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.