Off-road rally through Sahara Desert adventure of lifetime

Julie Meddows and Claire Barone have embarked on the adventure of a lifetime. They just hope their friendship is still intact when they return.

The two local women are taking part in the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles, or the Gazelles Rally, an off-road adventure through the Sahara Desert that permits the assistance of only maps, a compass and a ruler to guide each of the 150 two-women teams through their journey. Barone will drive and Meddows will navigate. They’ve known each other a whole five months.

“Am I scared to death of doing this? Yes,” Barone says. “It’s nine days in the middle of nowhere.”

“And you have to trust me,” Meddows adds.

They met through their husbands. Meddows took the Moroccan adventure last year, placing 82nd out of 150 teams, and asked Barone to join her this time around. After an off-roading double date, her new friend agreed to come along.

Barone, who works as an ER nurse, was just as motivated by the charity of the event as the adventure. The Gazelles Rally, now in its 23rd year, has a nonprofit group called Heart of Gazelles that assists the region with things such as medical aid, support to orphanages and schools, sustainable development for villages, and job development for women.

Off-roading is exactly what the name implies, getting somewhere without the use of roads. Looking at a map, it can appear as a shortcut, but that’s if the vehicle doesn’t get stuck. And if it does gets stuck, it helps for passengers to know how to quickly get unstuck. During the Gazelles Rally, the women will have to do all that themselves. Locals can’t touch their vehicle or the team is disqualified.

Both women know how to change a tire and their main sponsor for the event that costs $18,000 to participate and $35,000 with total expenses is MaxTrax, an Australian company that builds vehicle recovery devices. They’ve also covered expenses through donations and their own money. For Barone, it meant a lot of overtime at work, but she was happy to do it. “When will I get an opportunity like this again?” she says.

If things go well, perhaps one year from now.

Their journey started March 16 and ends March 30, with competition for nine of those days. They’ve been waking up at 4 a.m. every day, attending a mandatory meeting and then heading on their way. On two nights, they don’t return to camp, fending for themselves overnight. It’s a daunting challenge, and much more difficult than the off-roading excursions they’ve taken on their own.

For Meddows, off-roading is a bonding experience. “We have a 6-year-old daughter and she’s grown up doing this,” she says. “It’s just you and your family in nature, creating your own experience.”

Barone likes the perspective it offers. “You get to see things from a different view,” she says. “You get to find and explore new things.”

Right now the women are probably seeing each other from a different view. “It’s mentally exhausting,” Meddows says. “You’re in a truck with a helmet at 6 a.m. and lucky if you come back at 6 at night. It’s just the two of you so it puts a lot of stress on the friendship, but also on you mentally.”

The winner, the team that makes it to their final destination first, gets nothing more than bragging rights. Meddows and Barone aren’t expecting to win. They’re just expecting the adventure of a lifetime.

Contact Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.

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