At risk of inciting any "That's what she said!" outbursts, I'd like to go on record as saying that the Gazelle Rally was the hardest thing I've ever done. 8 days of competition in Morocco, driving 4x4 trucks to checkpoints using only a compass and an old map, through dunes and washes, over camel grass and rock fields, without chase vehicles or pit stops.
I feel pretty proud of where we ended up, slightly better than average at 38th out of 84 in first participants, and 70th out of 150 overall. In the Isuzu Media Challenge we earned a top ten finish, although it was not enough to win any money for our charity, FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered.
We suffered through fatigue, 3 flat tires, getting stuck in camel grass (large mounds of soft sand half as tall as the truck with razor sharp grass growing out the top) and dunes, airing up of tires, airing down of tires, a bent frame, trying to drive at night with only stock headlights, and hours of navigation frustration. We got up everyday at 4am, were in the car for at least 12 hours everyday, ate French rations (which actually are crazy good), camped out every night, showered less than we wanted, and basically had a layer of dirt on us the entire time.
And I can't wait to go back.
Since this is a rally about shortest distance between checkpoints, and not fastest time, you are free to pick your own route. You are also free to help other Gazelles. We towed out two teams, and collaborated with many others, especially in the dunes. There were intermediate and advanced dune checkpoints, and we chose the easier of the two. Driving in this size of a dune, the highest being 20 feet or so, was not terribly difficult; just air down your tires and keep your revs up, scout before going over and don't stop unless you're pointing downhill. But how the hell do you keep a heading? The organizers recognize this dilemma and you are allowed to follow other trucks through the dunes. On each day of dune driving we collaborated with another team to get us to the check points...and by collaboration I mean at one point we played Rock Paper Scissors with a team from Gabon to decide which way to go.
Perhaps our most frustrating moment was finding ourselves on the wrong side of a mountain but saw this beautiful road going up over the top. It was cut right through a field of rocks. It was so new, so pristine, so full of promise. We took it, thinking it had to lead to a smart place. At one point it was fairly steep and I had to put the truck in low. No big deal, but it took a bit of work. When we got to the top....NO MORE ROAD! It just stopped! They were obviously planning on continuing the road as you could see the markers, but it was not passable. Writing it now it doesn't seem like a big deal, but at the time we both got out of the truck and cursed the universe. We decided to make the best of it, however, so we took some pictures, pooped, and dubbed it the Piste of Shit Road ("piste" being the French word for "track").
The scope of this rally is very difficult to describe. You can't know what it's like until you actually get there. I will say that I am coming away from it with more confidence in my abilities and stamina. I realize that no matter what happens to me out there in any other race I do, I will make it home. With my Gazelle spirit, I'll make it home.
More photos of all the US teams can be found on Facebook and I'm happy to answer any questions you have if you want to become a Gazelle. The only requirement is that you be female and have a sense of adventure. Hit me up on the Twitter.