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The Rebelle is one of the toughest off-road rallies in the world
The Rebelle is one of the toughest off-road rallies in the world
2024-02-19 EST 22:09:11

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You’re in the middle of the California desert. The GPS on your SUV has been disabled. There’s a 200,000-meter scale map in your co-driver’s lap on which she’s plotted a location the size of a pinhead with a tiny plastic ruler. You’ve both got a compass, but because you’re the driver you may not even know how to use it. Find that spot. Then do it 153-odd more times more accurately than 64 other teams over the span of a week.

The Rebelle Rally is the longest map and compass off-road navigation rally in the United States. Each morning at 6AM you get a sheet of 20-30 latitude and longitude coordinates. You plot those points on a map and spend the rest of your day trying to find them. They are of varying degrees of difficulty. Like ski slopes, greens are the easiest, marked by a big green flag. These are mandatory. Don’t collect one and your day sucks. Blues are a bit harder. They’re up a more technical path on the peak of a mountain or in a severely rutted dry riverbed and marked by either a small flag or a blue post. These are optional. The Black checkpoints, also not obligatory, are not marked. Try and figure out where they are then click the satellite tracker each team gets to mark their location on the planet and be on your way. Each time your team of two click that tracker on a checkpoint the signal travels up into the heavens and back down into the sophisticated scoring software created by rally organizers. The team with the most points at the end of the week wins. Sounds easy enough.

Who can compete?

The Rebelle Rally does not require you be a professional rally driver or co-driver to compete. Basic navigation and off-road driving skills are all you need to sign up. Well, that and your entry fee of about $14,500. You could drive a 4x4 truck or SUV or simply the all-wheel drive crossover you take your kids to ballet in if you want. You don’t need some overbuilt, jacked-to-the-heavens off-road bro-dozer. Though I might recommend an aftermarket skid plate to protect your grocery getter’s underbelly. You’ll also need some moxie. A bravado that says you can do something that terrifies you and isn’t like anything you’ve done before.

Unlike the Dakar this isn’t about gunning balls out across the Sahara. It’s not a slap a roll cage in a modded AWD sedan and fling the car across hill and dale. There are no lightweight buggies with 37-inch tires making easy work of colossal sand dunes. You’re driving stock or close to stock vehicles. They’re big and heavy and require a driver’s precise throttle foot and masterful use of the transmission. The Rebelle Rally is about measured accuracy, and, like a wicked sangria, you don’t know it’s pummeled you until it’s too late.

Oh, and it’s only open to women. Sorry boys.

That’s not to say that all competitors are novices. Not by a long shot. There are plenty of teams vying for the W, and those are all seasoned veterans. They’ve shown up four, five, some original Rebelles eight times now since the first contest took place in 2016. These women know how to play the game and they slay. They pace every second of their day, wasting no time. They run to checkpoints, don’t stop for anything frivolous like eating, and nail with pinpoint accuracy the handful of time, speed, distance challenges worth points that can bolster a teams’ scores or plummet them below the top ten if they miss a couple of time controls. For ten hours plus a day these ladies remain laser focused on the task of driving over 1600 miles on some of California and Nevada’s most unforgiving terrain. Or, while bouncing over said unforgiving terrain, they’ve got their head in a map trying to see which mountain peak or saddle that wiggly line on their map might represent as if they’re doing it from space. If you’re a navigator, I hope you don’t have a propensity for car sickness.

If you’re completely green you’re out in the middle of nowhere, getting easily turned around because after a couple of hours it all starts to look the same. And all you’ve done is a weekend training or two plotting some points on your map. Maybe you’ve only taken your AWD crossover out into sand dunes a few times. Or you’re gunning for a top spot against teams who’ve scored 100-percent days and where the margin of error feels like zero if you want a podium. Both scenarios make for a stressful, palm sweating situation.

What happens when you’re not competing?

You’re camping. You make up and break down your camp each day (unless you blessedly are two nights at a particular basecamp). During the week you make your way from frosty mountain temperatures in the teens at the starting line in Mammoth Mountain, California, a peaky ski resort a five hours drive from Los Angeles to the triple digit scorch of the largest sand dunes in North America at Glamis, which skirt the California/Mexico border.

Rally director, Emily Miller, rattles a cowbell at 5am every morning rousing you from some of the most fitful, frigid, uncomfortable sleep you’ve ever had. Delirious, you rush to the main tent where there awaits the only comforting thing you get all week, food from a Michelin-starred chef, Drew Deckman. If you’ve never had Michelin rated tater tots, I recommend them highly.

With your adrenaline pumping you rush to your rig making sure it starts and your tires haven’t sprung an unexpected slow leak from the pointy rocks you drove over the day before. Pray you don’t have a flat. No one will change it for you. And if there’s a bigger problem, mechanics will work on your vehicle for two hours without penalties. After that you’re docked points. Break a tie-rod? I hope you brought a spare because there isn’t a Napa Auto Parts close, and you have no chase car coming to your rescue.

Each day starts like the one before. By day three or four, you’re sideways because you’re mind keeps telling you that this long weekend out with the gals should be winding down and you get to head home to your husband or wife, your kids, your dog, your normal, and more importantly your cozy bed. Sorry, you’re not even halfway done. You start wondering if this might be all there ever has been and will ever be. You’ve also got a helmet on your head all day. All day. For ten or eleven hours a day. Like a new pair of inexpensive shoes, I hope you got used to that at home.

And if you don’t select that person beside you well, you’re in for a world of hurt because the pressure cooker that your car’s cabin turns into over the course of what is likely a one shower week has the potential to become the most treacherous terrain of all. Figure out a safe word and whatever snack calms your teammate down. You will need them both because, remember, they’ve turned off and taped up your phone for the whole seven days. Calls to your therapist are verboten.

What do you get if you win?

If you manage to do all that while keeping your sanity, you’ll finish. Your first time out you won’t win. Even if you do all you get for your trouble is a killer trophy and the chance to do it all again because that’s top prize, next year’s entry fee waived.

But win or lose, what you do come home with, in addition to the half pound of sand in your tent and the worst smelling dirty laundry ever, is a sense that maybe, just maybe, anything is possible. Because you just crossed the finish line of the Rebelle, one of the toughest off-road rallies in the world. And you didn’t need to be a pro to do it.

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