The Six Rules of Being an Excellent Off-Road Navigator

As told by a lady who races rally cars sans GPS for a living

May 3, 2017 9:00 am

The Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles isn’t for ninnies.

Since 1999, the all women’s off-road rally has invited teams from 33 countries to Morocco for a take-all-comers race hill, dale, dune and all manner of scenic desert landscape.

But there’s a catch.

Speed isn’t taken into account — it’s all about the shortest distance trekked. And with no GPS allowed on course, that means every two-woman must use only a black-and-white map, compass and their own wits to get to the finish line.

Given those rules, it’s safe to assume that the participants in this race are really, really, abnormally talented navigators. So who better to give us a few pointers on backseat driving than Jeanette James, an off-road driving instructor and the winner of the “Expert” category at this year’s Rallye.

“I started racing late in life, thinking that I wasn’t a competitive person,” she told us. “But once the race started I realized that I was. I am addicted! And I am absolutely thrilled to have won this year.”

Navigation (3 images)

Navigating the Aïcha des Gazelle take total concentration: between checkpoints, there are mountains, rivers, dunes and a multitude of natural barriers and obstacles. It’s easy to get lost out there.

Should you find yourself in a similar a pickle (even with a GPS), here are six tips James says to keep in mind.

1. Always bring a map. This should go without saying. If you’re planning on doing even some light off-roading, you run the risk of your phone or car’s navigation going on the fritz. That cannot happen to a map.

2. Trust the map. If you have driven four miles in one direction, measure that distance on the map and trace forward from your last known point — that is where you now are.

3. Follow every mile on the map. That way, any time you make a mistake, you are only a mile away from correcting it.

4. Use a Trip Master. It is more precise than your car’s odometer.

5. Take your time. And be sure that every time you change direction, you indicate that you’ve done so on your map.

6. Make your decisions together. This way, no one person is ever “to blame” for a mistake. Instead, you’re both at fault. No finger-pointing, no foul.

James also offered us this: “In [the Ralleye Aïcha des Gazelle], you and your copilot find yourselves alone with nature; you have to find solutions for every obstacle. It is a learning process every day and brings all your emotions to the surface. There is not a day where the laughter, the tears and the fears do not surface.”

In other words: pay attention and work together. And remember: it’s about the journey, not the destination, maaan.

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