Put me on a boat far out to sea, with no land in sight. Scouring the horizon, I remain calm. Let the boat rock and the waves crash onto the bow. I’m fine.
Put me in the high desert, scanning the horizon somewhere in Nevada or California and suddenly, I’m all, “There be dragons.” Or scorpions, coyotes, rattlesnakes, aliens, bedraggled survivors crawling along the ground from dehydration. I’m unnerved.
That’s where I found myself and over 100 competitors, support staff and media at the 2019 Rebelle Rally last October. The fourth year of this all-female off-road competition started at Squaw Valley, alongside Lake Tahoe, and finished 1,500 miles and nine days later in San Diego, CA. In between lay the above-mentioned high desert, 200 square miles of sand dunes, seven Bureau of Land Management recreation areas and portions of two National Parks — Death Valley and Joshua Tree.
It’s nothing short of remarkable that Founder Emily Miller and Course Designer Jimmy Lewis have been granted access to these lands for the Rally. As Emily expressed, “The dedication of our staff and the actions of our teams, consistently demonstrating their responsibility and commitment to Tread Lightly principles, have made this possible.”
The Rebelle Rally comprises 10 days of orienteering, precision calculations, and careful driving — with conditions and routes changing daily. Your day starts at 5:00 and finishes well into the night. Every few days you need to pack up your camping gear and move to another start location. Water conservation limits mean you’re unlikely to shower. Repeat over nine days, then clean-up to attend a San Diego waterfront gala, Rebellation, on the final night.
No phone, no GPS, no electronic navigation; you rely instead on paper maps, compasses, divided rules, calculators and intuition to plot your course to checkpoints throughout the daylight hours. The harder the checkpoints are to find, the greater the points awarded to you. Green checkpoints are marked by eight-foot high pennants; blue ones are but four feet tall. Black checkpoints have no flags, just your best effort at coming within a certain distance of the longitude and latitude coordinates. A tracking device sends a signal to the Rebelle scoring team (and helps find you in case of emergencies) — but you’re really on your own each day.
Success of the Rebelle relies on the intriguing mix of competitors and event staff. Founder and off-road racer Emily Miller attracted and enticed a dream team of knowledgeable and experienced enthusiasts to help her plot the routes and checkpoints, organize every aspect from pre-event trainings to base camps, and then produce a spectacular event.
This year I arrived late into Day 4. By then, as Emily Miller said, “You really start to feel the weight of the event. Even something as simple as setting up your tent can seem monumental when you’re completely exhausted. This is when you find out what you’re capable of.” Since the Rebelle crew erected my tent for me, I found myself capable of enjoying a spectacular dinner prepared by award-winning chef Drew Deckman and his outstanding team; breakfasts and dinners by Drew proved a big reward to competitors most every day.
The following morning, I rode with Technical Director Chris Woo to monitor an early checkpoint on Day 5. He lives in Truckee, CA, and works full time as the Director of Lift Maintenance at the Squaw Valley Ski Resort. His off-road background includes racing with Rod Hall and his Baja-winning racing team. Riding with Chris and listening to his experience as an off-road competitor, instructor and mechanic, became a crash course in how to successfully compete in the Rebelle. “You want to drive efficiently,” he said, “smooth, fast and efficient. Getting stuck teaches you how to get unstuck, how to drive efficiently.” Quoting Rod Hall, he said, “In order to finish first, first you must finish.”
His primary responsibility at the Rebelle was the safety of the competitors; he created the list of safety kit each competitor had to carry and organized the Tech Inspection of every vehicle. He called the Rebelle “a platform for women to find their voice, their tribe. Competitors see and meet others like themselves, women who want to build capability and capacity, who want to be surrounded by greatness. That’s how you grow.”
I caught up with Course Director Jimmy Lewis, Costa Mesa, CA and Pahrump, NV, that evening. He has an impressive record of podium finishes in the Dakar Rally and winning the Baja 1000 in 1998. Jimmy knows the desert reaches of Southern California and Nevada like the back of his hand, having explored them on his motorcycles since childhood. Emily Miller caught up with Jimmy at a King of the Hammers, ran the concept for the Rebelle by him, and “I was hooked. I like the whole idea of navigation-based events.” Jimmy determines the course annually, keeping favorite spots in mind while seeking to change up the routes each year. When weather throws the event a curve, Jimmy’s the one to lay out the necessary changes — and in a hurry.
“I want the course to be one that I want to ride, one to challenge me, too,” Jimmy said. “I’m blessed to be able to do this work. I’m also amazed to watch what the competitors do on my course. I know their participation will change them, and it has changed me, too.”
Chrissie Beavis, San Diego, CA, comes from a family of rally drivers; in fact, she likely participated in her first rally while in her mother’s womb. She’s taken gold and silver medals at the X Games Rally and won the Crossover Class at the Rallye des Gazelles in Morocco. She serves as Director of Scoring and Head Rally Judge for the Rebelle, seemingly glued to a computer making endless sets of calculations to determine the standings daily. She’s also the court of last resort for any disputed scores or penalties. As a former navigator in past Rebelles, Chrissie knows what it takes to succeed — but also, what’s required in order to enjoy the challenge. An architectural designer by profession, Chrissie creates building interiors from homes to restaurants. This year, her family, Matt [husband] and Atlas [son] joined her in working the event; Matt worked with Rolls Royce crossovers and toddler Atlas entertained everyone.
Andrea Bullard, Encinitas, CA, serves as the Competitor Liaison for the Rebelle. The founder of Off-Road Like A Girl and an avid motorsports enthusiast, she’s perfectly suited for handling the many issues that arise when you have 80 women competing against each other. Her involvement begins long before the event, as she’s the go-to person from trainings to the myriad of issues that arose every day during the Rally. Her energy seemed boundless and her commitment to the competitor experience felt fierce. Embodying the Rebelle community, she’s the mother of two daring young girls, and working on completing requirements to become a Wilderness EMT.
Since the Rebelle’s rules limit outside communications, it’s up to Kirsten Tiegen, San Diego, CA, to keep the world informed about the event. Kirsten prepares daily updates on the Rebelle’s websites as well as spreads the word throughout the year to publications as different as Marie Claire and Rovers Magazine, and as diverse as US online and overseas media. (Competitors came from as far away as Japan and as close by as Canada.) It’s a tribute to the Rebelle that its media reach continues to grow in breadth, and a reflection of the multiple aspects of the Rally experience that it attracts ever more attention. If any readers have been tasked with herding media types, then you know the challenges that Kirsten confronts at the event and throughout the year.
There are not enough pages to cite the tireless work of Lily Mancaruso, the Director of Basecamp Operations, and her crews that set up and strike multiple base camps, clean up after meals, organize the latrine and shower trailers, and transport the necessary equipment to the next camp — but I join the competitors in thanking them profusely.
For competitors, success in the Rebelle relies on navigational skills, driving prowess and time management. As a navigator, you’re responsible for plotting the course from checkpoint to checkpoint. As a driver, you need to pace — not race. Vehicle sympathy matters; if you need a repair and can’t complete it yourself, Nick Cimmarusti’s team of mechanics will assist, but you lose points if they must rescue you. Together with your navigator, you figure out which checkpoints you can reach before sunset to give you the highest score.
Against all the other 4×4 and crossover manufacturers whose cars and trucks comprised this year’s field, four teams ran their personal Land Rovers.
Karen Hoehn [Driver] and Dana Saxten [Navigator]
Team 108 [LR4]
Karen Hoehn, Del Mar, CA and Dana Saxten, Encinitas, CA, have demonstrated over each Rebelle that there are no barriers to participation; in previous years, they’ve competed against their daughters. The duo have also competed in the Rallye des Gazelles in Morocco. Karen and Dana’s family businesses incorporate the automotive and restaurant worlds, respectively. Both women spoke positively and enthusiastically about the experiences gleaned from each Rebelle. Karen considers the Rebelle so vital that her company, Hoehn Adventures, became a Rally sponsor. Despite a grueling schedule that tuckered out competitors half their ages, they looked composed, prepared and enthusiastic every morning.
Kristin Thul [Driver] and Jen Henning [Navigator]
Team LR4Five [2015 LR4]
Kristin Thul, Santa Ana, CA and Jen Hanning, Joshua Tree Basin, CA, met for the first time at one of the many “Rebelle U” training programs. “We hit it off immediately. We both wanted to compete in a Rebelle, but did not have a team partner. We realized we only lived 90 miles apart and could practice around Joshua Tree and Johnson Valley.”
A Colorado native, Kristin grew up with a taste for adventure, mountain biking in the Rockies and competing in Alpine skiing. Her interest in the Rebelle came from following Orange County competitor Deborah Njam on Instagram. “I had been put on bed rest prior to the birth of my third child and followed her online,” Kristin said. “Her photographs convinced me that I had to enter. It’s a big commitment in terms of training, finding the right gear, as well as the event itself.”
Kristin stays busy raising her three children and looks back at the Rebelle as providing “lessons you can use in everyday life. I want to take my kids out into nature with knowledge and confidence. Running the Rebelle taught me to be more independent as a woman, to face challenges head on and not quit, growing and challenging myself.”
Jen Henning had never before spent time in a Land Rover. “I’ve always been a Land Rover fan,” she said, “and I trusted Kristin and her vehicle. I can tell you her LR4 is awesome, so capable and comfortable. In comparison, a Jeep is a studio apartment, while our Land Rover is a mansion!” Her partner, Michael, introduced her to overlanding and together they’ve explored the eastern Sierras and the California high desert. “I had read about the Rallye des Gazelles and wanted to enter, but Michael convinced me to try something closer to home.”
“I think its an amazing event. I’ve been part of producing large events before (Jen works for the Palm Springs Economic Development Department) and I know how much is involved. The magnitude of this even was amazing and if there were problems, they were not apparent to me. The event gets an A+ from me.” Kristin and Jen gave themselves early Christmas presents by registering for the 2020 Rebelle on December 24th.
Marie Campbell [Driver] and Jessica Moore [Navigator]
Team Unbroken Journey [2005 LR3]
At last year’s Rebelle, Marie Campbell, Bulverde, TX, partnered as a navigator with cancer survivor Channel Williams. This year, she switched to driving her own LR3 and connected with Jessica Moore, a friend from her church community. Marie said that the idea of competing at all came from her husband, who had read an article on the Rebelle in Rovers Magazine. Once bitten by the Rebelle bug, Marie knew she had to return in 2019.
The Texas duo sparkled with a mix of smiles, but reminded you why you don’t mess with Texas — together, they leapt up in the final standings, finishing 17th this year. Their team also demonstrated the power of the event to galvanize participants around challenges important to them; in the case of this year’s participation, mental health issues. As Jessica wrote, “We wanted to show others with anxiety and depression that we have been there. We have wrestled with the same problems. If we can get help and compete in an event like the Rebelle, so can everyone else. All things are possible.”
Thayer Low [Driver] and Penny Dale [Navigator]
Team Aman Cara [2013 LR4]
Thayer Low, Westminster, CO, is a copywriter, freelance writer and mother of two young girls. Penny Dale, Vancouver, BC, Canada, owns an interior design company. They met through the 2018 Rebelle and ran their second event together this year.
Thayer recounted, “We had a lot more confidence as a team as we knew what was likely to happen. We didn’t want to make rookie mistakes; we had the morning routine down, packing up at 5:00 am and not being the last team running to our vehicle to avoid penalties.”
Reflecting their experience and running high in the standings, they looked forward to running the final challenge, the Glamis Sand Dunes. Then it all went south. As Thayer recalled, “We went back down the face of a dune. We got stuck and I was heading up the top of the next dune. I didn’t quite make it, maybe because the surface crust has been broken by ATV tracks, or the heat of the day had softened the sand surface. I could feel the Land Rover start to slip from the front downhill. I tried to prevent the side slip, but I also had gear strapped to the roof rack. I remember everything in the car falling on me, sand everywhere. The car rolled back up and that was it. I wasn’t hurt from flying debris.”
“I have to thank Emily [Miller] for make us wear helmets all the time. A recovery crew arrived quickly and talked me through winching it to the top of the dune. ‘Monty’ was running just fine. One wheel lost its bead and I couldn’t pull out the frozen seat belt. We weren’t far from a paved road, so Penny and I turned up the music and drove it to the base camp.”
“I kept apologizing to Penny, but she finally said, “Stop it!”
Reflecting on her Rebelle experience, Penny Dale noted, “I had a couple of goals: setting the right expectations for myself — like stop being a Type A person — and having fun. I wanted to place well and have a good time. The Rebelle is a magnifying glass on your emotions. I brought habits and thought patterns with me to the event and in the Land Rover.”
“The Rebelle is like a cauldron. All the heat and pressure — you come out better for it. As a navigator, I wanted to make certain that I wasn’t too bossy, trying to micromanage the driver. The accident was a tiny piece of our experience this year.”
I followed the competitors in the LR4 of former Rebelle Deborah Njam. As we traversed the terrain that had once been her rally course, she became more and more annoyed that she had been unable to compete this year. On the Glamis Sand Dunes, we found ourselves in conversation with an executive from another company who’d never experienced off-roading in a Land Rover. Deborah demonstrated what the LR4 could do, pushing him to test it harder. As he threw sand rooster tail after rooster tail, I could see her Rebelle competition experience rise to yet another occasion.
Team Record The Journey
The Rebelle competitors chose team “Record the Journey” to win the coveted Team Spirit Award — they chose wisely.
Rachel Ridenour, Albuquerque, NM, has been a member of the US Army for decades, and is now assigned to working with refugee issues deemed too dangerous for civilian or community aid organizations. After her third deployment, reintegration proved difficult and she found inspiration from off-roading and photography. Her non-profit organization, Record the Journey, brings those very opportunities and benefits to returning veterans.
She’s run the Rebelle twice before and noted that her PTSD, related to vehicle incidents overseas, diminished after the second Rebelle; “We may have finished last, but we actually won.” When she searched on social media for a female veteran with physical disabilities, she found adaptive athlete and quadriplegic Karah Behrend, Houston, TX.
Their second-place finish in the Crossover Class demonstrated their commitment and talents. Outfitting their vehicle with adaptive hand controls let Karah do most of the driving. “I highly recommend the Rebelle to anyone with a physical deficit,” Karah said. “The amount of independence you gain is far more than I’d experienced before. After the event, I went on a cross-country road trip, which I might have not done except for the Rebelle. I want that for other people.”
Their grace and determination, as individuals and as a team, added greatly to the 2019 Rebelle.
[For more information, visitwww.recordthejourney.org. Follow Karah Behrend on Instagram at @kindofaquad.]