Lesson number one learned. Spend less time celebrating during the morning. Every second counts and you have to be quick and efficient with your time if you plan on getting all the checkpoints. We managed to get 3 out of the 5 and booked it before closing off. Getting to base camp on time is an easy 10 points. A little more efficient today, we awoke at 4.30 am to roughly -3°C. Liz tore down base camp while I began plotting our cps for the day. Although everything felt frantic and rushed, both Liz and I knew that poor time management was our downfall, and we were definitely going to be more efficient today. After tearing down our tent and packing up the jeep, we started with an enduro that lasted about an hour and required extreme focus and communication.
When we completed it, we hit our first green check point and made it to the next blue check point 24kms away in record time. The road was full of washouts, and as luck would have it, we hit one at 70kms an hour. It was crazy, with our heads hitting the roof and stuff flying everywhere. The impact was truly frightening, and as soon as we got control of everything again, we got back up to speed.
Shortly after, with my head down map reading, we hit another washout and went off the road. This time, the Jeep wouldn’t move, and Liz dropped the bomb. We had damaged the axle housing. As we called dispatch with our emergency satellite phone, the hard reality set in. We were done for the day, and possibly for the entire Rally.
My heart sank and I literally felt sick. Our vision of crossing the finishing line was fading at an alarming rate. Waiting for the mechanics to arrive was the worst as we watched other teams race past in a bud to collect checkpoints which were now out of reach for us.
One team did stop. It was team 145, Andra Shaffer and Kris Vockler. They pulled off the road, and put their competition on pause. These ladies were definitely not rookies, and have been competing in every rally since the Rebelle Rally began. With their sights clearly set on competing to the highest level, we understood that pausing their day to help us out would have set them back a lot.
With tears, empathy, and amazing words of encouragement, Kris and Andrea worked wonders in lifting our spirits and helping us to see beyond this moment of devastation. Kind souls truly exist, and the sacrifice that team 145 made for us is something I will always treasure.
The mechanics took an hour to arrive during which time Liz and I didn’t utter a single word to each other. The Jeep had to be loaded on a flatbed trailer because of the damage. After the mechanics left to get the trailer, I lay in the desert dirt with my bandana over my mouth to avoid the dust from our competitors that continued to fly past us.
I was angry and so disappointed. I felt even more saddened at having let Off Grid Trailers down. Our sponsors had high hopes for us. They believed in us, and yet here we were lying in a heap of dirt. As I wallowed in my pity party, I knew that it was selfish especially since it was Liz’s vehicle that had been so badly damaged.
Yet I couldn’t stop thinking of all the time, effort, and training that I had put into preparing for this. Or the fact that I had left my husband and children for 21 days to follow this dream. Self-centered, I know. But I also knew that it was better not to say a thing to Liz at the moment, so I took a cat nap until the mechanic came back.
With the mangled Jeep winched onto the trailer, we headed on to the airport where the mechanics crew had a mobile shop. We waited in silence for Nick, the head Rebelle Mechanic, to paint us a picture of our near future.
After he had assessed the vehicle, we figured out that Liz’s Jeep would need an entirely new front axle. Thanks to the pandemic, parts were short and extremely hard to find, and the diagnosis just went from bad to worse.
Nick gave us the news and it was probably the look of dreams that were completely dashed that brought a spark back. What we heard from him next was music to our ears. He said, “Well, I’m going to spend all night welding the housing and shaft back together to get you on the road tomorrow”.
No guarantees and no promises, but the mere fact that another soul was willing to sacrifice for us made all the difference. We had faith that Nick and his team would do whatever it took to help, and this is just what I needed to put the wind back in my sails.
We were escorted to our new base camp at Big Dune by another Rebelle mechanic and waited there until our jeep arrived on the flatbed several hours later. The base camp was absolutely stunning. By this time, I had come to terms with what had happened, and Liz, as cool as a cucumber all along, now started showing signs of anxiety.
It still amazes me how perfectly timed it was, because, with me being a little more level headed, I was in a better position to help her out of this current headspace. The reality was harsh. Yes, the accident was our fault. We could have controlled it, and this wasted day could have been avoided. That with the thought of not being able to continue in the Rally broke our hearts.