Dirt Hub: Vanessa Ruck is the first woman to complete Morocco’s 1000 Dunas Desert Rally.
As seen in The Dirthub: Vanessa Ruck, a British motorcyclist and adventurer from the UK, completed the RAID 1000 DUNAS in Morocco, becoming the first woman to finish on a standard-production, large-capacity adventure bike.
According to the 1000 Dunas organisers, this event is all about being the ultimate test of how far you can go, and not all riders are expected to finish every single day. The paper-based roadbook navigation is tricky, the terrain is hard, and the distances are long.
“Most people were there on more typical smaller rally bikes. I was part of a very small group of nutters on large motorcycles”, Vanessa says. The terrain was incredibly challenging at times and recovering a bike over 3 times your body weight in soft sand presents a real struggle. “We had a section of small, uneven dunes covered in camel grass where Aled and I were in full survival mode. We got more and more tired, so it was teamwork to recover the bikes until the unthinkable happened, Aled’s clutch burned out. The bike was dead. I was left with no choice but to continue through the dunes and remaining 180km day alone.
As I pulled away, leaving him to be rescued, I knew I was riding for my life. Just one mistake, one drop in the deep sand could be game over. My heart was racing and it took every bit of determination, strength and fight to make it through. Being alone in a desert on a bike like that… that was brutal, and the heat, and fatigue and fear builds very quickly”, Vanessa explains.
The 1000 Dunas starts in Granada, Spain, takes riders across the Moroccan desert to Merzouga, then loops back to Granada for the finish covering over 1,500km. It’s a seven-day rally that isn’t timed but is designed to give riders the opportunity to test their roadbook navigation skills, their endurance, and their bikes. Riders are ranked according to navigation accuracy and whether they finish each stage, and Vanessa came in 8th out of eleven Hard Trail finishers.
Vanessa – also known as ‘The Girl on a Bike’ rode the Triumph Tiger 900 Rally Pro motorcycle from the UK to Spain carrying all her camping gear, tools, and spares with her. Then, she spent one day familiarising herself with the bike off-road at Triumph Adventure Experience in Spain, did some minor tweaks on the Tiger, and lined up at the 1000 Dunas start.
Most would want weeks to prepare but Vanessa just jumped straight in. Vanessa shares she would have perhaps hesitated a little more before saying “yes” to entering the 1000 Dunas on an adventure bike if she’d known just how brutal it was going to be.
“Then again, I’m not one to shy away from a challenge, so I was determined to give it my all to get over that finish line. However, while I think going into the desert with rocky riverbeds, boulder fields, dunes, hill climbs, and sand on a Tiger is brave, doing it alone would have been stupid, which is why I chose to ride with Aled”, Vanessa explains
Vanessa covered the distance and made it to the finish line every single day, although teammate Aled Price completed 6 of the 7 days due to a mechanical issue leaving Vanessa to brave the barren desert solo. Each day their arrival at the bivouac elicited cheers and support from other riders on smaller motorcycles. According to Vanessa, they had no idea whether the Triumph Tigers would hold or whether they would be capable enough for a rally raid like this – yet day in and day out, the motorcycles just plowed on.
It’s not hard to imagine that wrestling a heavy 900cc adventure motorcycle over sand dunes rather than a lighter bike is a much harder job.
“The feeling of finishing 1000 Dunas is absolutely incredible. Male or female, getting across that finish line is an achievement. Doing it as a female just makes me feel really proud for other women out there and hopefully show some inspiration and encourage others to give it a go. Sure, I have to fight a little harder, I’m smaller and not as strong as a guy, but women absolutely can do it, and it’s a very powerful feeling. I’m utterly exhausted right now but buzzing at the same time.”
Vanessa’s story is one of true resilience and utter determination so it’s no surprise to her social media followers that she finished! She describes herself as just a normal girl who faced one of life’s big curve balls. But after being hit by a car while cycling in 2014, resulting in 7 surgeries and a roller-coaster of mental and physical recovery spanning 7 years, taking on 1000 Dunas was no mean feat!
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