Adventuring, Exlporing & Offroading

Monday, December 26, 2016

My Rebelle Rally Experience

"The Rebelle Rally is the first women’s off-road navigation rally raid in the United States. Blending the love of driving with the ultimate challenge of precise navigation, the Rebelle tests your skills over 7 days of competition. It is not a race for speed, but a unique and demanding event based on the elements of headings, hidden checkpoints, time, and distance using maps, compass, and roadbook."  -  Rebelle Rally

The Rebelle Rally was a life changing experience for me.  It was challenging, emotional and exhausting.  Most of all it was really fun!  This article is about my own personal experience, but if you're interested in learning more about scoring or other aspects of the Rebelle Rally you can check out the links I've included at the bottom of the page.

It's been 2 months since Holly Freeman (@thewildyolo) and I competed together in her 2001 Jeep Wrangler TJ named Miss Tina as Team Wild and Free (Team 132) in the 2016 Inaugural Rebelle Rally.  Since returning home I've tried to write about the experience a few times but each time I tried I realized that I hadn't parsed through all of the crazy emotions well enough to put them in to words. 

Holly and I did not know each other before the rally.  We knew of one another on social media but we didn't meet in person until October 11; two days before check-in and tech inspection.  Holly became interested in the Rally first and worked tirelessly on sponsorship deals to help cover her costs for the rally.  Once her spot in the rally was reserved she set out in search of a co-driver/navigator.  She has such an adventurous spirit and is always happy and cheerful so, I wasn't surprised to learn that she had a number of ladies interested in joining her.  Unfortunately both the time investment and the costs to compete were steep and time was running out.  That's where I come in.  Holly posted on Instagram that she was in need of a teammate.  I talked it over with my husband and was leaning towards "sounds fun, but no"  but he talked me in to it.  A few days later, Holly and I had a very long phone conversation and determined that we could do this!  A couple weeks later I juggled some finances around and managed to come up with the funds to pay my registration fee.  That was it,  I was in!

We had an epic amount of prep work to get done between the time that I signed up and the day we arrived in Lake Tahoe for check-in.  I spent many weeks learning and practicing navigation. I had to arrange travel to and from the rally and buy the gear that was needed for 7 nights of camping.  We had to buy safety equipment and Holly had to purchase upgrades and repairs for her Jeep.  We also had to procure helmets, a rally computer, recovery gear, emergency supplies and more.  I bought something new on Amazon almost every day for several weeks and Holly worked tirelessly to raise money through online raffles to cover as much of these additional costs as possible. We were tired before we even got to the rally!
Practicing Navigation Before The Rally
October 13, 2016: we arrived at Valhalla in Lake Tahoe for check-in and tech inspection.  During inspection we received our vests that we would be wearing every day for the next 10 days without being able to wash them.  Yuck!  We also received a satellite phone which was to be used only for emergencies. The Jeep was fitted with two tracking devices aka the yellow brick.  One was mounted to the Jeep and would be used by rally staff to monitor our whereabouts and the other was stuck on the windshield with a piece of VELCRO that would completely cease to function by the end of the 10 days because sand and VELCRO are not friends.  The second tracking device is what we would use to check in at the checkpoints during the rally. Tech inspection also included a vehicle check, team numbers applied to the vehicle, and verifying that we had all of the required recovery, safety and emergency gear.  A huge sigh of relief washed over us as we successfully passed inspection.  This may have been the first time either of us were relaxed for many weeks leading up to the rally.
Technical Inspection in Lake Tahoe
October 14, 2016:  We got up bright and early so we could report to "Rally School."  At Rally School, all participants were instructed on how to behave if we should happen across a rare and protected desert tortoise.  If we saw a tortoise, we'd have to give the tortoise the right of way and a very wide berth.  We were not to drive too close to the tortoise and we were definitely not allowed to move it or even get close enough to touch it.  Apparently tortoises will relieve themselves of fluids when nervous or scared and this is deadly to the desert tortoises since water is so scarce. So what would happen if we were to run in to one of these rare and mystical beasts? Well, sit and wait for it to move was the answer.  They said, if we happened across a tortoise, it would definitely be bad for our scores but in exchange for losing points we'd preserve this precious wildlife and our ability to return next year which is its own kind of win.   The odds of seeing one of these was slim but they promised BLM that they would educate us in order to get the permits for that section of the desert. It should be fine! 

At Rally School they also reviewed the basics of navigation and this is where we heard the term TSD (time, speed, distance) for the first time.  I'm not sure if this is something the other competitors learned about in the navigation classes earlier in the year but Holly and I were dumbfounded and judging by the facial expressions of the ladies around us, we were not the only ones that were surprised by this new term.  So, we frantically took notes and hoped we could figure it out during our drive to Basecamp 1.  When Rally School was over we were handed a road book with tulip notes and driving instructions to Basecamp 1.  We were to arrive at Basecamp 1 no sooner than 3pm but no later than 5pm.  It was raining and cold when we left Lake Tahoe.

At 5pm we arrived at Basecamp 1 somewhere in the Nevada desert.  We waited in line to get checked in.  Upon checking we turned off and sealed our GPS enabled electronic devices and would begin 7 days of zero contact with the outside world.  We got the Jeep fueled up and checked in to impound and turned the keys in for the night.  We weren't allowed to have any contact with the vehicle throughout the night.  We lugged all of our gear quite a long distance from impound to the community campsite and began setting up camp.  This would be home for the next 2 nights.  After setting up camp we scurried off to the main tent for dinner and the driver's meeting where we received the maps we'd be using for the majority of the rally.  Prior to signing up for this event I didn't care about paper maps at all.  I had GPS in my vehicles and on my phone and that was good enough for me.  That said, after spending 6 weeks working with maps in preparation for this event I found myself in awe as I looked over these maps.  They were beautiful!  Holly and I pored over the maps for about an hour and then headed back to camp so we would be well rested for the official start of the rally.
Waiting in Line at Base Camp 1
October 15, 2016:  We woke up around 4:30; thirty minutes before the morning wakeup bell rang, which happened to be a cowbell.  We got up so early because the list of checkpoints for the day would become available to us at 5am and we wanted as much time as possible to plot our course for the day.  We quickly got ready, headed over to the main tent where we received they keys to the Jeep and a sheet of paper that contained all of the checkpoints for that day.  We set to work, plotting as many checkpoints as we could until it was time to load up and hit the starting line.  Leaving the starting line was an exhilarating feeling.  We were about to test ourselves, or skills, our mental fortitude and were making history at the same time.  This was a good day.  We hit all of the green and blue checkpoints.  We tried for some of the more difficult black checkpoints but we didn't do very well on those.  Black checkpoints were much more difficult than green or blue checkpoints because they were not marked and we had to be within a specified range to get credit for them.  Our scoring for the day was good.  We were not in the top 10 but the point gap was not too large and we felt confident that we could do better tomorrow.
A Green Checkpoint
October 16, 2016:  Day 2 started at 4:15 instead of 4:30.  We realized we needed a little more time for plotting in the morning so we woke ourselves up a little earlier than normal.  Like the day before we plotted as many checkpoints as we could before reporting to the start line but on this day we also had to break camp and load all of our gear back in to the Jeep.  We'd be going to Basecamp 2 tonight. 

Navigating in The Jeep
Our day started off really well.  Early in the day we got a little off course but realized it pretty quickly.  I was able to triangulate to determine where we were. Upon determining where we were, we course corrected, got back on track and got a few checkpoints under our belt.  Around midday we got off course again but this time it took us a bit longer to realize it.  This was my fault for not paying as close attention to the map as I should have.  I gave instructions and then just started enjoying the scenery!  Fortunately, despite this mistake the day was not lost.  At least not yet.  We made it to the required checkpoints and breathed a sigh of relief as we continued on with our day.  We made up some time on the road and caught back up to some of the other rally participants.  Since we were back on track we decided to try for a black checkpoint.  We spent nearly an hour on this checkpoint - a strategy that we'd later decide was not a good one.  We left the black checkpoint area and headed towards the next blue.  This should have been a reasonably easy checkpoint.  Based on the map and our plotting it was not far from a main road.  Once we got to the location we again spent far too much time looking for the checkpoint and there were several other teams searching the area as well.  With time running out we decided to give up and head to the next one.  This is when the day turned for the worse.  The route we took seemed to match up to the map until suddenly it didn't.  We attempted to triangulate and tossed around several ideas for figuring out where we were but ultimately decided to "follow that red Jeep."  This was a huge mistake.  It turns out they were lost too.  By the time we got unlost we only had enough time to hit the final green checkpoint.  We were a bit discouraged by our performance on this day so we talked through what went wrong, discussed how to prevent it going forward and optimized our strategy for tomorrow. 

October 17, 2016:  We started this day out cheerful despite our performance the day before.  We felt confident that we had learned from our mistakes and that we could improve our score.  This day would be a bit different than those that came before.  Upon completing our checkpoints for the day we would arrive at Dumont Dunes where we would camp like savages!  No showers, no toilets and no award-winning chef dinners.  This day proved to be very challenging for us too.  We decided to trust our instincts rather than our compass and got way off course.  It took us nearly an hour to recover from this mistake but once we recovered we got the remaining blue and green checkpoints and began our journey to Dumont Dunes where there would be a few more checkpoints to pick up.  Upon arriving at Dumont Dunes we struggled with a variety of things but the largest struggle was determining our actual location; the landscape around us didn't look like the map.  After much discussion and banging our heads on things we finally got it figured out and NAILED a black checkpoint.  We went on to collect an additional black checkpoint but we were 4 minutes late to the final green checkpoint because we once again followed a competitor vehicle and they were going the wrong way.  As a result we did not get the last points of the day.  Takeaways for the day:  trust your tools, and our second lesson in not following other competitors.  We already had our maps and checkpoints for the following day so rather than partying with the other ladies we sat in our tent and did all of our plotting.
A Blue Checkpoint
October 18, 2016:  We got an early start on this day, but unfortunately, it took us forever to find our first checkpoint - a blue checkpoint.  Once we did find it, we found all the remaining checkpoints in the area with a precision that I am very proud of.  We navigated the dunes without incident and excitedly began our journey to Johnson Valley.  This was a really long drive along a power line road.  At times I was doubtful that we were on the right path but the scenery was amazing.  I'd never been to Johnson Valley before.  Of all the places we would visit, this was the place I was most enthusiastic about seeing.  Upon arriving at Johnson Valley we picked up a blue checkpoint and spent some time looking for another but with time running short we had to abandon our search and head to basecamp.  We miscalculated our time and once again, did not make it to basecamp on time costing us 10 points but we had so much fun driving in that we didn't really care.

October 19. 2016:  On this day, instead of each vehicle leaving from a start line, all vehicles were lined up on the lake bed.  Unlike previous days where we received our checkpoints during breakfast, on this day we received them after all the vehicles were lined up.  Upon receiving them I sat in the Jeep plotting for about 30 minutes while Holly aired down and inspected the Jeep to make sure everything was in order. 

Lined Up On the Lake Bed
The first checkpoint of the day was a blue checkpoint and once again, we spent way more time looking for it than we should have.  We never found it.  We were told later that it was cleverly hidden in the dunes and was not visible from the road.  We finally gave up and headed toward the first green checkpoint of the day.  The green checkpoint was at the top of a hill and while there was a road available to get to it, we decided to take a more fun approach - climbing up a steep sandy hill.  About halfway up the hill the Jeep stalled and would not start up again.  I hopped out to inspect the Jeep and found antifreeze in the wheel wells.  Neither of us knew anything about fixing radiators so we decided that all we could do was hike up the hill and ask the rally staff to call the mechanics to come help us out.  While we were explaining to the Rally staff what had gone wrong Team JPFreek told us that there was a 50 point penalty for receiving field assistance and offered to tow us back to basecamp.  Holly and I both encouraged them to leave us with our fate and to continue point collecting but they refused.  It was more important to them to help us than to get points.  So, Julie (from Team JPFreek) helped us get a diaper on the radiator (a garbage bag and duct tape) so we wouldn't leak fluid on the beautiful desert terrain.  Then we hooked up a tow strap to her Jeep Scrambler (the oldest vehicle in the rally - Julie would be heartbroken if I didn't mention that) and towed us back to basecamp.

Team JPFreek Preparing to Tow us Back to Basecamp
At basecamp we were greeted by rally staff and mechanics who congratulated Team JPFreek for the amazing show of spirit and team work.  They really deserved this show of affection!  Holly and I couldn't thank them enough.  After posing for a few photos, Team JPFreek saddled back up and went out to finish their day. 

While the mechanics looked over the Jeep the scoring judge came to talk to us.  She presented us with a very hard decision: If we received mechanic help and went back out to continue we would receive a 50 point penalty.  If we stayed at camp, we could not collect any more points for the day but we wouldn't lose any either.  Holly was immediately excited to get back out. I was concerned that we would not be able to make up the 50 points and potentially find ourselves with fewer points than we started the day with.  I didn't mind going back out but not if it meant ending the day with negative points.  So, I was seriously entertaining the idea of staying at camp and sneaking in a shower and taking a nap.  After reviewing the number of points available for the day and getting some instruction from the mechanics, we decided to go back out.  This would be our single best day of points gathering during the rally.  Not only did we make up the 50 points that we lost we gained an additional 70(ish) points for the day and we had a blast doing it.  This was the first time that finding checkpoints did not feel stressful to us.  We simply had fun and enjoyed the amazing scenery in Johnson Valley.  It was this day that set our vibe for the remainder of the rally.  We were no longer stressed and were able to focus better as a result and frankly, have more fun.  We knew there was no chance of winning since we were in something like 29th place, so our new goal was to raise our standing as much as possible over the next two days while improving our skills for next year.
Ms. Tina at the Mechanic
October 20, 2016:  This day was supposed to be one of the easier days.  We were traveling on mostly paved roads, and as a result the checkpoints were reasonably easy to find.  We traveled through Joshua Tree National forest which was oddly devoid of Joshua trees but had some amazing plant life.  It was a breathtaking drive.  It was also the day that we would run in to this mystical desert tortoise and yes, it was in the road.  In case you were wondering, it had no interest in sharing the road or moving off of it.  The rumors are true, tortoises are slow!  There were approximately 20 rally participants lined up on the side of the road waiting for the tortoise to move.  We waited about an hour before it had finally moved far enough for us to start moving again.  

A Desert Tortoise in no Particular Hurry
The long wait for the tortoise was unfortunate because we really wanted to make up some lost points but as we were told during rally school, if we happened upon a tortoise it would be bad for points collecting.  Now we were faced with another difficult decision; do we do the 3.5  hour TSD at 18 MPH, risking not doing it right and getting no points or do we abandon it, drive 20MPH (the fastest we were allowed to go in tortoise country) and get to the remaining checkpoints while everyone else was tied up in the TSD.  We elected to abandon the TSD and go for the checkpoints.  Admittedly we probably drove about 23MPH but it was enough time to hit all of the checkpoints that were remaining and still a much slower pace than the BLM Jeep and several competitor vehicles that went cruising past us. We were a bit surprised later when Emily (the rally coordinator) announced that everyone got credit for the final checkpoint regardless of timing because of the tortoise.  This was contrary to what we were told during rally school which is what caused us to make the decision to sacrifice the TSD points.  In hindsight, we should have challenged the decision to give everyone points for the missed checkpoint so that future rallies would have more consistent rules or at least better communication about what to expect if a mystical, magical tortoise fails to cross the road in the middle of the rally.  We arrived at basecamp in Glamis Dunes. 
This is a Joshua Tree but it wasn't in the Joshua
Tree National Forest
October 21, 2016:  Like all mornings during the rally we started plotting our course as early as possible.  We immediately discovered that the map and the landscape didn't really look the same.  Visibility was low for everywhere you looked there was another dune.  Early in the day we got stuck but it was a minimal amount of stuck so we elected to shovel away a little sand.  Then we aired down a little more than what was recommended by the staff and were back on track within 10 minutes.  We didn't get stuck anymore.  We struggled to find the first green checkpoint for a while.  Getting your bearings out in the dunes was challenging.  We managed to figure out a way to reliably navigate around the place and the rest of the day went very smoothly.  Around 1:30pm it was apparent that we were completely worn out.  For a few minutes, we both felt like we just didn't care anymore.  This was the last day and we couldn't win.  But after a little bit of conversation we decided that we weren't quitters and we were going to do the very  best we could until the very end and that's what we did.  We partnered up with Valerie and Ashley to knock out as many checkpoints as we could. 
Miss Tina in Glamis Dunes
It was a good day but we were running out of time to get back to basecamp and we really needed those points.  We had 6 minutes to get back but this police officer was driving 15mph in front of us.  I suggested that we go around him in the dunes, there's no speed limit there.  So, Holly did as I recommended and went around him in the dunes but then pulled right back on the road in front of him.  Evidently my navigation instructions were not clear enough.  We got pulled over with 4 minutes to spare!  Thankfully, the kind officer just reminded us that there was a speed limit on the road and if we wanted to go fast to do so in the dunes and sent  us on our way.  Then we watched as the same officer pulled Valerie and Ashley over.  Needless to say we arrived at the finish line laughing hysterically and on time.  I'm sure everyone waiting at the finish line assumed we were just over exuberant about finishing. We received teary eyed hugs and congratulations from Emily Miller (The mastermind and creator of the Rebelle Rally).  We'd find out later that we finished in 21st place.  This was a pretty decent jump in standing from where we were after the 50 point penalty.  We were proud of ourselves for not only finishing but for not giving up on the points and continuing to do the best we could.
Officer Dan Reminding us That Speeding is Bad
Oct 22, 2016:  We woke up when we felt like it.  I have no idea what time it was. It was time to drive to San Diego and prepare for the gala and awards ceremony.  We convoyed with Kendra Miller and Bailey Campbell and made a pit stop at some crazy alien museum.  It was a beautiful and scenic drive back but I spent a good portion of my time getting reacquainted with Instagram and Facebook and texting with my husband who was about to board a flight to San Diego. We got checked in to the hotel.  I'm not sure what Holly did during this time but I took a really long shower and then had a nap until my husband arrived.

We got all gussied up and around 5pm we met Holly and Yeti (her boyfriend) in the lobby, took a few photos then hopped on a shuttle to the gala.  It was a bit surreal.  Everyone was dressed up and had makeup on.  It didn't even seem like these were the same ladies I had just spent the last 10 days with.  The gala was a beautiful event and while this was where the awards were presented to the winners, we all felt like winners.  We had done it.  7 days of off-road driving, camping and navigating with just women.  What an amazing and unforgettable event.
Dressed up for the Gala
Now that it's over and I've had time to think, these are the things that I loved the most about the Rebelle Rally:

Holly:  Holly is an amazing, cheerful, giving and kind person.  I am thankful for the opportunity to have participated with her.  We spent a total of 12 days (288 hours) together.  Through all of our driving, navigational and mechanical difficulties we managed to laugh a ton and also be kind to one another 99.9% of the time.  There were two cases where one of us was upset and thankfully during those times the other was calm enough to see us through with patience and without a fight.  In addition, I am an MS sufferer and at times when I should have been thinking about myself and my health but wasn't, Holly remembered and made sure I was doing what I needed to be doing to stay healthy.  There is no doubt that Holly and I will be friends the rest of our lives.

The Women of the Rally:  Our days were busy from sun up to nightfall so we only had a few hours each day to socialize.  Every single person I met was positive, cheerful, excited to be there and genuinely wanted to see everyone do well.  I have never been around so many women that encourage and uplift one another.  Talk to any Rebelle and ask them what the other ladies were like and they'll tell you the same thing.  Absolutely awesome!

The Rally Staff: There are far too many staff to list by name so I won't even try.  Every one of them were so encouraging and kind.  They wanted us all to do well and they wanted us all to finish.  They were an amazing group of people and I appreciate them all and have so much respect for the immense amount of work that each one of them contributed to making the Rally a success.

The Significant Others: Yeti and Rico poured so much of their own emotion and physical energy into making sure we got there and supported us along the way.  Thanks guys!  Support from loved ones is so important and I love and appreciate you both for all that you contributed to making this such an amazing experience.

Being Disconnected: What an odd thing, in this day and age, to not have internet, phone or any connection to the rest of the world.  I found it surprisingly soothing - though I missed talking to Rico each day.  You don't realize how much pressure you face from social media, your friends and your family until you turn it all off and have nothing to focus on but you, your teammate and the world around you.  It teaches you to appreciate the beauty around you and how unimportant so many of the things we deal with on a daily basis actually are.

Social Media Supporters: Holly and I had tremendous support from our social media followers.  It was so great to have perfect strangers emotionally tapped in with us.  This meant the world to me.  I hope someday to meet everyone that donated, bought raffles tickets, or that followed along and cheered us on.

For me, the Rebelle Rally was an experience of a lifetime.  It changed me in so many positive ways and I will definitely be doing it again.

More articles about the Rebelle Rally:
Fall issue ofJPFreek Magazine


  1. Your strength and determination never cease to amaze me and I admire your sense of adventure. You should be proud of the performance considering there were many competitors (fully sponsored) with many years of this type of experience. Outstanding accomplishment.

    1. Thank you, Paul. Life would not be complete without amazing friends like you.

  2. Replies
    1. It sure was! I hope you get an opportunity to go sometime. Thanks for taking the time to read! <3


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