The dunes: showing the Gazelles what it means to push their limits

Leg 2

Ah, the dunes! Some dream of them, for others they are the stuff of nightmares… One thing is certain, they leave no Gazelle indifferent! This is the reason for the concentrated expressions at the start line this morning. For this special day, the 4×4 teams have three routes to choose from, X, Y and Z, with decreasing levels of difficulty. Just metres after crossing the start line, the Gazelles are already stopping to take a heading, setting a course for the majestic dunes of Erg Chebbi. Some are so stressed that they get stuck even before reaching the dunes. Today’s goal for Jennifer and Claudia: “not to put pressure on ourselves; to stay consistent and focused”. For the occasion, Jennifer, the navigator of Team 102 (Jennifer KALKA / Claudia MARTIN), has even decided to inaugurate the sneakers she intends to wear for the Trek’In Gazelles, the first edition of which is set to take place from November 6 to 11.

At the first checkpoint of Route X, the “old-timers” cheer on the newcomers, like Betty of Team 39 (Betty KRAFT / Sonia BAUDOIN-GUERARD), who encourages Team 223 (Cendrine AZZOPARDI / Pauline CHAPPAZ) to “Enjoy yourselves!” Despite her three previous Rallyes, Tania of Team 216 (Tania LIO / Régine ZBINDEN)is not particularly reassured. “I always dread this leg, even if we always end up having a good time”, she confides. Joanna of Team 111 (Joanna CHABOUD-CAUDAN / Katerine CHABOUD)feels the same way: “I’ve been afraid of this leg for two years”. The Gazelles of Team 246 (Jennifer LHERBIER / Céline DUPONT) say they are “euphoric”. “I trust my driver”, says Céline. Most of the Gazelles who have opted for this route – the most difficult one – are hoping for the same thing: to get through as quickly as possible, because from noon on, with the sun overhead, the terrain is much more difficult to read.

One thing that makes the leg in the dunes so special is that it is the only time the teams are allowed to follow each other. Staying with other teams can be essential in case anyone gets stuck. Shovels and tow straps often come in handy during this leg, which is marked by solidarity between teams! Some teams even get stuck while trying to help others. This is the case for Team 114 (Agne TELYCENAITE / Astrid DECOURCELLE), while helping Team 183 (Leticia LAKSI / Lénaïc TARQUINY). When they all finally make it out, they hug and applaud each other. “I have goosebumps”, says Lénaïc. Under such conditions, every checkpoint found is a source of pride and satisfaction! Stéphanie and Sophie of Team 203 (Sophie LIOUST-BARDY / Stéphanie GOURLOO) drive up to the checkpoint honking their horn, and are soon joined by Mélanie and Émeline of Team 220 (Emeline BAUDESSON / Mélanie ZAIDI-LE FOLL), to whom they give a big hug.

“A lot of solidarity on this leg”

The dunes leg is generally the favourite part of the Rallye for quad and SSV teams which, because of their weight – lighter than a 4×4 – move more easily in the sand. “It’s such a pleasure to be here and push ourselves, and in a buggy, it’s even more exciting”, confirms Danielle of Team 23 (Danielle DUBOS / Marie-Christine LAPEYRE). For Hélène and Catherine of Team 152 (Catherine SCHMITT / Hélène MIKOL), “it can be hard to start up when we reach the “battlefield” after the others”. Each checkpoint is also a good way for the Gazelles to check their position. It is easy to get lost in the orange immensity of the Merzouga dunes. “One, two, left, dome”: the difficulty forges bonds between Gazelles, such as Edwige of Team 230 (Edwige BARBEREAU / Elise FAUCHEUX) and Florence of Team 196 (Florence PHILIP / Valérie PRIOUL), who have created their own language. “There’s really a lot of solidarity on this leg; it feels good”, observes Clémence, reassured to be able to ride with other teams.

The dunes can also be a revelation for the Gazelles, or even a life lesson:I panicked a little when we had to tackle the first dunes, and then I calmed down and trusted myself. Now it’s going much better, so I guess that was the lesson of the day!” says Emilie of Team 229 (Emilie KUHNI / Elina FAYE). The GoPros and cameras are out, ready to immortalize this special day filled with emotion and excitement. The hours pass and the difficulties increase, including for Jeanette of Team 267 (Jeanette JAMES / Rachelle GRESLE), winner of the 29th edition. After going over an impressive dune, the vehicle refuses to start. And there’s no question of calling for mechanical assistance! The Gazelles roll up their sleeves and open the hood. Phew, it’s just an air intake that’s come loose. A bit of gaffer tape, and the Gazelles are on their way to new sandy adventures! CP5 is a good place to stop for lunch and to relax a bit. “The Merzouga dunes are usually an easier type of dunes”, comments Tania of Team 216 (Tania LIO / Régine ZBINDEN). “It feels like we’re in Chegaga”, confirms Hélène of Team 238 (Hélène GRAND'EURY / Charlotte ZUCCONI), who urges the other Gazelles to leave quickly. “With this heat, it’s going to be critical”, she insists. And off they go!

On Route Y, too, plenty of teams get stuck. The Gazelles wanted sand, and they got sand! Léa and Stéphanie of Team 263 (Léa CAUSSE / Stéphanie CARAMICO) get out their tow straps to help their friends of Team 167 (Ophélie BIZERAY / Marine ELAN), who they met during a training course in Morocco. “Getting stuck is part of the game, that’s whet we’re here for”, laugh the Gazelles. Ludo, the Sports Director, didn’t do the Crossover teams any favours either; they spent a lot of time driving in circles searching for their checkpoints. “We made some bad decisions. We wasted a kilometre at each checkpoint so we’re not very happy, but we’ll do better on the next legs”, says Karima of Team 308. “We drove in circles a lot but we had lots of fun”, exclaims Marta of Team 601 (Marta PARDO / Nahide ENNAM), before encouraging other Gazelles: “Good luck ladies, don’t give up!

At the end of the day, fatigue shows in their faces, but also pride. Pride at having gone beyond their limits, of pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. One of the first lessons of a Gazelle!