Lake Tahoe to San Diego in seven days. About 1,250 miles. No GPS or cellphones; just maps, roadbooks, and a compass. Sixty teams of two for a total of 120 female competitors.
That’s the Rebelle Rally.
Emily Miller, a Baja 1000 and Vegas to Reno Rally winner, was the first American to participate in the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles, a competition similar to the Rebelle Rally in the Moroccan desert. She formed a U.S. team for the 2009 event and landed on the podium in 2011.
But after several years, it proved to be very expensive and difficult to find sponsors for the overseas rally. Miller then decided to start the first all-woman rally in the United States. With three years of planning and combining her favorite features of rallies she previously participated in, tons of permits, and more than 60 staffers, the Rebelle Rally was born.
What the Rebelle Rally Is About
The Rebelle Rally is an all-woman off-road navigation rally through Southern California and Nevada. It’s not a race for speed or the shortest distance, but rather a test of navigational skills using vehicles that can be daily drivers. It pushes the competitors’ mental, physical, and emotional capacities to the limit.
Women of all ages, from teenagers to those more than 60 years old, and all backgrounds, from nurses to teachers, participate in the event. They may be seasoned racers or total first-timers. But they need to know basic navigation skills and how to change a tire. It’s a challenging and fun event, with the reward and feeling of accomplishment at the end.
And while the exact route of the rally is confidential, it covers all sorts of terrain: sand dunes, dirt roads, double tracks, and trails. Each competition day lasts about eight to 11 hours, with at least 10 checkpoints each day. Teams cannot get outside help, but they can help out other teams during the competition. And if they call for aid, the team gets penalized. Each vehicle gets a tracker so that the teams can be found if they become lost during the rally, which has happened. There’s also only one fuel fill-up per day allowed, so fuel strategy becomes an important part of the competition.
The entry fee is $6,000 per competitor, which includes an introductory online navigation course, hotel accommodations at the end in San Diego, and food and beverages on the seven competition days. It additionally includes the safety and rescue crews, a mechanic team that is shared among all competitors, and maps. The teams are able to raise funds on their own to help cover the entry fee and any upgrades. There are also vehicles that can be rented for the event from some automakers and main event sponsor, Hoehn Adventures.
Two vehicle classes, all-wheel-drive crossovers and 4×4 SUVs and pickup trucks with transfer cases, make up the roster. All of the vehicles must be relatively stock and street legal in all 50 states. They aren’t full off-road racers or rock crawlers, but they may be modified with off-road tires, winches, and underbody protection.
The event has two types of challenges: the daily map and compass challenges and three to five enduro challenges. The teams must be able to plot their course on the fly and cannot pre-navigate their route.
At each map challenge, the teams must reach checkpoints in numerical order; they can’t go back to a missed checkpoint if they’ve already reached the next one. The mandatory green checkpoints are marked on the map and with flags and are the easiest ones, while the blue (marked only with flags) and black ones (completely unmarked) are optional. The checkpoints have a 50-meter “target zone” that the teams have to be within before they can send in an electronic signal and acquire points.
The enduro challenges cover a longer time period and involve a specific route with target average speeds for the route, and they require the supplied roadbook. Teams leave at regular intervals and reach time and location checks along the route. The goal is to hit the assigned target speeds, and teams earn points for being on time or on route at each check.
The Checkered Flag
At the end of every day, the teams stop at the traveling base camp. There, they’ll find a large, white tent that may be decorated to match the area they’re in and the mechanics, along with hot showers and working toilets. The teams then set up tents for the night and dine on breakfast and dinner cooked in a food truck by Michelin-starred chef Drew Deckman.
The competitors then dress up for the formal awards gala in San Diego at the end of the rally. Last year, the winners received free entry fees for this year’s event, and some sponsors gave away items such as compasses, watches, and gift bags.
Fans of the Rebelle Rally can stay updated throughout the upcoming race (October 12–21) with updates on social media and live tracking on the Rebelle Rally website.