The day before the final race the air was thick. Despite the camaraderie, you could almost cut the tension with a knife. We had always said from the beginning, “you don’t have to come in first; just don’t come in last” (however, whether we paid any attention to this mentality is up for discussion). Tomorrow would be the day where it did matter; the game has changed, evolved and no one knew how eliminations would work. Our camp was atop a massive ridgeline which looked over the surrounding valley and plunged into the serene turquoise waters of the lake below. Despite the beauty of our surroundings, everyone’s mind was on the competition that lay ahead.
Upon nightfall, we were surprised with a traditional Moroccan meal. This was cooked with expertise by a local Berber woman, whom couldn’t have been more delighted seeing the smiles on our faces. This was the first time in almost a month, that we had gotten to experience traditional cuisine. The table was adorned with various forms of tagine, olives, cous cous and offered up a feast for the senses. As Jeff stated, “eat, drink and be merry…for tomorrow we die,” this couldn’t have been more suitable. During the meal, we all gave our thanks and appreciation for the journey thus far. This was a surreal moment and our last chance to cherish each others friendship before the final competition began.
After a restless night, the morning sprang upon us. We hung out with No Limits for a bit and nervously joked with them. I remember feeling the electricity in the air; a feeling that was foreign and new to me. Before we knew it, we were at the starting line and without hesitation we were sprinting downhill towards the makeshift row boats.
One of our strengths throughout the competition has been transitions. Mentally dissecting these transitions and knowing how to be efficient before they happen is key. Although we didn’t arrive to the rowboats first, we quickly got in, knew what to do and set the pace in front (communicating what you are doing with your teammates is essential as well). The row was a bastard. It was brutal….they don’t really portray this in the show, but it kicked our ass. We continually switched between rower, rudder control and navigator. This proved to be effective, but I can tell ya…rowing 2 miles, into the wind, in the middle of a vast lake is not easy! We noticed the other teams in the distance, but could not tell the order.
At the next checkpoint, we had to shovel through a giant pile of gravel, in the hopes of finding several amethyst rocks. Are hands were already beat to shit after haphazardly gripping the old wooden oars on the row. I remember the stiffness after trying to bend my fingers; this was going to suck. Despite our state of exhausition and dehydration, the adrenaline sprung us along. We each took turns shoveling and after 15 minutes or so, we still had not found the crystal. The teal crew were soon to arrive and the fab started digging. Would this be a equalizer? Soon after, to our pleasure, we dug up our first crystal. After 5 more minutes, we had the other in hand (I believe the fab had 1 at this point). We still hadn’t seen our boys in orange or our football bros and definitely felt a sense of concern.
We took our amethyst and sprinted towards the horse corral to get saddled up. I remember jumping on my horse and watching John with wide eyes as his horse flipped out (this was a common theme on the Expedition). To be honest, I was bummed to be riding horses again. For one, powerful animals that are strapped and then saddled by humans are dangerous. It is a completely foreign world to me and I had already been bucked off a horse in full gallop earlier in the Expedition. Also, the gypsies are not blessed with nice, cushiony, behinds. This makes for an interesting experience when riding untrained Arabian stallions that are constantly bouncing you up and down. Seriously…I remember wincing with each canter of the horse; it felt like torture, but we had to press on! Eventually we got the hang of it and galloped into the first stage finish in first place. I was proud, but unable to walk for 15 minutes or so.
As we lay on the ground and nursed our wounds (iced our backsides) we cheered on the teams as they crossed the finish. First the fab rolled in, which we had expected. We stood up and peered into the endless desert mirage; there was nothing in sight. Time passed and we were uncertain who would be next, but then some blurry men on horseback started making their way into sight. I saw specks of orange and knew that it was No Limits! We were hooting and hollering as the well weathered men (or as Jeff would say..”the salt of the earth”) galloped to the finish. However, this meant that Football was done. It was sad to see the boys get to the final stage and then have to go. We knew that they competed with class, but unfortunately row boats aren’t their thing. It was an honor to race with them; Ricky, Akbar and Rob, were extraordinary people with huge hearts.
The final leg of the race was a chaotic blur. It started with a sprint to the Fords up a massive hill that literally took the wind from our lungs. Upon arrival we slammed into the Ford and quickly pulled away in first (followed by fab and then no limits). We wanted to charge through the desert at blistering speeds, but unfortunately we were confined to 30mph limit. The 22 mile drive was definitely the calm before the storm and it gave us a chance to gather our thoughts before the final showdown.
All three vehicles arrived at the first checkpoint at the same time. What did we see there? More crazy camels! This section didn’t make the cut of the show, but I can assure you it hurt. Everyone mounted their camels and braced for dear life. These were again, sprinting, monstorous, mutant, dinosaur camels. We were all slamming into each other, bruising our legs and screaming in pain. At one point I looked over at Jeff (the hardest mountain man of the group) and he was screaming full boar as the camel violently shook him. I could feel the skin chaffing off of my hands as I held on. I tried going to my happy place, but this place just simply did not exist.
Eventually we arrived at Djamaa El Fna, the most famous square in Marrakech. We eagerly leapt off the 10 ft beasts and took off running to our next checkpoint. The square was hectic to say the least. Business as usual did not stop for the production. Imagine you are strolling through the busy marketplace square and 9 crazy white people race up on camels. They jump off with a delirious look in their eyes and sprint past you while jumping over spice trays, motorcycles and nearly slamming into fellow tourists taking a leisurely stroll. The heat from the square made it’s way into our soul and the mixture of stress/adrenaline quickly took it’s toll. We would race from one set of instructions to the next, unsure amongst all the chaos if we were in fact getting anywhere. One thing that you learn while traveling is the value of making friends with the locals. While I’m sure at this point, we weren’t making any friends (we were sweaty, smelly and a sore sight to the eyes), the locals were helpful (in various degrees).
Eventually we spotted the first door, but the mixture of panic and uncertainty quickly led us past. We also knew that Fab 3 were following us and didn’t want to give the clue up. We continued sprinting through the streets at a breakneck pace. Our bodies were covered in sweat, dust, camel fur and the air smelled of the exhaust from the hundreds of scooters that scurried around us. It was a crazy scene and eventually we got caught up. We were lost. The tipping point was when Fab 3 decided to leave the palace walls. We knew the door was somewhere in the maze behind us and we turned back with No Limits. As we’re retracing our steps through the ancient streets, we realize that Jeff has the old set of instructions. They had forgone the previous checkpoint! Despite being the final moments of the entire expedition, we pointed them in the right direction and said goodbye. Soon after we spotted door number one.
Once we arrived at the door we quickly realized that we just needed to take a left turn and follow the remaining doors. We checked the design of the doors on our maps and eventually made our way to the archway. This felt like a scene from the Bourne Ultimatum…we were literally racing through someones home and up to their roof. After a quick ladder decent, we made it down to the tombs and found the fabled Moroccan lock box. As soon as we started fingering the obscure box, we noticed the boys in orange staring down at us from the rooftop. We all peered up at Jeff as he looked at us inquisitively…”I know that box!” Shit! He knows how to solve this thing and we hadn’t even made the first move. This made us work at even more of a frantic pace, but at the same time we were STOKED to see our boys not in last place. This was the final leg of the race and despite Jeff knowing how to solve the box, no hints were given. It’s all love, but at this point it is fair game. Time stood still and after what felt like endless twists and pulls, the box opened to reveal the final scroll.
No Limits were busy with the box and I remember Jeff yelling, “go win it boys!” Taylor quickly unlocked one of the ladders and slammed it against the palace wall. He made his way up with ease and then I followed. In the mixture of all the craziness I had forgotten my backpack. One of the rules of the game is that you must finish with all of your gear. I suddenly remembered this and yelled down to John. This could have been a potentially fatal mistake, but luckily we had enough time to keep our lead. John took a couple steps and hurled my 30 pound backpack up the 25ft wall. It barely made it and I snagged the pack with one hand….pretty epic moment. Jeff yelled again and we were over!
It was hard watching our boys from below continue to struggle with the box. We wanted to be able to cross the finish line arm in arm, but were told that we would not be able to do this. Before crossing over the wall, we were all smiles and we could see the no limits were as well.
It’s hard to describe the feeling as we peered over the palace wall. Before us was an incredibly beautiful courtyard and a narrow path was adorned with vibrant colors. As we peered into the distance we could see Dave standing at a finish line, 3 Ford Explorers, a massive red carpet and a was lined with Moroccans in traditional dress. My mind flashed back to our visualization…this was exactly what we had pictured! An overwhelming sense of pride rushed through my body. All of our hard work, all of those first place finishes, and all that time pushing our bodies mentally and physically was about to pay off. This was it. The final red carpet lay in front of us and our destination was at hand. Butterflies flew through my stomach as we soared down the wall on our final rappel. Before we ran to the finish line, we looked at each other with ear to ear smiles and our eyes glazed over. “We did it.”
For us, as travelers, as modern gypsies, we have always lived by the famous quote, “life is about the journey, not the destination.” This journey truly was a character defining experience for us. We are proud of how we ran this race and felt like we did it our way. We wanted to show the world that you can be a strong competitor and still be compassionate. We made some lifelong friends along the way and will have countless stories to tell. The best part has been the positive response we’ve received from our supporters. Now it is time channel all of this positive energy into our next adventure!
In saying this, we believe that this is just the beginning of our journey. We started The Modern Gypsies with the intention of giving people an outlet to something real. We want people from all walks of life to be able to follow us on real compassionate adventures. Each trip will be decided by our fans’ votes on the projects section of our website. When the project is selected, we will go to this area, have an amazing adventure, learn about the culture and give back with one major philanthropic project. We have been inspired by so many beautiful people and places around the world; now it is our time to give back. We hope to inspire the modern gypsy in us all!