Eight days to over a 2000 kilometers through the most spectacular areas of Nevada and California using only compass and maps to reach the finish. This is the Rebelle Rally! A unique race of its kind in the United States designed by Emily Miller and dedicated exclusively to female teams.
Photos and text by Paolo Baraldi
Telling the Rebelle Rally is not easy because it's not in common with the competitions that I normally follow and, if you do not experience the unique emotions of this race, it becomes difficult to transfer them to others. I try anyway because the "ladies" of the Rebelle Rally deserve all our admiration and esteem for having completed this race: the first women’s off-road old style navigation rally raid in the United States and with its 2000 km, the longest race in the America. It all started on October 11th in the Squaw Valley, a renowned ski resort in California in the heart of the Sierra Nevada, from where, after the technical checks and the Rally School, the teams left through the Nevada and California desert to end at the border with Mexico on the huge dunes of Glamis. Five awesome camps: Kingstone, Diamondfield, China Ranch Date Farm, Johnson Valley and Glamis have welcomed the 42 teams that, without any modern technology available, have traveled aboard their 4x4 in unique and marvelous places to celebrate this memorable adventure on October 20 in San Diego where the Rebellation gala took place, overlooking the bay. Rightly, I said that it is not easy to tell the story of this race, and I will not do it until the end if not to say who won, because the Rebelle Rally was an unforgettable and unique experience for everyone but especially for the ladies in race. These fantastic women, for 8 days, have put aside their lives and their certainties to get involved in an adventure that will remain forever in their memory and in their hearts. By themselves, they had to face the difficulties of the race and find the most suitable solutions to complete their journey. Women with different lives who found themselves sharing this uncommon experience that led them to face this incredible experience. As a Rebelle Rally veteran said "there will certainly be a team that will be ranked first but we will win all!" This is precisely the spirit of Rebelle, get involved, do everything to get to the end, help each other and finally return to home aware of their new abilities.
Among the 4x4 class, the Canadians Michelle Laframboise and Elise Racette and the American Emme Hall and Rebecca Donaghe won the Rebelle Rally 2018. Laframboise-Racette also won the International Cup while Hall-Donaghe are also winners of the Bone Stock with the their Jeep JL.
The Crossover class was won by Sandy Conner and Lisa Sachs-Wolford.
Rebelle Rally day by day
Day 0: Squaw Valley to Kingstone.
Teams departed The Village at Squaw Valley at 7 AM and headed east into the rising sun on Day 0 of the Rebelle Rally. Why not Day 1? First-year and experienced Rebelles alike were given the opportunity to get a feel for the start procedure, navigating via map and roadbook, and seeing what green and blue checkpoints look like. This mock prologue gives the teams the opportunity to be warmed up for the first day of competition. Note that we called the Rebelle Rally a competition, not a race. While a race is a type of competition, not every competition is a race. Success at the Rebelle Rally is determined by navigational accuracy, driving prowess, and time management. Ten hours after departing, the 42 teams arrived in beautiful Kingston, Nevada by way of Kingston Canyon. Numerous water crossings and colorful aspen trees lined the canyon that opens into the Big Smokey Valley. Base Camp was established on the grounds of Miles End Lodge Bed & Breakfast, complete with a wood fired hot tub! Once arriving at Base Camp, each competitor was required to turn in their GPS-enabled devices (such as cell phones, laptops, etc.) for the duration of the event, as no GPS or outside assistance from staff is allowed on the Rebelle Rally. After setting up their tents, each team was treated to a hearty meal of chili and jalapeno corn fritters. After dinner, Gary Kemp recited cowboy poetry around the campfire. This Nevada tradition shows the softer, artistic side of the cowboy culture that defines this region.
Day 1: Kingston to Diamondfield.
Rebelle Rally competitors departed Kingston, Nevada this morning after a chilly night camping at Miles End Lodge Bed and Breakfast. The course took them through Monitor Valley and past the iconic Diana’s Punchbowl. Also called the Devil's Cauldron, this geothermal hot spring is the result of a fault where the earth’s crust has sunk into a cup shaped depression. The uplifted dome around Diana’s Punchbowl is approximately 50 feet across and 600 feet high, making it an excellent vantage point to get their bearings for the navigation that is the foundation of the Rebelle Rally. The first scored day of competition then got serious in a hurry, with a 63-mile long Rebelle Enduro Challenge. Held on publics roads on a Saturday, teams not only had to manage their speed and time, but also contend with ranchers with horse trailers on the narrow mountain backroads. The stage was won by defending Rebelle champions Kaleigh Hotchkiss and Teralin Petereit (Team Blondetourage #125), who sit just one point ahead of Emme Hall and Rebecca Donaghe (Team #140). The highest placing rookie team is Team Jeep Thrills #177. The mother and daughter team of Christine and Emily Benzie are in fifth place after Day 1. Both the 4x4 and Crossover classes serve as the ultimate proving ground for vehicle manufactures and aftermarket parts builders as well. Marty Lawrence and Kate Lundin (Team Artemis #206) lead the Crossover Class in their Subaru Outback, ahead of rookies Emily Winslow and Alicia Farrar (Team Naviguessers #210) and Ariel Jen and Lili Melikian (Team Desert Dreamers #208) in their Honda Pilot. The Crossover Class boasts twice as many competitors in 2018 than the prior year, ensuring a battle will play out over the next seven days of competition. The day ended at the tiny mining town of Diamondfield, east of Goldfield. The Base Camp contained a remote fueling truck, repair station, mobile showers and bathrooms, and dinner prepared by Michelin star chef Drew Deckman.
Day 2: Diamondfield Loop.
Rebelles got a few extra minutes of sleep this morning, as the route for Day 2 both started and ended in Diamondfield, meaning that they did not have to pack up their gear for the day. Day 2 started with a 36-kilometer Rebelle Enduro Challenge (REC); considerably shorter than the REC on Day 1. The terrain was smooth and winding as the road went west past Goldfield across Highway 95. Teams were broken into three groups, which limited the ability to play follow-the-leader on the course and forced competitors to rely on their navigation skills. The route went through the colorfully named Monkey Face Canyon on their way to the mining town of Silver Peak. The area around Silver Peak has been hammered by flash floods over the past six months, requiring the course crew to change the route last month after smooth graded roads were reduced to boulder fields. After more flooding last week, there were rain ruts and washouts that required careful attention. The final CPs of the day were located on Alkali Dry Lake Bed, southeast of Tonopah. The rain made the lakebed a little less dry, but all the teams made it safely back to the Diamondfield Base Camp for Drew Deckman’s take on Taco Tuesday, which included ceviche with shrimp graciously provided by Del Pacifico Seafood. Fair trade certified wild Mexican shrimp from the Pacific Ocean, the Rebelles were fed well tonight! In the 4x4 Class, Emme Hall and Rebecca Donaghe (Team #140) posted the best score of the day to take a slim lead of three points in the overall standings over 2017 winners Team Blondetourage #125 (Teralin Petereit/Kaleigh Hotchkiss). After a strong showing for the day, Team 4 Corners #129 (Nena Barlow/Chris Mayne) and Team Clearwater Design #115 (Michelle Laframboise/Elise Racette) are in a tie for third place in the overall standings. In the Crossover Class, Team Hoehn Porsche #202 (Sandy Conner/Lisa Wolford) posted the best score for Day 2, giving them a slight margin over Team Artemis #206 (Marty Lawrence/Kate Lundin) in the overall Crossover standings.
Day 3: Diamondfield to China Ranch Date Farm.
Competitors woke up before dawn to 17-degree temperatures to start Day 3 of the Rebelle Rally presented by Hoehn Adventures in Diamondfield, Nevada. The route started with a Rebelle Enduro Challenge (REC) to Goldfield, and the crossover competitors stopping at the cool and quirky International Car Forest of the Last Church. From there the route continued south to Ryolite, another of Nevada’s colorful ghost towns. In 1907 Rhyolite was considered cutting edge with electric lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, a school, an opera house, and a stock exchange. The population was estimated at 5,000 in 1907, but by 1920 it had plunged to nearly zero. From Ryolite the route skirted along the top-secret Area 51, where the government tests experimental aircraft and weapons systems. The teams used their decidedly more old school navigation systems to arrive at Amargosa Dunes. This dune system covers five square miles and rises up to 500 feet tall, just large enough for competitors to air down their tires and get a taste of what is to come. While the dunes seemed benign, more than one team fell prey to the soft sand and challenging CPs found on Day 3. The standings started to spread out on Day 3, with Team Blondetourage #125 (Teralin Petereit/Kaleigh Hotchkiss) earning the most points for the day in the provisional standings of the 4x4 Class, moving them back into first place in the overall standings. They lead Team Hoehn Adventures #109 (Jo Hannah Hoehn/Susie Saxten) by nine points and Team #140 (Emme Hall/Rebecca Donaghe) by ten points. In the Crossover Class, Team Hoehn Porsche #202 (Lisa Wolford/Sandy Conner) posted the best score for the day to hold off Team Naviguessers #210 (Emily Winslow/Alicia Farrar) in the provisional standings for the event. Scoring for the marathon stage (Day 3 and Day 4) will not be finalized until all teams return to Base Camp at the end of Day 4 and meet with scoring officials. Once back on the hardpack the teams worked their way to the China Ranch Date Farm. Unlike past years where the self-camp night of the marathon stage in Dumont Dunes, this year the competitors were treated to an oasis nestled on the edge of Death Valley. Setting up their tents in the shadows of huge date trees, they had the opportunity to commune with their fellow Rebelles and cook for themselves. “We could have gone home on Day 0 and it all would have been worth it,” confessed Amy Evans of Team #171. “I never thought I would have been so happy to be lost in the desert! You just can’t explain to people what this event is.”
Day 4: China Ranch Date Farm to Johnson Valley.
Day 4 of the Rebelle Rally marked the second half of the marathon stage, which started with a 66 km Rebelle Enduro Challenge (REC) from China Ranch Date Farm through the 1.6 million-acre Mojave National Preserve. The night before gave teams the opportunity to bond under the cover of date trees, and also do some commiserating. Day 3 was designed to push even the most seasoned competitors to their limits and see how they react. “There is a reason the windshield is large and the rearview mirror is small,” explained Tech Director Chris Woo. “You have to put the mistakes of the past behind you and focus on the present.” Once the REC was completed it was time to search for CPs, but Day 4 was designed to test not only driving prowess and navigational accuracy, but time management as well. Reaching all CPs was nearly impossible on Day 4, forcing teams to make tough decisions about how to best utilize their time. The competitors traveled down the historic Route 66, which spans 2,448 miles from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California. To put it in perspective, the route for the Rebelle Rally covers over 1,600 miles in 2018. Day 4 took to the teams into Johnson Valley OHV Area, home of King of Hammers, where they had their first taste of open driving through valleys and washes without defined roads. Reigning champions Team Blondetourage #125 (Kaleigh Hotchkiss/Teralin Petereit) won the marathon stage to retake the lead in the overall standings in the 4x4 Class. They now sit 16 points ahead of Team Hoehn Adventures #109 (Jo Hannah Hoehn/Susie Saxten), who have proven to be far more consistent in 2018 than they were in 2017. When asked about what changed, Jo Hannah Hoehn explained, “We know what to expect now. When we have issues, we don’t dwell on them, we just overcome them.” In the Crossover Class, Team Naviguessers #210 (Emily Winslow/Alicia Farrar) had a breakout day to take the overall lead from Team Hoehn Porsche #202 (Lisa Wolford/Sandy Conner). The rookie team had a smoking clutch in their Subaru Crosstrek after getting stuck on Day 4, but they did not let the setback rattle them. While night CPs were planned for Day 4, Mother Nature had other plans for her daughters at the Rebelle Rally. Heavy rains meant that Means, Melville, and Soggy Dry Lakebeds weren’t so dry on Day 4. Rebelle Founder Emily Miller made the tough call to cancel the night CPs in order to limit the environmental impact and safety risk on the lakebeds, but expect nighttime navigation to make an appearance at Rebelle Rally 2019... weather permitting.
Day 5: Johnson Valley Loop.
Navigation gets considerably more challenging when you get off the burned-in two track and traverse across open Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) areas. Johnson Valley is the largest OHV area in the United States at 96,000 acres, and plays home to the famous King of the Hammers race. Elevations range from 4,600 feet at Hartwell Hills to 2,300 feet at Melville Dry Lake with numerous mountain ranges and rocky canyons. All of this is fertile ground for Course Director Jimmy Lewis to place CPs in the most creative of locations. Team Hoehn Adventures #109 (Jo Hannah Hoehn/Susie Saxten) and Team Clearwater Designs #115 (Michelle Laframboise/Elise Racette) tied for first place on Day 5, pushing them up to second and fourth place in the 4x4 Class, respectively. Team Blondetourage #125 still leads the overall standings though, with a 12 point lead over Team Hoehn Adventures #109. In the Crossover Class, Team Hoehn Porsche #202 (Lisa Wolford/Sandy Conner) and Team Desert Dreamers #208 (Ariel Jen/Melanie Morimoto) tied for the best score on Day 5. The strong showing put Team Hoehn Porsche #202 back in first place in the overall standings, ahead of Team Naviguessers #210 (Emily Winslow/Alicia Farrar). Once returning to Base Camp, the teams had the option of competing in the Falken Tire Change Contest. Seven teams completed an impromptu tire change in under ten minutes, putting them into the pool of lucky participants for a drawing for a set of Falken Tires. While Team Naviguessers #210 (Emily Winslow/Alicia Farrar) took the least amount of time to change their tire, it was Team Ridgeline Rebels #209 (Maria Guitar/Michele Klein) that won the raffle and a free set of Falken tires.
Day 6: Johnson Valley to Glamis.
Rebelles awoke to a beautiful fall morning in Johnson Valley with perfect temperatures and breakfast prepared by Drew Deckman and his talented staff. Day 6 of the Rebelle Rally presented by Hoehn Adventures started with a Precision Enduro, which is unlike a Rebelle Enduro Challenge (REC) in that rather than being designed for a specific time or speed, a Precision Enduro is designed to run along a specific cap heading. Three different road books were designed to keep teams from following one another, but with 4x4 class leaders Team Blondetourage #125 (Kaleigh Hotchkiss/Teralin Petereit) first off the line, there was plenty of follow-the-leader going on. Leaving Johnson Valley, the plan was to go through the stunning Joshua Tree National Park. Course Director Jimmy Lewis and his staff spend all year designing the perfect course for the Rebelle Rally, complete with challenging CPs and detailed Rally Navigator-generated road books. Sometimes Mother Nature has a different idea though. The roads in Joshua Tree National Park were washed out by recent rains. The staff reacted by routing the course around the Salton Sea past Mecca en route to the artist compound known as Slab City. After Slab City teams traveled through Mammoth Wash, which required slow, deliberate tire placement to safely drive to Imperial Sand Dunes (Glamis). Reaching green CPs before their closing times was an issue for all teams on Day 6, with traffic, fueling, and road conditions eating up valuable time. The format of the Rebelle Rally requires teams to manage their time efficiently, as there are set windows of time for each checkpoint. Miss the time cutoff for a green CP and your day is over; literally. Team #140 (Emme Hall/Rebecca Donaghe) finished first for the day in the 4x4 Class ahead of Team Record The Journey #103 (Rachel Ridenour/Taylor Pawley). This moved Team #140 to within three points of Team Blondetourage #125 (Kaleigh Hotchkiss/Teralin Petereit) in the overall standings with one day of competition remaining. In the Crossover Class, Team Hoehn Porsche #202 (Lisa Wolford/Sandy Conner) won Day 6 to extend their lead in the overall standings. Currently 50 points separate Team Hoehn Porsche and second place Team Naviguessers #210 (Emily Winslow/Alicia Farar).
Day 7: Glamis Finale.
The final day of the 2018 Rebelle Rally presented by Hoehn Adventures was full of surprises, with the overall winner of the 4x4 Class literally coming down to the final minutes after eight grueling days of competition. When the dust settled, the Rebelle Rally had its first-ever tie for first place in the overall standings. CPs were placed in the furthest corners of the Glamis sand dunes to test driving, navigation, and time management under pressure. “You will not be able to reach all of these checkpoints,” Rebelle Founder Emily Miller told all of the teams in the morning brief. Michelle Laframboise and Elise Racette of Team Clearwater Design #115 had not won a stage the entire rally, but placed consistently in the top five, and stayed hyper-focused on their goal of overall victory. Thirty six points behind the leaders coming into the last day of competition, the team had as close to a perfect day in the sand as we have seen. “We came and trained at Glamis with Emily and Nicole Pitell-Vaughan from Total Chaos Fabrication last month,” Michelle confessed. “That really gave me the confidence in the dunes, and it all paid off today.” The Canadian women also took home the International Cup for the second year in a row. For their efforts, $2,500 will be donated in their name to the charity of their choice. Tying Team Clearwater Design #115 for first place overall was Emme Hall and Rebecca Donaghe of Team #140, who also won the Bone Stock Award in their 2018 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. This is Hall and Donaghe’s third year competing together, and while they have come so close to winning in the past, disaster has struck every year on the last day of the rally. This year the unthinkable occurred prior to the rally, when a smash-and-grab robber stole Rebecca Donaghe’s bag with all of her plotting and navigation tools (not to mention her clothing and personal belongings). This made an already challenging event even more so, but Donaghe and Hall overcame the adversity with courage and resolve. “You are not your tools, Rebecca,” Emily Miller reminded Team #140 at the start of the rally. Rounding out the podium in the overall standings were reigning champions Kaleigh Hotchkiss and Teralin Petereit of Team Blondetourage #125. The two were consistent and unflappable throughout the rally, winning multiple stages. In the end, Team Blondetourage #125 did not have enough points coming into the final day to maintain their lead and hold off the more aggressive competitors. The Rookie of the Year Award in the 4x4 Class went to Sarah Homer and Lindsey Hunter of Team Escape The Paved #176. The two Houston residents finished seventh overall in their Bone Stock Ford Raptor. Sarah and Lindsey are neighbors who formed a bond when recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. “Though flooding is an absolutely awful experience, I feel really blessed to have made such incredible bonds with my neighbors," Lindsey explained. Sarah heard about the Rebelle on a Baja trip. The minute she started telling me about the Rebelle I was hoping she’d ask me to do it with her, so my response was an instant yes! If we can overcome a hurricane, we can overcome anything.” The Crossover Class was not quite as closely contested, despite twice as many entries in 2018, as compared to the previous year. Team Hoehn Porsche #202 (Lisa Wolford/Sandy Conner) drove their Bone Stock Porsche Cayenne wisely and minimized their risks to maintain their 50-point lead in the overall standings. Rookies to the Rebelle, Team Naviguessers #210 (Emily Winslow/Alicia Farrar) couldn’t close the gap in their Bone Stock Subaru Crosstrek, but matched the Porsche team point-for-point in the dunes. Shannell McMillan and Nickie Kelly of Team Dirt N Perfume #207 placed third in the Crossover Class in their Subaru Forester. “This rally is really about competing with yourself,” Emily Miller explained. The 42 teams at the Rebelle Rally represented 5 countries and 17 states, driving vehicles from ten different manufacturers. Jeep was the most prevalent brand at the rally, sweeping the podium in the 4x4 Class.
Next year, from October 10th to 19th, everything will be repeated and it will be your chance to get involved with yourself and with the Rebelle Rally.