By Carmen Madrid
Monday marked the unofficial beginning of the 2011 Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc. A contingent of 220 female competitors with multi-colored vehicles of varied shapes and sizes that they will call home for the next 10 days enjoyed a relatively relaxing cruise on Le Marrakech.
The Gazelles and their desert rides set sail from Sète, France on Saturday 19 March to the cheers of hundreds of well-wishers--many of whom, like me, probably wish they were on board, too.
The first day of spring brought the onset of other firsts for American Emily Miller as she voyaged across the Mediterranean Sea on her way to Tangiers for the 21st running of the Gazelles in Morocco.
This is the first time the off-road racing champion will compete in the Moroccan event without her previous navigator and close friend Wendy Fisher. Fisher is devoting her attention these days to her two small boys and her own championship goals on the ski slopes.
This is also the first time Miller will compete as part of an international team with a French navigator, former rally winner Armelle Medard.
This year's rally is the first time, too, that Miller will drive the dunes with another pair of Americans in the pack--Team Lerner Reina, #107.
And, it is the first year an American company has stepped up to sponsor the U.S. Gazelles. Pompeian Olive Oil is a welcome partner. "We are honored to be a part of an inspiring, eco-friendly, and influential event," says marketing manager David Bensadoun.
At sea for two days and two nights, the ladies used the time to revise navigation concepts, while swapping stories with the more-experienced Gazelles as their transport skirted the coastline of Ibiza.
In keeping with the camaraderie and good will so prevalent among the participants, Miller's champion navigator spent time with Amy Lerner and Trisha Reina, the rookie U.S. team, assisting them with specific pointers that could prove extremely helpful during the rally.
"There are so many unknowns, it is extremely helpful to work with Armelle to understand the nuances of the competition," says Reina.
Meanwhile, Miller is now an expert rally competitor who can appreciate the value of two days onboard ship for what it truly means: time to catch up on much needed sleep. As Team 109's driver, a well-rested Emily Miller is essential.
The Ceremonial Start of the race is Wednesday, with the 110 vehicles officially taking off from the starting line early Thursday.
When Team Miller Medard pull across that line in their Hummer H3, sleep will take a backseat to their goal of making it to the podium in Essaouria after the nine-day race. And I predict they will, but I'm getting ahead of myself.