My Journey To Rebelle

My Journey To Rebelle

Photos by Kathy Locke, Richard Giordano, Paolo Baraldi, Nicole Dreon, and Tim Calver 

The days often blurred together after we left Squaw Valley Ski Resort—most likely, we lost track after leaving Salina, Utah on our trek to the famed site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. 

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Days of the week didn’t really exist anymore, and we only knew days by the actual rally specified day—Tech Inspection Day, Day 0 or Day 1, and so on. We knew what number we were for the start line the next morning and what time we needed to be there after drawing our ticket the night before. We quickly figured out our routines for the mornings, and at the end of a long day of navigating and driving. This was our new “norm” for 10 days in October 2019. 

Curiosity creates questions

I first learned about the Rebelle Rally in 2017 after purchasing my 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser. I had only ever heard of the Baja 1000 or the Mint 400 living in California as a child, and through my dad’s love of those competitions. I had never known about competitions outside of that and even more so, competitions just for women. What was this intriguing world filled with “cool” women who were off-roading through incredibly beautiful, but sometimes dangerous terrain? Who were these women repairing their own vehicles or towing their fellow competitors out of sticky situations? These women that were covered in dirt, mud, or sand that was blasted at them from the magnificent sand dune they just drove over? How they used only velocity and maybe a little bit of hope to get them over the crest of that dune? Who were these women daring to compete in a “man’s” world and challenging their vehicles, and more importantly, themselves? And, could I ever become one of “them”?

I decided to follow Team #154, Roads Less Traveled online with the live tracking option for the 2017 Rebelle Rally. A “voyeur” of sorts, I wanted to watch and somehow “see” what they were seeing. The driver, Tiffany Walker hailed from Colorado Springs, and was driving her 2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser. I thought since we had the same type of vehicle that would be enough of a connection for me to justify watching people I had never met. Little did I know how much following that team would alter my life in so many ways. 

2019 Rebelle Rally

Watching online prompted me to cover the last half of 2018 Rebelle Rally as part of the Toyota Cruisers & Trucks media crew to gain more insight into this fascinating competition, and the women who compete in it. I followed the teams driving Toyotas working their way from Johnson Valley to Glamis Sand Dunes, and quickly fell in love with the rally community as well as its competitors. I picked their brains, spoke to them about their day, asked about their wins and challenges, and asked for tips and suggestions—any tidbit, a morsel even, to tell myself I could do this rally, that I could be one of these “cool” women.

When I returned home, I felt a sense of renewal — a sense of confidence I hadn’t felt before, or even believed I had. I knew I could compete in the Rebelle Rally. I knew I could drive the terrain, that my FJ could take me over that terrain. I also knew, the navigation part would be my biggest and toughest challenge. And now, I needed to convince someone else they could do this challenge with me—I needed a navigator.

I had met Stacey through her husband, my coworker. I knew she had the adventure drive, hearing of her and her husband’s three-year trek throughout the United States in their Honda Ridgeline towing a good-for-them sized camper. I knew she loved the outdoors and (maybe subconsciously), I knew she was ready for something different in her life, too, and would be up for a unique challenge.

2019 Rebelle Rally

Your compass and all mapping tools will be your best friend

We spent the better part of 2019 fundraising, practicing our off-road driving skills, and most importantly, understanding and learning map and compass navigation—latitude and longitude to be specific—wherever and whenever we could. This was of the utmost importance—there is no GPS at the Rebelle Rally. You leave your cell phones and any digital navigation system at the door. This is old school navigation. If the rally was at night, we might’ve had to navigate using the stars.

It was important for both Stacey and I to know and understand latitude and longitude and how to plot coordinates on a map. It was important for both of us to be able to understand geographical marks and topo lines on a map. It was important for us to understand distance and to be able to calculate it in kilometers then convert to miles. (The FJ’s odometer was in miles only. Other than getting a device like a Terratrip or ICO Rally computer, which wasn’t in our budget, we had no choice but to do our own conversions. It wasn’t a big deal, but just another one of the little things you accept, do and move on.)

2019 Rebelle Rally

Stacey was amazing at navigating and took her navigator role very seriously; reading and using the compass properly, learning how to use the plotter and map rulers to find and plot coordinates, quickly calculating the distance from one point to another, and all of the enduros. Oh, yeah, enduros. Also known as roadbooks, or TSDs (time, speed, distance), Rebelle Enduro Challenges (REC) are crucial during the Rebelle Rally. Following them will quickly and safely get you to the next checkpoint (CP) or final destination, and most often used during transit segments. 

The roadbooks were my nemesis—I could calculate them, but not with the efficiency and speed that Stacey could. She was also able to quickly recalculate them, for instance, when I accidentally reset the odometer during a 20+ mile REC, of which we were told to specifically not reset once we reached that CP. Because I had been resetting the odometer consistently at every CP, so Stacey could calculate the distance to our next CP, I reached over habitually to reset and feeling as if in slow motion, remembering at the exact same time Stacey started yelling, “nooooooooo”, to not reset, I reset the odometer. We both froze and once the horror of what I had done passed, Stacey quickly went into calculating mode and updated the rest of the roadbook, which took an amount of time I would rather not specify. My anxiety level rises just thinking about it. Let’s just say that day was not a good day and Stacey had every right to kill me, or at the very least, never talk to me again.

Learning how to use all the mapping tools is a way of life during the Rebelle—if you want to get to the next basecamp, you don’t have a choice. Stacey and I made sure we had duplicates of everything. We were “overplanners” —we feared not being prepared for everything. And, as much as you plan, something inevitable will happen, whether you planned for it or not. We lost a 100k scale map ruler on one of the days where it was our main scale for the map we were using, and then quickly realized, we couldn’t find any backups. If you attend any Rebelle Rally workshop, listen to everything Emily Miller, the founder of the Rebelle Rally, says. We had to make our own ruler for that day—a lesson utilized because of one of those classes.

2019 Rebelle Rally

Teamwork makes the dream work

Even before and after the “odometer incident”, we were a great team. It surprised me how great we actually worked together and it still makes me smile to this day. We decided early on that anything that happened, good or bad, was a “we” thing. “We” drove over that rut too quickly, “we” miscalculated a CP, “we” got lost, “we” found that CP, or “we” did amazing today. “We” were never going to blame one another for something and do everything together as a team. When said rut was driven over too quickly, I slammed the brakes, jumped out of the FJ, making sure to slam the door really hard too, and quickly shouted every profanity I could at the rut, but mostly, at myself, for not paying attention and possibly risking damage to the FJ which in turn could’ve ended our rally right then and there. Stacey knew those profanities were not aimed at her, but merely me releasing a lot of anxiety and anger that had slowly been bubbling to the surface that day, but not because of her. Once I was done with my “fit”, and head held low, I got back into the FJ. Stacey asked if I was ok and if the FJ was ok, then calmly told me where “we” needed to go now. “We” still had many more CPs to get.

2019 Rebelle Rally

Our mornings started with Emily Miller, gently ringing her famous cow bell “alarm” while other days it was the sounds of tent zippers being unzipped as some teams were up before the 5:00 a.m. cowbell—either from lack of sleep, anxiety, nerves—or all of the above—or just ready for that competition day to get started. Our routine was for Stacey to get up and ready first and head directly for the basecamp tent to get the map, or maps, for that day and start plotting. She would figure out the enduro first then move on to plot the 20+ CPs. I would pack up the tent and our belongings and haul them back to the FJ as well as try and do a run-through of checklist items in my head—do a quick run through of the FJ and fluids and check the tires; pack the FJ to be accessible for things we might need that day; fill our water bottles, and pack our snacks for the day, and make sure Stacey’s “office” was devoid of anything she didn’t need. I would head back to the main tent to find Stacey, get coffee and whatever breakfast for the both of us. She is a later morning breakfast person, but I on the other hand, needed breakfast. Being “hangry” doesn’t bode well for me, or others, so eating a big, full breakfast while helping Stacey finish plotting, or highlighting highways on various maps, or helping a fellow Rebelle with their plotting, was much easier to do with a full stomach, and a safer way of maintaining friendships.

Every night, when we drove into basecamp after a mentally and physically exhausting rally day, we would get our camp belongings out and try to muster enough energy to carry them to a spot we were able to stake out amongst the other teams. We quickly figured out after Day 0, we didn’t really need to bring ALL of our camping items with us and were able to quickly re-adjust our personal items into fewer bags, making the haul at night and in the mornings a little easier. While I would wait to get the FJ fueled for the next day, Stacey would start getting our camp ready. Some days we were lucky enough that both of us could set up camp together, enjoy some amazing food, chat with some of our friends and fellow competitors, then head back to the tent and sleep. I remember sleeping so well the first night—I thought this would be great if the rest of the nights were like this. Unfortunately, they were not. Self-camp night was possibly the worst—we were told the temperature that night was 25°—below freezing. Stacey and I we were bundled in every clothing item we had in our bags and made sure to wear the clothes we planned on wearing the next day so we didn’t have to try and change in the frost-bitten morning. The worst night also could’ve been our first night in Glamis, waking up covered in a coating of fine sand and numerous trains speeding by throughout the night next to basecamp. I think I counted four trains. With very bright lights...

2019 Rebelle Rally

Sometimes the challenges aren’t as big as they seem

Glamis Sand Dunes—this was the section I was terrified of from day one. For some reason, I was preparing myself for this to be the most challenging part of the rally. I anticipated having to dig ourselves out every 20 feet or feared rolling down one of the many massive dunes. Or even at the extreme, doing something so out there that I managed to get a ton of sand sucked into my engine. I know—I’m not even sure how I would do that, but I thought if it was going to happen, it would probably happen to me, because I was so fearful of driving in sand. I had never done it before. How was I going to drive these magnificent dunes that I was so sure were out to get me and for some reason, hated my FJ?

Stacey and I couldn’t afford to take the Rebelle Dune Driving classes being held. Everything we had financially was going to our entry fee. So, we went with another Rebelle, Thayer Cook from Team #164 Anam Cara, to practice driving in the North Sand Hills in northern Colorado near the Wyoming border. Stacey and I watched YouTube videos about driving in sand. I read a book that Thayer gave me about driving in sand. We were studying sand. Sand be damned, we were going to figure this out. 

2019 Rebelle Rally

The North Sand Hills are baby dunes compared to Glamis. But while we were there, we drove around for hours—up and down hills, in massive circles and following one another through various areas we felt would be good practice. We purposely tried to get ourselves stuck so we could practice getting unstuck and familiarize ourselves with our ActionTrax. The more we drove, the more fun we were having. But at the end of the day, the Glamis Sand Dunes were still terrorizing me.

The latter half of Day 6 of the Rebelle was mostly an R.E.C. transit day to get us into Glamis. I was anxious, to say the least, about our next and final day of the rally—driving the entirety in the sand dunes and mentally preparing to get stuck every 20 feet and only getting three CPs that day because of it. 

The real dunes—the big, sky-high, fluffy magnificent ones you see in photos are even more incredible in real life. The more familiar I became with how the sand felt under my tires, the more I started to understand how to drive in it. The more I drove, the more I began to love driving in sand—to the point of smiling with pure joy at how much fun it was and wanting to challenge myself even more. Driving fairly quickly on sand and avoiding the pesky little branches poking out became one of my most favorite sand driving moments. Hitting the gas pedal to keep momentum and climb quickly up some of the dunes was another one. It was where I felt I had finally conquered my fear of sand driving and realized, why was I so afraid in the first place and when can I go back and conquer the big dunes?

One thing I did learn and took to heart was Emily’s quote, "Don’t drive what you don’t see.” For some reason, I liked the simplicity but very explicit direction of those six words, and during our drive back into basecamp, I crested the top of a dune and quickly realized I had no idea what was on the other side. I slammed my brakes once we crested, and quickly yelled out at the same time, “Don’t drive what you don’t see!” Stacey and I both started laughing at the absurdity of what I just said, but also the truth behind it. The other side was steep—and I didn’t want to take any chances going down it. I drove across the top of the dune to an area I did feel safer driving down and headed merrily back to basecamp feeling quite accomplished with my sand-driving prowess that day. 

Where the heck did we go?

We covered over 1,400 miles through California and Nevada over 10 days. We drove through lush pine-tree filled mountains. We traveled to a small, dusty, unique mining town called Gold Point and traveled the expanse and vastness of Death Valley. We reveled in our moment together during the sunset at Cougar Buttes in Johnson Valley and drove through the wonder that is Joshua Tree National Park, and all the beautifully ragged rock formations in between. We were able to see the different but distinctive types of deserts as we journeyed to the Salton Sea to make our way to the Glamis Sand Dunes. We barely spoke a word during a few long stretches of pavement on various days as we admired the scenery around us, wind blowing in our already knotted hair, dirt and grime all over and around us. We were taking in the beauty of the silence, and even the enormity, of what we were so graciously allowed to experience but fully aware of our privilege in doing so.

I am not just a... 

What I realized in the end was that these women I had idolized and admired, weren’t “cool” women. They were everyday women doing extraordinary things—challenging themselves, proving they were more than their monikers claimed, and more than what society saw or expected of them. They were engineers or stay-at-home moms. They were nurses, bookkeepers, lawyers, CEOs, flight attendants, and small business owners. Some were still finding their calling after running a design agency for many years and some were just graphic designers knowing there was a challenge calling her name and telling her, she can do this

We at some point in our lives believe we are not smart enough or told we are too smart. Not skinny enough or too skinny. Our noses are either too big or too small along with our breast size. Our society values external appearance and phony and inconsequential abilities and forgets about bravery, resilience, and confidence. You don't have to be famous or have special talents to do the Rebelle Rally. You just have to want to do it and believe you can do it. 

2019 Rebelle Rally


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