Many Québec residents head toward the sun and sand during the cold winter months, but few do it the way these two will.
Next month, Christelle Maître and Isabelle Rivoal will leave the snow and cold of Québec behind and fly to the stark landscape of the Moroccan desert to take part in the Aïcha des Gazelles, an off-road automobile rally that rewards efficiency, rather than speed. At the end of this 10-day race, winners are determined based on the lowest number of kilometers driven to reach the finish, with bonuses given for minimal gasoline consumption.
Among the few races reserved exclusively for women, the Aïcha Rally, which debuted in 1990, is truly remarkable. Armed only with a compass, a ruler, and a map, competitors must navigate the oftentimes disorienting terrain of the Moroccan hinterlands. No GPS allowed here! These women must rely on old-fashioned orienteering and navigation skills to complete each day’s stage.
Christelle and Isabelle – the Elles – have been preparing their adventure for almost two years. They have been studying maps, practicing navigation, and brushing up on automobile maintenance. Yes, the Elles must keep their Nissan Navara 4 x 4 in running order on their own; if they call on race mechanics to help them, penalties are assessed. Christelle and Isabelle have also been doing intense physical training to better deal with the rigors of this grueling rally.
The Elles seem to agree that managing their fatigue will be their greatest challenge. The Aïcha lasts a week and a half, with no days off and some stages requiring more than 12 hours of road time. After pre- and post- stage preparations, there will be little time left for sleep. A recent training trip to southern California may have gotten them used to desert conditions, but nothing can properly prepare them for the sleep deprivation they will endure during the race.
I, for one, am impressed by their ambition, and will be rooting them on from cold Québec.
To follow their progress, follow Québec and moi. I will be posting daily updates starting on March 19.
Christelle and Isabelle arrived in Morocco several days ago. After a visit to a sister school to Québec City’s Collège Stanislas in Casablanca, they headed to the interior with the other competitors for pre-race verifications and training. Christelle is seen here on the far right taking in race instructions.
Competitors were awakened in their tents at 4:00 this morning, briefed at 5:00, and on the course at 6:00. Today’s circuit was a 125 km loop that brought the Gazelles back to thee bivouac of the night before.
Of the 6 way points on today’s course, the Elles found 5 of them, deciding, I presume, to make it back to camp in time to fight another day. Bravo, les filles!!!
The last competitors in this evening came into camp through a sand storm.