My Rebelle Rally Experience

The Rebelle Rally 2021

As some of you know, I competed in the 2021 Rebelle Rally in October 2021. “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 8 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”(from official website of the rally). I have known about the rally since it began in 2016, but it really hasn’t been on my radar as something I wanted to do, until late April 2021.  A friend of mine called me up after attending a 4 day training for the Rebelle and was sad that her best friend, who had signed up to be her navigator, had decided not to compete in the rally.  I just so happened to be at a point in my life where I was able to commit to the time and training necessary for the rally, so Navigator for team #156 I became.  

Rasa, my driver, and I have known each other for about a decade.  We met at Overland Expo when it was being held at Mormon Lake in AZ.  We have had many adventures together over the years, including the desert Southwest, Baja, and Iceland.  We have driven together for short periods of time, but usually in our own vehicles with our spouses. We are both experienced off-road drivers, and navigate with the use of a combination of digital and paper maps.  We greatly differ in our driving styles. Rasa has a bit of a lead foot and has a rally style of driving, while I am slow and steady.  I remember Rasa’s husband Craig, commenting that he treated their lower control arms as a “normal” wear item.  My husband and I just looked at him with wide, disbelieving eyes.  Our “overlanding” vehicles are also very different.  Rasa has a very nimble ’04 first generation Toyota Tacoma that is built for desert travel, and I have a ’97 Land Cruiser, ’90 Unimog U1300L, and 2018 4×4 Sprinter.  All different beasts.  

Fast forward to the rally.

Even though I had watched videos and spoken to people who had competed in the rally, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. We were able to attend an informal rookie training with Nena Barlow at the Cinders OHV in Flagstaff, AZ for a weekend in September.  A bunch of rookies gathered with 4 experienced Rebelles (Nena Barlow, Teralin Petereit, Laura Wanlass, and Kaleigh Miller) for the weekend.  This “informal” training was invaluable.  It gave us all a better insight into the rally, some valuable training for different types of terrain, and introduced us to some amazing people.  Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. 

Rasa and I had a lot of things going on in our lives and were not able to train together as much as we had originally planned. Before we knew it, we were packing up the truck and leaving to head towards the Hoover Dam.   

The beginning seems like a bit of a blur to me.  We had some plotting practice on the patio of the hotel, our COVID tests (thankfully both negative), a Welcome to the Rebelle, and Rally School.  Then there was tech inspection near the Hoover Dam which was surreal.  We went through different stations checking off the boxes (required items, sat phone, GPS tracker install, official decal install, mechanical check, official rally vests) to start the rally the next day.  
And we were off on Prologue day at 7:24am.  The Prologue day is un-scored, and used as a warm up / practice day.  

Photo credit: Richard Giordano

Fast forward to days of laughing until crying, yelling at “things”, but not each other, more laughing, sore bodies, fatigue, a few hours in silence (stewing due to our mistakes), back to laughing, finding our tent flattened by the wind storm, “sleeping” sitting up in the truck, some more laughing, smiling and waving at anyone we encountered, helping ourselves and others out of the dunes using shovels, Maxtrax, and kinetic recovery straps, and crossing the finish line.  We finished 4th of the 19 rookie teams and 18th of the 42 teams in the 4×4 class.  

Since getting back, a  lot of people have asked about the Rally and I am finding it hard to explain. I really enjoyed the experience.  I found it to be a challenging game for adults.  One that changes daily, progressively gets harder, and keeps you on your toes.  It’s a game of endurance, accuracy, and communication.  

Endurance – Being able to function from early morning 4-5am until 9pm. Driving on punishing terrain for 10+ hours / day.

Accuracy – Accurately plotting GPS points on maps ranging from 25,00:1 to 200,000:1 scales, plotting distance and headings, compass use, driving skill and tire placement, and accurate math for the time, speed, distance enduro challenges.

Photo credit: Richard Giordano

Communication – Efficient communication between driver and navigator, and other team members and staff.

Photo Credit: Nicole Dreon

We learned that we are complimentary to each other.  We kept each other in check.  I would continually ask Rasa, “are you speeding?”, “OK, Speedy Gonzalez”, “OK, lead foot, “remember, the truck has to last 5 more days”.  I was prepared for her to flick my helmet and say “enough LeeWhay”, but she often thanked me for keeping her in line.  Or she would silently ignore me, yet slow down.  Rasa would use her “bionic” eyes and help me dissect the checkpoints on the map at times.  We would work together to find the checkpoints.  From my point of view, we worked like a well oiled machine when setting up or taking down camp, both working together to get it all done.  We split tasks as needed, and helped each other.   

I believe we had a bit of an advantage during the rally as we are both used to navigating through the types of terrain we encountered during the rally, except the sand dunes.  We both feel comfortable in this type of environment, well, not in the wind & sand storms reminiscent of what I experienced in the Saharan Desert.  We did however make some rookie mistakes, and seeing that we were rookies, I guess that was OK.  We noted our mistakes and learned from them.  

We are now part of the “Rebelle” family. We have strengthening our friendship and kindled new ones with some amazing humans.  What an incredible experience!

Photo credit: Nicole Dreon

Thank you to those of you who have helped us through the rally.   From our friends and family who have followed and encouraged us, the Rebelle competators, the Rebelle staff, and our marketing partners.  Special thanks to Craig for being our number one fan. Thank you for keeping those watching from home in the loop and cheering us on.  We felt your support out there. 
Since we have “re-entered” the real world, we have been asked if we would do it again, and we both immediately answer, “YES!”. Of course this is with the caveat of somehow being fully sponsored for the cost of the rally.  Will we be able to make that happen?  I do hope so.  Time will tell…

Photo credits: Rasa Fuller, Andrew Vukovich, Craig Fuller, Richard Giordano, Nicole Dreon

Thank you to our media partners and sponsors: AT Overland, Overland Cruisers, Gary Walton, BruTrek Gear, Last US Bag, Blue Ridge Chair Works, IZ Native

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