Desert driving for everyone – GNFD 2016…

Every year the Gulf News, an English-language paper in Dubai, runs a fun drive in the desert during the winter.The event has been running for 30 odd years, with a route carefully planned well in advance, tickets go on sale before the event and it’s always a sellout. 
The participants, aka the punters, are families, couples, men, women all taking the opportunity to get on out there and bash some dune driving for a day.This year the event was held in the Western region of Abu Dhabi, heading down to the fertile crescent at Liwa. A beautiful part of the desert here, no Pylons or phone signals, no roads, a few camel farms ….just dunes and more dunes.

The Marshalls are a big part of the day. Their role is to help, guide, winch, drag, tow, direct and  report in emergencies.  Many punters have not experienced much desert driving and there is a skill in knowing how to crest over a dune, read the sand and not nose dive and have the result below…

Crushed jeep...

Crushed jeep…

Being lucky enough to be a part of the marshall team, albeit as an accompanier, receive a freebie fleece (necessary in the desert for an early-morning in January start, a polo shirt identifying one as part of the team and various other whistles, clipboards and officialdom). Most are experienced burly, fit(ish) men from all walks of life, their skill and love for the desert pull them into events such as this.

Driving kitted out vehicles, jacked up with winches, tow straps, skids for wheel traction etc. everyone on the team does this for free, its part of the off-road year in Dubai and eagerly looked forward to.

Event conversations with marshalls revolve around tyre dogs, locking diffs, types of tow straps, winch capabilities, tyre pressure gauges and so on. It’s mainly a man’s world, with a bit of room for some of the hardy women who love the desert driving and equal up to any of these sturdy booted males. This year, deep in a bout of flu, I spent much time waving a red flag and making “Are you ok?” signs at people. It wasn’t to be missed as an event, but once or twice during the day, I thought longingly of my bed.

This year 800 plus cars, a team of xx supporting marshalls, approximately 2,500 people lined up for a start delayed by early morning fog with tyre pressure dropped to 15psi and as the flag went down, the horde of four wheel drives filed off in an orderly fashion for the fun in the desert.

First stop, checkpoint and a queue to get into the desert. Yes, queue, the desert is fenced off to stop camels straying, to protect Oryx and possibly to stop all and sundry heading in and getting stuck.

Once in, the huge convoy sped off, led by the route leader, interspersed with marshalls, generally shepherding and checking on strange parking angles, open bonnets, sand insertions, cresting on dunes and stray cars heading off the route, making sure all 800 reach the final checkpoint.

No-one is to be left out in the desert. At 8 checkpoints on the 250 km route throughout the day, everyone is checked through to the next, a cut-off time for the last one as sunset distorts the dunes, making it hard to judge heights. For those who didn’t make it in time, directions down to the massive campsite where dinner is laid on plus entertainment for the 2500.

A beautiful route, already run before, as part of the marshalls involvement, a run-through is mandatory. This time, following the convoy towards the end, the desert was churned by the 800 tracks, but it will soon return to its pristine state, the wind will bury the evidence of the 800 before too long.

There always a point on any of the annual drives, which is referred to as “The Somme”. This year was no exception; perching on the edge of a dune drop into a massive bowl a hundred cars or so seemed to be parked in the base, people milling around, chatting, taking selfies, eating. Initially, it looked like a massive picnic, but descending down into some very soft sand, the realisation

was that most of them were stuck. At this stage in the drive, tyre pressure should be re-checked, heat increases the psi leading to no traction. Plenty of marshalls in The Somme to give advice, snatch a recovery and shepherd the drivers out, up and onwards.


The driving is fast out in the desert, low tyres giving a feeling of gliding over the sand and the sensation of floating across this wilderness is a powerful reminder of nature’s gift to us when experiencing this sort of landscape.However, for the 800 plus cars out there once a year, the desert turns into a vast play area for one day, for all those lucky enough to be taking part.

Prior to the event, permissions are sought from the relevant Emirate, nature reserves are out of bounds, the Oil and Gas sites are widely avoided, as are pipelines. Any route rubbish is collected at the final sweep of the area and apart from the tracks which are swiftly covered, the desert returns to its normal state.

Many of the punters leave behind parts of their cars, bumpers, back plates, side wings, there is always an assortment scattered en route. Together with the cars with busted radiators, gearbox issues and so on, it can lead to a fairly costly outing for some. But it’s always sold out within a day every year.

After closing the final section with the sweep team, a quick dinner at the campsite, it was time to head home.Too cold and damp during the night for camping with the flu, a 4-hour drive back to Dubai and bed, welcome bed.

13 comments on “Desert driving for everyone – GNFD 2016…

  1. Outstanding post! The photos fit your written work wonderfully. I sort of got the feeling that I was out there watching the punters make their drive, feeling the heat of the desert. Thank you. 🙂


  2. Great post…I will take liberty here and suggest you to post all pictures in bigger size, it simply enhances the viewing experience of the blog! I’m sorry, this suggestion is uncalled for …but wanted to share my view! These were wonderful pictures and I just thought on commenting on what was missing!


    • Arv, More than happy for you take liberty with helpful hints, looking for any input and helpful suggestions. Not quite sure re bigger size, in WordPress I am using Gallery, largest size and tiled mosaic. I am using 1080 to resize the photos to upload, any advice would be welcomed if it makes it look better!!.Thank you for taking the time to pass by and comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was referring to the images appearing on you blog page.uploading is different thing. currently, one has to click on pictures to see them in full size. it’ll be better if one doesn’t have to click them, by default they should appear in original size on post so one doesn’t have to click them. hope you understood what I meant!


      • Yes, I do.On my next post, I’ll use another option for the photos and see how it looks. I’m looking at different themes as I think I need to move on from my current one, so I’m checking out more photo-friendly ones. Thanks for your input arv.


      • Even I changed my theme because of images and it took me long time to find a suitable theme. it was much more painful to make changes after applying new theme. it’s like a new learning curve. But I’m very happy after those changes. do go ahead, it’ll be for better. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Monthly Memories : January 2016 | Travels in the Middle East and beyond

  4. Pingback: Home is where my heart is…. | Travels in the Middle East and beyond

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.