20 MARCH 2014: Today “counts” — it is the first “real” leg of the Rallye competition. The teams are woken up at 4am, as is the tradition, by rally founder Dominique Serra walking through the cluster of tents calling “Bon jour les filles, c’est quatre heure.” (Good morning girls, it’s 4 o’clock). Just one small problem: some Gazelles thought it would be good idea to set their alarms for 3:30! Headlamps bob between the tents, and teams are busy plotting points for the day’s first CP. The atmosphere is calm and studious until 5:00, when Ludovic Taché takes to the microphone for the daily briefing.
Today’s leg is a loop around Nejjakh, with an ideal distance of 125 km and an estimated time of 9 hours. “A short leg”, according to Ludovic. 6 checkpoints scattered across a wide area, which the Gazelles must reached in the right order to avoid being penalized! The positive side of today’s route: physical features that are easy to identify, with the Hamada du Guir plateau on one side and the Merzouga dunes on the other. Between the two, wide stretches of “reg” – rocky desert plains – as well as some camel grass to spice up the day! “The important thing is to take careful headings and pay attention to your ground clearance. This is just the start of the Rallye, you don’t want to break your vehicles!” insists Ludovic. At 6 o’clock, engines rev on the starting line as the first teams head out into the darkness.
The teams are divided into 6 groups, each on a different route, in order to prevent them from following each other. “We designed different routes of equal difficulty and length” explains Ludovic Taché, the event’s Sporting Director. At the end of the previous day’s leg, the Gazelles were given a “roadbook” with the coordinates of the first checkpoint on each route. They don’t find out which group they are in until the morning, when the starting grid is posted. They will only find out the rest of the day’s checkpoints when they reach CP1. From there they will have to plot the remainder of their day’s course.
By 9:30am teams started advancing east of Erg Chebbi. There were some minor navigation issues early in the day, but overall, the Gazelles were moving well. But the afternoon proved much more difficult. Only forty teams made it back to the bivouac by 5:30pm. A sandstorm had blown up in the Nejjakh area, with winds up to 50 km/h, reducing visibility and greatly complicating navigation. The relatively long distance between CP5 and CP6 was also a factor. During the leg a number of teams had mechanical issues as well. 47 teams were still out on the course at 8pm, and the final few didn’t get into the bivouac until 1230am — just three-and-a-half hours before wake up for the next leg!
The day had been long and difficult for many of the first-time Gazelles. Rally organizers had designed it specifically as a “training” of sorts for the new teams — to demonstrate the importance of strategy in the choice of route. Between the first and second checkpoints, a strip of small dunes at the foot of the sandy mountains of Merzouga offered 2 possibilities: to go around, requiring extra kilometres, or to drive straight across, taking the chance of getting stuck or losing one’s bearings.
The next stretch was largely an exercise in navigation. The long corridor between Erg Chebbi and the Hamada du Guir plateau that marks the Algerian border, the longest section of today’s route, offered no real difficulties in terms of the driving. This wide rocky plain provided clear features to steer by, such as the majestic Djebel Debouaa and the silhouette of Djebel El Begaa. However the long distance of this stretch magnified small errors in headings and many teams found themselves at the wrong checkpoints. The day was definitely not as easy as predicted!
Gazelles TV presents the first leg of the competition — The Nejakh South Loop. [Sorry for the obligatory advertisement at the start of this clip, it comes as part of the embedded resource, not our site.]
M6 highlights from the first leg of the competition [Sorry for the obligatory advertisement at the start of this clip, it comes as part of the embedded resource, not our site.]
Team 171 USnomads hit 3 of the 6 checkpoints today, with a total “penalty” of 208.87 for the day (that is the value of the 3 missed CPs plus the extra kilometers driven over the “ideal” course). The team ranked 61st among First-time Participants and 102nd overall.
Here’s the top ten 4×4 teams in today’s leg of the competition:
TEAM 171 – US NOMADS TRACK
The team’s track (white line) compared to the “straight line” course for the first leg. (click the image for a larger view). Current live tracking in realtime is available from the official Gazelle Rally site here.
WHERE WE ARE
ABOUT THE DAY’S COURSE
LEG 1: NEJAKH/NEJAKH – Ideal distance 125 km – Estimated time 9:00 (loop)
Today is the first wakeup call at 4 a.m., then briefing at 5 a.m and at 6 a.m. the fun begins… There are 6 checkpoints on today’s course, which will unfold between the Amada du Guir on one side and the monumental Erg Chebbi on the other. The Gazelles will make their way across wide plains and rocky hills, and get their first taste of sand. The terrain is not that difficult today, but it’s likely that the first problems – navigation or driving errors, vehicles stuck in the sand – will occur before noon! In this terrain, with its brilliant light from morning to night, landmarks are easily lost among the constantly shifting colours. Today’s goal is to reach as many CPs as possible and find the way back to the bivouac at a reasonable hour, so as to be in good shape to continue the adventure tomorrow. After all, there are still 5 legs and 7 days of competition to come…
Team USnomads is proud to support the work of MothersToMothers, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that recognizes the ability of mothers to change their destiny. MothersToMothers, founded by Pamela Parlapiano, partners with local women to create community supported day care and learning centers that change lives. Their model project in Amacho Wato Kebele, Ethiopia, has shown how with just a little help, the mothers in the community can improve the lives of a whole village. Please join us in supporting their efforts to take this successful model to more villages: Donate to MothersToMothers here. (Note that all donations go 100% directly to MothersToMothers).
TEAM 171 PRESENTATION
USnomads, c’est l’histoire d’une amitié de plus de 20 ans, qui s’est construite à travers le temps, les cultures, les expériences de la vie et des voyages. Seule l’union de deux caractères forts et respectueux l’un de l’autre explique que nous soyons arrivées à nos fins dans chacun de nos défis.
Ceci est notre première participation au Rallye des gazelles et nous ne sommes pas des professionels, mais JoMarie a une certaine expérience de l’Afrique et des situations d’urgence. D’autre part, elle s’est totalement investie dans la préparation de cette course et Isabelle s’est récemment mise à la navigation.
Le Rallye des gazelles dans le désert marocain sera le théâtre d’une nouvelle épreuve pour nous : une Jeep, une boussole, une carte et tout le pouvoir de notre volonté d’y parvenir fera le reste.
Ce défi sportif s’inscrit dans un projet humain plus large, celui de traverser le désert du Sahara d’Ouest en Est dans l’espoir d’accompagner les équipes d’ONG dans leurs micro-projets d’aide aux peuplades nomades locales. JoMarie en produira un film documentaire qui donnera à mieux connaitre les hommes de cette partie du monde.
L’équipe 171 prendra fièrement son envol le 15 mars 2014 avec toutes les autres participantes ! Et que les meilleures gagnent !
Mais quelle valeur et quelle portée aurait cette leçon de vie, si nous n’étions pas soutenues par l’amour de nos proches, de nos amis et de tous ceux qui nous entourent. Merci !
Detailed weather: Errachida
MORE NOTES FROM THE ROAD:
19 March – Prologue
18 March – To Erfoud
17 March – Ferry to Tangiers
16 March – To Barcelona
15 March – Paris Presentation
14 March – Technical Verification day
8 to 13 Mar 2014 – Paris: Preparations
A scouting trip in the company of experienced Dakar racers offers a preview of the challenges we will face during the Gazelle Rally and beyond. “The Gateway to the Sahara,” Ouarzazate is a calm and modern Moroccan town on the edge of the desert.… [read]
During the Gazelle Rally we will be tent-camping for roughly two weeks. However, this is not a “typical” relaxed fun camping trip, and our choice of tent may be more important than we realize in ensuring that we are well-rested and ready for the route each morning.… [read]
160 TEAMS FOR THE 2014 RALLY
This year there will be 160 teams competing in the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles: 320 women from 24 countries ranging in age from 19 to 64. Nations represented include: France, Canada, USA, Morocco, Norway, Indonesia, Bulgaria, Italy, Colombia, Switzerland, Belgium, Egypt, Germany, Angola, Congo, Nigeria, Gabon, Portugal, UK, Vietnam, Yeman, South Africa, Senegal and French Polynesia.
> Team US Nomads is training hard to face the challenges of a Sahara crossing like no other. The first step in their journey is the 2014 Rally Aicha des Gazelles. Find out more about the team and their inspiration …
> A true test of endurance, the Gazelle rally pushes teams to their limits in a struggle to overcome the harshest terrain in the Moroccan Sahara. The key to success is a seamless combination of off-road driving abiility, land navigation skills and strategic thinking. Learn more about this unique race …
> Team US Nomads is working to connect people across borders and cultures in a true exchange. This includes a series of humanitarian efforts to assist communities in the region undertaken with the rally organization and other NGO partners. Discover how we are doing good as we go …
> Team US Nomads needs your support. Whether you represent a corporate organization interested in sponsoring the team, a humanitarian group that would like to find out more about working with us in the Sahara, or if you would just like to follow along with the adventure, we want to hear from you. Find out how to get involved …