Over 200 women race across the Moroccan desert, no GPS or cellphones allowed

Here’s my kind of driving — a nine-day off-road race across the Moroccan desert.

You can follow them live through this link.

The Rallye Aicha des Gazelles (oh, I want that T-shirt) is  a 20-year-old event that draws women from across the world, reports Caroline Kinneberg in The New York Times. The race ends March 27th:

It is for women only, speed is not the point and no prizes are awarded.

Last Wednesday, 104 teams that had paid up to 14,350 euros (about $19,500) to register embarked on the roughly 2,500-kilometer trek (about 1,550 miles) from Nejjakh to Foum-Zguid. The competitive part of the rally, which includes parts of the High Atlas mountains and the Sahara, ends Thursday…

The competitors aim to reach the five to seven daily checkpoints, marked by red flags in the sandy landscape, while covering the shortest distance. The teams of two — traveling in four-wheel-drive vehicles and trucks, as well as crossovers, motorbikes and all-terrain vehicles — have only maps from the 1950s and compasses to guide them. Global positioning systems and cellphones are prohibited.

As the field has grown, it has become more international, with 18 countries — including Germany, Congo and Cambodia — now represented.Competitors have included a top European model, college students and a 65-year-old grandmother. Annick Denoncin of France is participating for the 14th time.

But about 70 percent of the competitors are first-timers who come for the adventure and challenge.

Anyone game to join me for next year?

Reports Fourwheeler.com:

Off-road ‘Ironwoman’ and Baja 1000 team driver Emily Miller and World Extreme Skiing Champion and U.S. Ski Team Olympian Wendy Fisher have an unlikely common denominator: The 2009 19th Rallye Aicha des Gazelles, the nine-day, all women’s off-road race in Morocco.

Miller, 42, a team driver for Rod Hall Racing, was trained by the off-road racing legend and has had multiple podium finishes as driver and navigator, in addition to being the only female to “ironman” the longest off-road race in North America. But why did the off-road truck racer decide to team up with an icon in the sport of big-mountain freeskiing?

The rally zips across Morocco, an enchanting French- and Arabic-speaking country in North Africa inhabited by friendly people, peculiar tree-climbing goats, and a spectacular desert landscape-a true wheeler’s paradise. Highlighting the arid region are enormous sand dunes; circular 3- to 8-foot tall sand traps (which Miller described as “sand cauldrons”); and unusual, rock-like mounds that resemble harmless giant broccoli crowns. Called “cauliflower plants,” these innocent-appearing obstacles are capable of seriously damaging a vehicle’s undercarriage.

However, there are no race ‘pace notes’ to warn about upcoming hazards. And participants must plot their latitude and longitudinal waypoints using Arabic and French maps dating from the 1950s and 1960s (Miller said they looked more like drawings than maps) using mathematical formulas and “dead reckoning”-the process of deducing the next location by using the course, speed, time, and distance from the last position.
GPS units were not allowed, although car-mounted compasses were; Miller and Fisher were relegated to a hand-held compass, as their vehicle didn’t have an installed unit. This made for many problems with interference due to the vehicle’s sheetmetal and electrical system. Fisher ended up working off of 26 maps, each with about nine quadrants per map that had to be measured.

The event also gives back to the people of Morocco, thanks to a medical caravan. From their website:

But access to medical care is still difficult for rural populations, where there is only 1 doctor per 3,700 people

The people living in these villages are more than 100 kilometres from the nearest clinic or hospital. In addition, a medical consultation and treatment can cost more than 15 days of salary.

Heart of Gazelles, in partnership with the Moroccan Ministry for Solidarity, the Family and Social Development, decided to address an important public health issue by going to the remote regions of southern Morocco.

Since 2001, thanks to the solidarity sponsorship of TOTAL Energy Group and the infrastructure of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles, Heart of Gazelles has been organising an annual Medical Caravan, a traveling clinic composed of 8 doctors, 4 nurses, 2 pharmacists, 1 optician and 6 “logistics” personnel.
This centre covers general medicine, paediatrics, gynaecology, optometry and pharmacy.

In 2009:

4,582 people received free medical care

2 thoughts on “Over 200 women race across the Moroccan desert, no GPS or cellphones allowed

  1. ebizjoey

    Now that’s doing something dangerous- the Canadian woman in car #100 are pretty far from everyone, hope they are OK! Here’s hoping they know something the rest of the teams don’t, very cool!

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