By Carmen Madrid
Marathon legs of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles are no picnic--or are they?
The Gazelles have no hot showers during the two-day marathons, no dining tent, no mechanics to repair or pamper their vehicles overnight. Yet these temporary nomads, especially the more experienced ladies among them, know how to pack for this great rally tradition. Many brought along their favorite delicacies to share for the occasion: good wine, foie gras, cheese, and more.... Huh. And I thought it was going to be all French army rations from a can. Who knew?
It wasn't just gourmet eating, though. During the two challenging days, the Gazelles plunged through a series of rough rocky desert valleys dusted with sand so fluid the wind scoops it and sculpts it into what can only be described as mini waves.
With shade a rarity on the first marathon route, the merciless sun of the Sahara made the participants of this all-women event almost giddy at the sight of any Acacia trees. These perennial plants seemed to be the only living thing that could resist the relentless heat radiating from every surface.
Team Lerner Reina, the American sisters who came to Morocco to compete in the rally for the first time, continue to display an admirable fighting spirit.
Many first-timers let the formidable opponent of the desert terrain hold them back. Not these two gals. Though the penalty points added up during this marathon leg, Amy Lerner and Tricia Reina of Team 107 did not let Monday's tight, high mountains and steep valleys, or Tuesday's combination of dunes and open terrain, dampen their determination to face this foe on their terms.
Solidly hitting six checkpoints over the two-day sojourn, Lerner and Reina, from New Jersey and San Diego respectively, had their share of awkward moments out there, but they handled it with aplomb.
"The loss of traction control made it very difficult," Lerner said after returning to the bivouac Tuesday night. "So we analyzed the number of kilometers versus the amount of daylight and created a strategy that got us home safely."
The overall rankings now show Team 107 in 48th place. They knew the risks, and for them, they were worth taking. These ladies give new meaning to the phrase, "Go for it!" Not only are Lerner and Reina adventurers by nature, they also have a dynamite example in Emily Miller.
The other U.S. competitor, Miller, along with her über-skilled navigator Armelle Medard of France, seems to raise the bar daily. With the first of the rally's two marathon legs behind them, the only American-French team in the competition, Team 109, is comfortably holding second place overall, despite overheating issues with their Hummer H3.
After hitting all 17 checkpoints in the marathon leg, Miller Medard's Hummer got some welcome attention from the mechanics upon returning to the bivouac Tuesday night.
Both Team 109 and Team 107 were provided their H3s by Paul Chedid Automotive of France. And it appears the team at Paul Chedid did a terrific job prepping these vehicles to sustain the rigors of this awesome adventure.
"The Hummer is the most comfortable vehicle I have competed in," says Medard, seven-time Gazelle participant and 2008 champion. "It makes all the difference. I am less tired."
Good thing, too, since apparently she and teammate Miller do a lot of laughing while out cruising the Moroccan desert.
"Armelle is a first-class navigator," Miller says of her co-pilot. "She is also incredibly focused and determined. She is also hysterically funny!"
But what is it really like spending all this time together? When asked separately, Medard said, "I am honored to navigate with Emily. We laugh a lot."
What say you, Miller? "Armelle is now more than my co-pilot, she is my friend. We laugh A LOT."
And when things go wrong, after their initial reaction... you guessed it, they laugh harder.
Another marathon will lead the Gazelles of 2011 through the final kilometers of this unique contest. At the other end in two days, those who remain will carry their tired, sputtering, limping, dust-filled selves (and that's just the media) to Essaouira for the closing ceremonies.
But it's not over yet. In my next post, we'll learn about the miracle-working mechanics who have plugged away tirelessly on the various vehicles brought to them each night as the Gazelles slept.