I’m heading to Paris and Morocco on Wednesday, but this time with a different agenda – no agenda.  After catching up with friends in Paris and making sure the competing US Gazelles are ready to compete, I’ll be heading to southern Morocco to see the country from a different angle.  I’ll be slowing down, using my driving and navigation skills to see the countryside at a different pace.  Then, I’ll be putting it to words and pictures for Overland Journal.

So let me get down to business and give you the skinny on why my navigator Chrissie and I withdrew from this year’s Rallye Aicha des Gazelles.  To give a little background, we were competing for a factory program with a vehicle registered in the Crossover Category.  To make a long story a little shorter and spare the details, here’s what happened.  Rally moves vehicle to 4×4 class without informing us – approximately 5 weeks before the rally.  We reply with a request to reconsider as the technical director had sent a letter in writing on November 15th that the vehicle was indeed in the Crossover Category.  No change.  Responses came from others but not the technical director.  I’ll leave out the details.

The reality is, the terms changed and we withdrew from the Rallye.  My navigator -the infinitely intelligent and gifted Chrissie Beavis – and I looked at the situation and decided it was best for us to not put ourselves in a no win situation in Morocco this year.  We were part of a great program with VW, but the rally at the last minute moved our vehicle (a transport van) into the “4×4” class (which turns out didn’t exist in the actual rules we had in our possession).  Let’s put it this way, it’s a little like taking the Fed Ex truck and racing it against Trophy Trucks.  We hadn’t seen an actual photo of the vehicle, the test drive in Morocco was cancelled in February and we were put in a tough position.  I suppose we just could have gone along with it and not said anything.  However, one thing I have learned in my driving experience is to learn from the past, both successes and mistakes, and take the advice of those most experienced to heart.

I’ll keep the history of my reservations from other vehicles being placed into what Motor Trend and Truck Trend called the “nebulous 4×4 class” to myself.  Also, I’ve been faced with stepping into a foreign country with various promises that haven’t turned out to be quite what was agreed upon.  The best thing I knew to do was to trust my gut, trust my mentor, trust my experience.  I know that my role as a driver is to step into a vehicle and do my best job.  However, that does mean that a little more prep work is quite in order, otherwise all parties stand to look bad.

So here begins my journey across Southern Morocco – open to the sights, sounds and experiences along the way.  I’ll pick up the rented Toyota Prado in Marrakech on Monday the 19th armed with maps, compass, tire compressor, some tools, a shovel and a set of MAXTRAX.  I may not be a 2012 competitor, but once a Gazelle, always a Gazelle.