I went on a desert trek with 272 other women (and it was crazy)

From November 9 to 16, 2022 was held the second edition of Trek'In Gazelles in Morocco. The Journal des Femmes took part. Narrative.

  J'ai participé à un trek dans le désert avec 272 autres femmes (et c'était dingue)

Have you ever been to the desert? Me yes, I had this chance several times. In California, in the Australian outback, in Algeria, too. Spaces that give the impression of being very small, intimidate and captivate at the same time. So when I had the opportunity to discover the Moroccan Sahara as part of a 100% female sports challenge , I did not hesitate for a second. And I embarked, on November 9, 2022, for a week-long trek in the dunes of Merzouga in the company of 273 other women .

The Trek'In Gazelles, in the footsteps of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles

But first, let's rewind. At the beginning of July, as the long summer days stretch out and start the countdown to the holidays, I receive an invitation to participate in an orienteering race from November 9 to 16, 2022 in Morocco. The program: a team trek of three, twenty kilometers of walking a day and five nights sleeping in a tent, the perfect vacation, in short. Earlier in the year, I ran my first marathon on the Parisian asphalt, I want a new challenge and the Trek'In Gazelles , since that's its name, is the perfect opportunity to try something new. Step One: Meet the two other members of my team, journalists also, whom I have never seen. We agree on a meeting at the beginning of October. Good pick, Marie and Christelle have personalities that match mine, they are sporty, talkative, funny, and that's good, we're going to spend a lot of time together during this trek!

As we do not release Gazelles into the wild without training, the next day we meet at 7 a.m. in an Ibis in the Montparnasse district to follow a sailing course . Because if the trek consists of daily swallowing kilometers for 4 days, it also includes a volley orientation . And locating oneself in space is not, but then, not at all my thing. So much so that I start this training 30 minutes late; I got lost in the streets of Paris and went to the wrong hotel. It begins well…

See this post on Instagram

A post shared by Trek'in Gazelles (@trekingazelles)

What we learn in a few hours, the handling of aiming compass , Breton reporters And magic rules , the other Gazelles will have two days to assimilate it, in Avignon, during a navigation course supervised by Maïenga . This event agency behind the Trek'In Gazelles owes its fame to a women's car race launched in 1990 by Dominique Serra: the Aïcha des Gazelles rally . First designed as a raid interentreprise , this competition has, in thirty-three years, brought together nearly 10,000 women who board a vehicle every year for two weeks. To participate, each duo must first raise €30,000 from sponsors, companies or individuals. For the Trek'In Gazelles , participants bring together nearly 3,000 euros each . A tidy sum that includes the six days of event (1,970 euros), round trip r to Morocco (between 200 and 400 euros), two nights hotel on the spot, the navigation training camp (540 euros for three) and equipment. Like the participants in the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles, many female trekkers get sponsored by their companies or to organize raffles, tea parties and sales of small handmade objects to finance their participation. Others come to represent associations, whose colors are proudly displayed on their backpacks and outfits. Because the Gazelles have a big heart , which they will often prove during this adventure.

Imminent take-off: heading for the desert

On Wednesday, November 9, it's time to go. In my suitcase (on wheels, I'll regret it when I have to drag it in the sand) pile up, pell-mell, the perfect adventurer's equipment and the books that I will read at night in the tent. A kiss to the cats, another to my lover, and quickly quickly, direction Orly airport where a plane awaits us, chartered for some 200 Gazelles. During the flight, the girlfriends get together: those who have already taken part in the Rallye des Gazelles (about fifty), those who made the trek last year (38, precisely), those who met during the weekend of navigation training... The excitement builds until the arrival at the former military airport of Erachidia where several buses are waiting for us to take the road to Erfoud , the city where the hotel is located where we are going to spend our first night. We arrive there after an hour-long journey during which our eyes embrace acclimatize to the vegetation, the animals, the architecture that some of us are discovering for the first time.

See this post on Instagram

A post shared by Trek'in Gazelles (@trekingazelles)

The next day is a busy day as we have to present our equipment, our medical certificates and other administrative documents to the organization. It is also at this time that we are given our Gazelle t-shirts , our bibs, but above all the tags that will no longer leave our backpacks and will geolocate us in the desert. We are the media team , the team 70 , and we can't wait to start the competition! Which becomes more and more concrete, since at the beginning of the afternoon, we finally discover our bivouac, placed at the foot of the dunes. Designed to accommodate 273 female trekkers and just as many supervising staff (doctors, physiotherapists, a sports coach, cooks, photographers and dozens of other volunteers), this fixed camp includes an infirmary, a catering area, a bar, a cybertent, a massage area, toilets and showers in front of which we are invited to pitch our tents. Then, the moment that many dread finally arrives: the one during which each participant gives the organization her mobile phone, which she will find four days later with more or less (especially less) impatience.

To end the day, the Gazelles discover for the first time the restaurant where they will eat morning and evening until the end of the competition. Semolina, rechta, steamed vegetables, pancakes, raw vegetables... A real self-service feast to gain strength before exercise. It is also under this huge tent that the Gazelles place the first points of their course on the maps. A real strategic puzzle that will be repeated daily, since in addition to the bivouac and the different stages of the race, we must indicate the bonuses that we decide to achieve during the day. To find them in the desert, we only have some indications : their level of difficulty, their geographic coordinates and sibylline photos of a tussock of grass, the crest of a dune, a rock, a pit or the entrance to a mine… Anyway, good luck! Thanks to the beacons slipped into our backpacks, the jury knows our movements to the nearest meter and follows us in real time in the desert from trucks installed at the entrance of the bivouac. But for now, it's time to go to bed, especially since the night will be short. At 5:30 a.m. the alarm clock rings.

3, 2, 1... Let's go!

On the starting line

When was the last time you slept without any electronic devices? In the dark (and freezing) night of the desert, it's a rather strange experience. I tried to guess what time it was by looking at the moon (the sun has set on this side, so the moon should be on this side if it's almost dawn. Oh no, maybe it's the other way around?), then I fell back on Futur.es , the brilliant feminist book by Lauren Bastide who was staying with me in the tent. A reading interrupted by a little music that starts running between the tents. Dominique Serra, the founder of the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles, circulates between the aisles, a speaker in her hand which broadcasts according to the mornings The weather is good , Bon Entendeur, or Women, I love you by Julien Clerc. The signal is given, it is time to get up. Breakfast is the time to warm up over a good coffee, but also to listen to the brief of Ludovic, the sporting director, who recalls some points of regulation. Then, the Gazelles have an appointment with Adil for a muscle awakening facing the sunrise, while the teams set off in successive waves under the starting arch. Let's go !

With Marie and Christelle, for our first day, we decided to try to reach a maximum of bonuses . The day takes place in the calm of the desert, between the dunes and the rocky expanses disturbed by tiny fennec foxes, according to the tracks they leave behind them in the sand, and a few Gazelles identifiable by their T-shirts rose fluo , blood stains in the ocher, gray or golden hills of the Sahara. At noon, when our day of hiking is already well advanced, we take advantage of one of the refreshments for lunch under a blazing sun. It is also the moment to fill our camelbaks , those plastic pouches we stuff in our backpacks to drink throughout the day. Each in turn reminds their companions to hydrate, put on sunscreen, lip balm or take a break. We don't know each other very well yet, but we are already watching over each other .

Team 70 in real life, with map, Breton protractor and sight compass

This solidarity this sorority , was naturally put in place in our crew and in those of the other competitors. Because that's also the challenge of these four days of trek: getting along with teammates , who can be friends, sisters, mothers, cousins, colleagues or strangers, and watch them, always with kindness . Especially since the profiles of the Gazelles are particularly varied. The participants in this second edition have on average 46 years . The dean, Mireille, celebrated her 73 years old earlier in the year, while the youngest, Lilou, has just blow her 16 candles .

See this post on Instagram

A post shared by Trek'in Gazelles (@trekingazelles)

They come from France , mainly, but also Belgium , Canada, Italy, Switzerland, Morocco and the UK. If they have decided to take part in the Trek'In Gazelles, it is because some want to share an exceptional moment between women , to prove their strength and their will, while others wish mark the end or the beginning of a step . This is precisely what testified Marina Vrillacq , CEO of Maïenga and daughter of Dominique Serra, during the first brief of the week. ' The Trek'In Gazelles is a story of free women ', she claimed before reminding us: ' For four days, you cut yourself off from the outside world. Goodbye mental load, goodbye kids, think of you! '. Anyway, we have no choice, during these long hours of walking, but to turn our life around , urgent questions, those that can wait, the desires that we wish to fulfill on our return… We listen to each other and it feels good. It is on this reflection that the bivouac appears in the distance and that our first day ends. We have traveled 20 kilometers , we have managed to find all our beacons and we can abandon our backpack for a few hours. While some go for a massage, I go to the cyber tent to see if our family members have written to us. During the day, the volunteers print and slip into numbered trays all the emails received by the teams. Messages that warm the heart (especially when you don't have a phone) and that bring smiles to the faces of the Gazelles: ' Above all, don't forget your compass, your water bottle and the love of yours, signed Mum '. No risk !

Every day, the program is almost identical. Departure at 7:30 a.m., 20 kilometers of travel during which the female trekkers, equipped with cloth bags, can pick up the waste they come across on their way, maps to fill out in the evening, night in the tent (the part that I like less) and wake up at 5:30 a.m. to music. In total, four exceptional days of competition, between mountainous landscapes, black rocks and orange dunes. For team 70, the last day was marked by a small crash. Three hours of circling in oppressive heat to find an expert-level beacon (a failure), then to try to get back to the bivouac, with tired legs but still in good spirits – after all, how lucky to get lost in such a setting –. A thought that accompanies us, as well as dozens of happy memories, when we cross the finish line under the cheers of the organizers.ice.s

The 70 team is very happy to be (finally) on the finish line

In the evening, on the camp, the Gazelles wait together for the last team, which arrives as night begins to fall. Once the stars are firmly in the sky, fireworks explode in the darkness of the desert. A last dinner, a last night under the tent and the following morning, it is already necessary to pack up. To all of us, we will have walked 22 000 km , harvest 7,500 liters of waste and donated 16,110 euros to Secours Populaire , since for each bonus found by a team, a donation of 5 euros was granted to the French association. A solidarity initiative which is part of the logic of the Trek'In Gazelles, designed as a responsible event .

Over the years, Maïenga has implemented various actions in parallel with its sports competitions in Morocco. Since 2011, the association Heart of Gazelles , chaired by Marina Vrillacq, organizes an environmental awareness caravan and a medical caravan in the country, whose 50 doctors have treated more than 8,000 patients. The trek is also certified ISO 14001 Standard and the organizers who work throughout the year on the sustainable aspect of the competition always have this problem in mind: ' How do we leave no trace behind? '. It is for this reason that on the bivouac, (almost) nothing is lost, everything is transformed: the pieces of bread and the peelings are given to the shepherds to feed the animals, 50% of the waste is sorted in adapted sectors while the rest is incinerated by Maïenga. The event is even carbon neutral, since the CO emissions 2 are compensated by trees planted at the agency's expense. In addition, collections for Cœur de Gazelles were organized with female trekkers, many of whom came with money, medicine, sanitary protection, clothing and even wheelchairs collected by the association for local populations. It is also that adventure what these 273 women came to experience, and what they brought back in their luggage with their sweaty T-shirts, their sand-studded memories and their tired sneakers. On the plane back, inevitably a little sad to see this extraordinary parenthesis come to an end, they chanted their rallying cry while watching the desert recede through the window: ' Once a gazelle, always a gazelle! '. We bet that many of them will meet in front of the dunes of Merzouga from November 9 to 14, 2023 to relive this trek which is unlike any other.

Source journaldesfemmes.fr