On day four, the weather was near perfect, and team Miller/Medard was making incredible time in the dunes, reaching all the hard checkpoints at an amazing pace. The shortest distance isn't as important in the dunes. There are hard, moderate, and easy checkpoints, and reaching anything less than the hard checkpoints is penalized. We couldn't keep up with the team, so we watched some of the other vehicles make their way through the Erg Chebbi dunes, the largest in Morocco, which can reach up to 500 feet high and 14 miles long. The sand had more of an orange tint to it than in the California and Nevada dunes, and rain earlier in the year had packed the sand down, making the dunes somewhat more forgiving. But around noon, when the shadows disappeared and the temperatures increased, it became very easy to misjudge the right line. Again, no nav and no GPS.
Unfortunately, the dunes in the Sahara were too much for the short-wheelbase Sprinter. As you would imagine, the van became even more top-heavy with the change in length. That is likely what led to the accident in the sand, and the Sprinter wound up on its side for several hours. Both drivers were fine and the van eventually got out, but it meant the end of the rally for that team.
We couldn't stay for the entire event. Our time there was over in a flash. During the next several days, the teams had to complete marathon legs: They camped where they finished each night, instead of at a centralized bivouac. Despite all the challenges that faced Miller/Medard, they finished second overall, marking the first time ever for an American to be on the podium. First place went to a highly modified Nissan Patrol with a full Dakar-ready custom suspension and chassis, driven by Syndiely Wade, daughter of the president of Senegal. Team 107 finished as well, although much lower in the standings at 52nd place.
This is not an event to downplay as tough "for a women's event" -- it's just plain tough. A few men have participated, and none has won.
Also, this rally manages to be ISO 14001 certified for environmental impact, and raises money for schools and medical facilities in the area. Miller is sure she'll be back next year, aiming for that top spot. She just may get it.