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These Are The People Who Make The Rebelle Rally Happen
These Are The People Who Make The Rebelle Rally Happen
2024-02-19 EST 22:09:11

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During the grueling 8-day Rebelle Rally, a non-GPS-based off-road map and compass navigation rally, the 65 teams competing aren’t the only ones faced with challenges. The 121 staff members run their own kind of rally. And it’s usually tougher than anything the competitors endure.

The folks who set the flags and posts that are the 30-some odd checkpoints for competitors to find each day wake up at four or 4:30am. They drive through the same rough terrain each of the teams’ drivers will soon traverse, only they’re doing it in the dark. Since each navigator precisely plots the longitude and latitude of each checkpoint, these flags and posts which mark the easiest green and intermediate blue checkpoints must be accurate.

But long before the course workers are up, Drew Deckman, a Michelin-star chef, and his staff rattle pots and pans around the mobile kitchen making food for the over 300 hungry people who are about to get up. And it’s not just an eggs and bacon buffet. This team churns out biscuits and gravy, chilaquilas, cinnamon French toast, and house made granola with every possible milk you could think of and some you likely didn’t even know existed. Deckman, the owner of Deckman’s En El Mogor on the Baja peninsula just south of San Diego, brings inventive cuisine to the Rebelle, including braised goat, ceviche and a strawberry parfait whipped to perfection. Everyone eats well.

Image for article titled These Are The People Who Make The Rebelle Rally Happen

The mechanics might be the busiest team of all. Taking care of competitors’ vehicles is the least of their problems. (They expect those vehicles will come in with broken tie rods, plugged tires, or worse, shattered axles, and burned-out clutches.) It’s the work on staff cars that blows his mind. “I’ve worked on more staff vehicles this year than competitors,” said Nick Cimarusti, the head mechanic at the Rebelle since its inception in 2016. Earning the nickname Nickguyver because he’s so handy, the mechanical savant once saved a competitor’s G-Wagen that lost a shock mount with some junk yard steel and a shock from a Crown Vic.

This year I experienced my own rally emergency driving with Emme Hall, host of the live YouTube show, which broadcasts three times a day from each stage. We took her 4x4 SUV out to follow some competitors as they sought out their points. On a canal road that paralleled some train tracks, we had a run in with a railroad spike. This was no mere puncture. This was a rip in the sidewall a grown man could put their fist through. The spike penetrated the sidewall and took up residence inside the tire. Not 40 minutes later, we got another slash in another tire. We were out of spares, so had to radio to Nickguyver to come get us, bring us back to basecamp to track down more tires.

A media staff of 23 gets the news of the competition out to the masses. Adventure writers bang out press releases late into the night. Media drivers wake up before the sun to drive journalists from automotive, lifestyle, and tech publications through the course. These drivers may have a tracker marking where the competitors are headed, but just because they know where the checkpoints are doesn’t make it any easier to get there. Privateer competitors and the OEM vehicles running in the rally receive miles of footage from world-class videographers and photographers who hang out of windows on dry lake beds and position themselves high atop precarious sand dunes for the perfect shot.

Conditions along the rally are rarely ideal. The Rebelle starts in higher elevation in the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe, Nevada or Mammoth, California, with temperatures dipping into the teens at night. Waking up to frost on the inside of your tent never feels like motivation to slip out of your cozy sleeping bag. By the end of the rally, temperatures can reach into the triple digits when the small Rebelle tent city lands in the Imperial Sand Dunes, the largest and tallest dunes in North American. Mother Nature has dished out every kind of weather from sandstorms with white outs so severe you could barely see a hand in front of your face to rainstorms that turned dry washes into flowing rivers. Basecamp staff have chased tents blowing across the desert and dug out competitor tents buried under sand drifts.

Course director Jimmy Lewis rides his dirt bike in full gear across the course of his own design. He’ll sneak up on teams, peeking into their cars making sure they’re using only the tools allowed a map, compass, plotter, rulers, and stopwatch to hunt their points.

For competitors, seeing a friendly staffer at the green checkpoints, which are always manned, sometimes is the salve needed in the middle of a trying day when things just aren’t clicking. Those course staffers sit all day, rain or shine, heat or cold, making sure each team makes it to the mandatory points. Even if they can’t answer a question or give a team any help, they’re always there with an encouraging smile or friendly ribbing. These people are the lifeline during a stressful day.

The team who sends off and greets teams as you start and finish each day, the guys who put up the basecamp tents and the women who decorate them to look like Moroccan fantasies or underwater seascapes, the medical team making sure everyone stays healthy, each one of these staffers show up and work because they believe in this event. Many of them are former competitors who may not want to compete but can’t quite get the spirit of the Rebelle out of their blood.

For every one of the 130 competitors there is almost one staff member who puts their heart and soul into these two weeks. And when it’s all said and done, regardless of what their job description may have been, the staff serve competitors and their guests their final meal at the Rebellation Gala the night after competition ends. As a competitor, I always thought it was us who should have been serving them.

At the tip of the spear, you’ll find Emily Miller, the Rebelle Rally founder and director who works the marionette strings. Miller picks up slack for everyone. If there’s a hole in the dam that needs plugging, she’s there to make sure it’s fixed, no matter how mundane the task. As a result, during rally week she sleeps an average of four hours a night. “It’s so much better, now,” Miller says now that she’s in her eighth year of the competition and it’s gotten into a steady groove. “Before it used to be about 30 minutes.”

Regardless of the hard work, when the final tent is packed away, the sand poured out of the backpacks and the hair finally washed because maybe they only managed one shower, each staff member is likely thinking one thing, I can’t wait to get back there next year.

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