Thursday, November 16, 2006

Desert Challenge

I first got involved in the UAE Desert Challenge in 2005. This five-day cross-country rally is an annual event that takes place around the Liwa crescent in deepest, darkest Abu Dhabi. It's so far south as to be almost in the Magic Kingdom.

Last year I took a couple of days off and spent these taking photos of the cars, bikes and trucks competing in the event. This year, because the opportunity was presented through the pages of ME4x4 I volunteered to be a member of the sweep team. I needed to take the whole week as leave. My duties, and there were two of us doing this, were to tow a trailer to various points where the rally route crossed roads and tracks, and to meet the other sweeps who had removed dead or crashed motorbikes from the course. These would be loaded on to my trailer and I'd return the machines to the bivouac at Moreeb so that they could be repaired in time to re-start the following morning.

Sometimes there was nothing wrong with the bike, and it was the rider who was exhausted or injured. On more than one occasion the rider was taken to the nearest road and he was then able to ride back to the bivouac.

I also got involved with Passage Controls. The PC's function was to stamp each competitor's time card to prove he passed through the PC. In addition, all times were recorded and radioed back to Rally Control so that everyone knew in which section each competitor was. As sweep, I had to be at a particular PC in time to meet the last bike (and therefore the sweep pick-ups) but by getting there early I was able to help out with running the PC, much to the relief of the PC chief who was chronically short-staffed.

I should add that all competitors and various marshals had Iritrac installed in their vehicles, a satellite-based tracking system telling Rally Control, among others exactly where everyone was in real time.

The rules of the rally allow anyone who starts on a particular day to start the following day. In practice, this means that provided you can get your vehicle through the start gate, you can then go back to the bivouac to continue to repair it. Of course, time penalties are incurred for each PC missed, but as more and more competitors drop out having destroyed their rides, just finishing becomes an important target.

I was there for the entire week. Accommodation was provided at the Liwa Rest House. Although very basic, spring mattresses on the floor of an air-conditioned majlis were nevertheless extremely welcome and beat the pants off sleeping on the sand at the bivouac, being constantly regaled by unsilenced internal combustion. Starts at the extremely uncivilised 0430 entailed a couple of mornings of driving in some pretty thick fog. Small wonder that on two occasions the rally start was delayed.

It can be hard work. It can also be extremely boring, waiting in the middle of nowhere for a pick-up to appear. But the rally simply cannot function without the hordes of volunteer marshals and the gargantuan efforts put in by more people and organisations that I can sensibly list here.

What did I get out of it? The satisfaction of a job well done, mainly. Plus lots of photo opportunities and a chance to get involved. I'm looking forward to the announcement of the dates for next year's Desert Challenge so I can book my leave well in advance.


Mme Cyn said...

You got some really nice pix there, GG. Anymore on Flickr?

Taunted said...

Did you meet sooty and sue too?

Grumpy Goat said...

Neither Sooty nor Sue were in evidence. But at times there were so many sweeps gathered together that it started to look a bit like the rooftop scene out of Mary Poppins.

nzm said...

Or maybe it was a Basil Brush convention?

Boom Boom!


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