A Thousand Miles of Bad Roads with No Maps and No Men

As someone who grew up in the desert Southwest, I feel a kinship with anyone who goes for a long desert ramble for no other reason than to enjoy a nice long ramble. Whether by foot or by car, spending time in nature restores and grounds you, and finding your way around wild places requires parts of our minds and senses that we don’t always use back home in the city. This is especially true now that we’ve been spoiled by digital navigation that helps us find the coffee shop down the street.

At Marie Claire, Whitney Joiner narrates her seven demanding days driving through the desert back-country without GPS or cell service. Part of the U.S.’s first all-female endurance rally, where drivers navigate with only topographical maps, Joiner and her teammate went through some of America’s most challenging arid terrain as they competed against seventy other female drivers. This land of sand dunes and rocky ridgelines presented constant challenges, and drivers added their own. (As Joiner described hers: “I live in Brooklyn! I don’t even have a car!”) But the race was about strategy and endurance, designed by a woman racer with women’s strengths and uniqueness in mind. What Joiner found was the terrifying, exultant beauty of the desert.

Every night, when the scores for the day were posted, we’d land in the bottom four. But wethought we were champions.

All week, the experienced competitors were itching for the final day, when we’d be competing in sand dunes—notoriously difficult to navigate. We woke up that last morning in California’s Imperial Sand Dunes (where Return of the Jedi was partially filmed) to a blazing sun, a high in the 90s, and a range of shimmering white sand mountains towering over base camp.

I didn’t feel particularly ambitious about the dunes, but Jaclyn wanted to attempt some final point-collecting. We caravanned with a few competitors, helping each other find the safest routes, then ate lunch around a green checkpoint, sitting in the shade cast by our vehicles. It was our last green of the rally.

But when I stood up, I saw the top of a blue flag in the recess of a group of dunes to the south. I nudged Jaclyn: “Let’s try it.”

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