussy hat.

Nissan has allowed me to take a glorious blue Q60 with me – thank you. On the way back on Sunday, I’m taking a couple hours to detour through the Finger Lakes region for some more research I need to do on another project…and hopefully lots of stories to tell about standing with my American friends in the face of that Fascist they elected south of the border.

Gotta do something.

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