Rebelle Rally: The wild and challenging women’s motorsport in the American desert

The Rebelle Rally is the first women’s off-road navigation rally raid in the United States. A highly charged and exciting weeklong event where a group of hard-core women crisscross difficult terrain in the American Southwest in search of coordinates and points for a rally win. It is the ultimate test in self-reliance, level of driving skill, navigational acumen, and collaboration. It is not a race for time, but rather a precision navigation course that takes place over 8 days, two states, and approximately 1,500 miles, and doing it will probably make you feel a bit like Mad Max.

2019 marks the fourth year for the Rebelle Rally, and the future seems bright for this women’s off-road motorsport with a navigational bent. There’s a clear rising trend of international interest in the event and its ranks are swelling from popularity. The Rally is live broadcast, but while it hasn’t quite made its way into the echelons of ESPN, don’t be surprised when it finally does. There are currently a few all-women off-road rallies that take place around the world like, Morocco’s Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles Du Maroc but the special thing about the Rebelle, is that its America’s home grown first.

The Rebelle Rally Motto “the vehicle in your driveway is more capable than you know”

There are a number of objectives surrounding the Rebelle Rally. But for starters, the event abides by the motto “the vehicle in your driveway is more capable than you know.” Today, we’re often accustomed to buying an all-wheel drive vehicle that, in actuality, is capable of whole lot more than the general daily mundaneness we subject them to – like an eternity of running errands, or super-market and job commutes. The Rebelle Rally is an opportunity to put these vehicles to the test and is a chance for people (women in this case) to see what that mean Jeep or ultra-luxurious Rolls-Royce Cullinan can really do out in the field.

Not only is the Rally a chance to roll these cars off the parked pavement of home, but it is also an occasion for women to participate more in off-road motorsports and have some serious fun and excitement too boot. For example, speaking with last years co-winner in the 4×4 class, Canadian team Clearwater Design (#100) with Michelle LaFramboise and Elise Racette, explained that the Rebelle is a “really good challenge and takes you out of the everyday of work, kids, and cleaning dishes.”

Michelle and her husband own a canoeing and kayaking outfit, which, granted makes her a bit outdoorsy. Michelle adds “there’s got to be more to life than just everyday life and work”. Hence, her third time joining the Rebelle with Elise.

The Rebelle Rally is all about excitement, action, and skill

Many people might not agree with the idea that an intensive bout of a motorsport activity with a demanding cerebral component is a respite from routine, but then again, that is exactly what sets these women apart from the rest – a thorough relish of an old fashioned, good and hard challenge. In the end, it ends up being a win for the women, auto-manufacturers, and various charities that benefit from the competition. The base entry fee is around $12,000 USD, and while some teams with strong reputations may have a sponsorship from an OEMs, many of the women must fundraise here and there to collect the total and are entering the competition with the very car they may use to drop their children off at school.

The Rebelle Rally was initially set in motion by Emily Miller, president of Public Relations and the Sports Marketing firm Soulside Network, who has a dear preference for driving across Saharan sand dunes rather than freeways and interstates. A background in action sports and a passion for all things automotive, including a Baja 1000 win, has made an ideal leader our of Emily and an exceptional off-roading and orienteering coach to thousands.

Together with motorcycle off-road racing legend, Jimmy Lewis (Dakar Rally), Emily has designed a phenomenal course that covers seven Open OHV (off-roading vehicle) areas and worked to acquire permits that would take the race through spectacular places, like Death Valley, and Joshua Tree National Park. In addition to the remoteness of the locations, the locations ensure a unique race experience, and incredibly scenic spots along the way.

There are two main vehicle categories

There are two main classes of vehicle that compete at the Rebelle – the 4×4 and crossovers – with further classifications that include bone stock (those with no modifications other than having off-road tires) and 4030 (a designation for vehicles over 40 years old). That being said, each registered vehicle must start out as a production-based one.

The 2019 Rebelle Rally was an exciting year for many reasons. It included the first-time presence of spectacular vehicle highlights, like the first ever all-wheel drive Cullinan by Rolls-Royce. Team Jeeves (#200) was driven by Emme Hall and navigated by Rebecca Donaghe, who led the to victory in the cross-over category. I have to speak from first-hand experience here that it was surreal seeing this $400,000, 6,000-pound giant hauling hard and shredding the desert scape showing off its impressive 563 of horsepower and 672 pounds-feet of torque. Supposedly, the smooth stabilization and sailing-like properties of the vehicle allowed for continuous plotting and TSD calculations on the go – helping minimize any unnecessary stops en Rebelle Rally route.

Other firsts in this year’s race included the first Mitsubishi, the largest Toyota participation and OEM participation in general with others like Ford, Honda, Jeep, Lexus, and Nissan.

What it’s like each day in camp

Back at basecamp, the women hurriedly get up before sunrise at the sound of the rattling cowbell at 5 am. Camping on cold desert nights, there’s no time for lazy yoga and a warm cup of coffee as the women feverishly tear down their tents and get to work charting coordinates and calculating TSDs for the day. The Rebelle isn’t a race for time, but the pressure is on to find all necessary navigational points within the day’s given ten-hour timeframe. Oh, and all driving must be respecting the state speed limits and state regulations.

All green checkpoints (easy) must be clicked on via satellite tracker, followed by additional points from the blue (medium), and black (difficult) checkpoints – the most difficult to find but ones that yield the most points. And depending on the random departure draw for the day, the teams have anywhere from one to two hours maximum to prepare.

Emotional rollercoaster – days filled with highs, lows, and everything in between

But this is the Rebelle Rally, and even if you find yourself ahead of the pack one day, you may be at the bottom of the barrel the next. Unforeseen obstacles can slow you down, like a blown-out tire, sinking deep into sand, or hitting a rock and bending your frame, like Team Be-tini (#123). Long days and rough conditions, I heard stories of people breaking down in tears at times, and others maintaining can-do courage … but each team figured out a way to bear the brunt and power on through thick and thin.

Teams carry the majority of supplies with them, including sleds, ratchets, hatches, shovels. Obviously, a level of mechanical know-how is a plus, in the event of technical difficulty. There is the option of working with a mechanic at camp should they need help, but that assistance doesn’t come without a deduction of points.

Basecamp versus marathon days

Four basecamps are set up throughout the event where the women must set up tents each night. But it’s not 100% roughing it as basecamp has a few amenities and niceties… like the gourmet Michelin-star rated food truck by For Stars Catering out of El Segundo, California. There are also hot showers which most probably helps alleviate some of the stress of the event. Except for on the marathon night of the course, where all teams spent the night in self-supported style camping at 7,000 feet of altitude and consuming freeze dried packets of Mountain House food somewhere near Bird Spring Pass.

The awesome ambiance and electric atmosphere of the Rally is full of positivity and good vibes. And whether a team is pro-oriented and determined to win, or there to fine-tune new skills, have a good time, and simply finish, the prevailing spirit is one of support and encouragement – and it’s very inspiring in the face of competition. This is a group that knows how to endure and persevere. And almost all walk away with a heightened sense of self-reliance, confidence, and pride.

In Conclusion

The 38 teams in the 2019 Rebelle Rally ranged in age from 23 to 71 and came from six countries, including the US, Japan, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and Norway. The women had backgrounds from stay at home moms, to molecular biologists, TV hosts and an Olympic ski legend. You’ll see women wearing everything from Ugg boots to steam-punk style to classic navigator desert looks.

The other thing that’s worth nothing is highly stressed throughout the competition is the fact that the race wends through environmentally sensitive areas. Many of the participants go through courses on what do to do should they come face to face with rare desert tortoises. The organization also works with and promotes the Seven Principles of the Leave No Trace group. Thus, the premise isn’t to raise hell in the land, but to show extreme respect for the off-road playground areas too.

After discussing with many of the teams, one thing becomes apparent, and that no matter your background or your goal for the race, one of the most critical elements of success is to be able to effectively communicate with your partner and manage well your emotions. Therefore, a good attitude and zero negativity can get you far in life and is probably the best recipe for success at the Rebelle Rally.