What happens when you put 65 two-women teams together and toss them into the desert to fend for themselves?
They have one main goal: find their way through 1,300+ miles of challenging terrain using a map, compass, coordinates, and a spidey sense of direction to find hidden or invisible checkpoints (no GPS or wayfinding technology allowed). This event pits females of all ages against the environment, each other, and a bit more. Welcome to the Rebelle Rally.
Although I’m a seasoned Rebelle competitor, I competed in the 2023 event as the first-ever journalist and non-employee team Honda put together. With my teammate and trusty navigator, Emily Winslow, at my side, I drove my way to the finish line using a bone stock 2024 Honda Pilot TrailSport , one of three Honda manufacturer entrants in this year’s rally.
Of the 65 teams, only 10 were all-wheel-drive crossover vehicles. The rest were 4x4 trucks and SUVs of all sorts. What happened next was rocky, testing, and tough.
A Day in the Life Of…
You don’t need to be an experienced off-roader to compete in this rally. But, as a driver, you should have some practice behind the wheel before you take on this grueling eight-day endurance competition. This rally presents unexpected terrain and varied situations that one needs to react quickly to. Getting your bearings around you is important. And vehicle preparedness is equally as quintessential.
Certain gear can help Rebelle competitors (4x4 and crossover ralliers alike) get to the finish line in a competent and safe manner. Here are a few items we carried with us that covered our bases when the going got tough:
- · Two full-sized spare tires and an ARB tire patch kit (two tires are best if you have the room)
- · An ARB air compressor and Indeflate tire inflation/deflation kit
- · Four vehicle recovery boards (we prefer MAXTRAX)
- · Provisions for front and rear vehicle recovery points
- · A durable shovel
- · A basic vehicle recovery kit (with at least two shackles, tow strap, kinetic strap, and heavy-duty gloves if you’re not running a winch)
- · A Leatherman multi-use tool and basic tool kit for in-field repairs
- · Gorilla tape and zip ties (don’t buy the cheap ones)
- · A Pro Eagle off-road vehicle jack (test it out on your vehicle before you need to use it)
- · Ledlenser head lamps and spare batteries
- · High-quality ratchet straps and other methods to secure cargo
These items were in addition to our safety items, camping gear, and personal belongings. We were, after all, camping in the middle of the desert for over a week. Thankfully, our three-row Honda Pilot TrailSport had plenty of room. We removed the second and third row seats to secure our second full-size spare tire, Pro Eagle jack, five-gallon water container and fire extinguisher, spill kit, and other bulky gear.
Wake Up, Get Dirty
Each morning of the rally was met with a single clanging cow bell at 5:00 a.m. sharp. However, as each year passes, competitors get up earlier and earlier to prepare for each day. Every team had varying “out times” for each day in which they left the start line. Navigators received their list of latitude and longitude coordinates and plotted as many as they could on topographic maps while drivers attended to their vehicles, performing basic maintenance checks, and broke camp for the day if basecamp needed to be moved.
A Difficult Course
We were warned this year’s course was especially treacherous. There could be 50-70% more opportunity for vehicles to be damaged due to weather-related issues if you weren’t careful. Recent storms, accompanying flooding, and the unexpected hurricane remnants wreaked havoc in the Nevada and California deserts. Hundreds of deep ditches and washouts littered the desert. Overgrown brush lapped at our vehicle’s sides and low-laying vegetation stood tall and played a mysterious rendition of noises akin to the Price is Right’s Plinko on our skid plate as we passed over them.
If not careful, Mother Nature quickly claimed axles, control arms, tires, and worse. I lost count within the first few days of how many tires were swapped out due to trail conditions. Dozens of tires were goners, and multiple teams suffered two-tire blow-outs. However, our Maxxis RAZR all-terrains provided a sure-footed path to success with zero failures—and this was across the entire three-team Honda lineup.
Teams crawled over rocks and off-camber ledges during the eight-day 1,300+ mile off-road competition. We sliced through silt beds and sand dunes, too. The end of day three was a particularly trying day as over 20 of the 65 teams ended up in the mechanic’s bay for one issue or another—nearly 1/3 of the rally roster. Though with smart game playing and mechanical sympathy, I thoroughly checked our Pilot TrailSport at the end of each day and saw no issues.
Seeing is Believing
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the game and not look around you to see nature’s beauty. The desert has a way of calling to you if you’re willing to listen. If you look closely, there is abundant life in the areas we traverse through. Small insects trudge alongside trails and tiny flowers flourish on shrubs. It wasn’t until my first trip to Death Valley several years ago that I really experienced the desert first-hand to see everything it has to offer.
The desert provides shelter for animals and shields a wide array of plants from harm, too. It’s a sensitive habitat. We do our best to remember the Tread Lightly! principles on the rally. We try not to trample nearby vegetation, we pack out what we bring in, and more.
No matter if you’re a seasoned wheeler or a newbie to the sport, everyone starts from somewhere. It’s all about getting out there and pushing yourself. The rally community, no matter if it’s off-road or on the pavement, is a great group of people. They’re automotive enthusiasts who care about vehicles, love traveling, and generally helping others for the greater good of humanity. Why wouldn’t you want to connect with your local time-speed-distance rally group or four-wheel-drive club? Chances are you’ll connect with others who want to better their driving skills and meet new people.
That’s why I love competing in vehicle-based competitions. They marry my love of cars, travel, people, and being challenged together in one neatly prepared package, wrapped up with a finish-line checkerboard flag.
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