The Rebelle Rally Isn’t for the Faint of Heart. Really.

by Nicole Wakelin

What is the Rebelle Rally?

The Rebelle Rally is the first women’s off-road navigation rally in the United States. This 8-day competition allows nothing but topographical maps, compasses, and roadbooks to navigate a 1,200-mile route from Nevada to California. That’s the official description of the rally that you’ll find on the Rebelle Rally website along with all the details about what you need to do to participate.

What you won’t find there is an idea of what it really means to drive this thing, to navigate it, and to cross the finish line. Having just completed the 2020 Rebelle Rally, here’s what it was like to be a rookie Rebelle.

The Work Starts Well Before the Rally

There is a serious amount of planning required to be ready for the rally. This includes everything from securing a vehicle and a teammate to making sure you pack all the required and non-required stuff you’ll need anyway. Tents, sleeping bags, snacks, water bottles, duct tape, zip ties, spare tires, recovery tracks, and an ever-growing list that makes you think, “We’re going to need a bigger car.”

Training, Training, Training

Do you know how to drive off-road? Do you know how to tackle everything from mud to silt to rocks to sand dunes? Even veteran off-road drivers will want to brush up on the skills they don’t use as often. For me, that was sand dunes. I live in the northeast where sand dunes are wee little things and you can’t drive on them, so there was a lot to learn. Several days out on the west coast with an expert gave me the skills I needed to compete.

If you’re the navigator, then you have a whole new world of skills to learn. As I driver, I at least knew how to drive before the Rebelle. But how many people know how to use a compass, read a topographical map, plot latitude and longitude, and then plan a route using scale rulers to track the distance? You in the back raising your hand, good for you, and thank you for your service.
Everyone else, yeah, that’s what I thought.

The Third Teammate

Every team is comprised of two women. The driver drives. The navigator navigates. But it’s really a team of three. The third teammate is your vehicle. In my case as the driver for Team #142, that third teammate was an Infiniti QX80 that was graciously provided by Infiniti.

While you might think about going off-road in more traditional off-road vehicles (Insert Jeep Wave here,) you can do the Rebelle in all sorts of vehicles from 4x4s to crossovers. As the driver, getting behind the wheel of a luxury SUV and taking it into the dirt was especially appealing.

Infiniti gave our trusty steed steel bumpers, a 3-inch lift, new shocks, and rock rails, but underneath it was still a beautiful luxury SUV. It was phenomenal. I thrashed that thing through whoops in the sand dunes in Glamis, gave it a nice bit of desert pinstriping driving through open OHV areas, and maybe put one small dent in the rear bumper in a particularly rocky bit of terrain. (Sorry, Infiniti, my bad.) That thing didn’t even flinch.

There was something especially sweet about sleeping in a tent for a week, showering less than I will admit, and eating nothing but protein bars for lunch every day, but still having a ridiculously comfortable ride to hop into every morning. How comfortable?

There was one self-camp day where we all sleep in our tents clustered together in the dunes. All of us, that is, except for Team #142. We just reclined the seats and slept in the QX0. It was glorious.

The Rally is Hard

No. Really. It’s hard like you wouldn’t believe. This is no lightweight, easy rally that’s toned down for women. This thing is hardcore. Through the entire race it’s just you and your teammate making sure your car is ready, you’re ready, and your stuff is ready.

There’s no hotel at the end of the day. Instead, you have your tent at a base camp that moves every couple of days. One night you don’t even have a base camp. You set up your tent and haul your stuff back and forth to your car. Some nights it’s cold and you’ll find yourself sleeping in your clothes. And jacket. And hat and gloves. Some nights it’s hot. You have to be ready for any kind of weather.

The Days Are Long

Part of what makes the rally hard are the long days. You’re up at around 4am to get the day’s maps so the navigator can start plotting checkpoints – the key to gaining points and winning the rally. Once you cross the start line, you have around 10 hours of driving and navigating to those checkpoints until you return to camp. That’s a long day for a traditional road trip on paved roads. It’s grueling off-road, but you will push through, chug another cup of coffee, and do it again the next day.

It’s Worth It

Long days. Rough conditions. Mental and physical challenges. Why would anyone do this thing?! Because at the end of it all, you did it. The driver drove 1,200 miles of rugged, challenging terrain. The navigator navigated 1,200 miles of checkpoints. You. Did. It.

And through it all, not only did you have your teammate, you had the women of the rally there as support. Everyone is competing against each other, but everyone wants success for each other, too. Whether that means a win, a top ten finish, beating last year’s ranking, or simply getting to the finish. The rally’s biggest cheerleaders are the other teams.

There’s nothing quite like being a part of the Rebelle Rally, crossing that finish line, and being able to call yourself a Rebelle.

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