“If you want to survive in the dunes you must follow the stinky camel droppings!” – “Eh?” Maurice could not shake off the feeling that the oddball from Denmark with his run-down Subaru was pulling his leg. But that’s probably what it’s like on your first desert rally as a newcomer asking an old hand for tips – all you get in return is a bunch of silly jokes. Must be some kind of initiation ritual. Like veteran soldiers telling new recruits that they are supposed to pee in their boots to make them fit properly. A “coming-of-age ritual”.
But the question was meant seriously. What is the best way to get through the dunes? Morocco’s desert sand is like quicksand. Before you know it, your motorbike gets stuck. And then try to get it out of the sand again. Would camel droppings really make a difference?
“Come on, be serious! Camel shit!” “These creatures are lazy, but not stupid. It is just as strenuous for them to walk in deep sand as it is for us. So they walk where the ground is firm. And this is also where they crap.” It started to make sense to Maurice. Maybe Aksel had not sniffed the tailpipes of his Subaru too long after all, even though his face seemed to tell a different story.
“Another beer?” – “What? Eh, no thanks…”
Maurice had not quite gotten over the Dane’s disarming logic yet. Anyway, they would be leaving the desert behind tomorrow anyway and head for the mountains. And the Belgian needed to be absolutely fit for this. The last thing he would need was a hangover.
A question of honor
The legendary Tuareg Rally. The biggest desert rally organised by Germans. 2,500 kilometres of dust, sand and gravel – an endurance test for the over 120 vehicles, including 90 motorbikes, and their drivers, co-drivers and teams. It may not be as big and commercial as the most famous of all desert rallies, the Dakar, but equally adventurous. “The safety of the participants is of the utmost importance to the organisers,” Oliver Zorn informs. In his everyday life, Oliver is chief physician at the emergency centre of the Rottal-Inn Clinic in Eggenfelden. He is one of the five doctors who accompany the Tuareg Rally for one week each year.
Maurice is annoyed. With himself. “Damn it, can it really be so difficult to find this jerkwater town?” After all, everything was going so well back in the dunes! But now he has been cruising through Morocco’s hilly landscape for three hours in search of the next checkpoint, a small, godforsaken oasis west of Bouadil. “This can’t be right,” he thinks to himself as he attempts to circumnavigate the KTM 690 Rally with its sliding clutch through the scattered scree. “Some petrol would also be recommendable. And water.” Although the temperatures in Western Sahara are still bearable in March, it is not called “desert” for nothing. Water is hard to come by. It is unfortunate that humans need this precious resource to survive, especially after heaving around 160 kilograms of aluminium, steel and plastic for hours on end.
Apart from the doctors, there are also at least 15 rescue and emergency paramedics on standby during the five days of the rally. I say at least, because many of them are not discernible: “They carry out supply tasks or perform evaluations at checkpoints. It is quite practical if a helper can do more than one thing at an event like this.” As former rescue service manager in Düren, Zorn knows the one or other thing about motorsport, after all the Nürburgring, the most legendary race track in the world, was within the scope of responsibility of his former domain. And he is familiar with all the equipment that is intended for saving lives in the case of an emergency and keeping the number of fatalities at the Tuareg Rally to the current low level: the corpuls3 and the corpuls cpr. “Fortunately, the cpr was not needed in the past, but the three corpuls3 devices worked just as well in the desert sands of the Sahara as back home in Germany. They keep what they promise.”
“What was that?” Maurice asks himself. A flash of light. There, in the corner of his eyes. A car? Another rally participant? “OH SH…!” The front wheel of the KTM suddenly gives way, the handlebars are ripped out of his hands and the saddle kicks him in the buttocks.
Impact. Darkness. Confusion. “What happened? Where the heck… OUCH!” The left shoulder is burning like hell. The right leg too, something is holding it down. The motorbike. It’s lying on top. “This is… not good…,” Maurice thinks.
In order to provide fast response in case of emergencies, a helicopter and three jeeps are deployed at the Tuareg Rally. Real rally vehicles, which are also fully equipped rescue vehicles. “Normally, we are stationed at the checkpoints or somewhere in-between along the route and follow the participants as soon as everyone is on their way. But in the case of an emergency we may also have to move in the opposite direction towards the participants – and that’s when things really start to get interesting.” “Interesting” is an understatement here, after all they have to move towards a horde of participants in vehicles swarming towards them at full speed. In order for the rescue workers to be seen in due time, the jeeps are fitted with an extremely bright lighting system. “They have so many flashing blue lights that they are normally easily recognised.” Although, on one occasion, a motorcyclist did complain to the race organisers that a jeep had very unsportingly overtaken him and cut him off. After not being able to provide the start number and describing the vehicle, he must have begun to realise that the red car with yellow stripes may not have been one of the normal rally participants.
“Maybe like this – ouch – no…” Maurice simply cannot reach the GPS in the KTM’s cockpit. But this is necessary for the rescue workers to find him. He won’t be able to do this on his own, and once the sun sets it will be even more difficult to find him. Twisting around as much as possible, the Belgian reaches into his motorcycle jacket to retrieve the mobile phone that every participant must carry with him. “Thank God!”, the simple Nokia is still in one piece, “Now all I need is a network…YES!”
The Tuareg – the mobile hospital for everyone
The medical staff at the Tuareg Rally not only consists of multi-talents – it is a multi-talent in its own right. Although only really intended for participants, the rally squad also has a charitable side. “We haven’t been called on as often as in previous years, but there are still locals who come to us seeking medical advice or assistance or simply an examination. Once there was even a pregnant women who asked us to check if everything was ok, well aware that we had an ultrasound scanner with us.” It’s in moments like these that the familial aspect of the Tuareg comes to the fore. Many participants have attended previous rallies. Many previous participants join as staff. But everyone agrees: the Tuareg is special.
Maurice presses the speed-dial key. 80 kilometres away, the telephone rings in the tent of the Tuareg Rally organisers. An assistant picks up the phone. “Rainer? Could you please come over for a moment.” Rainer Autenrieth is a former fuel cell engineer at a car company in Stuttgart. And also the organiser of the Tuareg Rally for the past 19 years.
“Yes? Maurice? Ok, yes, where are you? What, no GPS? Ok, no problem – a riverbed, huh?” Rainer’s fingers slide across a map on the moveable wall. “Ok…describe the area for me…yeah, of course there are only rocks around, so just describe the rocks then!”
Brains and heart instead of maximum power
The Dakar Rally left the African continent over ten years ago and is now based in South America. For security reasons. In spite of this, 67 people lost their lives in the course of its approximately 40-year history. The Tuareg, on the other hand, only had two casualties in nearly twenty years. Not because it’s less gruelling, but because its different. What matters here are navigational skills, not who has the most money. While the works team of Peugeot or BMW spend millions in the Atacama Plateau, the Tuareg is also suitable for amateurs. No special racing license is required. A car can be set up for far less than 10,000 euros (for this amount, the winner of the Dakar 2018, Stephane Peterhansel, will probably not even manage to buy a bumper for his rally vehicle), as the British car magazine “Top Gear” has proven last year – this is still a lot of money, no doubt, but it’s doable.
“Do you have any water with you?” – “Of course!”
Less than an hour after the call to the rally organisers, the helpers heave the motorbike off Maurice’s injured leg. The paramedics found him less than 100 metres away from where Autenrieth assumed he’d be, based on the description of rocks in a dry riverbed.
“Can you feel your legs?”
“Yes, now I can, the bike was too heavy in the long run.”
“Ok, don’t get up for now, we’ll put you on a stretcher. How’s your leg doing?”
“It seems fine, but my shoulder…”
“For most people here, regardless of whether they are participants or staff, the Tuareg is like a holiday. For me too!” says Oliver Zorn. “After a few days in Morocco, the problems that frustrated me back home no longer feel that important. No matter how big they seemed, I see now that they just are just luxury problems. The Tuareg has a way of grounding you. That’s the best thing about it.”
No surprise, therefore, that many participants stay until the end, even if they had to quit the race for technical reasons or due to injury.
“Hey man, would you like another beer?” – “Sure! Could you open it for me please?”
Maurice is sitting in the camp, his arm in a sling. A quirky Dane brings him two bottles of beer.
“What does the doc have to say?”
“It’s the collarbone. Might take a while to heal.”
“Ouch! Do you regret coming here?”
“Not at all!” “Cheers, Aksel…”
“Skal! Let’s drink to the Tuareg!”
“And to camel droppings!”
The Tuareg will be back in 2020. If you want to participate or help: www.tuareg-rallye.eu.
Just keep in mind that there is no money to be won! In the words of Oliver Zorn: It’s all about the glory!