We came, we saw, we didn’t exactly conquer.
Except, in a way — in many ways — we did.
The Rallye des Gazelles — the Gazelle Rally — in Morocco on paper looks like the epitome of adventure, the final frontier in personal challenges. It is even more. An international event in its 28th year, it pits teams of women against the unforgiving terrain of the Sahara desert in the most remote areas of Morocco for eight days. Shortest distance between two points wins, not speed. But those points, plotted with compasses and rulers on topographical maps, are elusive and sometimes impossible to find. Especially for a couple of newbies trying to learn hundreds of things simultaneously and realizing how overwhelming that is.
My sister (I was the driver, she the nav) put more than 2,000 kilometres on our truck in that time. Much of it was spent dipsy doodling around, terribly lost; the website supplies a real time overview of how teams are doing, and back home Gilly’s husband and our other sister, Roz, were yelling at their monitors.
Manny actually posted on Facebook, “I think they just found a shoe sale or something, not sure where they’re headed.”
Good thing we learned this later. I would have driven directly home and smacked him.
I’d realized on Day One that to report on this event while driving it was a near-impossible order. I’d mistaken my ability, and that of the Wi-Fi that never materialized at the bivouacs. On Day One, we hit a few checkpoints, and headed back so I could resolve filing issues. On Day Two, we found eight checkpoints by early afternoon. That is crazy good. So good, we decided to get the ninth and final checkpoint because, of course, we did.
When you go through big sand dunes, you drop your tire inflation. No problem. Got through the dunes.
On the other side, we faced endless rock. Sharp, endless rock. No problem. Got out the compressor. The compressor was busted. I had to creep the truck on extremely low tires for hours.
As night fell, we were on the edge of a monster cliff, unsure how to get down. I dropped it into an oued (a dried out river bed) at long last, but had no idea where we were. You can’t navigate in the pitch black; it’s so dangerous when you can’t see what you’re running over. We called for help to get back to camp (you try never to call for anything due to penalties) which I hated to do — there would be other nights we’d sleep in the desert and let the morning sun point us in our direction. But that night, I had to work, and it put us out of points contention though we were still able to compete in the entire race.
We were later told we were running third after our eight checkpoints that day. Out of 147 teams, this was our tiny moment of fleeting glory. When the mechanic showed me the busted compressor part, I finally cried.
The bivouacs reminded me of M*A*S*H episodes, complete with a helicopter overhead. I kept thinking we’d run into Hawkeye. You learn a whole new way of living, instantly. We each had a tent, but the first night was pretty cold so Gilly announced we’d share the little two man tent for warmth. Moroccan food is excellent, but we soon learned there is no winner in a chickpea battle in a pup tent.
We were pouring sand out of our boots and anchoring the tent with gear bags so it wouldn’t blow away in the incredible wind and sand storms they get. I faced the most extreme driving I’ve ever done, and I’ve done some extreme driving. We were tested so hard emotionally, physically and mentally with 4 a.m. wake-up calls in a cold, dark tent, with fear and frustration, with tears and elation.
We did this.