Tuareg Rally, Day 7: Service Teams In Exile

There are those who like to drive at night: often there’s less traffic and less hassle. When you’re well-rested and driving on a well-maintained divided highway, it’s not so bad. You can make good time, and the people you meet at regular rest stops are at least interesting, if not actually friendly. The route we were taking through Morocco wasn’t like that at all.

When the alarm woke us up at 12:30 am, the lights had been turned down in the hotel lobby and there were fewer people huddled in groups talking than when we’d crashed on the sofas an hour and a half before. We got our things together and were quickly underway, Eduouard and Pascal in the Rubicon and the two of us in the MAN KAT. We didn’t have a map of Morroco loaded in the GPS, since we’d mostly been navigating using coordinates and a cap, and it wasn’t as easy to find the turn onto the narrow two-lane highway as it had been in daylight on the way down. For a while we weren’t sure we were on the right route. The milestones were set back farther from the road and more difficult to read in the dark than usual.

There was a surprising amount of traffic, and we passed a number of cars in the oncoming direction. The road was narrow and the MAN KAT’s original headlights didn’t carry very far; we had to remain alert. The plan was to drive relatively slowly to reduce the risk of running headlong into an unseen danger. At 60 km/hour, we’d have time to react in case of something unexpected. Even at this speed, sometimes we’d come up behind a slow-moving car or truck without rear lights, and once we had to brake suddenly for a van that had parked on the road without actually pulling over, the two right tires barely off the pavement on the shoulder. Twice we had to slow down even more as we passed through banks of dense fog, where the visibility was no more than a few tens of meters at best.

After an hour or so the traffic dwindled, and it seemed that we were the only ones left on the road. From time to time we’d see an animal, usually a hedgehog, crossing the road in front of us, and once we drove past two hitchhikers with a few sheep who tried to flag us down. These are the critical moments: fighting sleep, struggling to concentrate. Every two hours, or when one of the drivers started to feel tired, he’d get on the radio, and we’d find a place to park safely away from the road for a 15-minute “power nap.” When the iPhone alarm went off, we’d set out again. In this way, we made our way north to Nador arriving on the outskirts of town just as the sky started to lighten.

We stopped at the first open gas station we saw to fill the tanks and grab the only coffee of the trip. Pierre and Corine stopped there too, having passed us on highway along the way during the wee hours of the morning. After our improvised breakfast, we all started out together toward Melilla to pass customs and take our places to board the ferry. The process wasn’t exactly the same as when we’d arrived, but it didn’t feel very different or take much less time.

By the time we’d gotten through customs, found the ferry terminal, and exchanged our tickets for boarding cards, we didn’t have long to wait until the controller motioned for us to drive into the hold. We’d timed things perfectly. Once we’d gotten the key to our cabin and stowed our belongings, we went out on deck under overcast skies to take one last look at the African continent.

Once the ferry was underway, we had lunch. The crossing took only about six hours, but we still had a time for a hot shower and a welcome nap. When we woke up, we were just off the coast of Spain.

It felt as if the Rally were over. The competitors had over 350 km to drive that day, with a fast stage and two specials. For us, it was time for rest once the boarding was completed. There weren’t many other service teams on the ferry with us. We’d heard at the briefing in Missor that some of the teams had serious technical problems and wouldn’t be able to continue the race without their service vehicles close by during the day so the Orga had managed to find some extra space for them on the overnight ferry the competitors were taking. That ferry didn’t leave Nador until several hours after our arrival in Alméria. We were cut off from all the action and from the rest of the group.

What would we do overnight while waiting for our teams to arrive at the port the next morning? Unbeknownst to us, Rainer had already reserved rooms for us in the hotel on the beach front at the Finish in Mojácar, but he’d forgotten to tell us at the briefing and Mojácar was over 100 km away. We needed to meet our race drivers at the port in case they needed service in the morning, so it didn’t occur to us to press on to the Finish once we’d finished debarking.

We set out for the campground not far away where we’d stayed on the drive down. We got there in time for dinner before the restaurant closed and then headed straight to bed. With the fatigue and the feeling of distance everyone seemed tense, so we were happy to crawl into bed in the bungalow for the first full night of sleep we’d had since the rally started.

2 Responses to Tuareg Rally, Day 7: Service Teams In Exile

  1. Jago says:

    Hi EM
    Great blog – is the last day posted yet?
    Cheers Jago

    • ergmachine says:

      Thanks! Glad you liked it. The last day will be up this evening or tomorrow, then a few posts with some “best of” pictures and videos. Just recovering from some kind of flu (and a weekend at the Iron Man Challenge 4×4 France — no Internet!).

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