When was the last time you used a compass to get anywhere? These days, most of us rely on our GPS, Google Maps or WAZE just to get across town. So, when asked to get from one state to another without a digital helper, could you do it? On major highways, sure. Probably. Maybe. But how about from one point of unmarked desert to another? Sounds way tougher, right? It is. And it’s exactly what a group of female off-road enthusiasts spent 10 days doing in mid-October for the second Rebelle Rally.
The rally is an all women’s navigation off-road event that takes place over 10 days across 6000 km in Nevada and California. No GPS. No cell phones. Just 36 teams of two from 12 states and five countries, a map, a compass, a road book and a lot of gumption. Vehicles range from bone-stock to heavily modified, and fall into either the 4×4 or crossover class. Teams consist of a driver and a navigator. Some teams switch off jobs depending on the terrain or the course, but the goal is to play to your strengths.
RacingJunk checked in with the Rebelles mid-rally, staying overnight at the second base camp at the Johnson Valley OHV (home of King of the Hammers, amongst other things) and heading out into the terrain at dawn to see the competitors in action. (Point of fact, navigation is always tricky for this reporter, who kicked off the event by getting lost on her way to basecamp. Keep in mind, this was with the help of GPS.)
For this, the second year of the rally, founder and director Emily Miller wanted to incorporate the lessons she and her team had learned the year before, including making sure that the course was challenging for both the experienced driver and those newer to the challenge.
Coming into camp at the end of day four, the Rebelle drivers had completed two days of driving adventures and a night of camping, ultimately moving into California from Nevada through sand dunes and uncertain geographical markers, and three hours of transit driving. Transit legs are one of three types of challenge drivers face, the others being enduro challenges of time/speed/distance consistency and the series of navigational/terrain tasks.
“Tomorrow’s course will be about shorter distances,” Miller explained, “but with some off-road challenges for those looking for them.”
Of course, some drivers don’t need the additional challenges.
“We didn’t know where north was until May,” says Katy Kunkel of TeamJUCY. The New Zealand native and her partner Frances Clarke are brand new to the off-roading rally scene, but were having a very good time despite some trouble in the dunes the day before.
“We got stuck and Melissa (Fischer) came up behind us, and asked if we knew what we were doing. They helped haul us out and got us on our way.”
“I watched them sliding down the dunes, the Jeep going sideways, and just thought ‘turn, turn,turn’ but they got themselves situated,” said Melissa cheerfully.
The spirit of the Rebelle is one of fierce competition as well as deep camaraderie. Competitors are allowed to help each other, and in fact lose no points if another Rebelle comes to their aid, or if they fix a problem themselves.
Melissa and her partner Cora Jokinen of Team Torq-Masters were in a good position to help TeamJucy. The two had competed in the inaugural Rebelle Rally the year before and are experienced off-road drivers and competitors.
The days of driving can be brutally long. The Johnson Valley day consisted of 18 short obstacle challenges through mountainous terrain, rocky roads, big boulders, washes and some crazy bumps. Teams were given 11 hours to complete the combination of mandatory check-ins over rocky terrain, as well as points-getting blue challenges (marked with flags) and black ones (no marker, just a hope, a prayer and a compass). Competitors rose at 5 a.m. to plot coordinates for the day’s adventures.
Armed with coffee and plates of eggs, sausage and fruit from three star Michelin chef Drew Deckman, Cora and Melissa poured over the upcoming terrain on a topo map and decided whether they wanted to go for the technical driving or navigational challenge when given the option. Ultimately, they went for the technical challenge, earning the maximum score, and coming in second in points for the day. Good choice.
The next day took them south through Johnson Valley and Joshua Tree National Park on the way to the final destination — the Imperial Sand Dunes, otherwise known as Glamis.
The Rebelle Rally was started to give women “give women a platform to shine in the automotive and adventure arenas.” And it does all that and more. Competitors finish not only with a sense of accomplishment, but with deep connections to each other, one formed through the struggles as well as the celebrations.
In addition to the first place hardware, a Team Spirit award is given to recognize the spirit of the rally. It was won this year by Senegalese/French team Rebelle Angels (#155), Syndiely Wade and Melanie Baudin, for consistently prioritizing aid to their fellow drivers. The award earns a charity of the team’s choice — in this case the Make-a-Wish France Foundation — a $5000 reward, along with the admiration of their peers, not to mention the gratitude. Sacrificing their standings on Day 5, the Rebelle Angels towed in Team Hoehn Adventures’ Honda Ridgeline to base camp when their vehicle broke down in the desert after a rock struck their oil pan and the engine seized.
Ultimately, the competitors made it through the challenging dunes course and to the gala awards ceremony in San Diego where Kaleigh Hotchkiss and Teralin Petereit of Team Blondetourage (#125) ultimately took home the win for the 4×4 Class. In the Crossover Class, Jaimy Grigsby and Lori Arterburn of Team Hoehn Adventures (#203) earned the W in their Jaguar F-Pace.
Team Torq-Masters proved that experience, determination, and joy are a winning combo as well, coming in 4th, earning 91% of the available points.
And our novice Kiwis?
They finished 9th, with 87% of the points, happily in the top 10 and with a lifetime of stories to tell.