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Aicha des Gazelles: Team Miller Fisher back from Morocco

The "Team Miller Fisher" and "Rod Hall Racing" just arrived back from the "Aicha des Gazelles" in Morocco and send their personal report: Wendy and I have just returned from our amazing journey - competing in the nineteenth edition of the Rally Aicha des Gazelles in Morocco. What began as a dream became an incredible reality that pushed us both in ways beyond our imagination. It was very challenging and with the deck stacked against us in our first year effort, we thrived on it.

Our first year result was fifth in our classification and twenty-first overall. Wendy and I are committed to a three-year effort and are already working on putting together our 2010 plan! Our ultimate goal is to bring home the win and we know this is achievable with a dedicated program. For those interested, we have included some notes from the rally below. Next week, we'll be sending an email update from Wendy - her notes, highlights and perspective as "big mountain freeskier turned navigator!"

The rally is VERY French and incredibly beautiful - first class in every way. The competition itself is surprisingly tough - mentally and physically demanding. Coming from racing, it is incredibly frustrating figuring out the best pace - one minute you are pushing the vehicle and the next minute you are stopped and working on math calculations on a calculator with your maps blowing in the wind. The name of the game is pace and navigation accuracy. So it may not ultimately be about the fastest speed of the leg, but it is about balancing speed when necessary with the critical attention to perfect navigation to capture all the checkpoints. Oh yeah, and given the fact that none of the organizers speak English, a good handle on conversational French is on my "2010 To Do" checklist.

We competed for over 110 hours from pre-sunrise to post-sunset for nine days. (Then drove the truck over 40 hours back to France!) Two days were considered "marathon legs" where we slept on our own away from the bivouac in the Moroccan desert. We loved every second of the rally, even when we wanted to scream. Wendy, having been in some of the most dangerous, demanding situations as an extreme skier, said it was the hardest thing she has ever done.

Honestly, we’re sad the rally doesn’t have more participation from the US. It is big in Europe and has an excellent reputation for its demanding competition. We challenge US companies to consider fielding teams as we believe it should be "required reading" of women in the automotive industry. It is product testing at its best and the ultimate reality show!

The dune days which also included Erg Chebbi (Merzouga) and Chegaga Dunes were our personal highlights of the rally. The first dune day, I knew we had a good team and I had picked the right teammate. The job of co-pilot is critical and will make or break the result and experience. At first, people urged me to consider a trained French (and French speaking) navigator, but I wanted an All-American team and the best possible person for the three-year goal. I also wanted someone I knew - an understanding of that person’s character was important to me.

Wendy Fisher was my choice because I knew she had what it takes to be the ultimate winning partner over the long haul. She is the total package - tough, strong, a brilliant athlete, kind, thoughtful, memorable, and able to handle how hard the event would be. Also, we had a third teammate for a portion of the event - Damien Michelin. Our friend and translator, we could not have done it without him. We were sad to see him leave after a few days into competition. We literally wouldn't have even made it off the boat in Tangier if it weren't for him.

COMPLETELY stock truck - kinda like showing up at the Baja 1000 in the truck you drive to the store! The only relief was to see our BFG Mud Terrains mounted and spares in place. Where was the "Reinforced suspension? Lights? Increased ground clearance? Car compass? Terratrip? Etc, Etc.?" That is when I first realized the impact of the French-English language barrier. I just smiled and said "Merci."

There was nothing that we could do at that point and Rod always taught me to drive what you have, so that is what we did. Another interesting point is that our trucks were "impounded" every night, so we had to do all our vehicle maintenance. Mechanics only repaired noted damage in the impound. On course, any mechanical assistance held steep point penalties. It was a great experience to be responsible for all aspects of our competition - not just driving, but to almost every detail!

The Isuzu proved to be quite durable, a very capable truck given the terrain. We were thankful for our D-Max and impressed how well it still drove all the way back to the Alps. However, the point of this rally is to point it straight and drive what is in front of you, the ultimate test of a 4x4. With the goal to drive for a win, not just drive for an adventure, we will return with a fully equipped and prepped vehicle!

Morocco is stunning and an off-roader’s dream. The countryside is shockingly clean - not a speck of trash. The geography of the country has everything and the geologic features are stunning. The rally favors returning competitors and those with knowledge of the landscape. Knowing where you can go straight without consideration of the outdated map is critical to keep points to a minimum. We realized quickly why no one breaks the top ten in year one. Returning to Morocco and spending time learning the area will be important for our goals. But that’s fine with us - because Morocco ranks as probably the most amazing place either of us have traveled!

Donna Hall summed it up well with the word - "exotic." We rode camels, saw monkeys in the snow, and goats that climb trees. The people are beautiful, kind and giving. And we were a more than surprised at how much they seemed to like America. We were always greeted with smiles and kind words. In fact, after an illegal pass, we were pulled over by the police. "Are you British?" the man asked sternly. "No, American." I responded and apologized for my poor French. "AH, WE LOVE AMERICA" And with that he waived us through.

2009/04/15 | 20:11 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Emily Miller

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